Pseudonym for deceased Evan Hunter, writer of inner-city-teacher-novel-turned-Glenn Ford-classic film-Blackboard Jungle, McBain extensively explored the police procedural in his 54-novel series, The 87th Precinct. Book after book through his police characters, McBain captures the camaraderie of men at work, the balance of professionalism up against family and romance, and the constant barrage of crime on city streets.
Since these are crime novels, they aren’t taken seriously. But I beg anyone to question why the breath of this series should not be looked at with the same intensity and admiration as Balzac and his similar endeavor.
The Killer’s Wedge
McBain’s usual top-cop, Steve Carella is out of the action for this one, but he’s still the center. Here’s the set-up: A woman walks into the detective division of the precinct. She says she wants to see Carella. The three detectives there say he isn’t around, she’ll have to wait. She won’t go to the waiting room. They get tough. She pulls a gun. They get tougher. She pulls out a bottle of nitroglycerin. If she shoots the bottle, if she even drops it, the whole place will go up. She wants to kill Carella and she’ll wait there till he shows.
Oh, and Carella’s deaf-mute, pregnant wife Teddy is going to come to the precinct to meet him. Neither her nor her husband know what danger awaits.
What elevates this, like the most successful of McBain’s series, is the relationships between the cops. A Detective Hawes faces off against his boss Byrnes. They are both hostages of this mad woman. They both care about Steve Carella. They both also care about the other men around them, their own lives, and most of all, they both want to stop her. Hawes wants to take the chance, he wants to knock her down and hope there’s just water in the bottle. Byrnes can’t take the chance. He wonders, if for his own good and the good of his men, can he let this woman kill Carella.
What do professional men do in times of danger? This is the kind of pulp story McBain tells so well.