Nocturne by Ed McBain #BookReview

In Isola, the hours between midnight and dawn are usually a quiet time. But for the 87th Precinct detectives Carella and Hawes, the murder of an old woman makes the wee hours anything but peaceful–especially when they learn she was one of the greatest concert pianists of the century long vanished. Meanwhile 88th Precinct cop Fat Ollie Weeks has his own early morning nightmare: he’s on the trail of three prep school boys and a crack dealer who spent the evening carving up a hooker.

Title: Nocturne | Author: Ed McBain | Series: 87th Precinct #48 | Publisher: Hodder | Pages: 291 | ISBN: 9780340695401 | Publication date: 1997 | Source: Self-purchased

I wasn’t planning to write a full length review of this entry in the 87th Precinct series, but it’s such an interesting example of McBain’s craft I felt compelled to once I’d finished it.

It’s very much a book of two halves. It’s common for these books to have two or more storylines, but I’m not sure the difference between two parallel plots has ever been as stark as it is here. There’s a cosy caper that feels a bit like the one of those 60s Hitchcock films with Cary Grant, with Carella and Hawes investigating the murder of an old woman and her cat, whilst the victim’s lounge singer granddaughter also chases down the facts. She is accompanied by a comic duo who are both her bodyguards and her lovers and the book contains a brilliantly funny sex scene, as well as some wonderfully farcical moments where both they and the cops keep nearly running into each other. I’m fact ‘Nocturne’ had me laughing out loud more than any other recent book in the series.

On the other hand, Fat Ollie Weeks investigates a crime spree perpetrated by 3 privileged white college boys in Diamondback, the predominantly black borough of the city. This storyline contains a number of moments of casual violence which are both nauseating and chilling. One murder is so murder so graphic and horrid that it matches anything you might read in a horror novel. It leaves that half of the book feeling like the lost Bret Easton Ellis novel between Less Than Zero and American Psycho

The huge gulf between the two plots left me wondering whether ‘Nocturne’ was a failed experiment on McBain’s part or a work of genius. I think I’ve ended up leaning towards the latter, with the contrasts that the book throws up feeling measured and deliberate rather than haphazard. If nothing else, McBain is highlighting the whole spectrum of humanity. That can lead to this being a very tough read at times, even though it is peppered with his trademark humour.


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