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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/11/2006 Archived Entry: "Book review: Hark! An 87th Precinct Mystery"

HARK! An 87th Precinct Mystery
By Ed McBain
Published by Pocket Star Books, 2004.

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Okay, mystery fans, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is Ed McBain has written yet another book about the 87th Precinct. The bad news is Ed McBain died of cancer on July 7th, 2005 at the age of 78. So the question is, where did this new 87th Precinct novel come from? And the answer is: the book was written and released in 2004, dummy! A year before McBain's death! So this is obviously a re-release of a book you haven't read before! Duh!

The point is that you 87th Precinct devotees shouldn't expect any more new releases from Ed McBain in the coming year, unless he left a few "canned" novels on tape or notes for new books, to be transcribed, written into book form and released at regular intervals. (Which seems to be the case with a certain female fantasy writer of whom I'm quite fond; why else would she have so many recent releases with the same collaborator? But I digress...)

Anyway, this novel is the 54th in the 87th Precinct series, starring the same old gang: Meyer Meyer, Burt Kling, Cotton Hawes, Steve Carella, et al. And last but not least, the Deaf Man, the most enduring (and dare I say endearing?) villain the cops of the 87th Precinct have ever come up against. He's crossed swords with them on at least three other occasions and the boys and girls of the old Eight-Seven are not happy to learn he's back. Especially since he's taken to sending them love notes in the form of quotes from Shakespeare, along with some baffling word puzzles called palindromes—that's when a word or phrase is spelled the same way backwards or forwards, like "Madam, I'm Adam," which is how Adam introduced himself to Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Being a Shakespeare aficionado from way back, I like the way the Deaf Man samples the Bard's works for relevant verses that spell out what he's about to do. But the cops of the Eight-Seven, who aren't big on culture, don't appreciate having to go to the library or log onto the Internet to look up Shakespearean verses. Especially when the conflicting clues indicate that the Deaf Man is going to strike at either a) a library where a rare portfolio of Shakespeare's works is going to be read at noon by Patrick Steward (the Star Trek connection gets me every time!), or b) a concert hall where a famous Greek violinist is giving a concert at noon.

Besides being baffled by the Deaf Man, the cops of the Eight-Seven also have a variety of personal problems that affect their outlook on the case. Detective Steve Carella's widowed mother and sister are both getting married on June 12th, and he insists on paying for a double wedding, even though his mother's fiancé is a well-off Italian business man (No, he's not a Mafioso! He's a furniture maker from Milan!), who offers to pay his share of the wedding, and his sister's fiancé is a prominent district attorney. Unfortunately, he's also the DA who screwed up the case against Carella's father's murderer, who went free after his defense attorney outfoxed the DA. Naturally Carella's none too fond of him, nor of the gomba his mother is marrying so soon after his father's death. (Two years is too soon? Does he expect mama to go into permanent mourning, like back in the Old Country? That makes him even more old-fashioned than Luigi Fontero, her husband-to-be!)

The course of true love isn't running very smoothly for Detective Cotton Hawes, who's dating Honey Blair, the perky blonde investigative reporter from Channel Four's Six O'Clock News. Someone takes a shot at Hawes as he's leaving her limo after she gives him a ride home, and her program director makes it look like she's the target to cash in on all the free publicity. Detective Burt Kling is also having romantic angst; he's dating a gorgeous black woman, Sharyn Cooke, who's also the Deputy Chief Surgeon for the police department, and Burt believes she's cheating on him with one of her colleagues, a black doctor named James Melvin Hudson. He even takes to following her after work like one of his suspects and sees her meeting the good doctor after she swore she was going to a meeting. Not only that, but Detectives Willis and Burke, who used to have a romantic thing going, look like they're about to get back together again, and Fat Ollie Weeks, the most obnoxious racist/sexist pig who ever wore a badge, has found both his lost manuscript (which was stolen by a transvestite hooker in an earlier book) and true love, in the form of a pretty Puerto Rican cop named Patricia Gomez, and now Spic jokes don't sound so funny to Ollie anymore.

Will the Deaf Man go for Shakespeare in the afternoon or a violin concert? Is he after the bard's book or the Greek fiddler's priceless Stradivarius violin? Will Carella get his mother and sister to the church on time, despite hating both their grooms? Is Kling's black girlfriend leaving him for another black? Will Hawes catch the shooter who's after him, not his celebrity girlfriend, and does she care if he does as long as she gets all the sympathy for being the alleged target? Will Willis and Burke get back together? Will Fat Ollie finally lose weight and find love? The answers to these questions can be found at your local bookstore, where you can pick up a copy of "Hark!" in paperback and revel in the adventures of the cops of the Eight-Seven once more.

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