Monday, April 15, 2013

The Detectives of the 87th Precint (and Their Creator) Work Under Pressing Deadlines

First published in 1958, this is the eighth entry in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series. By this point, the main characters were fairly well-established and needed no introduction, but the book itself is something of an oddity in the series in that most of the books have the detectives of the 87th working at least a couple of cases. This book focuses on a single case, worked by all of the detectives over a the course of a long and frustrating twelve-hour day.

As the team assembles in the morning, a young boy delivers a printed message to the desk sergeant. The man who wrote the message announces that he is going to kill "the Lady" at 8:00 that evening. The detectives have no idea if this is a practical joke or not, but naturally, they have to take the threat seriously.

In a desperate race against time the detectives work along parallel tracks, trying to determine the identity of the victim and that of the man who intends to kill her. As always, McBain provides an interesting and entertaining ride, although this would not rank among the better books in the series.

In a new introduction, McBain explains that he wrote the book under a deadline, in just nine days. His contract provided that he had to produce a manuscript of 180 pages--no more, no less--and that is exactly what he did. In order to do so, though, he added a lot of filler to what otherwise could have been a fairly short novella. There are a lot of extended descriptions of the weather and of various characters where McBain is obviously just attempting to fill space in an effort to hit his 180-page target and to get the book done as quickly as possible.

In less capable hands, this schedule would have almost certainly produced a book that would hardly be worth reading. But McBain is so good that even a book written under this kind of pressure turns out to be very entertaining and demonstrates what a talented and prolific writer could do "back in the day" when pulp novelists regularly produced several books a year. I wouldn't recommend that someone new to the series start with this book, but fans of the series will want to seek it out.