Monday, November 28, 2016

The White AlbumThe White Album by Joan Didion
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"[...] the ambiguity of belonging to a generation distrustful of political heights, the historical irrelevancy of growing up convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some error of social organization but in man's own blood."

My first book by Joan Didion and certainly not the last: I like the clear, lean prose and while The White Album (1979) is quite far from perfection, it is compulsively readable and many passages demonstrate the author's understanding of social mechanisms and the climate of the era. This collection of essays written between late 1960s and late 1970s - a collage of impressions and snapshots of the turbulent and important times of a social and cultural revolution that almost happened - is an indispensable reading for anyone trying to understand the nature of the Sixties and their contribution to the contemporary history.

The title essay and the longest piece in the set is a fascinating portrait of the seminal years of 1968 and 1969. It captures the reader's attention with the most famous and infamous figures and events: the author participates in The Doors' recording session, talks to Huey Newton about his "politics of revolution", interviews Eldridge Cleaver, and discusses the Manson murders with Linda Kasabian who participated in the crimes. Yet what greatly bothers me about this essay is the sensationalist tone, the name-dropping (for instance, mentioning that the author and Roman Polanski are godparents of the same child, etc.), and succumbing to the cult of celebrity so prevalent in this country. Well, writing about celebrities sells thus allowing the author to work on less popular but deeper pieces, so maybe Ms. Didion should be forgiven.

There are in the set several profound essays of which I will mention just the ones that particularly captured my attention. In On the Morning After the Sixties Ms. Didion contrasts her so-called "silent generation" - she went to Berkeley in the early 1950s - with the late Sixties Berkeley students, the generation that wanted to change the world and fully believed it could be done:
"We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man's fate."
Three fascinating essays focus on the beginnings of the serious feminist movement. Ms. Didion shows the lunacy of the "class approach" to feminism, popular in 1960-1970s and juxtaposes the feminist baloney with a story about Georgia O'Keeffe, a woman who rather than talk about feminist issues and publish empty manifestos did a lot to actually help the women's cause.

In the collection the reader can also find a hilarious account of the author's interview with Nancy Reagan and a deep and sad story of the Jaycees "determined to meet 1950s head-on in 1969," people who were "betrayed by recent history". Several less impressive pieces round up this set of essays, yet the collection is a pleasure to read and provides a lot of material for contemplation.

The White Album offers one of the better portrayals of my generation - people who were in college in the late 1960s. Funny how - even though I lived on a different continent and under a so-called Communist regime - I can recognize my own motives and beliefs of these tumultuous times 50 years ago.

Three and a half stars.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Blackheath Poisonings: A Victorian Murder MysteryThe Blackheath Poisonings: A Victorian Murder Mystery by Julian Symons
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The extraordinary series of crimes popularly called the Blackheath Poisonings took place in the early 1890s, at the time when the Mortimer family had lived in that suburb on the edge of London for nearly half a century."

So begins Julian Symons' The Blackheath Poisonings (1978), subtitled A Victorian Murder Mystery. The adjective "Victorian" made me quite apprehensive as in the past I had been unable to enjoy or even finish many period-piece mysteries. But this novel by Symons is among the best of the many books of his that I have reviewed so far on Goodreads. Very well written, with captivating plot, it does not feel dated at all - not really surprising as the prose is not even 40 years old - and the characters read quite contemporary despite obvious differences in social norms and cultural expectations between the 1890s and today.

The events take place mainly in the suburbs of London, in two splendid houses where the members of the extended family of Charles Mortimer's descendants reside. The mansions are so peculiar and full of character - one is colloquially called "church" and the other "white elephant" - that they almost seem to be actors in the plot. While the first death caused by a sudden gastric problem is originally attributed to natural food poisoning, the circumstances of the second death force the police to commence an investigation. Eventually the mystery morphs into a court drama as we witness the trial of one of the main characters on the charge of poisonings. Most of the plot is told in the third-person narration, but a substantial portion is presented through the diaries of a young man just entering his adult life.

I like the novel more as an account of well-to-do peoples' everyday lives in the Victorian times than as a mystery. Two scenes make the strongest impression given the vivid prose and the author's sharp eye for details. The extended sequence that portrays the last day of the victim's life shows the whole process of dying with brutal candor and reminds me of Tolstoy's masterpiece; I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Symons had used the Death of Ivan Illich as a source of inspiration for his writing: he did quite a brilliant a job. The other memorable passage is the poetry evening scene - a program of recitation and songs - so life-like in its portrayal that I feel I have personally participated in the event that happened over 120 years ago.

In the trial part of the novel the reader has an opportunity to meet Sir Charles Russell, the famous barrister who leads the defense team. Sir Charles reminds me a little of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe character: his presumed genius and somewhat pompous behavior bring the comparison. The verdict in the trial does not end the plot: in a sense it only provides the setup for the denouement, which is a peculiar mixture of the somewhat unexpected and the somewhat disappointing.

Overall the novel is a very good read and in places it seems close to real literature thus transcending the mystery genre. And that the ending fizzles a little? I would like to see a modern-day bestseller than does not disappoint in the end.

The scariest thing I realized while reading the novel is that the year of my birth is closer to Victorian times than to today. Ugh.

Three and a half stars.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: StoriesAt the Gates of the Animal Kingdom: Stories by Amy Hempel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"On the nicer side of not a nice street, between God Bless the Cheerful Giver and his dog, and There But for the Grace of God Go I and his dog [...]"

A few years ago in an anthology of short stories I read a piece - the title I have since forgotten - by Amy Hempel and I liked it a lot: the writing was concise, not a word wasted, yet it strangely produced a poetic and sort of dreamlike effect. So I very much looked forward to reading more short stories by Ms. Hempel. At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990) is a set of 16 pieces ranging from short and very short to extremely short. While brevity is a quality that I value highly in literature my reaction to Gates is somewhat mixed: the collection has a few gems, but also several unremarkable, pedestrian pieces.

My favorite is the shortest piece in the set, In the Animal Shelter. In these four short paragraphs, just one half of a printed page, Ms. Hempel tells us a lot about people, dogs, and their not always easy relationship. The desperately sad sentence that constitutes the fourth and last paragraph is deep, subtle, and amazingly sharply observed. What a contrast with the next piece in the set, the ten-page title story, dwelling on the same topics yet marred by an atrociously cheap dramatic effect at the end!

I quite like The Harvest with its slight meta-fictional bent: it almost seems as if the author is telling various variants of the story and trying them for size. In The Most Girl Part of You the reader can detect Ms. Hempel's fascination with the language, and her attempts to show how words affect the reality of the story. The Rest of God is an enchanting account - full of sharply observed situational clichés - of a barbecue party. I also like To Those of You Who Missed Your Connecting Flights out of O'Hare, a charming little trifle of a story. Maybe I like it because of the viciously sharp yet funny sentence:
Because if you are like me, you know that some of us are not the world, some of us are not the children, some of us will not help make a brighter day.
But maybe I like it just because of my terrible fear of flying.

Anyway, the exquisite sentence ending the shortest story is not one to forget but unfortunately I will also remember the cheap effect that spoils the title story. Certainly a worthwhile read but a little disappointment considering the high expectations.

Three stars.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here! (87th Precinct, #25)Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here! by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"This modest volume is dedicated to the Mystery Writers of America, who, if they do not award it the Edgar for the best ten mystery novels of the year, should have their collective mysterious heads examined."

The above is a playful epigraph to Ed McBain's Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here! (1971), the 25th novel in the 87th Precinct series, and the fourth one in my selective re-read of Evan Hunter's magnum opus. The author immediately makes fun of his plea when he provides the definition of coercion. Since Hail, Hail is certainly not a good novel the author's self-promotion, even if facetious, may truly be needed.

The book follows the action in the precinct during a period of 24 hours, from one minute to midnight one night to one minute to midnight the next one. We follow ten separate cases - would these be the ten Edgars from the epigraph? - murders, robberies, disappearances and an assault, but also an appearance of ghosts: virtually all these cases are satisfactorily and quickly solved. As usual, the author provides certain police documents in extenso: this time we can read the so-called "yellow sheet" of a criminal, a document that itemizes the history of offenses and the dispositions of court cases. We also have comic relief moments, for example when a businessman, after having been accosted by two prostitutes who partially undressed to entice him, wants to press charges against the women until he learns that he would have to testify against them because the women's "privates" have not been exposed.

When one filters out of McBain's books the trivial psychological observations, cliché characterizations, and the filler stuff about the detectives' personal lives only the police procedure remains - the best and to me the only interesting aspect of the 87th Precinct series. Since Hail, Hail is basically only about the procedure, then the novel should work; yet it does not work at all. While the material would succeed as a series of newspaper reports it does not make a good novel. It is saved from the lowest possible rating by two good fragments: very well written two pages about dangerous nights in Isola (the fictional big city district, clearly modeled on Manhattan) and the passage about a cop freshly promoted to a detective who is so eager to learn the tricks of his new profession that he can barely refrain from wetting his pants. At least something that sounds authentic among all the detectives' personal lives clichés proferred by McBain.

One and three quarter stars.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of AmericaThe Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America by Eric Idle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"You haven't really lived until you have stood onstage at Carnegie Hall in full drag singing 'Sit on My Face'"

The longest book I have read in quite some time (325 pages!) has left me with a feeling of disappointment. Eric Idle's The Greedy Bastard Diary (2005), a journal from the author's comedy tour of the U.S. and Canada in late 2003, contains entries that were originally published daily on the PythOnline website in the form of what we would call today a blog. The writings about the preparations and performances at the almost 50 gigs that composed the tour are punctuated with reminiscences of events from the author's extremely successful career in comedy. Although the tone of the diary is very light and the book sparkles with high-quality humor several passages are quite serious and moving.

Eric Idle does not need an introduction as a Monty Python member ("the sixth nicest Python," he calls himself), the comedy team responsible for by far the funniest show in the history of world television and in my opinion the funniest ever event in entertainment, one that has never yet been matched in its combination of wit and hilarity. Mr. Idle is the author of many famous sketches - Nudge, Nudge is probably the best known - and the composer of many Python songs of which Always Look on the Bright Side of Life may be the most universally acclaimed. During the U.S./Canada tour that is portrayed in the book Mr. Idle, accompanied by a small team of comedians and musicians, performed both the original Monty Python materials as well as his own post-Python work.

Greedy Bastard is a truly hilarious read: I smirked, giggled or laughed out constantly, and there are funny bits on almost every page. The humor is mostly based on language, apparently Mr. Idle's specialty - remember "The man who speaks in anagrams" sketch? - and spans the whole spectrum: we have silly puns like "You can't make a Hamlet without breaking Eggs" or "The Old Yolks Home", we also have obvious but hilarious gag lines like
"The Aladdin Theater is famous for having screened the longest-running film in history: Deep Throat [...] It ran here for more than twenty years. Frankly I think the movie sucks."
as well as more subtle punchlines:
"[...] for me a show isn't a show without leggy girls in spangly tights putting their legs over their heads, and that's just backstage."
So why am I complaining? What is wrong with the book is the utterly irritating name-dropping: Mr. Idle meticulously lists the celebrities that he met, knew, or was friends with. I do not have time to count all famous people mentioned in Greedy Bastard but here are just some names from about 30 pages of the book: George Harrison, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman, Paul Simon, Lauren Hutton, Henry Kissinger, Ronald Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bill Maher. There probably are five times as many in the whole book. I find it inexcusable that Mr. Idle had not spent any time with Jesus Christ: an unfortunate omission. Most likely the reason of prodigious name-dropping is that the book is aimed at the American audience - that's where the money is - and Mr. Idle caters to the Religion of Celebrity, the faith whose adherents outnumber followers of any other religion in the United States.

Again, this is an extremely funny book with a few serious, contemplative fragments - the author writes touchingly about his mother's and George Harrison's deaths - so it is a great pity that the name-dropping and the obsession with celebrity make the book so much less readable.

Two and three-quarter stars.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doll (87th Precinct #20)Doll by Ed McBain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"[...] the knife slash across her throat poring blood onto the canvas, setting her hair afloat in a pool of red that finally overspilled the oaken frame and ran onto the carpet.
Next door, the child Anna clung fiercely to her doll.

Ed McBain's (the pseudonym of Evan Hunter) Doll, the third novel in my "Selective McBain Re-read" project and the 20th installment in the 87 Precinct series, was published in 1965. I like this book more than the tenth item in the series, King's Ransom , and much more than Cop Hater that gave beginning to the whole series.

Five-year-old Anna clutches her doll and consoles it with soothing words while her mother, a beautiful fashion model, is being brutally murdered in the next room. The strong beginning sets the tone for the entire novel which describes the 87th Precinct detectives, Steve Carella, Bert Kling, and Meyer Meyer conducting the investigation. Carella, a father of twins, is so appalled by the brutality of the model's murder that he neglects to follow the police procedure when he finds the clue that will lead him to the murderer; the nature of the clue is not revealed until the end of the novel. I am unable to provide further synopsis without spoiling the mystery: this is especially important because - for once - the publishers were careful not to provide any spoilers on the cover of the paperback.

The author paces the captivating plot well and Doll is a great short book for readers who like the so-called page turners. Yet the novel is marred by implausibility of several events and the use of situational and dialogue clichés, which are - sadly - the author's trademark. The entire Bert Kling thread, well-intentioned as it may be, comes across as naive, didactic, and stereotypical. The woman torturer is a grossly exaggerated, cartoon-level portrayal and lame, stilted dialogues further spoil the author's effort.

Neither do I care for the manner in which the solution is explained. It does not read well when one of the characters' diary is used to elucidate the background of the case. On the positive side, the author again shows his strength in realistic depiction of the police procedure and several passages are quite well written, above the bare minimum literary competency that characterizes most mysteries and thrillers.

Anyway, I recommend the novel because of its suspense and mystery value. Readers who can tolerate psychological clichés and implausibilities may find this book outstanding. Although my enthusiasm is quite moderate, this installment of the 87th Precinct series certainly makes me want to read more books in the series, from the later time frames. For the next re-read I will jump to the beginning of the 1970s.

Three stars.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fates Worse Than DeathFates Worse Than Death by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average American child watches 18,000 TV murders before it graduates from high school."

I share a substantial portion of my worldview with Kurt Vonnegut so when I read his books I must feel like the huge majority of Internet users who read only the stuff that they agree with: we crave confirmation that we are so very right. Alas this also means that I probably tend to overrate Vonnegut's books even when they are not that outstanding. Fates Worse than Death (1991) is not a very good book at all - unfocused, repetitive, tedious in places - yet I still like it a lot. How can one not like reading things that one agrees with?

The subtitle, An Autobiographical Collage, aptly characterizes this collection of speeches, short pieces of writing, and ruminations on various topics, which makes Fates quite similar to Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons , although Fates is a significantly less cohesive work. Even if the 1945 bombing of Dresden is still a major topic I will omit it here because I have already written about it in reviews of other works by Vonnegut, including his absolute masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five .

One of the other main themes is the environment. Note the book was written over a quarter of a century ago, when worrying about climate change, etc. was not as popular as it is now. Mr. Vonnegut had been passionate about the human race destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren well before most of us began thinking about it. While speaking at MIT he begged the graduating class to take an oath that they will use their extraordinary technical skills only to the benefit of the planet.

Mr. Vonnegut spends a substantial portion of the book attacking the deadly one-two punch of what I call the "American culture of murder." A US citizen is born and raised in the parareligious cult of guns as devices signifying and guaranteeing freedom; this cult is continually reinforced by the never-ending stream of murders depicted by the TV and entertainment industry (as mentioned in the epigraph). The author says:
"Who needs a Joseph Goebbels to make us think killing is as quotidian an activity as tying one's shoes? All that is needed is a TV industry [...]"
Book censorship is a topic that should be dear to members of Goodreads and Vonnegut's books had been banned in certain places, ostensibly for vulgarity but in reality for not conforming to the views of the majority of people.
"There is the word 'motherfucker' one time in my Slaughterhouse-Five [...] Ever since that book was published, way back in 1969, children have been attempting to have intercourse with their mothers. When it will stop no one knows."
Clearly the m-word corrodes the moral fiber of the society. Another hilarious passage is devoted to "the wittiest limerick in the world", which is "so obscene that it could never be made public in any form." We can read the unspeakably obscene poem courtesy of Rita Rait, the Russian translator of Vonnegut's works.

On a serious note, the theme that speaks to me the strongest in the entire collection is the author's rant about the insanity of encouraging people "to do their best at loving [other people]." The natural inability to love other people leads to hate; people should be told to respect others instead. Vonnegut says "I like to think that Jesus said in Aramaic, 'Ye shall respect one another.'" Anyway, Fates, objectively, is not an above average work, yet I almost love it because I respect the author's intentions.

Two and a half stars.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

The Night of the TwelfthThe Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"But these are all lies: men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love."
(William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 4, Scene 1, as quoted by one of The Night of the Twelfth characters).

Although Michael Gilbert's The Night of the Twelfth won the Current Crime's Silver Cup for the best British crime novel of 1976 I do not find it that remarkable. This solid, erudite and well-written novel of suspense cum police procedural is indeed a pleasure to read, yet it is far from exceptional. For instance, in the same year my favorite British mystery author, Nicolas Freeling, published Sabine , also far from a masterpiece but more memorable than The Night.

The night of June 12 (of probably 1975), Brading, West Sussex, south of London. The body of a missing 10-year-old boy has been found and it bears signs of torture. Since this is the third similar murder the police task force, "Operation Huntsman," moves into highest gear. The plot switches to Trenchard House preparatory school, located not that far from the place where the boy's body was found: we meet the headmaster, several teachers, and the school staff who are getting acquainted with a new instructor. Trenchard House is not just an ordinary prep school: many of its pupils are children of important people - one of the kids is the son of an Israeli ambassador. When Jordanian terrorists break into the Israeli Embassy in London and hold three people hostage the police offers protection for the school pupils and the personnel, who are in the middle of rehearsals for the school production of Twelfth Night (note the title). Eventually, as expected, there emerges a connection between the murders and the school and the denouement is precipitated by one of the boys' terrifying experience. In fact, though, the solution of the murders case is found independently by three different people, which is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the novel.

Great characterizations of a very interesting cast of characters make the reader feel these are real people not just devices that move the plot. Particularly the boys, aged about fourteen and younger, are shown vividly and oh-so plausibly, especially when they talk like adults who they believe are not as smart as they are. Yet the plot itself is not that interesting and an impatient reader may easily lose focus. For my taste there is a bit too much of the characters talking about the case: the plot should rather talk through the facts. Only the ending is quite exciting and it includes a sort of car chase, which - in a coincidence that I have found pretty funny - involves members of police force from Crawley, West Sussex, where at that exact time in 1975 Robert Smith himself, the leader of The Cure and focus of the book I have reviewed here just over a week ago Never Enough was attending St Wilfrid's Comprehensive School.

Two and three quarter stars.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

SuccessSuccess by Martin Amis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"His nasty hair thins by the hour; his polychromatic teeth (all of which bear the variegations of cheap dental work, surfacing like invisible ink as the fillings live and the bones die) now taper darkly off into the metallic hecatomb of his jaws - the bent, self-pitying mouth, the appallingly malarial eyes."

Martin Amis' third novel, Success (1978), my seventh book by the author, is a compulsive and hilarious read. It is hard not fall in love with the sharp, nimble, and funny prose of this phenomenally gifted writer. Yet this book only confirms my reservations as to the lack of depth in his fiction works. Although Success is more substantial than the infantile Dead Babies , it shares with Babies the obsessive focus on the sexual sphere. And similarly to Time's Arrow it is basically a one-gimmick novel. While in Arrow the gimmick is time running backwards, the contrivance here is juxtaposing the protagonists' life trajectories that move symmetrically in opposite directions.

Terry Service is Gregory Riding's "foster-brother". He was adopted by the Riding family having survived extremely traumatic experiences in his childhood and the loss his parents. Terry and Greg, both in their twenties, live together in a London flat and we follow one year of their life: each month's events are first told by Terry and then by Greg. When we meet them in January Terry is desperately and unsuccessfully trying to get laid; Greg's sexual life is varied, rich and satisfying: of course being bisexual helps a lot in finding dates, as Woody Allen once famously pointed out. Terry is ashamed of his job - he works as sort of a telemarketer - and in fact worries about possibly getting fired. Greg works in a posh art gallery and is highly appreciated by his employers. While Terry is short, squat, and balding, Greg is an extremely attractive and handsome young man. Class differences are hinted at: Terry's background is working class while the Riding family has always been well-to-do. In real life success would breed success and failure would foster further failures. but Mr. Amis decided to examine the opposite situation: the brother's trajectories reverse their momentum and at the end of the story the brothers' relative positions are completely inverted.

The reverse trajectory ploy is too contrived for the novel to have a serious pretense to realism. Events happen not because of their natural dynamic but because they suit the author's pre-conceived outline. While Terry's ascendancy from debilitating insecurity to success is plausible and shown convincingly - after all some people do grow out in their twenties of the adolescent obsession with sex and turn to focus on things that are important - Greg's rapid descent is harder to buy. No wonder: it must be difficult to plausibly explain the transformation of a king of massive bisexual orgies into a pant-shitting bundle of fear.

The novel invites the readers to work out their own interpretations. Some readers will focus on the "posh vs yob" class stereotype, but it hardly can account for degree and rapidity of trajectory reversal. One may prefer to focus on the sibling rivalry and see the first upturn in Terry's trajectory as the main reason for the beginning of Greg's downhill slide. Other readers may consider the influence of Terry's first contact with the unions as critical. Some may see the events happening to Ursula, Greg's natural sister, as the precipitating factor. Well, I am equally justified in my half-serious suggestion that the crucial turning moment comes in May, when Terry stops wanking. One can only admire the book's openness to a variety of readings; let's hope this was the author's intention.

On the negative side, the thread about the traumatic events in Terry's pre-adoption childhood feels just too convenient for the story - the author needs an additional axis of symmetry to the narrative structure. But Mr. Amis can write so fantastically well! Humor sparkles on almost every page. The voices of two narrators are remarkably different. This is some of the best writing about the mechanics of sex, and one can even find a depiction of a bisexual orgy that is kept in perfectly good taste. Even using the word "fuck" 48 times in the space of four short paragraphs on one page makes sense and should not offend anybody. Same with a few paragraphs about incest. Yes, incest.

Three and a half stars.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

King's Ransom (87th Precinct #10)King's Ransom by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"He could not quell the persistent feeling that something would go wrong.
And yet he couldn't figure what.
He was not, you see, a Bible-reading man.
He did not know that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Ed McBain's King's Ransom (1959) is the tenth novel in his famous 87th Precinct series. I am re-reading a few of the 55 books in the series, choosing from different periods. Evan Hunter, which is almost the real name of Ed McBain, wrote the series between 1956 and 2005; just imagine - a series that lasts half a century! I have already reviewed the unremarkable first installment, Cop Hater .

The story in this novel begins when the members of the board of directors for Granger Shoe company meet informally to discuss ways of making the company more profitable: the idea is to modernize the shoe designs at the expense of their quality. At the same time the fight for the control of company is ongoing and it is crucial to secure as much percentage of the voting stock as possible. The largest shareholder, Doug King, keeps secret his own plans of gaining complete control. Meanwhile, the detectives in the 87 Precinct are working on the strange case of various electronic items getting stolen from ham radio stores. But when Mr. King receives a phone call that his son has been kidnapped and the ransom is half a million dollars (over 4 million in today's money) Carella, Meyer, Hawes, Parker et al. have a more pressing case to pursue.

The plot is quite interesting if totally stereotypical. The two threads - kidnapping and the fight for control of the company's stock - are skillfully woven into the story. Except for one major "miraculous" occurrence late in the plot, I find the events quite plausible. The author is faithful to his goal of ensuring the authenticity of the mystery's procedural aspect. Thus the reader is shown copies of various police documents: a picture of the actual tire tread pattern accompanied by a plethora of technical details, schematics of an electronic communication device, etc. There are no reasons to suspect that the technical aspects of the police procedure are not shown truthfully.

While I like the authentic feel of the technical side and the clever entanglement of the two threads, many facets of the novel are quite subpar. First of all, clichés abound in characterizations and not a single character feels like a real person. Worse are unsubtle attempts of the author to weave moral/ethical considerations into the stereotypical plot. Several scenes have the feel of being artificially attached to the story with the sole purpose of illustrating a moral or ethical dilemma. I find the conversation between Mr. King and his wife particularly offensive in this respect: it reads like a scenario for discussion in an ethics class rather than part of the plot.

Not exactly a bad novel, but not quite even an average one.

Two and a half stars.

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