As this book is set entirely on Halloween night, this seemed like a perfect fit. Pretty much the entire cast of the 87th appears in this ultra busy entry in Ed McBain’s series. We have four major cases: Eileen and Annie track a killer of prostitutes; Cotton looks for a missing magician; Brown tries to find out who is leaving the chopped up parts of a body all over the city; and Meyer and Carella take on and a group of kids who are going round trick or treating in stores and killing the staff before emptying the cash registers!
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge;and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.
Tricks (87th Precinct series #40)
First Published: 1987
Leading players: Eileen Burke, Andy Parker, Cotton Hawes, Bert Kling, Steve Carella, Arthur Brown, Annie Rawles, Meyer Meyer, Richard Genero, Hal Willis, Peter Byrnes, Richard Genero, Bob O’Brien, Monoghan & Monroe
“And one of the little kids shot him in the head.”
Following on from Poison, which successfully sustained its 250-page length while telling only one story, albeit one spread across several years (if you include the extensive flashbacks), this same-sized novel takes the opposite approach, with equally pleasing results. This is a kaleidoscopic view of Halloween night (it all takes place in less than 12 hours), with plots and characters overlapping in various entertaining ways. Indeed, one of the best sections of the book sees McBain cut to and from two parallel dialogue scenes in different parts of the city without so much as a line break to alert the reader to this! Once you get used to the idea, it works extremely well in conveying the maelstrom of activity.
“Why does this always happen to me?” Genero asked God.
On top of the four main plots, some of which dovetail into each other, we also have a variety of subsidiary storylines. In one Genero, the Squad’s, and maybe the world’s, dumbest cop, facing off successfully against a group of four youths intent on setting fire to a building; the eternal bad copy Andy Parker takes the night off having the best time of his life ever after hooking up with Peaches Muldoon, who has been getting crank calls, and heads off to various parties where he ‘pretends’ to be a cop and, bizarrely, finds that he is incredibly comfortable with portraying a fictionalised version of himself as opposed to the real thing, which deep down we know he hates. And which ultimately leads him to probably the best bit of detective work he will ever accomplish. If this sounds a bit ‘meta’ well, to a degree it is, but its done so well that I think casual readers won;t mind a bit while more serious students of the genre will want to sit up and take note to see how it’s done. Here is a very amusing sidenote in which McBain comments on his own ‘arrested time’ approach to chronology (the characters in the series very quickly stopped ageing – Teddy and Steve’s twin children, April And Mark, for example, almost reached their eleventh birthday in the late 1960s and never got any older):
“… not too long ago – well, not too long ago by precinct time, where sometimes an hour seemed an eternity …”
I was always concerned, when I decided to embark on my mammoth plan to go through the entire series of 55 volumes in chronological order (all my previous reviews, 39 so far, are indexed here), that from the late 70s I would be less positive about the books as they got longer and longer. In some cases McBain definitely pads them out and the increased level of sex and bad language, which while probably all necessary to compete in a busy marketplace, was never to my personal taste. But together with Poison, also published in 1987, this is another late winner from McBain. The extra length is arrived at through a satisfying variety of active storylines as well as extended characters scenes, such as Eileen’s stakeout in a bar down at the docks, which could easily be edited into a short, two-act short play. And all of it paying off with plenty of good dialogue and clever plotting, always the hallmark of McBain at his best, and with none of the sentimentality that occasionally marred his work. This is book is funny, profane, clever and exciting and also, in its own way, moving – if you want a jumping on point for the later incarnation of the series, this is the perfect place to do it.
This review was submitted as part of Bev’s 2015 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in ‘professional detective’ the category: