Thursday, December 08, 2016

Heat (1981)

Heat is a decent entry in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain, though something of a sad one. The main case involves a locked-room type of apparent suicide. For the most part even that takes a backseat to the personal dramas with hapless Bert Kling, who suspects his wife Augusta is cheating on him, gets pretty hot about it, and sets out to catch her. There's also a psychopath trailing him, in order to settle a grudge. I'm not sure McBain is playing fair with this one either, as he is deliberately misleading on at least one important point. Even worse, the excesses Kling indulges in his pursuit of Augusta are unconscionable. He gets a search warrant under fraudulent conditions and uses it to harass and intimidate someone who is guilty of nothing except being unlikable. There are no repercussions from this, not here or in any subsequent novel. It's appalling—other detectives have to know, certainly our hero Steve Carella, but they appear to cover it up. Oh well, and never mind about the guy held at gunpoint in the middle of the night. Anyway, McBain is plainly more interested in this storyline than in the ostensible main case, which I'll call a good thing. I like that he goes in for the long-term character development, it's the main thing that merits any comparison to Balzac, even if I'm not convinced he always does such a good job of it. Bert Kling loses lots of points on the decent cop score here, and unfortunately McBain seems altogether too sanguine about it too. It's given more as a series of understandable and noble mistakes rather than criminal. Just so, the main case gets rote, turning on a lifelong fear of pills and a suicide death by barbiturate overdose, and the resolution is barely believable. The heat theme is handled all right—it's set in August, no surprise. A corpse is left to rot in a closed apartment with the air conditioning purposely turned off. Mostly I came away from this saddened by the behavior of Bert Kling and how it appears to be condoned.

In case it's not at the library.

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