Wednesday, March 2, 2011

THE LAST DANCE by Ed McBain



Words don't create emotions.  Good stories do.  It took me a long time to learn that.

The words themselves matter, of course.  They matter a lot.  But without good stories--unless the words express some kind of substance--, they collapse in upon themselves.

Maybe that's why Ed McBain is my all-time favorite writer.  He tells very truthful stories in workman-like and sometimes beautiful ways.

Take this description of the love between Detective Bert Kling and Medical Examiner Sharyn Cooke--

"They were not color blind.

"Any white or black person in America who told you he or she was color blind was lying.

"In fact, Kling had been attracted to her because she was black and beautiful and he was curious, and Sharyn had been attracted to him because  he was so goddamn blond and white and good looking and forbidden.  There were differences between them that spanned continents and oceans and spoke of jungle drums and sailing ships and slaves in chains and white men bartering in open markets and blood on the snow and blood on the stars and blood mixing with blood until blood became meaningless. These very differences drew them closer together.  In each other's arms, in each other's lives, they shared an intimacy each had never known before, Kling not with any other woman ever, Sharyn not with any other man ever."

I see that as honest writing.  And I see the relationships McBain describes as what give depth to McBain's 87th Precinct series.  McBain tried to portray the truth of the police procedural, the unending rain the detectives had to work in, the ups and downs of the detective's life, sometimes the tedium and sometimes the danger of the work homicide detectives have to do.

Ed McBain is my favorite writer.

McBain's The Last Dance was the 50th book in his 87th Precinct series.

The last dance is the dance of death.

Carella and Meyer end up with the call to an apartment where an old man had apparently committed suicide, hanged himself.  The man's daughter has attempted to cover up the suicide by taking him down from the rope and putting him back in bed. And when the ME discovers that the old man had been drugged before he was hanged, the suicide turns into a murder.

Before the whole thing is over, the case extends beyond the city of Isola, even to the British Isles. 

And all the time there are the murders around the murders and questions of whether those murders are connected or just similar by coincidence.

McBain says all detectives acknowledge the existence of coincidence in their investigations. (See the Sunday quote in this week's blog.)  One of the challenges for detectives is to determine what is coincidence and what is not.

So, all in all, this is a typical Ed McBain story--truthful, sometimes violent, describing both the personal lives and the struggles of working detectives.

As I've said before, I greatly admire writers who have produced a large body of good work.  Ed McBain (Evan Hunter, et. al.) did that for sure.

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