Cop Hater by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique."
So goes the epigraph to Ed McBain's Cop Hater (1956), the first novel in the acclaimed 87th Precinct series of police procedurals. Ed McBain is the pseudonym of a prodigious writer of various types of fiction Evan Hunter (whose birth name - to make it even more complicated - was Salvatore Lombino). The 55 novels in the series were published over half of a century, between 1956 and 2005. I read almost all of them a long time ago and liked them quite a lot. The famous epigraph, used as the header for all 55 novels, belongs to the canon of detective clichés along with Dragnet's "The story you are about to see is true."
The 87th Precinct is located in a fictional Isola district of a very large city, obviously modeled on New York City's borough of Manhattan. The precinct detectives, overworked fighting crime in the "troubled neighborhood," constantly face grave danger. The plot begins when one of the 87th Precinct cops is murdered; detective Steve Carella, the protagonist of the novel and, in fact, of the entire series, plays a major role in the investigation. More cop killings happen and the detectives' work gets even more difficult when an ambitious journalist conducts his own amateur investigation, which interferes with the case and causes big trouble not only for Carella.
McBain indeed delivers on the epigraph promise. The investigatory techniques and the police procedure are shown in meticulous detail, and there is no reason to doubt that they are realistically rendered. To enhance authenticity the author provides copies of various documents included in the case file: Pistol License Application, Coroner's Preliminary Autopsy Report, Conviction Card, etc. It is the human component of the novel that the author fails at: while the cops working the procedure are shown believably, the cheap, cliché, emotional manipulation dominates most of the non-procedural parts of the novel, which almost caused me to toss the book about its middle.
Other aspects are even sillier: for instance, the detectives routinely talk in a bar with "stool pigeons" to find out what "the word on the street" is (the same investigative method was used by detectives in such cultishly bad series as Starsky and Hutch). Danny Gimp, the informer, knows everything about everybody: why don't cops solve every single case instantaneously if the complete information is included in "the word on the street?"
While the sights, the sounds, and the smells of the City are vividly portrayed, the tired clichés abound, like the repetitive references to the heat wave. And what about the irritating didacticism about press meddling in cops' affairs? Detective Carella, not an intellectual but an honest, hardworking, tenacious, well-meaning cop, reads Ulysses and yet the conversations with his girlfriend, Teddy, do not surpass the high-school level of depth.
Even with a good ending, better than in most modern-day bestselling thrillers, this is not a good book overall, which has killed my motivation to re-read all installments in the series. I will instead select a few entries from the different decades, just to check the author's so-called "trajectory."
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