CriminOlly thinks: McBain juggles three plot lines expertly in an 87th Precinct mystery that throws in the usual humour and social commentary. 4/5
Title: The Big Bad City | Author: Ed McBain | Series: 87th Precinct #49 | Publisher: New English Library | Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9780340728048 | Publication date: 1998 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
This is another entirely solid and enjoyable entry in the 87th Precinct series, albeit not on of the very best. It’s the 49th book, so I guess it’s no surprise that McBain had his formula and craft very well honed by this point. ‘The Big Bad City’ has three parallel stories running: the investigation into the murder of a nun, a spate of burglaries by a criminal who leaves his victims a plate of freshly baked cookies, and a character from a previous book on the hunt for hero Steve Carella.
The nun story is definitely the main plot and is a satisfying mystery, with Carella and Brown doing the legwork to tie the motive back to events in the dead woman’s surprising past. The burglary plot is a somewhat atypical one in that its largely told from the criminal’s perspective, with the cops only getting involved towards the end. It reads a bit like a standalone short story, albeit one without a terribly satisfying ending. The Carella story is the one with the most tension, with Steve unknowingly in peril throughout.
It’s not as funny as some of the books, but certainly has its moment, including one brilliant sequence where the narrator expresses consternation at the fact that the notoriously lazy detective Andy Parker manages to catch a suspect in a foot chase. Fat Ollie Weeks features, managing as always to be something of a hero as well as a complete tosser. There’s one particularly repellent sequence where he unsuccessfully tries to wind up a Pakistani cab driver, reminding the reader how obnoxious he can be. Matthew Hope, the lawyer hero of McBain’s other series, also makes a surprise appearance.
As always with McBain, it skilfully mixes police procedural detail with amusing characters, a smattering of liberal politics and solid plotting. If you’re a fan of the series you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed.
In this city, you have to pay attention. In this city, things are happening all the time, all over the place, and you don’t have to be a detective to smell evil in the wind. Take this week’s tabloids: the face of a dead girl is splashed across the front page. She was found sprawled near a park bench not seven blocks from the police station. Detectives Carella and Brown soon discover the girl has a most unusual past. Meanwhile, the late-night news tracks the exploits of The Cookie Boy, a professional thief who leaves his calling card — a box of chocolate chip cookies — at the scene of each score. And while the detectives of the 87th Precinct are investigating these cases, one of them is being stalked by the man who killed his father. Welcome to the Big Bad City.
Content Warning: Racism
Tolerance Warning: All good