The murder of a nun, a burglar who leaves cookies as a calling card and various family entanglements involving Steve Carella, his sister and the man who murdered their father, are just some of the elements to be found in the last 87th Precinct novel from the 20th century. And a very good one it is too!
“I thought it was … forgive me, I thought it was a bundle of clothes or something. Then I realised it was a woman”
I offer this review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, hosted today by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.
The Big Bad City (87th Precinct series #49)
First Published: 1999
Leading players: Steve Carella, Arthur Brown, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Andy Parker, Fat Ollie Weeks, Lieutenant Byrnes, Monoghan & Monroe, Hal Willis, Dave Murchison, Teddy Carella, Nellie Brand, Matthew Hope
“Are you sure she’s a nun?”
“Why? Carella asked. “What else did you find?”
“Breast implants,” Blaney said.
It is late August, ER is the hot show on TV, and everyone has email, but the passage of time is deceptive for the 87th – for one thing, the Carella twins Mark and April are now 12 years old, which is impressive given their birth was chronicled in ’till Death, a book published in the late 1950s! But then again, this makes skewed sense since their father, Steve Carella – first seen in Cop Hater, published 43 years earlier – is worrying about the fact that he is about to turn 40! But despite the typically eccentric sense of personal chronology in the series, the past weighs heavily here. Sister Mary Vincent, the murder victim found strangled in the park, seems to have been worried about money of late and requested a loan of thousands of dollars from her brother without explaining why she needed it – but who would blackmail a nun? It transpires that before her religious life she was briefly a rock singer (and had a breast augmentation as part of her new look), so the secret to the motive may lie there.
“Been nice to know you,” he said, and rolled him off the rock wall and into the water.
But the past impinges on Carella too – he is being pursued by Sonny Cole, the man who killed his father during a robbery (as detailed in Widows), a case that took a sour and unexpected turn when, due to procedural foul-ups (the trial featured in the follow-up novel, Kiss), the perpetrator ultimately walked free. But Sonny is scared that Carella will be gunning for him, so elects to get him first. And only racist slob Fat Ollie Weeks can save the day when he spots the connection with another dead body found in the river. In the meantime, Meyer and Kling investigate a series of robberies by a miscreant known as ‘The Cookie Boy’ as he always leaves a bag of biscuits at the scene of the crime. This turns nasty when things goes wrong and two innocent people die.
Burglary was his entire life. He truly enjoyed what he did, but now he was fearful he might never derive pleasure from it again.
McBain does a great job here of juggling the multiple plotlines and even finds time for a nice cameo from Matthew Hope, the now retired lawyer from Florida (who used to have his own series of novels) who struck a friendship with Carella in his last outing, The Last Best Hope. In its mixture of old and new, McBain goes out of his way to acknowledge the past in a sweet scene towards the end of the story when Carella and Brown reminisce about many of their older cases. Among them they recall the deaths of Hernandez in See Them Die (1960) and Roger Havilland in Killer’s Choice (1957); the kidnapping of the wrong boy in King’s Ransom (1959); the precinct siege in Killer’s Wedge (1959); the death of Bert Kling’s beloved Claire Townsend in Lady, Lady I Did It (1961); and the crazy bank robbery at the heart of Let’s Hear It for the Deaf Man (1973). Just as McBain was prepping the 50th book in the series, it seemed he was looking at old glories and perhaps planning an exit. Would The Last Dance (2000) in fact prove to be the last in the series? We shall see, very shortly …
You can check out my reviews of the 48 previous volumes at my 87 Precinct microsite.