And … we’re back. In the opening scene from this busy novel, Homicide dicks Monoghan & Monroe get into a spat, signalling that this might be a more domestic case than usual. Indeed, Steve Carella’s family takes centre-stage when news reaches him that his father, a baker, was killed in an armed hold up. He then learns that his heavily pregnant sister Angela has just been left by her husband, though quite why is initially unclear. As he tries to sort out this family imbroglio, the 87th have four murders to solve, including that of a much-loved dog.
I submit this review for Patti’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme hosted today by Todd Mason at his Sweet Freedom blog.
Lullaby (87th Precinct series #43)
First Published: 1991
Leading players: Steve Carella, Teddy Carella, Arthur Brown, Eileen Burke, Cotton Hawes, Bert Kling, Hal Willis, Bob O’Brien, Andy Parker, Peter Byrnes, Monoghan & Monroe
“Brown couldn’t believe that the M&Ms were arguing. Monoghan and Monroe? Joined at the hip since birth? Exchanging heated words? Impossible.”
After the disaster that was Vespers, it is with enormous relief to see McBain jump right back with one of the best books from the second phase of the 87th Precinct series. Since the late 70s the volumes had doubled in length, not always to their benefit, and levels of profanity and sex had increased greatly to keep up with the times – here the 300 pages however are justified just because there is so much going on. Here’s a quick precis:
- Carella and Brown investigate the violent murder of Susan Brauer, who it turns out was having an affair with Arthur Schumacher. She was stabbed to death in her apartment, he in turn is shot shortly after while walking his dog, who is also killed. Schumacher’s current wife Margaret is then also shot, and later so is Gloria Sanders, his first wife
- Cops from the 45th precinct take centre-stage own the Carella murder and discover that tracking down the men who shot Steve’s father is anything but simple
- Steve investigates his brother-in-law Tommy, who may or may not be cheating on his wife, Steve’s sister, Angela, who in the meantime goes into labor
- Eileen Burke decides to move to a hostage negotiation team
- Kling is invited to participate in Eileen’s continuing sessions with her therapist, which proves highly traumatic
“Homicide,” Byrnes said, and shook his head sourly.
The investigation into the affairs of Arthur Schumacher proves to be particularly involved, as his first wife and one of his daughters from that marriage are extraordinarily bitter and genuinely happy, nay delighted, that Schumacher, his lover and his new wife have all been murdered! The only link between seems to be Schumacher’s unorthodox sexual practices and the erotic letters he liked to exchange with his lovers, leading to a fairly nifty bit of misdirection. This bitter and salacious element is contrasted with the depth of feeling in the Carella family, as we get several touching flashbacks to Steve’s childhood and the defining moments in his relationship with his late father, Antonio Giovanni Carella. These are then bounced off the scenes between Eileen, her therapist and Bert, which are really bruising. Here, as is so often the case, McBain tempers his tendency for sentimentality by being genuinely tough on even his longest-standing series characters.
McBain sustains the various elements of the novel very well indeed, though admittedly the extended siege at the climax, which brings together Eileen, Steve and the detectives of the 45th, is a bit too long. None the less, this is a very strong entry in the series and which I warmly recommend, though not ideal for newbies as by this point McBain was introducing several elements of serialisation between novels, so that while several long-standing plot strands are only resolved here, others are retained for continuation in the next in the series, Kiss (review coming to Fedora shorty).
You can check out my reviews of all the previous volumes at my 87th Precinct microsite.