Re your question below:
> Here's my question for the group: I now want to turn my attention to a few classic writers in the genre who are not just long-standing favorites but who have contributed particular books that rightly can be called masterpieces.
> I'm starting with McBain, MacDonald and Block for selfish reasons -- I am woefully under-read on each of them and would like to "catch up." I've provisionally picked the following three books, but I'd like input on choices members of the group might make.
> THE GREEN RIPPER, John D. MacDonald
> HARK!, by Ed McBain
> WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES, Lawrence Block
If I wanted an intro to John D. I would, speaking for myself, go with one of his non-series books rather than a Travis McGee entry, and, if a McGee, would go with one of the earlier ones. THE GREEN RIPPER involves McGee going on a vengeance quest when a loved one is killed. The loved one is a recurring character from earlier books. Consequently, reading the earlier books gives one a perspective that makes McGee's rather atypical vengeance quest understandable. My favorite MacDonald is ONE MONDAY WE KILLED THEM ALL. Second favorite, his very first, THE BRASS CUPCAKE, which is also one of his comparatively few flat-out PI novels.
Similarly, HARK!, the penultimate novel in the 87th Precinct series, is also the final novel in the sub-series pitting the boys of the 87th against the Moriarty figure known as The Deaf Man. To appreciate HARK! completely, it helps to have read the earlier run-ins between the 87th and the hearing-impaired master criminal. Those are THE HECKLER (1960), FUZZ (1968), LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE DEAF MAN (1973), EIGHT BLACK HORSES (1985), and MISCHIEF (1993). An even better place to start the saga of the 87th is right at the beginning, with COP HATER (1956).
I'm one of those who regards WHEN THE SECRED GINMILL CLOSES, excellent though it is, as inferior to the short story, "By the Dawn's Early Light" (1984), from which it was expanded. Once more, I think it gives one a better appreciation of the changes a character goes through if you read the series in order, which, in the case of unlicensed PI Matt Scudder, would mean start with THE SINS OF THE FATHER (1976). WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES and its short story version are what are sometimes called "continuity implants," which is to say they take place sometime between events chronicled in previous books and stories. But it is told from the perspective of someone who has gone through the events of the previous book looking back on on a long-past event. FWIW, my favorite book in the Scudder series, indeed one of my all-time favorite PI novels is EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE.
All of that may be more confusing than helpful. Not everyone is as anal about readin series entries in order as I am.
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