Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (1960)

I like to think this entry in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which wasn't his real name either) started originally as an outrageously bad pun and from there McBain made up a case. It may be the first time for him but it wouldn't be the last—there's a Matthew Hope novel from 1996, for example, called Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear. Attend now closely: McBain is more heavy-handed than usual referring to the detectives of the 87th precinct squad as "the boys," awkwardly calling attention to it through repetitiveness. The case starts out with the grisly discovery of a dismembered human hand in a travel bag left at a bus stop. The fingertips have been severed to prevent fingerprint analysis. But the lab soon determines that it is the hand of a very large man, being great and big itself, and so, you see. Er, yes. There you have it. Steve Carella is our main dude, with Cotton Hawes riding shotgun. It's a pretty good procedural in terms of developing suspects and trailing down the leads. It has sailors, sob sisters, and strippers. On the personal side, an interesting conflict develops among Carella, the ever-repugnant Andy Parker, and a Puerto Rican officer. Parker is not offensively racist here—or I didn't loathe him as often, put it that way—so maybe the issue is considered sufficiently raised at this point in the series. Actually, in all my reading so far, Parker seems more a kind of cipher, not even there in many of the books. There's a little more here on Carella's wife Teddy too. This is very much of its time, with some racial awareness but less so on gender issues. Women are taken for granted as sexual objects, and chiefly judged and treated that way. It's equally important, for example, that Teddy copes with her loss of hearing well, that she looks good and has a healthy sexual appetite, that she's a capable and loving mother, and that the nanny regards her highly. The nanny, yes. Never mind. I mean, what do you expect? It's about a bad pun. It's 1960. The story is pretty good, the characters are in motion, and it's 1960.

In case it's not at the library.

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