Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain

I've never been a fan of police procedurals. The majority of them tend to be more concerned with showing off the author's knowledge of obscure investigation technique trivia than telling any kind of cohesive, let alone down to earth, story. With this in mind, the only reason I offer for loving the 87the Precinct series, written by the man who practically invented the genre, is that he writes it better than anyone else. If you're sick and tied of the Law & Order clones, maybe you should take a step back and check out the series that defined the genre and has yet to be surpassed. And if you've never visited McBain's series, then there is no better place to start than the beginning.

Cop Hater is an able and worthy introduction to the world of the 87th Precinct's Homicide Division, walking the beat of its fictional city for over fifty years, right up until the author's death last year. Many book series suffer from weak openings and fluctuations in quality and style that often leave fans recommending later entries as a starting point for new readers. The 87th never felt any such growing pains, and Cop Hater still stands as strong as the 53 that soon followed.

Detective Carella, the anchor of the series, is introduced in this initial outing, along with other long-term cast members including his love interest and future wife Teddy, stoolie Danny the Gimp, Lt. Byrnes, hack journalist Savage, Bert Kling (still a patrolman before earning his detective's badge in The Mugger), angry bull Roger Havilland, and the diminutive but dangerous Hal Willis.

Cop Hater is one of McBain's more direct titles, and covers the plot simply. Someone is killing cops out of the 87th Precinct. A dead cop is always taken seriously by other cops, but things become personal for Carella when the third officer gunned down in cold bloody is his partner Bush, and even more so when newspaper reporter Savage turns his deaf girlfriend Teddy into a prospective target. With nothing more to go on than the killer's motive as a Cop Hater, the race is on to catch the killer before he kills anyone else that Carella cares for, or for that matter. Carella himself.

Many police procedural series try to over-the-top with spectacular crimes or completely outrageous twists and turns, and mind-numbingly technical procedure descriptions. This is territory that where the 87th Precinct never strays into. While McBain does take the time to explain how and why certain aspects of the job are undertaken, he does so not to flog the reader with facts, but to help them understand exactly what the bulls of the 87th are up against. The crimes and characters of the 87th are always believable, interesting, and never fail to ring with a truth and honesty that makes it seem as real as crime in your local papers. Cop Hater embodies this truth as much as any of the other books, despite being written over fifty years ago. The procedures may change over time, but the criminals are cops are still driven by the same beliefs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a great review of one of my favorite authors. I will mourn his passing and not being able to anticipate a new 87th Precinct adventure. I've already gone back and started rereading the series from the beginging. It is interesting and fun to see the evolution of our society, the culture of our cities (I"m sure this is modeled on NYC), tehcnology in crime fighting and the evolution of crime. Even more interesting is the evolution of McBain's characters of the 87th over the years, who grow in depth and breadth as people, but age in a much slower pace than the rest of us over the years!