He’d been a promising piano prodigy, once. Now he was just an addict, scraping to get by, letting his hunger for drugs consume him. But a man’s life can always get worse – as Ray Stone discovers when he wakes up beside a beautiful nightclub singer only to find her dead… and 16 ounces of pure heroin missing. On the run from the law, desperate to prove his innocence and find a killer, Ray also faces another foe, merciless and unforgiving: his growing craving for a fix…
Title: So Nude, Dead | Author: Ed McBain | Publisher: Hard Case Crime | Pages: 224 | ISBN: 9781781166062| Publication date: 17th July 2015 (original publication: 1952) | Source: Self purchase
Anyone who has read CriminOlly for any length of time will know that I’m a huge fan of Ed McBain. His ‘87th Precinct’ books are my favourite literary series bar none, and I’ve been reading him for at least 30 years. When I saw that his first published crime novel was included in the Hard Case Humble Bundle I wrote about recently I knew I had to read it. The fact that it didn’t reach the high levels of the ‘87th Precinct’ mysteries probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Despite its flaws, though, there’s some fun to be had with the tale.
‘So Nude, So Dead’ is about a heroin addict, Ray Stone, who wakes up in a room with a beautiful corpse (female naturally, this was the 1950s) and spends the rest of the book trying to prove he isn’t the killer. The “I’m the prime suspect but I didn’t do it, honest” sub-genre was probably pretty hackneyed even 60 years ago, but it does have an immediate appeal. McBain’s self-loathing hero isn’t terribly likeable, and the back story to his addiction isn’t all that original (TL;DR – he’s a musician). McBain provides ample convincing detail about the life as a reasonably well-heeled junkie though and it makes for quite interesting reading.
The plot involves Stone running around New York trying to avoid the cops and various bad guys while solving the crime. It’s pretty much what you’d expect – exciting at times, populated with colourful characters from the city’s underbelly, but lacking in any great spark or originality. It definitely reads like any early novel. The great author McBain would become is visible at times, but the book lacks the polish of assured lightness of touch that characterises his best work.
Overall this is an interesting curio and not a bad book by any means, but given that there are over fifty books in the ‘87th Precinct’ series alone it’s not one I’d necessarily rush to recommend if you have other McBains available to you.