Monday, March 20, 2017

Fiddlers (87th Precinct, #55)Fiddlers by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] the French are peculiar. To them, ambulance means lighting, music, mood, the whole setting"

Fiddlers is the last novel in the monumental 87th Precinct series that spans half a century and includes 55 volumes published between 1956 and 2005. Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) died the year that the book was published. I have re-read and reviewed here selected installments - this is the twelfth one - spaced, roughly, by five years.

A talented violinist, a Vietnam vet blinded in action who has been earning his living playing in a night club, is shot to death. Carella and Meyer Meyer catch the case, but soon more detectives from the 87th get involved as there occur further killings committed with the same weapon: it becomes clear that the police have a serial killer on their hands. Of course we meet all the familiar characters: Bert Kling, Cotton Hawes, Arthur Brown, Andy Parker, Richard Genero; Ollie Weeks also offers a substantial contribution. The plot interweaves the detective threads with the story of the killer told in parallel.

Unfortunately Fiddlers is not a memorable ending to the series that many critics and millions of readers consider a pinnacle of the police procedural genre. The setup and the structure of the novel are totally formulaic. I have read at least 10 books that have the exact same premise and the same narrative approach - the intertwining of the detectives' and killer's threads, and they really read as identical books. Only the names, the locations, and some minor details are changed.

A more specific complaint of mine is that the book consists almost exclusively of dialogues, pages and pages of conversations, as if it were a TV script. The term "novel" hardly fits here. There are sparse narrative pieces - in fact, one is sweetly lyrical.

There are a few good bits about Fiddlers so that it is not a complete waste of time. We have a completely changed Fat Ollie Weeks. Ollie is on a diet and - gasp! - he begins to fall behind in his pursuit of bigotry: he is dating a Latina police officer! Fortunately, we have Det. Parker to carry the torch of cliché bigotry. And we have a little originality in Bert Kling's thread - his cliché troubles with affairs of the heart get a strange twist. The title is sort of a double entendre, not stellar, but not that bad either.

I am rather happy that I have finished the re-read project: although I do not exactly regret re-reading these selected installments of the series, I would like to offer a mean-spirited, sarcastic rendering of Mr. McBain famous motto:
The city in this novel is generic.
The people, the places are paper-thin placeholders.
The plot and the narrative structure are based on cliché templates.

Two stars.

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