Tuesday, February 26, 2013

THE CON MAN by Ed McBain

Ed McBain’s The Con Man is Teddy Carella’s story.

Several con men are stalking the streets of the 87th precinct. The story shows them at work. We see the cons, and we see the consequences.

Among the consequences of one particular con are the women’s bodies which show up in the river.

Each of the bodies has a special tattoo. That tattoo finally leads to a tattoo parlor. Steve Carella takes Teddy with him to make a routine visit to what turns out to be one of the operative tattoo parlors. He and Teddy are on a married couple’s date. He makes a short job visit on his way to their dinner out. And that involves Teddy in a dangerous way.

Another major character in this drama is detective/2nd grade Arthur Brown. A black detective, Brown uses his investigative skills to nail two lesser con men. (In this story, the cons are all men. I acknowledge women can be con people too.)

One thing that struck me about the cons is that, at heart, all cons are the same. They appeal to human gullibility and hubris. These old cons (described in detail) have a lot in common with the Internet e-mail and other cons we read about today. 

The Con Man has another characteristic of the 87th precinct stories. Again and again, the cops make mistakes. From missed daily lineups, to missed phone calls, these cops struggle with all the happenstance and error any ordinary cops would struggle with.

These detectives aren’t all likeable or even admirable either.

A particular beauty of these newly-published e-books is that each (so far) contains an Afterword. McBain tells the story of how he wrote the book. He tells you why he made the story decisions he did.

This is both a routine and a compelling story. By the end it has you turning pages as fast as you can read.

I’ve known all along how much I enjoy Ed McBain’s writing. But I’d forgotten just how wonderful I find these stories. I’m glad I’m reading these books through in order.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Got this one, Joe. Thanks!

Joe Barone said...

You are welcome.

George said...

I enjoyed these older 87th Precinct novels when I first read them. The later 87th Precinct novels grew much longer than these slim paperbacks like THE CON MAN.

Joe Barone said...

I enjoyed the earlier ones the most. Their short length was a part of that. I still most enjoy mysteries that are about 50,000-60,000 words, but you don't see many modern ones like that. Publishers think people believe they aren't getting enough for their money.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great stuff Joe - the afterwords on the e-editions sounds worth the price alone (I'm making do mostly with Penguin editions that i bught decades ago) - really enjoyed the review, thanks.

Joe Barone said...

I have enjoyed the afterwords. They are not overly long, but they do give insight into McBain's process.