Thursday, May 18, 2017

Romance (1995)

As late entries go in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, Romance is not bad. McBain manages to pull a few things together. It's just one case, involving an actress, and from there it gets a bit meta. A play called Romance is being produced, which is about an actress who is threatened and then murdered. Shortly before opening, the lead actress of the play reports she has been receiving threatening calls. Then she is stabbed, though not killed. Then she is stabbed and killed. It turns out she was involved in the first stabbing as part of a publicity stunt. Turning up dead is another matter. The plot is not that inspired but has its points. On the personal side, this is more of a Bert Kling episode, with Steve Carella working as his partner but well off to the side. The main point here is that Kling is starting a new relationship, this time with an African American woman, Sharyn (somehow pronounced differently from "Sharon"). She is a surgeon who directs forensics work for the Isola city police. McBain has certain things on his mind here: Rodney King, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and race relations generally. Mostly it seems like a clumsy version of whitesplaining, but again, at least he's trying, and there are some interesting insights along the way. I like how he traces Kling's burgeoning racial sensitivities, as when Kling begins to notice how often white people mention that people are black, how extraneous and coded it almost always is. Kling also becomes more aware of racial compositions in public places and how they affect the way people behave. For her part, Sharyn is not sure about being involved with a white man—Kling is her first—and that's interesting too, though I don't much trust McBain speaking for her. Overall the mystery story in Romance is a little tired but the impulse to deal with race relations carries it. I'm not saying you won't wince.

In case it's not at the library.

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