Ed McBain decided that ultra-bigot Detective/First Grade Oliver Wendell Weeks – known colloquially (if not to his face) as ‘Fat Ollie’ – somehow merited having his own 87th Precinct mystery, even though he’s from the 88th! But what about Roger Havilland and Andy Parker, the two equally un-PC cops actually from the 87th? They never got a volume dedicated to them. But life is never fair .. Carella actually does most of the work tracking down the murderer of a candidate for mayor; Ollie instead tries to find the miscreant who lifted the manuscript of his debut novel!
I offer this review for Friday’s Forgotten Books meme hosted today by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.
Nocturne (87th Precinct series #52)
First Published: 2002
Leading players: Fat Ollie Weeks, Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Eileen Burke, Andy Parker, Lieutenant Byrnes, Sharon Cooke, Fats Donner, Teddy Carella, Nellie Brand, Monoghan & Monroe
A pair of bookends in black – the color of death, the unofficial color of Homicide – the two jackasses were the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of law enforcement. Ollie wanted to punch them both in the mouth.
After the high-octane, large-canvas, super-topical thriller that was Money, Money, Money, the previous title in the series, McBain returns to his by now more standard approach by having three separate cases in play: the murder of a candidate for mayor who was cheating on his wife; the theft of a briefcase; and a the busting of a drugs ring. But there are some new wrinkles all the same, including the introduction of tabloid TV Journalist Honey Blair, who would be a regular for the rest of the books in the series. And the Revered Gabriel Foster is back again too. However, unavoidably, and as signalled by the punning title, first and foremost we get Fat Ollie Weeks as the main protagonist. And not just him but also his recently finished novel of which there is only one copy. This becomes fairly central to the story so we are treated to about 50 pages of extracts from Weeks’ tome!
“Throw us off the scent?” Parker said. “What is this, Sherlock Holmes?”
The murder is investigated mainly by Carella and Kling. Ollie is supposedly taking point as the politician was killed in the 88th – but as he lived in the 87th he gets Carella yanked in as his partner. This is partly because he loves working with him (Carella is about the only cop who makes an effort to tolerate his horrible behaviour). And Carella accepts for a very good reason – Ollie did in fact save his life not once but twice in their previous case together. That took place in the depth of Winter but now it is April and love is in the air – even Ollie finds a friend in the shape on a young female cop who actually recognises his WC Fields impersonation! However, despite the pressures of work and finding a woman who actually likes him, Ollie spends most of his time tracking down the person who stole the briefcase from the back of his car – the briefcase contained the only copy of his literary (cough) debut, a police procedural written from a female point of view. As I mentioned, we do get to read big chunks of Ollie’s book, and … well, it has to be said, it’s not very good! But McBain uses it as a springboard to have lots of fun with amateur authors as well as amateur critics (there is a hilarious section devoted to those who post reviews on Amazon). Here’s a (mercifully) short example from his creative exegesis:
“You won’t have to worry about eatin too much longer,” she said, and burst out laughing, which I considered ominous. “You goan be dead by midnight,” she added, which I also took to be a bad sign. The clock was ticking
This part of the story is admittedly the weakest, not just because the long sections from the book are a bit too obvious as padding; but because to make it dovetail into another part of the plot we have to swallow that the thief, admittedly a not too bright drug addict, believes that the novel, entitled Report to the Commissioner (and no, we don’t think Weeks has heard of James Mills’ eponymous 1972 bestseller), is a real police report. And that in code it details the whereabouts of a cache of diamonds. This is done, smartly enough, it has to be said, so that it eventually overlaps with a drugs bust being handled (poorly) by Andy Parker, who has been partnered with Eileen Burke, who has now joined the squad.
As coincidence would have it, Eileen Burke walked in just then.
It’s great to have her back as she has not been seen since Mischief, almost a decade ago, though when last we saw her I thought she (and McBain) were maybe a bit unfair to Bert Kling over their dramatic broke up. But it is a pleasure to see the two straighten things out in a brief scene – and even nicer to get some quality time devoted to his love affair with Sharyn Cooke – there is a lovely four-page section devoted to just how much in love they are with each other. if it doesn’t warm your heart, then you are made of much, much sterner stuff than I.
This is an intrinsically lightweight book – the investigation into the murder ultimately proves fairly easy to crack and Ollie’s book is amusingly awful (if admittedly over-exposed purely to keep the page count up) – but the character stuff is great and on the whole I had a very good time with this late entry in the series.
You can check out my reviews of all the volumes in this series at my 87 Precinct microsite.