Friday, December 09, 2016

Ice (1983)

Here's a novel that's typical of the '80s for the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain. Over 300 pages, with a single-word title whose metaphorical possibilities are worked over methodically (compare Tricks, the best of them). So it is set in February, involves cocaine, and also a theatrical-world scam known as "ice" (a term I'd never heard before, though I knew the scalping technique). There are also diamonds—you knew there were going to be diamonds—which are hidden inside ice-cube trays. Brrr. The killer is a cold motherfucker too, though I know many criminals in fiction are cold. As usual, except lately, it's a decent mystery story, keeps you guessing, and plays fair, for the most part. I've heard a new term going around: "rapey," which unfortunately often applies to McBain's work. A variation I haven't heard yet applies even more to him: "knifey." Ice is rapey and it is knifey too, though mostly (not always) they are off to the side, in the developing relationship between sad sack turned bad cop Bert Kling (just divorced from his model wife Augusta, who starred in Heat, set in August) and rape decoy specialist Eileen Burks. Ah ha—did the light just go on for you too? That's where all the rapey stuff goes in this one, and a lot of the knifey stuff too. And McBain is really treading risky territory here, attempting to make Eileen a hot sexy redheaded bombshell who has a complicated rape fantasy in her sexuality. Not in her police work, thank God. But I'm not really sure that makes it any better. It feels uncomfortably like McBain's complicated rape fantasy in a way that is annoying at best, or icky and worse. So that's unfortunate. All the personal development is basically with Kling and Eileen. Cotton Hawes and Andy Parker are absent. Meyer Meyer, Arthur Brown, and of course Steve Carella are present. Teddy makes a brief appearance. This one is big but it's mostly about the case, which is mostly about the metaphor conceit. I like setting it in February, as in many ways it's the cruelest month of the winter—still dark and bleak and cold, but now with phony make-believe holidays, Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day, neither one of which anybody ever knows where to put the apostrophes. McBain works those holidays pretty well here. There's a comical phony priest who reminds me a little of Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction. I realize I'm grasping at straws now. OK, it's not one of his best either.

In case it's not at the library.

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