3 stars out of 5
I've never read a book by Ed McBain, one of the pseudonyms of crime fiction author Evan Hunter, who died in 2005. When I had an opportunity to get this one for $1.99 through a special offer at Amazon.com, I read the description and it sounded interesting. Even though it's the second in a series featuring beat cop Bert Kling (who in future books gets promoted to detective), I hoped it would stand alone and I'd discover a great new series. In any event, at just 214 pages, I figured I could plow through it even if it isn't the best I've ever read.
Frankly, it ain't even close, but neither is it the worst book I've ever read. I guess if I had to sum it up in a single word, it would be "blah."
The book takes place sometime in the 1950s, and it was a hoot to learn that a police officer earned not much more than $5,000 a year, eyeglasses cost a couple of bucks and an Allstate tire from Sears could be had for around $18. Those were the good old days, and yes, I remember them well (the car I drove when I first got my license was my dad's metallic pink '57 Chevy Bel Air). It begins as Kling and his 87th Precinct buddies are trying to catch a mugger who preys on women - usually giving them a few punches and always bowing as he says, "Clifford thanks you" before he runs off with the purses.
Then, an old friend cajoles Kling into doing some surreptitious investigating of the murder of his pregnant wife's beautiful younger sister, who's been living with them. Because of the circumstances, there's some indication that the mugger has gone too far this time, but Kling isn't so sure he's the guy. Kling also intruding on another department's turf, which is likely to ruffle a few feathers, if not cost him his job. His own department, meantime, is trying to solve a string of cat thefts (yes, you heard that right - live cats are being stolen right under their owners' noses).
McBain is an excellent writer in the technical sense, but that's nothing more than the bottom-line requirement (in my book, if your grammar, punctuation and spelling aren't top-notch, don't even try to call yourself a writer). Still, I found it hard to get into this one. The time period may have been a factor, but it seemed as if there was an overabundance of background that really wasn't relevant to the story, there was precious little action or suspense and I really couldn't relate to Kling or his buddies. And that cat theft caper? The solution was almost an insult - devised only for the purpose of delivering a silly punch line to an old joke.
Needless to say, think I'll pass on the sequels.
The Mugger by Ed McBain (Thomas & Mercer, December 2011); 214 pp.