Steve Carella is paired with Fat Ollie Weeks in this unusual entry in the 87th Precinct series. Shifting away from the whodunit formula, this is a contemporary thriller involving drug trafficking, counterfeiting and the secret service and featuring a rogue’s gallery of villains ranging from petty burglars to hit-men (and hit-women) and Islamic terrorists on American soil.
He flipped back his jacket, holstered the gun, and said, “You owe me one, Steve-a-rino.”
I offer this review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme, hosted today by Todd Mason at his Sweet Freedom blog
Nocturne (87th Precinct series #51)
First Published: 2001
Leading players: Steve Carella, Fat Ollie Weeks, Andy Parker, Meyer Meyer, Lieutenant Byrnes, Teddy Carella
Detective Steve Carella wished that one of the lions hadn’t dragged the left leg into the 88th Precinct. That was what brought Fat Ollie Weeks into the case.
Steve Carella and Fat Ollie Weeks take centre-stage, to the exclusion of most of the 87th Precinct regulars. The case begins with a corpse, but this is only after a 40-page section detailing the often confusing activities of a smuggler. She ultimately winds up dead and naked in the lion’s den at the zoo – only it turns out she was stabbed to death before being thrown in there! In trying to extricate her body, one of the lions pounces on Carella but Fat Ollie shoots it dead. Then another body turns up in a trashcan, feet first. All of which is linked to a large shipment of drugs that was paid for with funny money printed in the Middle East, which has a connection with a bomb that is going to be planted during a classical music performance.
The 87th precinct books usually had multiple plots but here the fun comes in trying to keep a grip on how the disparate elements all eventually gel into a single, criminous whole. The result is highly entertaining and does also very much show the influence of Elmore Leonard as an assortment of criminal groups, some better organised than others and some even affiliated with the US government, all get in each other’s way in search of a large bag of cash. And on top of that, there is that terrorist plot too …
It really upset Nikmaddu Zardour to be treated like a terrorist. Even if he looked like one. Even if he was one. Which, in fact, he happened to be.
This sprawling tale of murder and mayhem is set at Christmas but is pretty dark at heart and indeed got some unexpected publicity as its bombing subplot suddenly became sadly topical when it was published just before the World Trade Center attack (in an afterword, a first for the series, the author tells us the original US hardback publication was on 6 September 2001). In my paperback edition, printed in 2002, the event was in fact referenced directly, in what must have been an amendment to the original edition. Over a long and busy career, Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) managed to keep finding new ways to vary the formula of the series. Some were a lot more successful than others at coping with changing market demands and the preferences of readers. And in this volume there are many signs of time moving on and catching up with our regulars. Steve Carella, first among equals in the 87th squad, has been feeling a little low and even hitting the bottle of late. He is still upset with his sister for dating the man who bungled the prosecution of the man who killed their father, and really irked when it turns out that his mother has moved on and is dating someone! But he has also let the job get to him, not realising that he has not even grieved properly for the loss of his old friend and confidential informant, Danny Gimp (as explored in the previous volume, The Last Dance). Despite the contrasting pairing of straight as an arrow Carella with oafish and slovenly Weeks, McBain seems to have also been intent on making Carella a bit less idealised than normal. The domestic subplot certainly puts him and his family through the wringer – but then, if you have to expect some personal problem when a lion pounces on you in the line of work!
“You know who would make a better President than the one we got now?” Hawes said.
“Who?” Kling asked.
But there is some levity too, such as an extended skit on the best representations of US Presidents in the movies (the above quote is taken from a section that lasts four pages). On the whole then what we have here is a topical and pretty exciting thriller – not much of a puzzle in the traditional 87th Precinct sense but it eschews the sex and gore that marred some recent volumes, focusing instead on intrigue and the eccentric range of criminals, McBain proving himself as artful as ever as we watch all the various parts of the narrative come into focus with the author’s enviable skill.
McBain discussed the genesis and aftermath of this book’s publication with Mike Stotter of Shots magazine and can be read on their website.
You can check out my reviews of all the previous volumes at my 87 Precinct microsite.