Wednesday, May 25, 2016

See Them Die (1960)

This short novel in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain offers up a one-day tick-tock of a simmering ethnic situation and a view of the precinct as a Puerto Rican slum, or barrio. We are also given to know, very early on, that on this day "two people will die on this street." Overall, this is a pretty good book from the series, focused on police procedures of community relations and managing explosive scenes of violence. McBain is on his game with a bunch of slices of life around the barrio: the cops, the kids, the gangs, the hookers, people passing through that day. It all takes place on a very hot summer Sunday, so church is peripherally involved as well. It also features Andy Parker more prominently than usual, though the attention is ultimately spent mostly on making him a caricature, which is a little unfortunate. Steve Carella is hanging heroically around as usual. These earlier novels in the series often seemed to dwell more on precinct brass, a captain and a lieutenant. Mostly I'm impressed with the pleasure McBain seems to take in identifying and sorting out the pieces, and telling stories. It's interesting to know two people will die, it adds an element of suspense and tension as a dozen and more characters wheel by. It's a hot kind of Do the Right Thing situation he gets going pretty effectively. I was reading this as news came in of the murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina, shot in the back eight times by a policeman. There was a lag between reports of the incident and release of a video of it, so we had an unusual opportunity to see the level of deceit practiced by police now, and the brutality, both of which have no doubt existed for as long as police authority has. I was outraged, of course, but I was also struck by how much I can still feel for the cops in this fictional 87th Precinct, who seem realistic enough. There's probably even more police brutality going on than McBain allows, but he doesn't shy away from what he acknowledges of it, and See Them Die is one place where he is particularly effective. But as usual what I like best about McBain when he's got it going on, as here, are all the small observations and everyday events, working themselves out as we all try to get along. He's hit and miss with this, make no mistake. McBain is fully capable of egregious cliché. The reports of a 20th-century New York Balzac were overstated. But he's often very good in surprising ways.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment