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.