MISCHIEF (1993) by Ed McBain

McBain_MISCHIEF_pbThe Deaf Man, that arch nemesis of the 87th Precinct and in particular thorn in the side of detective Steve Carella, is back again for a Springtime caper, here passing himself as Sanson, one of his many daft and transparent pseudonyms. But this is just one of a multitude of storylines that include a rap concert in the park, the murder of several graffiti artists, pro-choice demonstrators, a hostage negotiation that goes hideously wrong, maltreatment of seniors, rising racial tensions and an unexpected link-up to a previous book from this series originally published in the late 1970s,

I submit this review for  Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

Mischief (87th Precinct series #45)
First Published: 1993
Leading players: Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Eileen Burke, Teddy Carella, Bert Kling, Andy Parker, Cotton Hawes, Arthur Brown, Nellie Brand, The Deaf Man

“What’d he say?” asked Byrnes.
“He said he missed us,” said Carella.

In the previous book in the series, Kiss, there had been several references to the way that graffiti was taking over parts of the city (one of the characters even blamed Norman Mailer for enabling and enabling it by calling it a form of art), laying the groundwork for one of the plot strands here, in which various street spray artists are murdered in cold blood. This seemingly random killing spree is matched by the cruel abandonment of several elderly people suffering from dementia who are left at an empty train station with no idea who they are anymore, their families no longer able to cope with their deteriorating health. This difficult topic (‘granny dumping’)  is very well handled by McBain and Hawes’ and Meyer’s investigation is full of emotion, looking at the distress of the victims and their families too, while dodging sentimentality.

This was a city on the thin edge of explosion. Everywhere you looked, you saw anger seething just below the surface. The Deaf Man liked that.

McBain-MISCHIEF-pb1The book also has strong links to characters from Calypso (1979), which in the scrambled timeline of the series only took place a few years earlier. A rap band licences one of songs written by King George, the singer at the heart of that novel, and his widow falls in love with the singer from the new band, the plan being to premiere their cover version at a concert in the park. Carella is worried that The Deaf Mans will exploit this when he starts teasing them with pages from a sci-fi novel, but doesn’t know how. We also follow Teddy’s involvement with a pro-choice clinic (we are left in no doubt of the author’s liberal credentials here) and Eileen Burke’s work as a hostage negotiator, all leading to the concert taking place just after April Fool’s Day …

“How long has he been this way?” Delarosa asked.
“Too long,” Margaret said, and sighed again.

There is no getting away from it, this book with its myriad of plots and subplots, is a bit of a mess. They work well individually but often fail to coalesce into anything like a cohesive whole. Instead, what we get is a real smorgasbord of elements, with most of the squad involved in one way or another, snaking off in all directions – Parker and Kling, while investigating the graffiti murders, even end up with new girlfriends! There are several nods to the past in this volume, with the murder plot linking all the way back to the first book in the series. However, one has to acknowledge that by comparison, Mischief is let down by a weak motive, though the reveal of the villain is a nice surprise. The elements from Calypso prove surprisingly substantial, while we also get a long flashback to Steve courtship of Teddy all those books ago (though not for any specific reason I could discern). The end result is bitty and scrappy, with the Deaf Man plot especially getting slightly short-changed here, his eventual comeuppance (not a spoiler this, all the Deaf Man’s plots fail) somewhat unconvincing too. Another middling entry from the series’ later years.

The Deaf Man cases

  • The Heckler (1960) – which I previously reviewed here
  • Fuzz (1968) – reviewed here
  • Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man! (1973) – reviewed here
  • Eight Black Horses (1985) – review
  • Mischief (1993)
  • Hark! (2004)

***** (2.5 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 MISCHIEF (1993) by Ed McBain

  1. realthog says:

    Ha! I remember enjoying this one too — one of the best of the later years, INMO. For me, everything happily tied together at the end.

    The Deaf Man, that arch nemesis of the 87th Precinct

    A nemesis, yep. Arch, oh, very arch, yep.

    • I think you and I may not be entirely in sync when it comes to some of these later volumes John 🙂 Yes, very arch – while everything else about the book aims to be contemporary, he feels very much like leftover from the Golden Age to me …

  2. Simon says:

    Another great review of one of the most famous series so many people have never head of! That’s the crime! It’s easy to forget in how few books The Deaf Man actually appeared, he always seems to be present.. It would be so interesting to speculate on any denouement to the character that McBain may have had, had been able to carry on,but at least we have got these novels to savour over and over, and as I (and others) always say, “even a bad McBain is so much better than a good book by so many others”. Here’s to the Master, may his memory last for ever.

    • Thanks Simon – yes, there was a rumour of a book designed to be a final send off, wasn’t there, but maybe this is best – after all, the chronology was very skewed by this point!

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    You know, Sergio, I think that’s the risk you run with an ensemble cast and multiple plot threads: a story that seems to be more a smorgasbord than a plot line. Still, I do love the characters, and I like some of these plot threads. And, hey, McBain at his least cohesive is heaps better than lots of people at their most cohesive.

  4. Colin says:

    Sorry to hear everything doesn’t quite gel in this entry, although it’s nice that it ties in to an extent with some of the earlier stories. I’ve yet to read any of the Deaf Man stories myself – I’ll get there in the end of course.

    • I’ll be very curious to know what you think – the character is pretty nasty actually, regularly killing off lots of people and yet some of the books are outright farces too – the variety in the series is amazing,

      • Colin says:

        Interesting. Good point about the variety – even in the few series entries I’ve read so far some of that is to be seen.

        • Well, hard to sustain a series this long without it 😉 But it is one aspect that I really admire now that I have reviewed most of them (10 more to go – taken me over 5 years to get here, gulp!)

          • Colin says:

            It’s very easy to become totally formulaic with a long series though, and keeping a bit of variety going is important.
            Five years does sound a lot – mind you, it’s going to take me even longer!

          • Well, I have been pushing the reviews out a bit faster of late, as you may have noticed, as it did start to make me feel like I was dragging my heels a bit …

  5. Must try this series again at some point – although not starting here…

    Delete this bit – you refer to it by the wrong title in the bold summary info

  6. The Deaf Man series went downhill at the end. I got the feeling McBain was getting bored by his villain. Only one more for you to go!

    • Yes, one left that’s right – and I know what you mean about his waning super villain status as the trouble is, we learn very little about him and of course he practically never gets to have a face to face either, which doesn’t help on that score!

  7. It’s the multiple plot lines in the 87th Precinct books that cause me problems as a mystery reader, I really prefer a novel that doesn’t jump about so and I find that in all of them. Sounds like this is more so than most. I have a few of these still waiting on the shelf, and will read them, but I’m not a compulsive McBain reader like some () so I’m not in a hurry. Thanks, as always, for this and all of your reviews.

  8. Matt Paust says:

    I’m like Richard in that McBain is not a favorite of mine, but I’ve gotten the bug and will be reading more. I find his voice more interesting than the plot threads. The Deaf Man series intrigues me. Thanks for the introduction, Sergio.

  9. I still haven’t gotten around to the Ed McBain novel I downloaded to my Kindle a while back, Sergio. Soon as I do I’ll write about it (how could I not?) unless I don’t like it and in that case I’ll keep mum. This one doesn’t sound so terrific, but I still read the review as I always do. 🙂

  10. Now that I’ve decided I’m not reading any more McBain soon (and I know that’s blasphemy) I enjoy your reviews more…

  11. tracybham says:

    My usual refrain, got to get back to my McBain novels. I don’t have all of them, but have enough of the earlier ones to keep going for a while.

  12. Pingback: ROMANCE (1995) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

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  15. justjack says:

    “A bit of a mess” indeed. All over the place. There was one misdirection that I found satisfying, but otherwise I had a hard time keeping track of the various storylines. By the end, during the interrogation scenes, I started forgetting who was working on which case. This book reminds me of late-era M*A*S*H, where you had three plots each episode, no overlap, and dialogue that made everybody sound the same.

    Overall, I liked the graffiti artist plot the best, but that’s only in comparison to the other stories. And considering that this is supposed to be a Deaf Man book, there sure wasn’t much Deaf Man in it.

    • Good to hear from you again Jack. With the exception of THE HECKLER, his first appearance, and FUZZ, a highly unusual departure into farce for the series, I don’t think The Deaf Man books stand out that significantly in the series. I love that there is a nemesis but it’s often not enough to lift a minor entry – and the quality was very variable by this point.

  16. Pingback: HARK! (2004) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

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