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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