Sunday, May 14, 2017

'Til Death (1959)

This lighthearted caper story comes out of one of the busiest years for the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which wasn't his real name either). 'Til Death was the second of three novels in the series he published that year. I say it's lighthearted but actually the violence tends toward the brutal and over-the-top. It's the day of Steve Carella's sister's wedding. She is marrying Tommy Giordano, a neighborhood kid. He served with someone in the Korean War who now happens to be conducting an irrational vendetta against him. That's one thing going on. A jilted lover of Angela Carella has also got his mind on vengeance, and vengeance on his mind. And there are still more bad characters hanging around too. The wedding is ridiculously lavish, with giant ice sculptures, dozens of bottles of champagne, and a fireworks shoot to cap it off. Yeah, right. In a pig's eye. I doubt it! Also Steve Carella's wife Teddy is very pregnant and gives birth at the end of the novel. Busy, busy. You get the sense, as always, that McBain has a little fallen in love with the Carella family. He likes these people and wants to hang around with them, especially at such important times in their lives. But business is business, and action scenes are what move these units, and so we have pistol-whippers, sharpshooters, poisoners, and even someone sabotaging a car. And this is one of the short novels in the series. Carella enlists his detective buddies Cotton Hawes and Bert Kling so there are plenty of cops on hand for security. Meyer Meyer and Bob O'Brien are also there—we get more of a look at O'Brien than we usually do. Even Hal Willis gets a scene, back at the station house. At the wedding it's mostly mayhem and murder, with the cops unobtrusively conducting investigations, taking knocks to the head, getting hog-tied even, yet generally maintaining order until the wedding comes to a successful conclusion, and even a little beyond. This one has interest for the Carellas (and/or McBain's love affair with them). Much later in the series, in the '90s, the murder of Steve's father, who is featured here, becomes a significant continuing storyline. Part of it includes the divorce of Angela and Tommy. I suspect, if I knew the sales figures better, these would be bull years for the franchise and McBain had general license to do as he pleased to get three out a year. 'Til Death probably has very little interest as a stand-alone. It presumes all kinds of knowledge about backstory. At the same time, as these things go, this is the kind of story that makes the whole series more immersive. Proceed accordingly.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Nice series of reviews of another group of McBain novels last week. I don't usually do detective novels, that's been Teresa's department thus far, but I enjoy reading your thoughts on McBain, especially this familiar trigger warning -- "Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, which wasn't his real name either)" -- which you employed just once in this series, but which was already stuck in my mind as a talisman, much like your "interlocutor" counts for Henry James's writings. The layers of illusion surrounding Mr. McBain's byline are somehow comforting in these strange times. Not an illusion: I'm still Richard Riegel.

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