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The Pusher, by Ed McBain - Pulpfan

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March 7th, 2013

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07:02 pm - The Pusher, by Ed McBain

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:  Steve Carella and Bert Kling, two detectives in the 87th Precinct, are called in when an apparent suicide is discovered in the basement of a tenement, in the early hours of a cold winters night.  But there is something very odd about this suicide:  the victim seemed to have killed himself both via an overdose, and by hanging.

It soon develops that the victim was a drug dealer, and a new pusher known only as "Gonzo" seems to have come into the area and taken over his territory.  It also seems that the victims sister, a prostitute and an addict, knows more than she is telling.

And then Lt. Byrnes starts getting calls from an unnamed informant, suggesting that he examine the fingerprints on the syringe found on the crime scene.  They couldn't, really, be the fingerprints of his own son, could they?


  • The descriptive passages often border upon the poetic -- as in the opening chapters invocation of the mood and feel of winter in a large city.

  • The characters are appealing and well rounded, believable human beings.

  • The story is unpredictable -- unlike most novels, I couldn't guess what was coming next.  Yet few, if any, of the turnarounds seemed arbitrary or mechanistic.

  • There are seems that evoke strong feel:  of fear, of violence, of love, of tenderness, and of humor.

  • The author somehow manages to pull off major changes of emotion smoothly, without the jarring effect that tends to occur in less skilled hands.

  • When the protagonist, Steve Carella, finally finds "Gonzo", his identity comes as a bit of a surprise.

  • Minor villains often are not without their virtues, and protagonists, even the major ones, are not without their faults.  There is a convincing humanity to all the characters.


  • One or two major plot developments hinge on coincidence.

  • There is a shaggy dog quality about the storytelling -- there are red herrings and scenes that seem to be inserted not so much to advance the plot but to provide a change of pace or for the sake of characterization.  A tightly plotted thriller, this is not.


Nope.  Its not a thriller.  But it was a genuinely entertaining read.  What it lacked in pacing, it more than made up in characterization, tone, and prose-style

Assessment: Recommended. This is a really good, entertaining, semi-hardboiled police procedural that delivers more than just the usual genre pleasures.

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