Book Review: "Hark!" ~ Ed McBain (2004)

Posted by prla1983 on September 22, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

A few weeks ago I went into a bookstore with a couple of friends and just felt like buying a book on impulse, not knowing anything about it and see where it would take me. Selecting the international fiction shelf for my picking, it was Ed McBain's "Hark!" that got my attention and so I didn't have to think much to bring it home with me. That was the whole point right?

From the back cover description, I thought was up to something much like the acclaimed "Da Vinci Code" but while it has a couple of similarities, this turns out to be a hard-boiled police procedural, something I'm not really used to reading but which turns out to be a refreshing change.

To make a long story short, "Hark!" is the continuation of a huge on-going saga of the 87th precinct which started back in 1956 (!) and has now over fifty titles. Ed McBain must have been one of the most prolifc writers I've ever come across (I can only remember maybe Asimov and Clarke with a bigger throughput) and I'm left wondering why I never heard of him before. I said "must have been" because I just learned McBain passed away a couple of months ago after fighting a tough battle with cancer. Even if this was only the first work of his I've read, I couldn't help feeling a little sad for this loss. I hate to see people going away like this, but it's happening all the time...

As for the book itself, picture this: you got a bunch of policemen in a precinct who go about their daily routine and into the picture comes this intelligent fella who goes by the name of the Deaf Man. In case you didn't know, like I didn't know, the Deaf Man is an old acquaintance of these cops from past novels of the 87th precinct and now he's back to haunt them. He's a smart thug and like every smart thug he doesn't do things conventionally, he has a twisted mind and so spends a lot of time delivering notes to Detective Carella at the precinct with hints about whatever he's planning to do next, basically trying to break their balls. These notes are actually under the form of palindromes, anagrams and Shakespeare quotations which gives them a certain charm.

What the Deaf Man does next I'm not going to tell you but it's not the end of the world as we know it either. I found we spend too much time trying to figure out the Deaf Man charades and then the payoff doesn't satisfy and is really open-ended. But then how else do you produce a 50-year saga if you don't leave the threads hanging?

The book is definitely a page-turner and despite never having heard of the 87th Precinct before, I soon felt like I knew all the cops. There's a lot of parallel threads going on, none of which really satisfied me in the end, but which were well developed. The characters actually have some depth, are well pictured and they definitely sound like regular people going on their daily routine. It just doesn't fully deliver what it promises but I'm not complaining too much either.

May Mr. McBain rest in peace after what seems to have been a well-accomplished writing career.

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