Friday, March 18, 2016

The Detective of the 87th Precinct Face Another Set of Very Challenging Problems

Of the first forty-nine entries in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, this (the forty-ninth) is, I think, the best so far. By now, the cast of characters has been thoroughly established and the members have changed very little through the years. When the first book in the series, Cop Hater, appeared, the detectives of the 87th were all in their middle thirties and they still are. The lead detective, Steve Carella, is dreading the approach of his fortieth birthday, but he's taken forty three years to age from thirty-five to forty, so he really shouldn't complain all that much. By now the precinct house, which also hasn't changed in all that time, should be as familiar to readers of the series as their own homes, as will the neighborhoods of McBain's fictional metropolis of Isola, the Big Bad City.

Given that, these books now must succeed or fail almost solely upon the merits of the story that McBain chooses to tell. Each of these books usually finds the detectives working two or three different cases simultaneously and over the years some of them have been more entertaining than others. The three cases that are interwoven through this book are uniformly very good.

As the book opens, detectives Steve Carella and Arthur Brown are called to the scene of a murder in a city park. A young woman has been strangled and, from the ring on her finger, Carella realizes that the woman was a nun, even though she's dressed in civilian clothes. He and Brown are even more surprised when the autopsy reveals that the murdered nun was sporting a set of expensive breast implants, a surgical procedure that I'm quite sure most of the nuns who taught me at St. Anthony's grade school would never have considered. But there are no witnesses, virtually no clues and even fewer leads in the case and so catching her killer is going to be a challenging piece of work.

While Carella and Brown work the murder case, detectives Meyer Meyer and Burt Kling are on the trail of the Cookie Boy, who breaks into peoples' homes, walks out with their valuables and leaves behind a box of chocolate chip cookies. He understands that it's not exactly a fair exchange, but then he did bake the cookies himself and they're very good cookies; he figures it's the least he can do. The newspapers are raising hell about his exploits, but the two detectives are trailing well behind him.

Finally, this book continues a thread that first appeared a couple of books ago. Without giving anything away, someone committed a serious crime against the family of one of the detectives. However, the person escaped conviction for the offense and has now returned to the scene, again constituting a serious threat.

McBain moves back and forth among these investigations and keeps the reader entertained throughout. As always in these books, there's a fair amount of wry humor mixed in with the blood and gore and the case of the murdered nun is especially interesting to follow. Again, for my money this is the best book in the series thus far, which is saying quite a bit given the very high standard that McBain set early on in the series. Any fan of the 87th Precinct will certainly want to search out this book.

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