Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Widows by Ed McBain

She'd been brutally stabbed and slashed 
more times than Carella chose to imagine.
Opening to
by Ed McBain
When we've been disappointed by a series of books, many of us turn to comfort reading, old reliables that we can count on to entertain, to satisfy, to be something we enjoy reading.

For many of us, this kind of reading is genre fiction of one form or another, often a subset of very specific genre fiction, maybe the work of one or two very prolific authors.

For me it's crime fiction.  

Detective stories, rather authors of detective stories, are very reliable creatures.  With most of them, if you liked one of their novels, you'll like them all. 

So after a short string of books that just didn't interest me much, a few of which I didn't bother finishing, I turned to Ed McBain.  While Mr. McBain wrote over fifty novels in his career, I did not discover him until last year, seven years after he died.  He is just my cup of tea, comfort reading.

I recognize just how odd it is to list a book with multiple murders and a sex scandal as comfort reading, but there you are.  Book like that just make me feel kind of good.  

I knew right from the first sentence of Widows that this was a book for me.  A good piece of crime fiction should always start with the discovery of the crime in the opening sentence, preferable with the discovery of a body.  Widows not only begins with a body but brings the detective into the story as well. Not just a passing mention of him either, but a nearly full characterization.  Carella still sees things more horrible than he can imagine.  He'll see a lot in Widows before the book is through.

What I like most about Mr. McBain is how ordinary the work-a-day lives of his police officers are.  They all stick very close to procedure, most of which is procedure because it works.  Police work is interesting enough from my point of view that excessive violence, ludicrous chase sequences and over-the-top criminal motives aren't necessary to make the story compelling, at least in the hands of a master of the craft.  Once you've opened with a woman stabbed to death, you ought to be able to hold the reader's interest from then on. 

Mr. McBain certainly does.  Widows even manages to bring in a couple of nearly jaw-dropping twists along the way.  That Mr. McBain does this without resorting to extreme violence or the revelation of some horribly twisted childhood trauma is one reason why I like him so much.

That and the relationship between Detective Carella and his wife Teddy.  Theirs is one of the great unsung romances in literature.  Mr. McBain gives us just enough of his character's private lives to fit the bill.  For I consider a good comfort read to be a crime story focused on the crime with a minimum of character development and a decided lack of quirky characters.

So when I've had a string a bad reads, I turn to comfort reads like the crime novels of Ed McBain.

So far, he's delivered the goods every time. 


Sandy Nawrot said...

Right there with you...crime thrillers and murder mysteries are my brain candy. I have yet to read a McBain though. My biggest fear is that I'll love him and then get obsessed, which will get me off track!

annieb said...

I couldn't agree more. My comfort reads are usually cozy mysteries. I'm a huge Agatha Christie fan.

Anonymous said...

Ed McBain is great, and was one of the first to write police procedurals. I've got around a dozen of his 57th precinct novels waiting in my TBR for me - only read the first one (Cop Hater) so far, which I really enjoyed.