Saturday, December 10, 2016

Eight Black Horses (1985)

At this point—have I said this before?—I have to admit my heart falls a little whenever I start a book in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain and find it's a Deaf Man story. It's a little like realizing a Star Trek episode is about Q, or Lwaxana Troi. The Deaf Man books are giant comic book capers filled with exaggerated and unlikely event, your basic Riddler v. Batman scenario. In this one, traveling under the name Dennis Döve (and asking people to call him "Den" because "den döve" means "the deaf man" in Swedish), he sends confusing messages to the 87th Precinct detectives: images of nightsticks, badges, hats, wanted posters, all things with a vague police theme. The first is of eight black horses. What could this nefarious villain be planning now? Thanks to the omniscient narrator, we see the Deaf Man bed one woman, kill another, tell his henchmen to do this and that, all but cackle and rub his hands. What in the world is he up to? You'll find out soon enough if you just keep reading the book. And it's probably the only way you'll figure it out. Technically, that makes this "unfair" mystery story writing. Eight Black Horses is not an outright failure, but it's not that good and it's way too busy. At this point in the series the novels are about twice the size of the earlier ones. A lot of the extra space goes to understanding the characters better. We learn here, for example, that the reprehensible Andy Parker was married at one time, and how it contributes to his chronic bitterness and rage, which makes him a bad cop. Little is heard from Meyer Meyer, and even Steve Carella is more of a sideline character. No, this one is all about the Deaf Man, which is awkward given the omniscient narrator coupled with the need to disclose some but not all of what he is doing. McBain has painted himself into an odd way of telling the story, not to mention that it's as unbelievable as ever with this character. Once the orchestrated mayhem begins, it's all flash and sizzle, like nothing that ever happens anywhere. I'm willing to indulge McBain these exercises because I'm trying to read them all anyway, and his storytelling works pretty well even when it's for something silly. So if you're reading them all like me, whatever. The rest of you can move it to the back of the stack. Unless you like the Deaf Man stories, in which case knock yourself out.

In case it's not at the library.

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