My pan edition (on the right), at nearly 350 pages, marks this as the chunkiest book in the 87th Precinct thus far (I reviewed the previous 40 in the series here) and as we know, length did become a bit of an issue with these later books, some coping much better than other with the need to provide heftier tomes in the marketplace. How does this one fare? Well, this one certainly packs an emotional punch, as we begin without any dawdling with Carella and Meyer on the scene of a heinous crime on a crisp New Year’s morning.
I submit this review for Bev’s Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.
Lullaby (87th Precinct series #41)
First Published: 1989
Leading players: Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Eileen Burke, Hal Willis, Monoghan & Monroe, Teddy Carella, Fats Donner, Danny Gimp, Fat Ollie Weeks
“Carella wondered when she would start screaming.”
This book has three distinct plots that run in parallel but do not otherwise intersect: first and foremost is the murder of a 17-year-old baby sitter and the infant she was looking after, which is investigated by Carella and Meyer; Bert Kling instead has to deal with a gang case involving a drug deal; while Eileen Burke (and, one suspects, Kling’s soon to be ex-girlfriend) goes to counselling to help her decide whether to stay on the force following the trauma of her being sexually assaulted (an event depicted in the 1984 entry, Lightning) and her killing of a suspected rapist three months earlier (in Tricks). That entry had also seen Carella get shot, leading to a chiding from his long-time informant Danny Gimp:
“You got to stop getting shot,” Danny said.
“That can be a bad failing for a cop.”
“So be more careful.”
Sections like this do provide a bit levity (just like the unexplained reference to 15 October being the birthday of great men – it was, in fact, McBain’s own …), which is just as well in a book that for the most part has to deal with some very grim material as Meyer and Carella try to figure our just why the six-month old child and the 17-year-old baby sitter were killed. Was it the result of a burglary gone wrong, the ex-boyfriend of the baby-sitter taking revenge after she dumped him, or something else? And whose POV do we occasionally slip into and what are they up to? Matters get much more complicated when it turns out the baby was adopted and the young mother of the child, now back living in Seattle, is shot at point-blank range in her own home …
The other crime plot is also complex, though less pressing. Kling sees a man being assaulted and wades in and stumbles in to what may or may not be a case involving a major drug shipment – the problem is that the man whose life he saved is incredibly unreliable. And yet it is clear that a Jamaican gang (or ‘posse’) is definitely out to get him – and they then see Kling talking to him, ratcheting up the risk factor for our detective, who is already deeply troubled by Eileen’s decision to call off their relationship while she goes into therapy. By the end of the novel all three strands will have reached dramatic and unexpected conclusions. While there is no real attempt to link the plots thematically, and there are maybe a few too many red-herrings in the murder case, this is none the less a solid, very professional entry in the series, one that is especially important for what it tells us about Eileen personal life. We also get to find out what Monoghan’s first name is (OK, I’ll spoil, it’s ‘Michael’).
This review is submitted as part of Bev’s 2016 Silver Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in ‘object of any other colour’ category for the teddy bear on the cover of my pan edition: