Friday, May 22, 2015

Vespers (1990)

Vespers fits the model of many of the novels in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain, especially those that came along in the '80s: big (300+ pages in mass market size), multiple plot threads, and a title that presents a recurring theme for him to riff on. In this case that theme—"evening prayers," I guess—never entirely works to pull things together (as it does so well, for example, in Tricks). A priest has been murdered and there are multiple suspects, including a neighborhood gang of Italian-American teens, an African-American drug dealer, an abusive member of the church, a Satanic cult, etc. Nothing is as it seems, including especially the priest's private life. The movie Rashomon is invoked by name more than once, as versions of a pivotal event are recounted and revisited, its details altering with each new version. Meanwhile, for no obvious reason connected with the case, the romance between Hal Willis and Marilyn Hollis undergoes a major shift. Willis, you may recall, is the detective always identified as being nearly too short to qualify for the job, and Hollis is his girlfriend who used to be a prostitute in Buenos Aires. I had a hard time believing a lot of Vespers. The Satanic "church," for example, was mostly silly and buffoonish, evidently intended as comic relief (and of course convenient red herring element, as this is mostly a "mystery" type of case). And again the knife fetish is out in all its tedious McBain glory: the priest is stabbed to death, and there is another harrowing scene featuring a knife fight. Even weak McBain is pretty good in terms of readability—by this point I suspect McBain could have put them together in his sleep practically. Which, come to think of it, he might have done for this one. At least that's one possible explanation for the title and chief operating metaphor.

In case it's not at the library.

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