Sunday, June 12, 2005

Ed McBain - Long Time No See

Ed McBain stands out as a detective writer - not because of his gigantic output, though that is impressive - he wrote literally dozens of short novels set in the fictitious 87th precinct.

In my opinion McBain stands out because he looks at the world of police work, with the jaundiced eye of someone who has seen the real world, and it's people, and knows that it hurts.

His characters are very often ordinary working class people, living their lives in shitty, dull, boring jobs on the edge of respectability, and sometimes slipping over it. The criminals victims are Vietnam vets, prostitutes, low paid workers and factory fodder.

Of course, being police procedural novels, they concentrate on murder and violent crime. But the characters - mainly the detectives who staff the precincts unresourced and outdated police stations, grow older, marry, fight and complain. This is the real world.

But McBain is at his best when he looks at how crime isn't something special, murder isn't unusual - it's inherent in a society that alienates and atomises the individuals, putting the importance of money above the needs of the individuals, and his policemen pick up the pieces and almost always get their men, but can only rail impotently at the far greater crime going on.

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