Monday, December 05, 2016

Ten Plus One (1963)

This entry in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series is a single "big case" mystery with most of its essentials as if filched from an Agatha Christie cozy. It doesn't really play fair either way. As a cozy, it does not give us anything like a reasonable chance to figure it out. As a police procedural, it's just a little unbelievable. A sniper is on the loose in the 87th Precinct, which means our usual gang of detectives is responsible for the case, including all the murders that follow. There's also a Nancy Drew character on hand, Cindy Forrest, who may become significant elsewhere (so maybe there is something meta here I'm not quite getting). At first the detectives think it's a serial killer—it's 1963 so the term wasn't yet common, making him a "nut" or a "madman." Working at the problem assiduously, the detectives finally find the link among the victims and counting, and then the tiresome business of playing out follows. This isn't one of the best, I must say. It's just the one case, which is rarely believable at any point, and the personal asides are minimal. At the same time it's a little longer than earlier volumes, so the result is it also feels padded, riding on the sensationalism of the Deadly Sniper. Minneapolis is mentioned, which might have some interest for anyone who's lived there, though the city itself is all off-stage. The year 1963 marks a low point in McBain's productivity on the series, along with 1962, which may or may not be explained by his working on movies such as Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Akira Kurosawa's High and Low. This one mostly feels like McBain is phoning it in. The resolution turns on an astonishing presumption of both depravity and prudery, removing it definitively from the cozy realm. Across the arc of the story, once the sniper gets to snipin', that's when it really goes off the rails. Which covers the broad majority of action here. You can hold off on this one awhile.

In case it's not at the library.

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