Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Ed McBain

From: James Michael Rogers (
Date: 07 Jan 2010

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    I agree. Jack Bludis said that Ed McBain's last books read like Law And Order. I should have said that the best episodes of that show were a lot like Ed McBain. It is hard for me to imagine any of those TV shows (Hill Street, Homicide, etc.) or a bestseller like Wambaugh without McBain. Even James Ellroy has borrowed a little.

    I don't know who "invented" the police procedural, though I have no hesitation in saying that Hilary Waugh's Last Seen Wearing.... will always be the best (and I would love to explain why). But McBain's take on it is the one that has become familiar to us and the one that we have seen reincarnated in a hundred slightly different forms since.

    Also right that the 87th Precinct books just reek of NYC. Like a Higgins book reeks of Boston.

    Great plots, for sure. But some awfully pretty writing in there, too. So pretty that you don't always notice how good it is. Just solid.


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: JIM DOHERTY
      Sent: Thursday, January 07, 2010 18:23
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Ed McBain

      It's always nice to see a thread develop on one oof one's favorite writers.

      And McBain is one of mine. He is as important to the police procedural as Raymond Chandler is to the private eye story. Not the inventor, perhaps, but the one who became the model for everyone else to emulate.

      Four points about McBain. First, the 87th Precinct series maintained a very even quality throughout nearly hafl-century McBain wrote it. With most series that last that long, there is, inevitably, decline. But, though there were some clunkers along the way, there was never general decline in the series, and FIDDLERS seemed as fresh and original in 1995 as COP HATER did in 1956.

      Second, McBain's depiction of the city in which his cops operated was arguably the best fictional portrait of New York City ever, this notwithstanding the fact that McBain pretended that he wasn't writing about NYC at all. This observation was originally made by William DeAndrea and I agree with it.

      Third, while the New York roots of the series was plain, McBain was able to imbue the books and stories about the cops of the 87th with a universality that made it easy to adapt his books to Japanese settings (as Akira Kurasawa showed when he filmed KING'S RANSOM as HIGH AND LOW), to French settings (as Phillippe Labro showed when he adapted TEN PLUS ONE into WITHOUT APPARENT MOTIVE), to French Canadian settings (as Claude Chabrol rpoved when he adapted BLOOD RELATIVES to the identically titled film), and even to New England settings (as when the 87th Precinct was relocated to Boston in FUZZ).

      Fourth, McBain managed a diversity of approaches in the 87th Precinct series unmatched by any other police writer, with the possible exception of John Wainwright. In the 87th Precinct series one can find locked room mysteries like KILLER'S WEDGE, complicated caper novels like THE HECKLER (my personal favorite of the series), fast action thriller like SEE THEM DIE, classic whodunits like LADY KILLER, dying message mysteries like LADY, LADY, I DID IT, political allegories like HAIL TO THE CHIEF, criminal protagonist novels like HE WHO HESITATES, modular "multiple plot" stories like HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG'S ALL HERE, and comic romps like FUZZ.
      Someone here said that, while a reader might like everything Lawrence Block has written, there's sure to be something by Block that that reader will like.

      I think the same thing might be said of the 87th Precinct series, and I think an Ed McBain month would be a fine idea.



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