Ed McBain is a masterful storyteller.
At first McBain’s The Big Bad City starts out like an ordinary 87th Precinct novel. The 87th deals with two crimes, the death of a nun found strangled in a local park and a series of ordinary break-ins.
The break-ins are by a man called The Cookie Boy. He breaks into empty apartments, steals what he can carry away, and leaves a plate of chocolate chip cookies on a bed pillow. During one afternoon break-in, The unarmed Cookie Boy walks in on a housewife making love with a deliveryman. Two killings happen.
At the same time, the man who killed Steve Carella’s father (and got off) begins to stalk Steve.
In the 88th Precinct, Fat Ollie Weeks catches the call on a body washed up from the river. Someone blew away most of a man’s face and tossed him in the river. That crime leads to the man stalking Carella.
But Ollie fails to tell Carella. Ollie’s usual ineptness, coupled with the ineptness of some people in the 87th, make it so Steve doesn’t get the message.
All this is fairly ordinary. The various groups of cops deal with more than they could ever handle. As often happens in McBain’s books, coincidence plays a part.
But the amazing part of this novel lies in McBain’s descriptions of several witnesses telling the same story, each either failing to remember or covering up what actually happened.
Each time, the story seems so real. The reader is inclined to believe, especially after the second or third telling. And the final story is startling.
The whole thing is masterful. It turns an ordinary 87th Precinct novel into something more.
Ed McBain amazes me. He is my favorite police procedural writer. And police procedurals are my favorite kind of mystery story.
If you haven’t read The Big Bad City, I suggest you give it try.