FIDDLERS (2005) by Ed McBain

So six years and 55 books later, we come to the end of the road. This would prove to be the final 87th Precinct mystery by Ed McBain and was released posthumously. It was rumoured that he had, in advance, already written a concluding novel, Exit, to be published after his death. But it was not to be. So what kind of send off does the series get? We begin with a seemingly random series of murders …

“Remember me?” he said. “Chuck?”
And shot her twice in the face.

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

Fiddlers (87th Precinct series #55)
First Published: 2005
Leading players: Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Arthur Brown, Fat Ollie Weeks, Andy Parker, Lieutenant Byrnes, Richard Genero, Hal Willis, Eileen Burke, Nellie Brand, Teddy Carella, Sharyn Cooke, Patricia Gomez, Monoghan & Monroe

Kling was starting to sound to Brown like one of those tormented private eyes or rogue cops he read about in seven-dollar paperbacks that used to be dime novels that used to be penny dreadfuls.

The story picks a few days after the previous volume, Hark!, which saw Bert and Sharyn break up after a terrible disagreement when she kept something from him and he followed her to find out why. In fact, this book picks up a number of elements from that novel and reformulates them, including the eponymous violinist and a master criminal who goes by various names and who hooks up with a woman from an escort service while on his revenge spree. And once again we are asked to join the dots to discern the criminal pattern from his activities – in this case, what is the link between a priest, a woman who sold beauty products, a college professor, an old woman walking her dog and a blind violinist and why have they been all shot twice in the face by a man dubbed ‘The Glock Killer’ by the tabloids? And why was the dog also shot? And what about the mobster who he shot 17 times? Including the dog, that is seven victims …

“Some people get very offended when dogs are killed,” Hawes said … “You can kill all the cats in the world, they don’t care. But kill a dog? They march on City Hall.”

The increasing tide of violence puts a huge amount of pressure on Lieutenant Byrnes to solve the case, so the squad is broken up to investigate the shootings separately. In a very nice touch, especially given that this was to be the last in the series, we have the various teams solve the riddle of the murderer’s identity independently but at the same time, once again reinforcing the group ethic that always drove the books. On the domestic front, Ollie and Patricia go from strength to strength (and he loses ten pounds too), while Bert inevitably screws up his personal life, as he was always destined to do. For Steve and Teddy Carella there is drama when their twins Mark and April celebrate their 13th birthday and one of them gets in trouble for taking a puff of marijuana. Rather nicely, it is with this situation that Luigi, the new husband of Carella’s mother, finally makes his way into the detective’s heart by providing support and love – but then, that’s what we Italians are good at, after all. And then, halfway through the book, there is this amusing authorial interjection about the passage of time, and the sense that it is always later than you think. In the circumstances (the author died shortly after, aged 78), it is more than poignant:

Given your average life span of what – seventy, seventy-five, eighty tops – this put middle age somewhere between thirty-five and forty. Yes, kiddies, face it. You were rounding the bend at thirty, and middle-aged at thirty-five, imagine that. Fifty was fast approaching old age. Sixty was, in fact, old. Seventy was decrepit. Eighty was ready for the box.

Noticeably shorter, by a third, than any of the 87th Precinct volumes from the last twenty years, there are otherwise few obvious signs of the author’s declining health – the plot is tight and the banter more or less up to the usual standard. But undeniably, like Ian Fleming’s The Man with the Golden Gun and SS Van Dine’s Winter Murder Case, all of which were also published posthumously, one gets the impression that the version we have here was probably the penultimate draft, which would have been expanded upon before publication. But given how bloated the latter novels had been, I can’t say I’m too sorry since you have everything here to appreciate McBain’s gift for funny dialogue and his expert ability in keeping his plot ticking over. And there is something really quite moving when we discover the killer’s secret motive, though of course I can say no more.

You can check out my reviews of all the volumes in this series at my 87 Precinct microsite.

Next week I’ll be posting an overview of the entire series, looking at its strongest and weakest titles. Hope you can stop by and check it out.


***** (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.

32 Responses to FIDDLERS (2005) by Ed McBain

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’m impressed, Sergio, with your thoughtful and thorough discussion of this series. Not many would take on all 55 books in the series and go over them as you have. It’s been a real pleasure to read your thoughts on them. And it is interesting that this is how the series ended. As you say, the teamwork part was always essential, so we knew that would have to be there. And I’ve always thought McBain did a solid job of exploring the squad’s personal lives without taking away from the main plots.

  2. realthog says:

    Congrats on making it to the finishing tape, and with as tantalizing an account as ever. Although I’ve seen the book around, I’ve never read it and have never registered that it was the pisthumous final bow of the master. I must now, of course, lay hands on it at the first possible opportunity.

  3. Colin says:

    Well done on going through the entire run of books thoroughly and enjoyably. I refer back to earlier posts when I’ve read another in the series and it’s always good to see your perceptive take.
    Looking forward to your series overview now.

  4. Well dome on making it to the end! And yes – such a shame that McBain doesn’t seem to have left behind a final story….

  5. Jeff Meyerson has read all the 87th Precinct books and now you’ve accomplished it. I think I have a handful left to read. I’m trying to just read one book in the series per year to keep the End at bay.

  6. Steve says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your 87th precinct reviews. What I found interesting was that although generally the earlier novels were better, the later novels fared quite well, averaging around 3 out of 5. A great achievement Sergio and now looking forward to your overview of the series.

  7. tracybham says:

    I hope I finally get to reading Fiddlers some day since I have about 50 to go. I am stuck at Killer’s Choice because I only have an e-book copy but I guess I should make myself read it in that format. I look forward to your overview of the series.

  8. What a labor of love for you, Sergio. I admire your devotion. Even if I’ve never really gotten into these books (and I did try once or twice) but that only proves that no two people read the same book. That’s the beauty of reading. Think how boring it would all be if everyone liked the same thing.

  9. Matt Paust says:

    Bravo! Feeling a little post McBain depression yet?

  10. justjack says:

    All good things….

    Just finished it earlier this afternoon. I must say, if we couldn’t have a purpose-written final novel for the series, then McBain could have done an awful lot worse than to go out on “Fiddlers.” It’s tight, features almost as many detectives as the previous “Hark,” and presents a classic 87th Precinct plot (I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the gimmick books like “Hail To The Chief” or “Money Money Money” as much as you). And even though it wasn’t expressly meant to be a final novel, still there’s a very strong elegiac atmosphere, as (whether he explicitly meant to or not) McBain endows the murderer with some characteristics that in retrospect can only make us think of the author.

    I’m glad that we got to see Steve make his peace with his mom’s new husband. That was well done. But I’m sorry that we won’t be able to see what happens next with his twin children–that daughter sounds like she’s going to be a handful.

    I’m also glad that we didn’t have too much Fat Ollie Weeks. I liked him very much when McBain first introduced him to the series, but in recent books I’d come to have kind of a Fat Ollie hangover. McBain kept shoehorning him into stories that didn’t necessarily need him. If we were going to see Fat Ollie in every story, then perhaps it would have been better if McBain had just transferred him to the Eight Seven. Still, as I say, I think we got just the right amount of Fat Ollie in this final entry.

    You know what I’m most sorry for, now that the series has come to an end? Parker & Genero! Parker & Genero! In “Fiddlers” as well as “Hark,” the most unexpectedly productive new detective team in the squad room has got to be Parker & Genero. They have great chemistry, and they pull off the tandem-interrogation almost as well as more experienced teams such as Carella and Meyer. Who’d’ve thunk that the Lazy Parker and the Dimwitted Genero, when partnered together, could be so much more than the sum of their individual parts. I am truly sorry not to see them continue to grow; I would bet you money that, had McBain lived, we would have soon seen a book with Parker & Genero at the heart of the plot.

    Sergio, I have greatly enjoyed coming on this journey with you. I’m sorry it has come to the end. I may revisit the series in the future, but for now I’ve decided to complete the Inspector Morse series. After that, I may go back to Inspector Maigret, in which case I’ll return to your lovely web site for your thoughts on Simenon’s detective.

    • Dear Jack, it’s been a real privilege having your thoughts and comments published here, thanks very much.

      Like you I think a little of Ollie goes a long way and McBain’s affection is a little hard to fathom. But I guess it gave a fresh angle, as did focusing more on Genero and Parker.

      It’s a shame “Exit” never got written – but then, we were always ‘In Media Res’ in thus series, always flowing, always moving (even if not always forward). As a final volume it is proficient, efficient, and sufficient in all ways.

      See you round Jack. Don’t take any plug nickels!

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