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March 1st, 2011

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12:45 pm - Ed McBain -- 87th Precinct -- Cop Hater
Ed McBain -- 87th Precinct -- Cop Hater Premise:  The detectives in the 87th Precinct, in a fictionalized version of Manhattan called "Isola", use authentic police investigatory techniques to deal with crime in a poor/working class neighborhood.

Story:  A man gets up, late at night, to go to his job, on the late shift.  Before leaving, he gazes lovingly on his wife and children, all sleeping.  On his way to work, he is gunned down without warning.  A couple detectives are called from the 87th Precinct and discover that the victim {mild spoiler -- highlight at your own risk} is one of their own.

They commence an investigation, all the more motivated because this was a person they knew and cared about, and, moreover, because the reputation of the precinct may be at stake if they don't succeed.

Shortly after, another detective is shot down.  Did the two victims have anything in common.  Is it just a coincidence?  Or are they confronted with a serial killer who is a ...... cop hater?

  • As with the previous 87th Precinct novel I read and reviewed earlier, this one actually has remarkable good prose -- always fluid, and, sometimes, surprisingly lyrical.
  • There is a mordant sense of humor that runs throughout the grim story.
  • Being a mystery, there is always the issue that a good deal of the story ends up being blind alleys.  However, the author makes up for this by providing interesting characters, and sharp, terse dialog, that enliven these sections.  Even if a given area of investigation proves fruitless, its fun to read, anyway
  • There is a side-plot-line involving an arrogant reporter who inadvertently stirs up a local youth gang to violence while pursuing this ill-considered opinion that a gang member could have committed the shooting.  This plot thread doesn't advance the story -- its another blind alley -- and the reporter was neither particularly interesting nor appealing to me as a character.
  • Ed McBain -- 87th Precinct -- Cop HaterWe are introduced to Detective Carella's fiancée, Teddy.  Teddy is a deaf mute who, in her few scenes, becomes a vivid and appealing person, and an obviously good match for Carella.  That being said, I have a couple issues with the way that she is presented:
    • First, in the first scene where he visits her, she is able to understand him by lip reading, and communicates with him by gesture and expression.  However, the author falls back on a literary devise that, I think, compromises the believability of this scene:  when Teddy wants to communicate something that can't easily be expressed as gesture, he is able to fill in the gaps by reading the expression in her eyes.  *sigh*!  If only it was that easy!  I know of this from experience, having lost my own hearing about 3 years ago ... trust me, the amount of information you can get just from looking at someone's eyes is no where near as exhaustive as its portrayed here!   In real life, to carry on this conversation, he would likely needed to learn at least some basic ASL, and/or have a writing pad available for her to communicate with him
    • Second, given that the author indicates that the relationship has been going on for at least a few months, why hasn't Carella already learned some ASL, if he cares for her so much?
    • Third, and finally, there is one scene in which the author gives us something of what Teddy is thinking, after Carella has proposed to her.  She is portrayed as feeling unworthy of him and having low self-esteem, because of her handicap.   Um .... trust me! ... that is not typical of us deaf people!  If anything, Deaf people seem to take a certain pride in their sense of community, fostered by their common language, and common struggles with interacting with the hearing world.
      • That being said, I have wonder, is this a reflection of ignorance on the authors part, or is it truly reflective of how deaf people felt at that time.  Consider:
      • One continuing debate in the deaf community is between manualism vs. oralism :  whether deaf people should focus on communication effectively primarily through sign language or by speech.  From what I understand about the history of deaf education, the tendency at the time of the writing of this novel in terms of deaf education favored oralism ... which implies a sense that sign language is a lesser form of communication.  This attitude may have also impacted the self-esteem of deaf people at the time?
  • Finally, and like the other 87th Precinct mystery I've read, the ending was a bit hasty and perhaps just a bit too convenient:  Just about the time that Carella finally figures a tack to take which might actually work and which no one else has considered, the killer is revealed {spoiler} when the obnoxious reporter publishes an interview with Carella, in which he has distorted Carella's words in just such a way that it inadvertently creates a trap for the killer ..... with Teddy as the bait.  That being said, the way that Teddy figures out how to alert Carella of her danger (and his) shows her to be able of thinking effectively and shrewdly under pressure, aming her all the more appealling a character as a result.  I would have found it much more satisfying if Carella had been able to attain his victory via the investigatory process instead.
Evaluation:  Overall, the characterization, the dark humor, the authentic police techniques, the oft-times lyrical prose, and the well paced storytelling more than compensate for these relatively minor flaws.  it says something about how much I enjoyed this book that I immediately went looking for the next one in the series.

Assessment:  Recommended.  Not just for people who like police procedurals -- this book rewards reading for quality storytelling, characterization, and prose.

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2011 02:26 am (UTC)
Re you comments about ASL, I'm not certain that this was truly recognized as a 'language' in the US until about the 1950s when Dr. Stokoe started to do his groundbreaking linguistic work in the area.

As far as I can tell (from a 2 minute Google search) there were no books on the subject, no ASL dictionaries until the 1960s, and no real way to provide notation for such translation until that same time. To learn ASL one attended a 'deaf-mute school' or was taught it one on one from a friend who could both sign and speech-read.

Re 87th Precinct in general; I think you need to read a few more books n the series to see how it organically develops and grows. It's like a TV series where you can't just pick a couple of isolated episodes and say you know it all. Have fun tracking down a few more titles!


[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Recently acquired the next book in the series, "The Mugger".

Planning to get into it, this weekend.

I suspect that the attitude implied about deaf/mutes was an accurate reflection of the time: Gaulledet, the university for deaf people, didn't have a deaf President until 1988 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallaudet_University#Deaf_President_Now_.281988.29 ) There was, I suspect, a perception of deaf people as being "less than" in society at the time -- so portraying Teddy as capable and intelligent and an apt partner for Carella was probably a major step forward.

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