Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cop Hater: An 87th Precinct Mystery

Someone is murdering police officers in Isola’s 87th Precinct, and it’s up to detective Steve Carella and his partner Hank Bush to find the killer.

Cop Hater is the first instalment of Ed McBain’s hugely influential 87th Precinct novels. Set in the fictional city of Isola (a dead ringer for New York), McBain largely created the police procedural genre with the series. For much of the book, the plot doesn’t so much race as it meanders. Carella and Bush follow up on dead-end leads for the purposes of eliminating unlikely suspects from their enquiries. They attend to mundane tasks unrelated to the case, like going to view a line-up. They shoot the bull around the precinct. Then all of a sudden there’s a major development, the tension is ratcheted up by placing a likeable character in jeopardy, and a nice twist in the ending – and all within 170 pages.

Many of the devices employed in Cop Hater will seem hoary old tropes to modern readers – the wise-cracking cops, the slimy tabloid reporter, prostitutes giving sass – but McBain gets away with it by virtue of the fact that he’s Ed McBain. Also, the 1950s forensic techniques will appear refreshingly low-tech to readers long-inured to CSI and its ilk, where the simplest investigative procedures require a 3D animation sequence.

El T read The Armchair Detective Library edition, which comes with an introduction written by Ed McBain himself in 1989. McBain informs readers that the early 87th Precinct novels only took a month to write; later, when he began to make the books longer, they took two months to write(!)

Cop Hater is an economical little thriller, and would be good introduction for those interested in getting into Ed McBain. And that title – quite possibly the pulpiest in the history of crime writing.

Hap tip: El T would like to thank Murakami’s unnamed main protagonist in Dance Dance Dance for recommending the 87th Precinct series.

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