Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Ghosts (1980)

Lately I haven't been having a lot of luck with the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which wasn't his real name either). Here is yet another weak one. It's not even very interested in the crime in this case, let alone the police procedure for solving it. The main thing (after the usual unpleasant fixation on knives, which manifests as a description of all 19 wounds in a slashing and stabbing homicide) is the supernatural. The victim is the writer of a bestselling book about a haunted house in Massachusetts. I'm slow, so it took me awhile to notice the publication date and realize he must be riffing on Jay Anson and The Amityville Horror (the book which served as the pretext for the movie). That's McBain's other main interest here, horror writing and specifically the ghost story. Things happen that seem to be purely supernatural, including a medium with unexplainable powers. Interestingly (or not), she also looks exactly like Steve Carella's wife Teddy. And a Massachusetts winter storm strands Carella with her, as he is investigating a haunted house in a small town. Which also has some connection to Salem while we're at it. Oh it's piled on high here. And it's reasonably effective—weird, moody, vaguely unsettling maybe even. But what's this doing in the middle of my police procedural? It cheats in a really profound way on the whole premise of the series: rational investigation, scientific principles, all that. But what the hell, I suppose, why not? I remember saying something earlier about McBain's restless creativity. Still, it's annoying that the episode is equally as much about boy scout Steve Carella remaining true to his wife even in a situation where almost anyone could forgive him. The medium, recall, looks exactly like Teddy, which, as a plot point, only becomes more creepy the longer we have to live with it. What's more, this medium also has an identical twin sister who is a slut in all but name, so there you have it. Really, I'm not making this up. McBain did. Triple Teddy Strike Force. I guess it all comes with the territory, and to be fair, McBain has explored the bent toward horror elsewhere in the series (the "Nightshade" story in Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here), though never so shamelessly, wantonly indulging the supernatural. I can't really speak to his career as Evan Hunter or other pseudonyms, but I wouldn't be surprised to find he's written a horror novel or two. I would then bet you knives figure prominently. Well, nobody's perfect. But Ghosts is an underperformer in the series by most standards.

In case it's not at the library.

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