From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 08 Jul 2005

As someone who is both a policeman and who specializes in police procedurals, it goes without saying that Ed McBain's passing saddens me deeply. In many respects, McBain had an influence on my choice both of professions. Of both my professions.

McBain can't properly be called the "inventor" of the police procedural. I suppose if anyone deserves that title, it's Jack Webb, whose radio-TV series DRAGNET was, as McBain himself often admitted, such a major influence on the 87th Precinct novels. And, for that matter, there were many predecessors to Webb.

Even the innovations McBain did take credit for were often realized by other writers prior to McBain. The signature "precinct detective squadroom" setting was also the hallmark of Sidney Kingsley's classic stage play DETECTIVE STORY (in which McBain once appeared as an actor).

The fictionalizing of Manhattan into "Isola" is anticipated by retired British policeman Maurice Procter's Harry Martineau series, in which the North England city of Manchester becomes "Granchester," and by Leslie T. White's two 1930's Southern California cop novels, HARNESS BULL and HOMICIDE, in which Los Angeles becomes "American City."

Even the "corporate hero" concept, in which a group of police officers share the lead rather than one single character predominating, was anticipated in a series of novels about the Railroad Police by Southern Pacific cop Bert Hitchens and his wife, mystery writer Dolores Hitchens, that began one year before McBain's COP HATER hit the stands.

But McBain put all these elements together in such a unique way, that he seemed to be doing something that had never been done before. If he wasn't the police procedural's "Dashiell Hammett," forging a new trail to a different kind of crime fiction, he was certainly the procedural's "Raymond Chandler," taking the raw elements that had been discovered by others and using them in a way that seems so entirely new that he became the single most influential practitioner of the sub-genre.

One point that should be made is how marvelously he evoked setting. William DeAndrea once called the 87th Precinct series "the greatest sustained literary examination of New York City in American literature," while ironically, "pretending not to be about New York at all." That's hard to argue with. Years before I ever visited New York, I felt I knew it through the novels about the 87th, and when I finally did visit, I felt as though I was in a familiar place, for having experienced it through McBain's work.

Another point that should be made is the extraordinarily high quality McBain maintained throughout the nearly five decades he wrote the series. In almost all long-lasting series a certain fatigue sets in after awhile, and "jumping the shark" becomes almost impossible to avoid. But McBain kept the saga of the 87th Precinct marvelously fresh in every single entry.

Anthony Boucher, when he first coined the term "police procedural" in 1956 to describe a kind of crime fiction in which the main interest is the authentic depiction of law enforcement, singled out both Webb and McBain (as well as Britain's J.J. Marric) as exemplars of this new type of mystery. McBain, however, never liked the term, though he was one of the people for whom Boucher coined it. He preferred to be thought of a someone who wrote novels about cops.

He'll be missed, and he'll be in my prayers (though, lapsed Catholic that he was, that will probably annoy him).


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