Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eighty Million Eyes (1966)

I got the impression that this installment of the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain came under some influence of the upchuck of commentary occasioned by the Kitty Genovese murder in New York City, which occurred in 1964 and was generally taken as a key signpost of apocalyptic end times. From my point of view, and I think McBain's too if I’m reading this right, the event had much more to do with sociology and human psychology. Both of the main cases in this novel involve many witnesses to assault and murder, who may see the crime but are otherwise powerless to act, for different reasons. In the one case a man dies of poisoning on live TV (estimated audience 20 million households, one couple per household, which gets us to the title). In the other, a supervillain stalks and ultimately assaults a woman, along with various others who get in his way, including a somewhat hapless patrolman. That's the case Bert Kling is on, and even this early in the series McBain is working his unfortunate love life—the woman in question, Cindy Forrest, immediately becomes a love interest for him, typically enough, though I'm not sure whether she returned. At least it looked like she was willing to go on a date with Bert, in the end. The ridiculous spectacular TV celebrity murder case is handled by Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer, but there's not much going on there besides the case. Except for the usual unpleasant penchant for knife work, McBain generally keeps things believable. I thought he was running a little close to the line with this one, though it resolves satisfactorily enough for a mystery novel, and is an enjoyable read. Still, most of the energy seems to surround issues of witnesses of crimes and the difficulty for anyone really to know what to do in extreme circumstances, easy to assume someone else, someone with more expertise, will just do something about it—or more probably already has. In the case of the supervillain sadist, everyone thought getting a cop was the thing to do, right up until the cop was savagely beaten. Then they had good reason to be fearful. Still, this Kitty Genovese connection is all guesswork, so take as you will.

In case it's not at the library.

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