The 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.
The 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)