Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bread (1974)

I have to be resigned when I go off on my binges of the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which was not his real name either) to reencountering books I have already read because I couldn't remember the title when I was swooping them up in my frenzies. It's too overwhelming to consider reading them in order—over 50 titles, published between 1956 and 2005, not to mention I happen to know some of the early entries are rough (because I have tried to read them in order at least once before). So I just plunge on in when the McBain mood strikes again. Bread is where I started on my recent rounds, and as it happens it's not one I had read before. It's got an intricate plot involving fraud and / or larceny of some kind and eventually multiple murders and assaults. It introduces an interesting character from another precinct who would go on to become a series semi-regular, Fat Ollie Weeks, a bone-deep racist with disconcertingly good police instincts, who among other things slips into an annoying W.C. Fields routine when he's in a good mood. I was just reading on Wikipedia how much McBain felt he owed Jack Webb and Dragnet—I don't think I had known that before, though it makes sense, and indeed (full disclosure) Jack Webb is one of my own favorite filmmakers, within and beyond the procedural subgenre. Because of the time frame when I first became acquainted with McBain I have more often associated the 87th Precinct series with Hill Street Blues, which owes it many obvious debts. But yes, now that you mention it, even that opening disclaimer McBain used at the front of all these books—"The city in these pages is imaginary," etc.—derives quite clearly from Dragnet's "This is the city, Los Angeles," etc. Sometime I will have to get into the matter of police procedurals a little more, because I'm not always on board with the most popular ones in this post- / hyper-forensics period we now live in (e.g., the whole CSI franchise is lost on me). Homely true-crime TV trumps them consistently I think. But there's a lineage last seen in the Law & Order standard-bearer (less so the offshoots) that wends back through Hill Street Blues and Dragnet and finds a nice place to dwell in the majority of these great McBain novels and stories. Read 'em by the handful.

In case it's not at the library.

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