WIDOWS (1991) by Ed McBain


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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Eileen Burke decides to move to a hostage negotiation team
  5. 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.

McBain-Widows_pbThe 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.

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 87th Precinct, Ed McBain, Friday's Forgotten Book, New York, Police procedural. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to WIDOWS (1991) by Ed McBain

  1. realthog says:

    Strewth, cobber. Welcome home. How did you get on in Oz? Did you have to talk Strine the whole time? Or was it just one long technicolor yawn from beginning to end?

    • Thanks mate – actually Oz came to us in the shape of my brother, my sister-in-law and their twins and we had a smashing time, thank you very much. Eat too much, stayed up late, reminisced, drive around looking for old friends who have moved to unknown addresses … all that good stuff. 🙂

  2. realthog says:

    PS: I remember enjoying this one a lot. On the other hand, I remember enjoying Vespers a lot, so . . .

  3. Colin says:

    Welcome back! And it’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts on McBain. I’ve a fair bit to do to catch up, still being way back near the start o the run, but it’s interesting to hear he was getting the stories to segue into each other a little more obviously at this stage.

    • Thanks Colin. I am enjoying charting the development of the series and this is a good late entry … I wish I didn’t keep bemoaning the bloated length of these later books, but it is unavoidable in many of them. Here, thankfully, not a problem!

      • Colin says:

        Good to know, but I don’t think 300 pages is too bad though – maybe it seems almost like a relief in comparison to some of the excesses we get these days.

        • That is true. With McBain it’s the comparison that hurts but not always – some dow work well at that length, but it was clearly an effort for him.

          • Colin says:

            AS always, it comes down to (or should) the story: a book need only be as long as the story it has to tell. Once you go beyond that you’re into padding, and that’s never good for reader or writer IMO.

          • Clearly McBain had to follow what the market and his publishers dictated when it came to a series like this was after all mainly aimed to please and entertain – what I like is just how varied he could be within that. Some just work better than others, as always – but you’ve got a couple of decades of books ahead of you with nary a duffer in sight mate 🙂

          • Colin says:

            Well, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far and have you to thank for drawing my attention to the books.

          • Always a pleasure mush – the least I could do. I’m a big fan still after all 🙂

  4. Margot Kinberg says:

    Even at his weakest, McBain’s work is better than lots of people’s best, Sergio. That said, though, I agree that some of his are much better than others. And you’re right: he can handle some complex plots. Glad you enjoyed this one.

  5. tracybham says:

    And I was just thinking tonight that it had been a very long time since I have read a McBain 7th Precinct book. Thanks for the reminder. AND welcome back.

  6. Welcome back, you’ve been missed. Nice review.

  7. Yvette says:

    Welcome back, Sergio. You were missed around these parts. Well, but you know, m’dear, that no matter how wonderful your review (and it is/was) I will not read a book in which a dog is done to death. Not anymore at any rate – not ever. Though I did read THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME and liked it. But that was the edge of enough for me. 🙂

    I do have, thanks to you, an 87th Precinct book on my Kindle waiting to be read. I know I said I tried and failed to get on the bandwagon years ago, but your enthusiasm made me change my mind.

  8. Nice to hear from you again, glad you had a great time with family! I think I’m going to give up on the idea that I’m going to be reading more McBain any time soon – I feel I might, when I read your reviews, but there’s always too much else around. I DO like the eyeveil on the cover!

  9. Matt Paust says:

    Good to see you back, Sergio. I enjoyed Widows even though it had been a long while since my last McBain. It hadn’t occurred to me until just now, reading your precis, that the beginning of Widows recalls for me the slaughterific endings of some of Shakespeare’s more memorable outings. Enjoyed the review.

  10. I’ve enjoyed your long-running series of Ed McBain reviews. For a series that lasted for over 50 books, the 87th Precinct novels possess remarkable quality control. Some are better than others, but I can’t remember a real stinker in this series.

    • Thanks George – well, I think VESPERS is the only one that I really did not like and I thought a couple of others were rather thin but out of 55 volumes that is incredible.

  11. Welcome back, Sergio! It looks to me as if McBain thrived on complexities, as somewhat evident from this book, but I should think he doesn’t make it too complex for readers. So I’m not sure WIDOWS would not be “ideal for newbies” particularly since he weaves the story around so many of his lead characters. Of course, I might change my mind after reading the book.

    • Good to be back Prashant, thanks. It would make a lot more sense to start much further back, I agree, this would not be an ideal ‘jumping on’ book, though McBain, as you say, enjoyed a challenge, but was always a very successful communicator and always fills in any missing blanks for the reader.

  12. Pingback: KISS (1992) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

  13. Pingback: THE BIG BAD CITY (1999) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

  14. justjack says:

    You were away? I didn’t know! No doubt because for no good reason it seems to have been a year and a half since I finished Vespers and finally picked up the next book in the series, Widows. I concur with your verdict that this is a very welcome return to form after the wretched Vespers. The cops from the other precinct were a nice addition–good to see how the city extends beyond he boundaries of the Eight Seven.

    Man, I wish Bert Kling could catch a break.

    • Thanks for the great comments as ever. Poor Bert, he is just born to suffer. And yeah, after VESPERS I just hit the pause button. But all in the past now of course.

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