KISS (1992) by Ed McBain

McBain_KISS_mondadoriThe 44th entry in the Ed McBain series of police procedurals offers two main storylines. In the first, Carella and Meyer investigate two cases of attempted murder against one person and two related deaths; in the second we carry on the story from the previous book in the series, Widows, following the trial of the men who murdered Carella’s father. Along the way we get digressions on racial disquiet, the Chicago mob, and the lacunae at the heart of the American justice system. But the author is still trying out new twists and turns too …

I submit this review for Patti’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme hosted today by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

Kiss (87th Precinct series #44)
First Published: 1992
Leading players: Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Fat Ollie Weeks, Andy Parker, Cotton Hawes, Bert Kling, Nellie Brand, Monaghan & Monroe

“Detective/Third Grade Randall Wade looked as mean as tight underwear.”

The new year begins pretty badly for Emma Bowles when she is thrown in the path of a subway train and then a few days later almost hit by a speeding car. So, naturally, she goes to the 87th to report that somebody is trying to kill her – and she knows who the perpetrator is too! This could be the easiest case even for Carella and Meyer … except that when they track down the potential suspect, he is discovered shot and hanged in a basement. At the same time, Carella and his family sit though the ordeal of the trial of the man who killed his father, the endless sneaky legal tactics wearing down even the most indulgent supporter of the trial process. Both cases will end in unexpected ways and McBain tries out a nice new twist in the murder investigation, with mixed results …

“Mrs Bowles,” he said. “Do you have any reason to believe your husband might want you dead?”

McBain-KISS-pbEven with two main plots, this is a volume that certainly belongs to the latter part of the 87th Precinct series. Every page is done professionally and the dialogue especially always reads extremely well but … there is also a lot of extra material here used primarily to reach the desired 300-page length. Some of it does provides some depth for the characters (such as a flashback to when Emma and her husband first met); and there is some really nice material devoted to the Carella family traditions too, especially in a sequence devoted tot he rituals around New Year’s Eve, though McBain, aka Salvatore Lombino, seems to have forgotten his Italian in some cases (we get ‘i creaturi’ instead of ‘le creature’ and ‘sfogliatelli’ instead of ‘sfogliatelle’). And then of course there are scenes included just to provide some humour, such as when Carella has another of his perennial bad encounter with an officious telephone operators (boy, McBain must have really hated those people.

There are fun references to earlier books, in this case the 1972 classic, Sadie When She Died, and a few elements, such as the references to racial tension and graffiti artists, that will pay off only in the next in the series, Mischief (review coming next month to Fedora). However, one has to admit, quite often we go through pages ,and pages, and pages, and get nowhere not fast enough.So, had this been published 20 years earlier, it would have run to 170 pages and worked very well indeed – here it all feels a bit bloated … so very much half marks for this one.

You can check out my reviews of all the previous volumes at my 87 Precinct microsite.

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

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

19 Responses to KISS (1992) by Ed McBain

  1. Isn’t it interesting, Sergio, that even the best and best-known authors are expected to to conform to certain expectations of story length, even when it doesn’t serve the story. Shame, too, because the story plot lines are great. I wonder of that extra material was Hunter’s/McBain’s idea, or if the editor(s) had a say…

    • Thanks Margot – he always worked in the commercial sphere and this series was always aimed at a very broad audience. That is why the many experiments within it are so welcome and impressive in my view. Here the results are perfectly satisfying, but the length clearly placed a burden on him.

  2. Colin says:

    That old bugbear, the non-essential material. I guess there are positives to take away here though – 300 pages isn’t serious bloat, and if you do have to deal with such bloat then McBain’s version of it certainly won’t be the worst.

    • Exactly right, thanks Colin. Kiss is absolutely average for the series at this stage – I will, if possible, stop going on about the page length issue as I think we have established this as a problem with the later titles int he series 🙂

      • Colin says:

        Well, it’s a fair point and only the tip of the iceberg considering the direction in which things have continued to go.
        Still, inflated length aside, it’s good that the overall quality of the writing was sustained this deep into the series, and that all the ingredients were still in place to keep readers coming back for more.

        • I couldn’t agree more – there was a coarsening in terms of sex and language that doesn’t sit all that well with me, but that is a personal thing and McBain’s skill in terms of prose never deserts him.

  3. realthog says:

    I remember enjoying this one too.

    While usually I get fed up with the relatively newfangled idea that a novel isn’t really a novel unless it’s at least 300 if not 400 pages long (more and more, in my dotage, I tend to opt for shorter books), in McBain’s case I don’t mind, because I enjoy his company so much. By way of analogy, I don’t actually need to spend forty minutes in the bath with a book in my mitts, Johann Christian Bach in the background and a glass of wine at my elbow, and I certainly get just about as clean if I’m in a rush and leap in, scrub like a mad thing and leap out again within five minutes. Yes, McBain began to use a lot of padding, but the padding’s so beautifully done that sometimes it’s the best aspect of the book . . . like the joys of the long hot bath as contrasted with the actual washing.

    • Nice analogy chum 🙂 I think you are right when it comes to McBain at this point, though not especially here actually – as long as the padding doesn’t come across as such, then I’m OK and enjoy lots of bits of plot and business bubbling along. It has to be said (well, by me at least), some books in the series, like Poison, manage it much better!

  4. Dialogue is what I like most about Ed McBain’s novels. He makes it seem so easy to write.

  5. Matt Paust says:

    I still want to read it, Sergio, especially as I’m way behind in my 87ths and this will give me some much needed background.

  6. The 87th Precinct hit a rough patch in the early 1990s. Like you, I thought the series spun it’s wheels for a few years. Then, towards the end of the decade, quality improved.

    • Thanks very much for that George – particularly looking forward to the batch from the late 90s, starting with the Matthew Hope crossover novel, which I have vague but fond memories of.

  7. I enjoy these reviews a lot, now that I have mentally decided I will not actually be reading any McBain any time soon…

    • Well, that is damn annoying as that was definitely the opposite of what I was aiming for Moira 🙂 Truly, up to about 1977 (the first 30 or so) the books are uniformly terrific, honest

  8. tracybham says:

    I always feel guilty that I am not keeping up with my McBain reading when you review another one of these. And they are so easy to read, at least at the stage I am at, so I have little excuse. I will get there someday.

    • Well, must admit, I am starting to schedule some fo the very last of the series, but it will have taken me about 6 years by the time I finish all of ’em for Fedora – am still enjoying it greatly, but it is a slightly crazy thing to do!

  9. Pingback: MISCHIEF (1993) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

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