Monday, July 22, 2013

What I Read on the Plane: The Big Bad City by Ed McBain

One of the many reasons why I love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels is that I can read one cover-to-cover in the time it takes to fly from San Jose, CA to Helena, MT with a four hour lay-over in Salt Lake City.

This is not exactly high praise, I know, but it is praise none-the-less.  A novel that can provide an entertaining diversion for a seven hour trip is a valuable novel.  Plus, you can leave it on the plane when you exit.

This is my fourth 87th Precinct novel to date--Mr. McBain hasn't disappointed me yet.

The Big Bad City finds detective Steve Carella investigating the murder of a nun found strangled in a park.  Everyone who knew her says she was a wonderful person, as virtuous and as self-effacing as anyone possibly could be, loved by all she came in contact with.  They can't imagine why anyone would want to kill her.  When the autopsy reveals she once had breast augmentation surgery, Carella and his partner know they have a victim with a past, a past that may have caught up with her that fateful evening   in the park.

The Big Bad City has two sub-plots as well.  In one, the man who killed Detective Carella's father in a previous novel has escaped prison due to an incompetent prosecuting attorney.  Fearful that Detective Carella will come after him, the killer has decided to strike at Detective Carella first.  The second sub-plot deals with "The Cookie Bandit," a cat-burglar who leaves behind a plate of chocolate chip cookies in each house he robs.

The three plots along with the three sets of characters who populate each make for entertaining reading. While we get something of a who-dunnit in Detective Carella's case which focuses on his investigation, there are two well-crafted thrillers in the other two plot-lines which follow both the criminals and the police officers who are hunting them.

Another thing I really like about Ed McBain's novels is his sparing use of violence.  There is violence in his novels, but he does not drench them with it.  When "The Cookie Bandit's" otherwise peaceful plot line goes south, the violence is sudden, graphic, and packs a punch that left my jaw hanging open. (Fortunately, the flight attendant happened to be passing with small bags of peanuts at the time.  Airplane food is not what is used to be.)

While all three cases are resolved by the end of The Big Bad City, Ed McBain's resolutions are often as unsettling as they are satisfying.  The criminals are all caught by the end of the book, of course, but by that time we've come to see the victims in a new, darker light than when we first found them.  McBain restores law and order by stories end, but, to his credit, he often leaves one's faith in both a little shaky. Often there is not much between us and chaos in The Big Bad City.

I hope whoever had seat 3A on the flight out of Helena back to Salt Lake City found my former copy of The Big Bad City in the pocket of the seat in front of them.  It's a very entertaining read.

1 comment:

Judith said...

I haven't read Ed McBain. I'll look him up, because any plot that allows a traveler to be entertained for that length of time is worth reading.

Please do write a post about your time in Montana. I'd be very interested to hear.