Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lightning (1984)

This is another I had previously read in the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which was not his real name either) and I found it worth revisiting. Part of the continuing interest in the series is how McBain found ways to reinvent it, as in the '80s the novels became these one-word one-concept titles with multiple cases going on, which are twice the size of the novels from the '50s. McBain unfortunately fits with John D. MacDonald and countless other mystery / thriller writers who seem a little too interested in the variety of harm and trauma men can inflict on women, so it's drifting some in a direction I'm not entirely comfortable with. The pattern of events depicted and the attention to certain details suggest unpleasant things about writer and audience alike. In one of the main storylines here a man is stalking and murdering women (in a notably fiendish way) and then stringing them up by their necks to lampposts. Altogether too detailed and dwelt upon. But now I've read it through twice so there's that too. It's got all the usual pleasures of the 87th Precinct characters, plus another role for Fat Ollie Weeks. This is the one I remembered where the characters discuss Hill Street Blues and all the similarities to themselves, which is basically McBain getting his digs in about sources and inspiration and it is priceless. Someone even name-checks Hunter, which is cute. Always there are the beguiling personal soap opera threads detailing the lives of his characters, and McBain is not afraid to deal severe blows to them, as happens to a significant continuing character here, Eileen Burke. We're also privy to the ongoing adventures of Steve Carella's wife Teddy (a deaf woman who signs and reads lips), who is not by any stretch a cop. Here she has decided to find a job after many years at home raising their children, and is in for a rude surprise. For all my misgivings about the treatment of women, and the level and detail of the violence, I'd still have to call Lightning a solid outing and maybe even a little better than that.

In case it's not at the library.

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