Friday, 17 January 2014

King's Ransom

After the last couple of slightly under par books, McBain blasts back with one of the best so far. It's a really snappy read with plenty of the author's trademark forays into the philosophical but also with a strong theme running throughout examining the degrees of ruthlessness that men will employ to follow their dreams. Think Shakespeare à la McBeth in a shoe factory. The book opens during a long scene at a board meeting where several share holders begin plotting to gain control of the company so they can produce a cheaper shoe. Doug King ridicules their plans and storms out of the meeting, his own plans already in place. Plans that are immediately threatened by both treachery from within and the kidnapping of his son from without. But worse is to come when it's discovered the kidnapped boy was not his son but rather the Chauffeur's boy; the dilemma of whether to still pay the ransom and financially ruin himself or to save himself and let the boy die being one that would have social consequences just as final.
The entire precinct are called out to hunt the kidnappers, though the police angle on this one is secondary to the King family and the Kidnappers. Carella carries most of the police angle with a little support from Meyer and the boorish Parker, though even Lt. Byrnes comes out from behind his desk to lend a hand. It all gets very tense. The plot was used and expanded upon in the highly regarded Japanese film 'High & Low' by the brilliant Akira Kurosawa.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Til Death

Ed Mcbain's 9th in the ever entertaining 87th Precinct is a bit of a departure, lighter than usual with McBain in a playful mood throughout. The plot is slight of stature with Steve Carella responding to an unsubstantiated threat to his soon to be brother-in-law's life on his wedding day. A threat that comes with company, in the tiny but dangerous form of a black widow spider. As plot devices goes, McBain might have to beg pardon for his cliches. But never mind that. Once the ball is rolling McBain goes to work. He populates every blind corner and opportunity with the threat of impending death, has suspects crawling from every shadow and he has a ball doing it. Carella drafts in two of his off duty colleagues, Kling & Hawes with girlfriend in tow, and tasks them with keeping vigil during the big day. Carella himself attends with his heavily pregnant wife Teddy. Even with impending murder lurking, the tensions and distractions of a good wedding can keep even the most professional detective's senses blunted. Before long things escalate and Meyer Meyer and O'Brian are also drafted, tracking a trombone case all over the city.
I've mentioned in previous reviews McBains attitude to editorial directives. Cotton Hawes was one such directive when his publishers deemed Carella too old and too married to persistently carry off the hero's role. Subsequently McBain proceeded to create a young hero, Cotton Hawes, that he would delight in sending up and humiliating at every opportunity. At the same time in 'Til Death, the author spends nearly an entire book introducing the extended family of the detective he was directed to ditch, developing Carella's relationships and history yet further. 'Til Death is a bit of an oddity in the series, being several steps closer to being a theatrical farce than to the gritty police procedural we are used to, but as ever McBain's easy prose, the banter and snappy dialogue coupled with the carefully nurtured cast of regulars makes for a short though enjoyable interlude in city cop life.