Monday, December 05, 2005

The One & OnlyThe One & OnlyThe One & Only

Couldn't find a book that grabbed me last night so I dug around in an old bookcase and turned up Jigsaw by Ed McBain. It's about a B as an 87th and not terribly beleivable as a portrait of a black detective but everything else in it cooks.

He makes everything intense and he does this without often resorting to melodrama. The intensity gives it its page-turning quality. That and the fact that there are no saints in McBain, only sinners. He knew us all too well.

As I said on the weekend he died, I've been reading the guy for fifty years and he's just as exciting now as he was when I first picked up one of his Winston juveniles in 1954. I know there are people who feel he padded some of the later 87ths to get them up to bestseller size. I never noticed it in the cop novels. Where I saw it because it was so flagrant was in the Matthew Hope books. A couple of them, Goldilocks and Cinderella, were A++ by my reckoning but the others were either padded or dull.

But when he was kicking ass, as in Jigsaw, nobody in mystery fiction could bring such sheer urgency and FUN to the process of reading. And unlike the cliff-hanger boys, his surprises rarely amounted to more than three or four a book but they were really SURPRISES. If you doubt me, pick up his Halloween 87th. He got out his full-max stun gun for that one. The shocker in the middle involving the magician's wife is set up with such subtle grace that you are absolutely flummoxed by it.

And I don't have to tell you what's it like to be flummoxed now, do I?

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