Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ghosts (87th Precinct #34)Ghosts by Ed McBain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The chant echoed down the stairwell. [...] The ball bounced, [...] and the words "Hang them, hang them" floated down the stairwell where he stood [...] The air around [...] shimmered; the ball took on an iridescent hue."

Ed McBain's Ghosts, the thirty-fourth novel in his famous 87th Precinct series, is the sixth in my fragmentary re-read of the opus, in which I skip over half-decades. I find it the best of the six novels I have read so far, probably because of its unusual main theme and whimsical treatment of the subject. Also, mercifully, the author does not rely as much on clich├ęs so painfully abundant in other novels.

The best aspect of the novel is that the title ghosts are not metaphorical. Of course while I categorically do not believe in the existence of ghosts, the real, actual ghosts in literature are fully welcome. The phrase "real ghosts" sounds as an oxymoron, but that's exactly what we are dealing with here. Thankfully, the author treats the topic with all seriousness, which indicates his good sense of humor.

The usual protagonists, Carella, Hawes, Meyer et al., investigate a pair of connected murders: a writer, the author of immensely popular book about ghosts, is killed in his apartment and a woman is stabbed to death just in front of that apartment building. The killed writer's girlfriend, a successful medium, plays an important part in solving the case, and is a quite well (unusually for Mr. McBain) drawn character. We also have an interlude, not connected to the main plot, about the crimes - triple murder, robbery, and the theft "of the entire street" (yes, the street gets stolen!) - which happen on the Christmas day that coincides with Hannukah and which surprisingly does not interfere with the enjoyment of the main thread. The good bits offset an awfully formulaic aspect of the solution that I prefer not to reveal. I also suspect that the author selected the initials of the third victim as a subtle joke referring to the character's lifestyle choices, which for once allows me to use this appalling euphemism for a good reason.

I like the not-quite-complete ending that does not assume - as most mystery authors do - that the readers are slow-witted and need to be told things in detail. Yay! I have also learned a new word - "ecdysiastical" (try googling the word and see the hilarious spelling that is suggested). And I like the double meaning of the title. To sum up: while ghosts definitely do not exist they are certainly real. A recommended read!

Three and a quarter stars.

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