McBain's second novel in the 87th Precinct series delivers an alternate to the straight mystery that started the series, setting the tone that his novels would switch back and forth betwee, and gives the main mystery a bizarre and darkly humorous twist.
In this case, a mugger that courteously bows and thanks the women he abuses and victimizes ("Clifford thanks you, Madam.") is terrorizing the city, and the bulls of the 87th doing their best to stop him. The pressure already on them increases when one of Clifford's apparent victims turns up dead.
With Carella on a honeymoon in the Poconos with his new bride Teddy, Willis and Havilland team up to track down the notorious Clifford. They are assisted in the search with the introduction of bald jokester Meyer Meyer, the most patient man in the 87th. Also introduced is female detective Eileen Burke, who goes undercover as Clifford bait in a desperate attempt to trap the mugger.
At the same time, patrolman Bert Kling finds himself stepping out of bounds as he looks into the murder of an old friend's daughter, who just happens to be Clifford's homicide victim. His private investigation threatens to endanger his job, but also puts him in contact with the dead girls beautiful college friend, whom he falls for instantly.
The Mugger is one of McBain's less spectacular stories, by which I mean it is not the crimes themselves that keep you riveted, but the characters involved and the stories they tell. A good portion of the book is taken up by interrogation transcripts, but they give a deeper feeling to the city and its denizens rather than bog it down.