Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lady, Lady I Did It (1961)

Here's another example, in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain, that highlights McBain's ability to work within conventional mystery story structures, serving up the clues fair and square and still managing to surprise with the resolution. It takes a few shortcuts along the way, such as a police hunch paying off. A bookstore is shot up and four people die. The police hunch—Steve Carella, as ever, with Bert Kling and Meyer Meyer mainly—is that only one of the four victims was the actual target. The rest are there to confuse the investigation. Well, OK. Interesting hunch. The case is further complicated by the fact that Bert Kling's girlfriend is one of the victims. Which is also convenient, because when it comes to Bert Kling and women, well, he just can't catch a break. This is a shorty, under 200 pages in mass market, so I'm willing to forgive some of this for the sake of getting on with it. There's blessed little dwelling on Kling's grief, though it's there. The victims and the case produce a number of interesting characters and situations. For the most part it's people just making their way in the big city, where it's well known that shit will happen. So some shit happens, and soon enough someone has an inspiration and the case is solved. But I love how scrupulously fair it is. The second-to-last chapter even lingers over the telltale clue, trying to help us see the course of things. But we don't, or I didn't, and so it's a pleasant flash of insight when it comes. The asides about the detectives' personal lives are running in place, especially if you're prone like me to read Kling's bad luck with women as ultimately an element of black humor on the part of McBain. Here it's early enough—though I believe Claire Townsend is already the second girlfriend Kling loses to violence—that it's less comic and more ham-fisted tragic. With Lady, Lady I Did It as #14 in the overall series, McBain has been at it long enough that he knows what he's doing and is comfortable with it: writing mystery-story police procedurals with a continuing cast of characters, some of whom are occasionally killed off. I think many of these short ones from the '50s and '60s can be effective and I'd call this one of them. There's a detective I don't remember seeing before—Di Maeo. Also Brown, Willis, and O'Brien, briefly. I haven't entirely made up my mind about the fairness of the title, in terms of the mystery story, but mostly I think it works and even gets away with the self-conscious tricksiness.

In case it's not at the library.

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