Thursday, December 1, 2016

So Long as You Both Shall Live (87th Precinct, #31)So Long as You Both Shall Live by Ed McBain
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"He had planned something of a big male macho entrance, and he stood now in the bathroom doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist, and saw immediately that she was not in the room [...]"

The less I write about Ed McBain's So Long As You Both Shall Live (1976) the better. Not that it is a particularly bad book: it is quite interesting, readable, and competently written. But the plot of this thriller/police procedural is completely paint-by-numbers and my main problem with the novel is that I have read at least twenty *identical* thrillers. Sure, the names of characters are different, and so are the locations and maybe a few other details, yet the structure of the plot, the sequence of events, the timing, etc., are totally formulaic.

Bert Kling, one of the younger 87th Precinct cops, had survived the tragedy of losing a girlfriend and experienced several unsuccessful love affairs. Now he is marrying Augusta, a beautiful and successful model. We observe the ceremony and the wedding party through the eyes of a photographer. "So long as you both shall live," says the officiating minister, but things do not look promising when the bride disappears on the wedding night. So begins the cliché plot: cops look for Augusta and the procedural/thriller stereotype is followed with unerring accuracy, right down to the dramatic conclusion that includes the precise-to-one-second timing. Yawn.

In this police commedia dell'arte stereotypical dramatis personae substitute for actual people and every paper character plays a strictly predefined role. For instance, the author offers stereotypical comic characters like Fat Ollie Weeks, the uncouth detective, and Fats Donner, the stool pigeon. By the way, the author calls Fat Ollie a "bigot". Since one of the characteristics of bigotry is relying on stereotypes can I consider Ed McBain's writing literary bigotry?

Is there anything I like about the novel? Sure, Kling's wedding takes place in 1976 - a good year for marriages (insert a smiley). But seriously, I am amazed how drastically my tastes in detective books have changed in the thirty or so years since I read this novel the first time! I remember liking all McBain books a lot. Well, I have still about 30 years of 87th Precinct novels to go through and I am hoping to encounter some more originality.

One and a half stars.

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