THE LAST BEST HOPE (1998) by Ed McBain

mcbain_last-best-hope_nel This was designed as the last in the series of 13 Florida-based thrillers featuring lawyer Matthew Hope and to celebrate, Ed McBain turned it into a cross-over with his 87th Precinct mysteries, producing an entertaining legal-procedural-caper hybrid. For the purposes of this blog, I am treating it as the 48th book in the 87th Precinct series. Hope is recovering from a shooting which left him in a coma and in unsure about where his life might lead. In the meantime he gets involved with a wife, Jill, who is looking for her errant husband, Jack, last seen in Isola …

I offer the following review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog

The Last Best Hope (87th Precinct series #48)
First Published: 1998
Leading players:  Steve Carella, Andy Parker

“We’ll try and find him for you,” Matthew said.
“Please,” she said. “The bastard.”

The Hope series were usually built around old fairy tales (though with adult language and sex thrown in) so here we have Jack and Jill, a married couple who haven’t seen each other for several months. Jill wants to find him so they can get a divorce. As she last heard of him in Isola, Matthew (who was originally from ‘up north’) gets in touch with the 87th and makes friends with Steve Carella, who unusually is not too busy. It is exactly a year since the events depicted in Nocturne, though one imagines that McBain must have been thinking about both of these books at the same time as they have a lot of overlapping material. Along with several shared jokes about the elderly, cats solving crimes in fiction and quips about who really wrote the Hitchcock film The Birds (it was McBain himself, as ‘Evan Hunter’), the author also continues his obsession with threesomes and swinging couples from the previous book. Here it turns out that Jack and Jill had, for the last eight years, been sharing their bed with Melanie, who has since left Jill and also moved up north to be with jack. But now she is back in Calusa and seems to have brought an old jail-bird with her, who soon turns up dead, sporting Jack’s credentials. Then the story gets really convoluted as we follow, in a series of flashbacks, the earlier experiences of the trio of lovers and plans to steal the terracotta cup from which Socrates reputedly drunk his hemlock. In fact we even get a flashback to 399 BC to see it happen …

“I just thought of a profession that’s hated even more than lawyers and cops.”
“Tell me.”

From the late 1970s, McBain usually solved the problem of needing to write books twice as long as he had hitherto needed to, due to changing market needs, by including not one but at least two main plots. Here we get a very tangled tale, with Hope involved in a seemingly straightforward missing person case but actually involved in a planned museum heist for an item worth several million dollars and several murders too, with the 87th (in the shape of Steve Carella, who ends up really liking Hope, and Andy Parker who of course instantly hates the guy) providing very much a secondary part of the story to hold up the rear. You cut, in truth, cut out all these scenes and the book would still work fine, but in fact the cross-over has a lot of charm. It’s not the first time that McBain made his 87th Precinct cop heroes into extras in their own series, having done this very successfully some thirty years earlier in He Who Hesitates; except here this does feel different because this was technically part of the Hope series. But this does pay off in a great scene in which the traditional Q&A that is usually found in the 87th books gets inverted, with Andy Parker on the receiving end with Hall doing the questioning, which is great fun. Either way, this is a fairly light-hearted tale (albeit with several murders along the way) with a variety of often unlikely criminal types trying to get the best of each other. The book often feels much more in keeping with the style of Elmore Leonard than McBain. In this case though, the end result is really not bad at all …

The Matthew Hope Mysteriesmcbain_last-best-hope_hb

  1. Goldilocks (1978)
  2. Rumpelstiltskin (1981)
  3. Beauty and the Beast (1982)
  4. Jack and the Beanstalk (1984)
  5. Snow White and Rose Red (1985)
  6. Cinderella (1986)
  7. Puss in Boots (1987)
  8. The House that Jack Built (1988)
  9. Three Blind Mice (1990)
  10. Mary, Mary (1993)
  11. There was a Little Girl (1994)
  12. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996)
  13. The Last Best Hope (1998)

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

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

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46 Responses to THE LAST BEST HOPE (1998) by Ed McBain

  1. Colin says:

    This appears to be an interesting cross-over and I’ll be looking out for it. I read Puss in Boots earlier in the year and generally liked it, although the violence is a bit brutal in places. What was important for me was the character of Hope is a good one and that carried the tale along for me. I like the idea of him interacting with the 87th Precinct folks.

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    What an intriguing idea for a crossover, Sergio. And I like your reference to Elmore Leonard. It’s a really effective way to describe the writing style in this one. And that’s the thing about McBain. He tried new things and took different approaches in the different books. Not all of them are stellar, but the series is made better with those innovations, I think.

  3. Intriguing – I never read the Hope stories, but in theory I have every 87th story (as my OH one Christmas gave me every spinoff or extra he could find, so this one should be there). Shall definitely check it out!

  4. vicky blake says:

    Very interesting what you say about his need to write longer books in the 70s and the effect on his plotting. I have a fondness for those mean lean crime books that you can wallop down in one setting.

  5. 282daniele says:

    Ehilà vecchio come stai? Io sono piuttosto acciaccato. Problemi articolari vari. Per il resto insomma… ho aperto un nuovo blog in italia, clone dell’altro italiano più conosciuto, La Morte sa leggere, ma su piattaforma google. Ho anche uno, sempre blogger, specifico sulle camere chiuse e uno di musica classica. L’header del nuovo blog l’ho fatto fotografando una marea di libri miei che avevo sotto mano e tra questi due che mi regalasti tu anni fa: un saggio su Ellery Queen e la Camera Chiusa di White. Tra due settimane è Natale. Vorrei chiederti una cosa: hai dei titoli in inglese che potresti inviarmi (SOLO in digitale)? Che so saggi, romanzi… Io vado sempre in cerca del Carr di Greene e di Locked Room di Adey. E li cerco non in forma cartacea ma digitale (perchè è più facile). So che iscrivendosi ad alcune piattaforme per cui pagando un canone fisso mensile puoi scaricare cosa tu voglia, si possono scaricare anche le forme digitali di questi due opere. Ma ricerco anche altre cose. Per es. il Crispin di Whittle, oltre che altre Camere Chiuse o delitti impossibili che non ho letto: per es. Sudden Death di Crofts, The Polferry Riddle Mystery di Philip MacDonald , The Wailing Rock Murders di Clifford Orr, The Malinsay Massacre di Dennis Wheatley, The Shade of Time di D. Duncan, Policeman’s Evidence di Rupert Penny, Six Were To Die di James Ronald, Murder on the Way di T. Roscoe, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders di Shimada, The Tattoo Murder Case di Takagi, The Phantom Violin di Jean-Joseph Renaud, Christopher Fowler: The Water Room, James E. Noble: “The Case of the Cop and the Drop” , oltre che romanzi di Berrow o Max Afford (di Afford non ho nulla, di Berrow ho Le orme di Satana). Potresti non avere nulla e allora, pazienza! 🙂 Ah, mi manca anche la raccolta dei racconti di Christianna Brand: The Spotted Cat and Other Mysteries, Crippen & Landru, 2002; di J. Commings : The Impossible Files of Senator Brooks U. Banner, Crippen & Landru; di Hoch: More Things Impossible: The Second Casebook of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (ho la prima raccolta, in italiano); The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original).
    Sono in cerca anche di quello che ha scritto Lacourbe (anche l’ultimo 1001 Locked Rooms, oltre a Chambres Closes).
    Il fatto è che non acquisto su internet per un problema che ebbi anni fa, quando cominciai a smanettare e fui vittima quasi di un tentativo di phishing che poteva causarmi seri problemi. Da allora non fornisco miei dati. Per questo non ho facebook, twitter e altro, escluso Anobii italiano e Good Reads. Ho cercato di reperire alcune cose rivolgendomi a librerie che promettevano di reperire cose da internet, ma con rislutati nulli. Sono riuscito a procurarmi solo il volume di Martin che ha vinto l’Edgar e il saggio di Curtis sulla Golden Age (Rhode, Connington) solo grazie a Mauro Boncopagni che li ha acquistati e me li ha girati e poi io gli ho fatto il bonifico bancario. In sostanza se hai dei files che potresti girarmi, io mi disobbligherei girandoti a mia volta delle cose, romanzi. Un amico mi ha regalato una marea di roba in epub. Titoli in inglese. In sostanza tu non ci rimetteresti nulla io nemmeno, e ognuno avrebbe qualcosa per Natale in tempi stretti (perchè se spedisci o spedisco…Buonanotte!). Ovviamente vale sempre la mia offerta fatta tanto tempo fa di reperirti romazi di Halter, ma in quel caso mi dovresti elencare quelli che dovessero mancarti e quelli per forza dovrei inviarteli. Ciao e a presto. Un abbraccio. Piero

    • Ciao Piero, scusa la risposta affrettata ma sto per partire per l’Australia (ho scritto tutte le recensioni per Fedora tante settimane fa). Mi dispiace di non poterti aiutare ma io no leggo libri in digitale. Ma non potresti fidare almedo di quelli come Amazon? Mi sebrano abbastanza affidabili (oodio, ho usate solo la version Inglese). Comunque tanti saluti a buona fortuna nel mondo degli ebook 🙂

      • Todd Mason says:

        Eccellente. Avere un buon tempo in Australia, fratello.

      • 282daniele says:

        Il fatto è caro Sergio che vi sono costretto mio malgrado. Anch’io leggo quasi esclusivamente libri cartacei, ma purtroppo non ho più abbastanza spazio in casa mia, che è un appartamento di quattro stanze e servizi. Ho la cantina, ma mi piangerebbe il cuore di dover riempire di gialli degli scatoloni da mettere giù, perchè non li avrei più in mente e vicino. E’ un fatto fisico. Io adoro stare tra gialli e dischi di musica classica: sono i miei soli hobbies. A casa mia possiedo circa tremila gialli, circa 500 libri di altro genere (storia, arte e narrativa) e circa tremila CD. A casa dei miei genitori ho un altro migliaio di gialli e altri 1000 CD. Di spazio non ne ho più. e quindi gioco forza devo ricorrere ora agli ebook. E ho scoperto che posso ricevewrli molto facilmente, e posso anche cederli con stesso modo. Tutto qui.
        Ho da parte parecchi doppioni dei Polillo, che è la sola casa editrice italiana che pubblichi sistematicamente gialli classici (whodunnit e Camere Chiuse). Intanto se vuoi e non la conosci, questo è il link:
        Siccome per qualche altro tempo avrete l’euro, ti conviene prendere qualche giallo che non hai letto perchè c’è solo l’imbarazzo della scelta e parecchia roba non è neranche disponibile in lingua inglese. Se ti interessa, quando ritorni dall’Australia, mandami un elenco di titoli anche di Halter che non hai e vedo di farti un pacco e di mandartelo in Inghilterra.
        Un abbraccio e Buon Natale.

        • Grazie Piero, ma davvero non e’ il caso – io passo tutto il giorno lavorando con I computer, non posso leggere poi mettermi a leggere libri elletronici, proprio non ci penso! E poi pian piano sto diminuendo la mia presenza online a causa di vari impegni di lavoro, Ma dopo tutti questi anni con Fedora, questo non mi dispiace troppo. Leggo sepre meno i gialli a dir la verita … Tanti auguri, altrettanto. Sergio

  6. I enjoyed the HOPE books especially the ones written in the 1980s. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was my favorite. Like you, I enjoyed the cross-over aspects of the 87th Precinct in THE LAST BEST HOPE.

  7. Matt Paust says:

    I enjoyed it, Sergio, and for me it was virtually a standalone as it had been decades since my last McBain. Your review makes it clear you got a lot more out of it than I did, but I think we agree it was a good read.

    • Thanks Matt – obviously the McBain project looms large in my reading at present and this is one of the more unusual ones from the era, and a welcome change (especially compared to the one that preceded it).

  8. Barry Ergang says:

    This is the only book in the Matthew Hope series I’ve read so far, but I greatly enjoyed it–see

  9. 282daniele says:

    Pensavo di aver proposto nulla di sconveniente, Sergio. Ma se non rispondi forse non è così. Booh. Allora non prendere in considerazione quello che ho scritto. Ciao.

  10. Todd Mason says:

    A Hunter that is his version of Elmore Leonard I might give a shot to, sometime…

  11. Todd Mason says:

    While he wasn’t the most consistent bestseller in the period, I suspect the publishers would’ve allowed him to write shorter books if so inclined…but probably not for the kind of money they’d offer for the bug-crushers…

  12. tracybham says:

    I do have the first Mathew Hope book, Goldilocks. Perhaps I should give it a try. But some more 87th Precinct first. I have the next one that I am due to read on Kindle but dread reading on the Kindle, so need to find a paper copy.

    • Why do you dread the Kindle then? As a non-user I am very curious … 🙂

      • tracybham says:

        It possibly has to do with my age and my eyes. One would think with the ability to adjust the size of the print and the brightness, that the reading would be better, but it doesn’t work that way for me. It just isn’t a pleasant reading experience. (And I am on a computer all day at work.) I am sure for many with eye problems, there are advantages of reading on the Kindle. I also have problems sleeping and I generally do my reading before bed, Using electronic devices right before bed can affect sleep adversely. Right now I have a mental block about this, but I have a smaller, lighter Samsung tablet with blue light filter, and I need to try that out.

        • That is pretty much what stops me from getting one – I use a computer all day and always have trouble sleeping and in fact use reading a book as partly a way to slow down and try and get some sleep – I feel your pain Tracy 🙂

  13. Thanks for the review, Sergio — I wasn’t aware that McBain had written a crossover between his two series, and it sounds like a good read. I own several (possibly most) of the Hope books but have not yet read them since I’d like to read more of the 87th first…

  14. Sergio, I don’t think I have read any novel where the hero plays an extra, and especially in a widely read series, such as this one. I like the idea of the Hope series being built around fairy tales. I think McBain found a nice way of surprising, even astounding, his readers and sustain their interest.

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

  16. justjack says:

    I mistakenly read this after “Tricks,” because I had LBH’s publication date as 1989 instead of 1998. Curiously, I found a number of strange similarities between the two books, the most unusual similarity being that “the Swan joke” gets told in both books. But there also was the presence of the unidentifiable body due to lack of a face/head, as well as McBain making slyly humorous allusions to himself by mentioning books and screenplays that he had authored, and then referring to the unnamed author of those other stories as a “hack.” All in all, not a bad book, but I really only read it for the 87th Precinct content–I’d previously read “There Was A Little Girl” and had decided that Matthew Hope wasn’t for me.

    • Good to have you Jack, it’s been a while! I tend to agree about the Hope books. I hadn’t really picked up on those commonalities though the self- deprecating references to hacks are funny because we know he thought he was better than that most of the time, which I would certainly agree with 😀

      • justjack says:

        I myself was surprised to see how long I’d been away from the 87th Precinct. I’m happy to be back in that world, and to be able once again to read your fine reviews.

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