Monday, May 23, 2016

King's Ransom (1959)

In 1959 and 1960, Ed McBain published six novels in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals. Approximately third in that run, King's Ransom is a short novel about a big case—a kidnapping, which you better believe it, the 87th Precinct cops and detectives take more seriously than anything but murder, the way we see them swing into action. As someone who never had children, my mystification over the urgency, even the occurrence, of kidnapping is probably explained that way. A lot of juice from scene to scene is taken for granted because a boy is in peril, invoked routinely. There's a neat twist to this one: the kid that the bad guys have snatched is actually the son of the chauffeur who works for the business tycoon targeted, Douglas King ("King," get it?). There's some nice Dreiser-style big business shenanigans going on before the kidnapping goes down, which continue to exert influence on the action. Really, this is probably one of McBain's better stories, and stories are what he's good at. Unfortunately, the motivations and outcomes go somewhat murky in the end, but it's a pretty good ride getting there. There's some overly researched business about radio communications worked up by the bad guys. It's a good plot point, just overly explained, and already dated and weird in a world concerned about things like texting while driving. There's very little of the personal stuff in this one. Steve Carella is front and center as usual, with Cotton Hawes and Meyer Meyer just behind over his shoulders. Andy Parker is his usual lout and gets at least one ugly episode. (Did Parker hang on all the way through the series, I wonder? Seems like Fat Ollie Weeks more or less supplanted him.) If I was relatively unaffected by the drama of the kidnapping, I was more intrigued by the developing dynamic between the tycoon and his chauffeur as decisions are made, and actions taken. Interesting issues of class play out there, with varying degrees of success. A knife—a switchblade—makes an appearance in this McBain tale, to the surprise of no one, I'm sure. This is a popcorn novel—chews up nice, goes down well, and you want more. A good place to see McBain as a straight-up writer of thrillers, which he does quite well here. The police are key, of course, but play a slightly different role than usual, which also recommends it on McBain's range.

In case it's not at the library.

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