Sunday, November 12, 2017

Doll (1965)

The 20th novel in the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals by Ed McBain comes with a few mysteries of its own outside the covers of the book. Though copies are easily enough obtained, it takes a little extra work because presently it is out of print and there is no kindle edition. Doll is unusually violent, even for McBain, but not so much you'd think it would be just abandoned this way. The paperback I tracked down was printed in the US, but obviously edited for UK readers, at least in terms of its quotation marks, if not the variant spellings. Who knows? Anyone? It opens on a woman being slashed to death while her toddler daughter plays in the next room. The woman is divorced and a successful model, but with a dark secret to hide. It's an early use of a single-word title worked all different ways across the story. The dead woman is a model, or "doll," and her daughter plays with a doll during the murder, the doll that eventually breaks the case open. Other strange things: the much more grim tone than normal—very little of the light-hearted banter. Another would-be death of Steve Carella. A still grieving and totally broken-down Bert Kling, who is becoming the kind of bad cop everyone recognizes as such (compared with later in the series, when his lapses seem to be intended more on the order of overzealous bad form). In fact, it's so bad with Kling that he is booted off the squad. Temporarily, obviously—I'm throwing spoiler warnings to the wind here because Doll is just such an unusual entry in the series. Looking up fan reviews on Goodreads, I see that many consider it one of the best. The bad things are very bad here—heroin addiction and torture are more elements in play. But it does not feel like McBain is having much fun. He's not straining for effect here. It's just dark. But it makes me wonder about the circumstances of writing and publishing it. Is it really the high level of depravity that's keeping it out of print and off the kindle reading programs? I thought that stuff was more the norm these days. Did McBain himself have some say (or some specific lack of it) in suppressing it? Is it even fair to say suppressed? They feel like the real mysteries here.

In case it's not at the library.

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