Jigsaw by Ed McBain #BookReview

Detectives Brown and Carella answer a call to a double homicide. One guy broke in and another defended himself and now they both are dead. The case seems open and shut. Except for one piece of evidence: a torn picture in one of the dead men’s hands. When insurance investigator Irving Krutch turns up at the squadroom with another piece of the photograph, Brown and Carella realize their tidy little case isn’t so tidy after all. In fact it leads back to a six-year-old bank robbery that left the four robbers dead and $750,000 missing. Now they must search for the next missing piece of the picture…

Title: Jigsaw | Author: Ed McBain | Series: 87th Precinct #24 | Publisher: Pan | Pages: 160 | ISBN: 9780330231725| Publication date: 1970 | Source: Self-purchased

‘Jigsaw’ is the 24th book in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. If you’re not familiar with the books I give a brief overview in my review of the previous entry in, ‘Shotgun’. They remain my favourite mysteries, even if ‘Jigsaw’ fell a bit flat for me.

This time, the 87th’s bulls are approached by an insurance investigator trying to track down $750,000 from a robbery that took place in the city 6 years earlier. The criminals were all killed in a shootout but the proceeds of their crime have never been recovered. The only clues are a torn scrap of paper which appears to come from a list of names, and a fragment of a photograph cut in the shape of a jigsaw piece. The book follows detectives Arthur Brown and Steve Carella as they try to find the other pieces of the photograph and locate the missing loot.

The mystery element here felt a bit too contrived to me, and massively at odds with other elements of the book. Like some of the previous novels it has interludes where McBain details other crimes happening in the city. These include murders and a particularly brutal gang rape and I couldn’t help feeling that the treasure hunt the detectives were on shouldn’t have been their priority.

That’s probably missing the point a bit, and the mystery is kind of fun. McBain uses visuals to show the jigsaw slowly assembling as more pieces are found and I enjoyed trying to figure out what it was showing alongside Brown and Carella. There’s no secondary case to back the main one up though, and it didn’t really have the weight to carry a whole book.

Black detective Arthur Brown takes the lead in this book, I think for the first time in the series. The focus on him is both a strength and a weakness for ‘Jigsaw’. As you’d expect from an author who has shown himself to be as socially conscious as McBain has in previous books, he uses Brown’s ethnicity to comment on racism and for the most part this works well. The ending of the book turns on it as well, and that’s where it fell apart for me. We end up with a scene which was, I think, well intentioned, but which I found pretty uncomfortable.

Overall then, this is a weaker entry in the series. It has its moments, but its certainly not one I’d recommend for a first time reader.


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