THE LAST DANCE (2000) by Ed McBain

Given the title and the fact that it was the fiftieth entry in the 87th Precinct series, it is possible, just maybe, that this was envisaged as the last one – or maybe McBain was just toying with us. Certainly, this novel proved to be the end of the road for informant extraordinaire Daniel Nelson, aka Danny Gimp, a fixture since 1956’s Cop Hater, the first volume in the series.

… Danny was already dead when Carella knelt beside him.

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

The Last Dance (87th Precinct series #50)
First Published: 2000
Leading players:  Steve Carella, Arthur Brown, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Andy Parker, Fat Ollie Weeks, Lieutenant Byrnes, Hal Willis, Monoghan & Monroe, Nellie Brand, Sharyn Cooke, Annie Rawls, Danny Gimp

Carella wondered what happened to those simple cases where you walked in and found a guy with a smoking gun in his fist and a bloody corpse at his feet.

We begin in late October and Steve Carella just celebrated his 40th birthday earlier that month (as in several books in the series before, in passing October 15 is referenced as the birthday of great men, which it well might, given that it was the birthday of  Salvatore Lambino, aka Evan Hunter aka Ed McBain). In total we will be investigating three crimes, which may or may not actually be connected. The first involved the apparent death of a heart attack of an elderly man whose body was discovered by his daughter. Only this later turns out to have been a suicide that she tried to disguise. And then the case really gets complicate when the powerful sedative Rohypnol (the so-called ‘date rape’ drug) is found in his system …

There was enough bitterness and bile in Betty Young to corrode the hull of a battleship.

Carella turns to his confidential informant Danny Gimp to find out who may have killed the old man and tried to make it look like suicide (before the daughter tampered with the evidence). But before Danny, who has long considered himself to be Carella’s friend, can reveal the name of the hitman, he is gunned down by a pair of men while the two were meeting at a pizzeria. Carella handles the death pretty well and McBain avoids any over sentimentality, though this is in fact one hell of a shock and Danny had appeared in a great many books in the series, all the way back to the first. In fact, his exit is perhaps just a little under-reported, in my view. Either way, the two killers are found when the girlfriend of one of them snitches on him. And then his partner is beaten up in jail by two very nasty policeman, instigating something of a race riot courtesy of an Al Sharpton style preacher, Revered Gabriel Foster. The one of Foster’s staffers is raped (leading to a nice cameo for Annie Rawls), and then another murder is committed. Race relations was a theme that McBain returned to time and again throughout his later books in the series, so it is nice to report that at least Bert Kling and his African-American girlfriend, Sharyn Cooke, are still together.

The consistent thing about Ollie Weeks was that he hated everyone regardless of race, creed or color. Ollie was a consummate bigot. Without even knowing it.

Then Fat Ollie Weeks enters the fray, investigating the stabbing of a stripper in the 88th Precinct, who also seems to have been drugged with Rohypnol before being murdered. Was it the same person who killed the old man? And what is the connection with a new Broadway musical? This last element, involving copyright ownership of underlying rights to a musical property based on a previous play, is an original one for McBain and one that, professionally speaking (copyright is a big part of what I do at work), I found very amusing. Despite the fairly dark and convoluted matter involving the various physical and sexual assaults and multiple murders (the book features 4 killings and three murderers as well as assorted co-conspirators), there is always room for humour in McBain – in this case, when get several in-jokes such as a reference to High and Low, Kurosawa’s classic 1963 film version of McBain’s 1959 opus, King’s Ransom, as well as McBain’s romantic novel Strangers When We Meet, published as by ‘Evan Hunter’ (which was also filmed, in 1960, with a screenplay by the author).

And then detective Hal Willis gets shot and his fate is left unclear even by the end, just as a race riot starts to kick off … so I’m glad to say that this did not turn out to be the last in the series, after all. The saga would continue Money, Money, Money (2001), which as we shall see proved to have a tragic prescience all its own …

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

***** (3 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.

25 Responses to THE LAST DANCE (2000) by Ed McBain

  1. Colin says:

    A reasonably strong entry then. It’s good to hear the quality was still evident this deep into the series.

    • No outright duffers in the final batch I am glad to say – I will be reviewing all the rest over the next two months. Checking out time approaches …

      • Colin says:

        I’ll be dipping back into your pieces as I go along through the series, but I have to say I will miss having fresh ones appearing regularly. Any plans to tackle another long series once this is done and dusted, or will you just take it easier and avoid big targets like this for a while?

        • Well … I do want to finish doing the rest of the Universal Holmes and Watson films. And then definitely a break because the one thing I have noticed is that I was a much younger man when I started this challenge!

          • Colin says:

            Well, there is that. I know the feeling about committing oneself and then thinking how long it’s logically going to take – sobering, to say the least.

          • I was probably a bit naive when I started this but I certainly never thought it would take 6 years to review all the McBains!!! Mind you, this wasn’t helped by a one-year gap between reviews, admittedly! I’ll be glad when it’s done as I enjoyed it and I don’t believe anybody else has tried it. This is of course when I discover that I am the tenth person to do it … Truthfully, I don’t think I will ever find the time and stamina to do it again ..

          • Colin says:

            It’s quite an achievement – reading the books is one thing but writing each one up in turn constitutes a mighty effort.

          • Well that is kind of you chum – but I still don’t know how the likes of Moira and Margot manage to post every day, really don’t.

          • Colin says:

            Oh indeed. I’ve never been all that prolific myself – one post a week if I’m in the right mood is about as good as it gets – so I’m always a little in awe of guys like that.

          • Yeah, but with one post you get the traffic we get with four, so it evens out pardner 😀

          • Colin says:

            Not sure if the numbers are quite that but it sounds good so I’ll sat nothing. 🙂

          • You are way too modest!

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’m glad, Sergio, that you liked this one. I am always in awe of McBain’s ability to carry through a series that long. Yes, some entries are weaker than others are. But still…. And about Money, Money, Money…. yes, tragically prescient – I like the way you put that.

    • Thanks Margot very kind of you. And it is intetesting that McBain, perhaps due to his own health issues, mafe tbe fonal half dozen novels all take place consecutively within an arc of just a few months.

  3. realthog says:

    I must have read this one not long after it was published. I vaguely remember enjoying it quite a lot. Thanks for the reminder, Sergio, and for the excellent writeup of its strengths and weaknesses.

  4. tracybham says:

    It is amazing to me that you have reviewed fifty of his novels in only 6 years. A worthy pursuit and you have kept at it.

  5. Matt Paust says:

    Sounds to be a lot more complicated than the handful of 87ths I’ve read thus far. Congrats, Sergio, on reviewing 50 McBs!

  6. I had the same feeling when I was reading THE LAST DANCE that you did. I think Ed McBain knew he was going to wrap up the series and this could have been a good way to end it.

  7. Pingback: MONEY, MONEY, MONEY (2001) by Ed McBain | Tipping My Fedora

  8. justjack says:

    Enjoyed this one overall. While I can’t say this was a major entry, at the same time there really isn’t much I can complain about. I was glad we got less of Carella than we’ve been getting of late. Glad to have Kling and Willis have more to contribute than of late (although Cotton continues to have nothing to do. And where is Genero? I think he was a really fascinating addition to the squad. Shame he disappeared). Interested to see Lieutenant Byrnes put a very wrong foot forward during interrogation!

    Andy Parker has become completely rehabilitated in this entry–he even shaves now!! I really like the arc his character has taken over the most recent books, and all starting when he began keeping company with that woman of Puerto Rican background several entries ago. I liked how, early in this book during a spitballing session in Byrnes’s office, Art Brown bristles at what he automatically assumes are racist comments from Parker, Parker defends his statements as relevant to the case, and why are you so touchy Brown, and Brown grudgingly backs off. By the end of the book, as they discuss perp motivations, Brown and Parker are still arguing, but no longer in a hostile way. And that final line from Parker: “Who’s for pizza?” That tells me that he’s fully reintegrated into the squad.

    I was going to complain about having Fat Ollie back in yet another story, but his contributions were very well handled, I thought. We really got to see him carrying out good detective work, knocking on doors, following up on leads, pounding shoe leather at 2am, and shock of shocks, NOT being a nonstop total racist ass while doing it.

    The fact that all the detectives were presented in positive lights, that Murchison and Miscolo (and Miscolo’s coffee) get quick appearances, that Annie Rawles gets a brief scene also, and especially that Bert and Sharyn were still holding on to each other at the very very end of the book despite the race riot that appears to be enveloping the city, all helped to create an elegiac feel to this one. I concur that McBain may have been toying with this being the final 87th Precinct title.

    Now, onto what I did *not* like: the reveal of the perp who gave themselves away by the cliche “wait, how did you know that fact?” Otherwise, I don’t think there was much to complain about.

    • Thanks a lot Jack, glad this worked for you too. McBain never really managed to figure out how to turn these into Clancy-style blockbusters but it is wonderfully busy all the same!

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