Showing posts with label police procedural mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police procedural mysteries. Show all posts

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Mystery Series – Book & Author Review

The 87th Precinct Series

This series of police procedurals were featured around a group of detectives in a big city police department. McBain's publisher was looking for a new group of mystery stories with a fresh and original lead character.  McBain decided his character would be a cop dealing with murders, along with the other crimes most cops have to deal with on a daily basis. But then he thought if he were going to do a whole series, then having just one cop as the central character wouldn't be realistic enough if the character was the only person solving the crimes over and over. 

Instead, he decided to base his characters on a squad-room full of cops with different traits and ways of handling situations, all working together. That way he could introduce new characters along the way as one cop got killed or transferred to another department.  Thus his 'lead character' became a conglomerate of characters, different ones being featured in different books in the series, with the others being visible to various degrees throughout each story. 


New York City - Source: Pixabay
McBain wanted to place the series in New York City, his hometown with which he was familiar.   As he began his research, he found he was at the NYPD almost daily and soon became a pain-in-the-neck to that police department who were too busy working real crimes to sit and discuss fictitious ones. If he were to base his books in New York City, he'd have to verify every fact.  

Instead, he decided to 'invent' a city that was LIKE New York but not quite New York.  Thus, a mythical city was born.  McBain named his city Isola, which is Italian for 'island' and if you are at all familiar with NYC you will recognize Isola as Manhattan, as well as knowing that 'Calms Point' is Brooklyn. McBain stated that he had a ball 'inventing' historical background and naming places to suit his fancy for each section of his 'city'.  Along the way, the city then also became a character. Quite a unique approach to a mystery series and one that did not seem to have been done previously. 


Who was Ed McBain?


Evan Hunter a.k.a. Ed McBain nee  Salvatore Albert Lombino (Source: Wikimedia)

The 87th Precinct police procedural mystery series was written under the pseudonym of Ed McBain. Prior to this series, the author had written and published a variety of short stories under several different pseudonyms.  But unknown to me until I did MY research, Ed McBain's real name was Salvatore Albert Lombino which he legally changed to Evan Hunter in 1952.  

Evan Hunter was the author of the well known book and movie 'Blackboard Jungle' and also the screenplay for the Hitchcock film The Birds. By the time he switched to writing crime fiction, he was best known in the literary field as Ed McBain. 


How Ed McBain Wrote the 87th Precinct Mystery Series



Source: Pixabay


"I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out—just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits—all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for.”

*(quoted in the Wikipedia article about the 87th Precinct.)

  

Summary


Available on Amazon Kindle
My favorite part of the background for the 87th Precinct series was the story McBain told in an afterword to the third book, The Pusher.  He had set up this group of characters, detectives working in the 87th Precinct, which he called his 'Conglomerate Hero'.  He introduced them to us individually (see the list of regular characters in the Wikipedia article called 87th Precinct - the detectives of the 87th Precinct), let us as readers find our favorites, then proceeded to bump off mine and everyone else's top favorite ~ Detective 2nd Grade Steve Carella ~ in book three.

See, McBain had originally described the series as being about cops going and coming, cops getting killed and replaced by other cops, as a way to keep the readers interested by introducing new characters here and there. Steve Carella gets shot in The Pusher, mistaken for someone else, so McBain ends the book by killing him off. He thought he was pretty hot stuff, doing something no one else had ever done in crime fiction writing, killing off a guy we'd all been rooting for throughout the first two books. McBain figured he was being innovative! 

So he gleefully sends off book three to his agent, who calls the next morning and said “What did you do?  It's Christmas Day, Carella is dead, you've killed the hero.”  McBain tried to tell his agent that no, Carella isn't the hero, he's just one of the characters. It doesn't matter that this is the third book he's been in and that the story ends on Christmas Day!

The agent sends the manuscript on to the publisher and the  next day McBain gets a call from his editor saying “What did you do?” “It's Christmas day, Carella is dead, you've killed the hero.”  McBain kept saying “No, no.” Remember what I told you in the beginning about cops getting killed, other cops replacing them…..remember all that?”  His editor answered with, yes, but nobody said you could kill the hero.  McBain tried again to say “but he isn't the hero.”  His editor replied “He's the hero. Period.”  McBain went back to his typewriter and rewrote the ending.  

Needless to say, Steve Carella survived and remained the hero of the 87th Precinct throughout the series! 


Cop Hater, First Book of the Series
McBain's first 87th Precinct book, 'Cop Hater' was published in 1956. By the time the series ended shortly before the author died in 2005 at age 78 McBain had written 55 books in the series. (And I've read them all more than once). A truly terrific series of mysteries!









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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book Review of The Only Witness by Pamela Beason

The Only Witness


An infant is abducted in broad daylight. The only witness is a gorilla. Can you imagine how a detective would feel when about to ask a judge for a warrant on the basis of the testimony of a gorilla? Of course, he wouldn't tell the judge anymore than he'd first been told himself -- that the the only witness was a twelve-year-old with the IQ of a five-year-old. As expected, the judge had the same reaction he himself had had -- he wanted to  meet the witness. That's why Detective Matthew Finn had brought the video tape to show the judge if necessary.

Book Review of The Only Witness by Pamela Beason
Photo Courtesy of Pixabayxabay


                                                                                                                               

The Kidnapping                 


Seventeen-year-old single unwed mother Brittany Morgan stops at a convenience store because because she's out of diapers. Her two-month old baby, Ivy Rose, is asleep in her car seat. She doesn't want to wake Ivy, so she carefully locks her car after opening the windows just far enough for the air to flow, but not far enough to reach in. She whispers through the passenger window to Ivy, 'Mama will be right back, Ivy Rose.'

Brittany  notices a tall gray van parked next to her on the right, the kind with mirrored windows that prevent people from looking in. The words "Talking Hands Ranch" were painted on the side. Then she went into the store and bought a few groceries. When she got back to the car, the doors were still locked, but the baby was gone. So was the gray van, but Brittany didn't remember the van at that moment because she was still in shock. She thought some boys standing around smoking might have taken the baby as a joke but they denied it and hadn't seen anyone else with a baby. A woman called  911. Soon Detective Finn was on the scene with  his crew gathering evidence. Brittany was frantic.

Inside the Van


Grace, a research professor at he University of Washington, returned to her van and to Neema, one of the gorillas in her project to whom she was teaching sign language. Unbeknownst to Grace, Neema had seen the kidnapping of the baby. She had signed to herself what was happening as it happened.

When Grace had returned, Neema signs "baby" to her, and then "car." Grace has no idea what Neema is talking about. In intervals Neema signs "Snake make baby cry." Grace thought Neema was calling her a snake, a word Neema hated. Neema continued to sign: "Baby cry, bad blue snake". But then Neema remembered she wanted a banana and the conversation took a different turn.

Later, Grace found out about the abduction, but still did not make the connection. It took her days and repeated signs from Neema before she made an anonymous call to the police. She remembered she had been at the Food Mart about that time.

The Investigation


Before Grace finally called Finn was not getting far in the investigation.  He'd learned that Brittany had been in a program for unwed mothers at her high school, the Sister Mothers Trust program. They had a support website for the girls in the class called YoMama where the girls could communicate. Brittany's computer had been taken in to custody, since she was the first one the police suspected, along with the baby's father Charlie, who was the son of the County Executive. The police certainly did not want to get Travis Wakefield's name into the news over this.

So far, the police had not learned much that helped. It was only after Grace called with the anonymous tip that Finn began to make progress. Brittany, had, meanwhile, remembered seeing the van and  described it to the police. By tracing Grace's call from a pay phone and tracking down the van, he was finally able to find  Grace's compound and discover that his only witness was Neema. In the phone call Grace had only said her ward told her that a man with a snake bracelet took the baby to a green car. Grace had said her ward was twelve and had the mentality of a five-year-old. Finn still thought Grace was passing on the words of a mentally retarded child witness. Finn had been  crushed when Grace said he could not contact Neema and then hung up.



Finn Meets Neema


Finn finally tracks down Grace's location just after she has received a letter from the University of Washington that the project is closing and the gorillas will be sold at auction. When Finn unexpectedly appears, Grace is crying. He still has no idea Neema is a gorilla. When Grace finally allows him to meet her, he still believes he is meeting a child. He has even brought a flower to try to win her over. When he first lays eyes on Neema,  you can just imagine what went through his mind.

You'll have to read the book to see that rather humorous scene. It is the first of many interviews Grace tapes. Neema's testimony,  though not presented formally in court, does help solve the case and the cases of two other missing children of mothers who were in the Sister Mothers Trust classes. I'm not going to spoil the book for you by telling you any more. I'm anxious to read the sequel. The best deal is the Kindle box set for the two books.

I would recommend this book to those interested in inter-species communication, gorillas, and police procedural mysteries. One thing I appreciated about this book in addition to the story itself was that no one got killed -- no gory scenes. The emphasis was on the police work and the human-gorilla interaction.

Book Review of The Only Witness by Pamela Beason
Gorilla Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


 Could this Really Happen?


It is plausible.  I think the author may have been influenced by the work of Dr. Francine Penny Patterson at the Gorilla Foundation. She is best known as the mentor of the famous Koko the gorilla, to whom she has been teaching American Sign Language, as part of her gorilla research. The project began in 1972 at the San Francisco Zoo. Since then it has progressed and moved to larger spaces, and finally to a large compound in Hawaii, but it appears the foundation is losing its lease and will have to raise enough money to buy the land if they are to stay there.  Koko will turn  45 on July 4, 2016.

Here is some insight into the relationship between Koko and Dr. Patterson. One can easily see how Pamela Beason might see Dr. Patterson and Koko as models for Grace and Neema in The Only Witness.

In this video, you will meet Koko.

   
In this video you  will watch a conversation between Koko and Dr. Patterson.



What do you think? Would you consider a signing gorilla like Neema a capable of being a credible witness?

For more information about  Koko, try one of these. You will see more options when you click through, both in books and DVD's. Koko A Talking Gorilla is a DVD.




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