The third book in the 87th Precinct series is a more standard entry into the police procedural genre. But at the same time, it manages to reach an emotional depth somewhat unusual for the time period.
The plot is pretty straight forward. A pair of patrolmen stumble upon a apparent junkie suicide. But sometimes things aren't as easy as they seem, and the suicide squeal quickly turns into a multiple homicide investigation that threatens to become blackmail when Lt. Byrnes son becomes linked to the drug scene. The bulls at the 87th are relegated mainly to the footwork, as most of the behind the scenes action involves Byrnes as he struggles with his son's involvement. Byrnes goes as far as to fill Carella in on the situation, a decision that almost proves to be fatal.
Apart from some of the dated aspects one would expect from a well-reserched police drama from the fifties, the bulk of the novel is your typical expose on the brutal world of the street level drug trade. But as usual, McBain delves into the emotional causes and ramifications of the Heroin users and dealers. The most revealing of these is the personal and professional termoil faced by Lt. Byrnes with the revelation that his son is a Heroin addict. Adding to the emotional doubt of where he has gone wrong with his son, and the constant battle between anger and compassion, is the dilemma of whether or not to cover up his son's possible involvement in a crime, especially when a mysterious third party with knowledge of his son's connection attempts to blackmail him for police protection.
McBain doesn't just focus on the 87th detectives. Glimpses into the lives of low key players in the drug scene shows the many facets of human frailty and desperation and prevents the broad generalizations that many crime dramas easily fall into. Even the closer look at Carella's relationship with stoolie Danny the Gimp is both touching and revealing. But to McBain's credit, none of this detailed attention to the human element detracts from the gritty realism that is typical of this series.