January 26, 2003

Nocturne, by Ed McBain

I suppose I first heard of Ed McBain and the 87th Precinct series fifteen or twenty years ago, but (surprising though it may be) this is the first of McBain's books I've ever read. I don't even know where it came from; I'm sure we didn't buy it. It's pretty well beaten up, which argues that somebody left it here, or it might have been in a bag of books my Dad was getting rid of. Anyway, I found it on our shelves during the Great Purge (which is stalled at about the midway point, by the way) and decided to give it a try.

I've not read anything quite like it. More than anything else, it reminded me of an episode of Law and Order, with one difference--as the camera follows the detectives around the city, asking their questions, McBain lets us know what they are thinking. Not in large measure; there are no internal monologues. But we hear the little comments they make to themselves in response to the things going on around them. We do hear a little bit about the personal lives of the detectives, but we aren't necessarily meant to like them, or identify with them, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a different set of detectives in each book.

It's a gritty book. An aging pianist is murdered in her apartment; a streetwalker is murdered and left in an alley; a trio of frat boys go on a drunken killing spree. Many of the details are things that I didn't especially need to have in my head. But what I'm left with at the end isn't so much the grit as the air of clinical detachment with which McBain relates the story, and the skill with which he weaves diverse elements into a complete, coherent story.

I don't know whether I'll seek out more of McBain's work, but I definitely respect his skill.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 26, 2003 11:28 PM