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, clich├ęs 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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