Thursday, May 21, 2015

Poison (1987)

It's possible that Ed McBain might have been trying a little harder in 1987, when he published not one but two novels in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals, neither of them shorties. In fact, I think the second that year, Tricks, is one of his best. Poison, the first that year, is worth a look too if you are so inclined. It's focused on a case of serial murder in which all the victims have been involved with one woman, Marilyn Hollis, who immediately following her introduction becomes involved with one of the detectives on the case, Hal Willis. The other detective is Steve Carella, and there are few appearances by any of the others. It's mostly about the case. Well, honestly, I think it's mostly about setting up a major love interest for Willis, who I've rarely seen foregrounded so prominently. He is the detective who is routinely described as almost too short for the job, and some kind of expert in martial arts. Hollis is certainly bigger than life here, a former prostitute with a big sexual appetite and an exotic and mysterious past. The mode of most of the murders is nicotine poisoning, which affords some interesting trivia (as well as the title of the book), but one of the murders is by knife (oh, that again) and an attempt is made on Willis with a gun. It's fair as mysteries go—the who-did that did the whodunit is in play early, things point to that person, but the narrative distracts so it's all done well that way. I'm starting to think my favorite character in this series could well be the city itself, Isola (Italian for "island"), McBain's stand-in for New York City. Or maybe it is the months of the year. The more the stories feel grooved into place and time the better I like them. Here, it's a mystery story and love story that did not have to be the 87th Precinct. But that's OK, because this reminds me, among all else, that McBain is also a very good mystery writer. So I enjoyed it on that level. For the 87th in '87, the place you want to go first is Tricks. But Poison is a pretty good fix too.

In case it's not at the library.

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