One last gift to fans saddened by Evan Hunter’s recent death: a roundup of 25 stories from 1952-57, when he was first transforming himself into Ed McBain.
McBain divides his tales into seven sections (“Kids,” “Women in Jeopardy,” “Private Eyes,” “Cops and Robbers,” “Innocent Bystanders,” “Loose Cannons,” “Gangs”) and introduces each section, and most of the individual stories, with reminiscences aimed at his target audience’s nostalgia for Manhunt and other men’s magazines. He makes no bones about the stories’ status as apprentice work. None of them is notable for originality or expertise in handling plot twists; none is exceptionally penetrating psychologically, though the crazy killers in “Loose Cannons” will raise some eyebrows. The biggest novelty is the parody “Kiss Me, Dudley”; the biggest surprise is that the police stories, which ought to point toward McBain’s signature novels about the 87th Precinct (Hark!, 2004, etc.), are no more accomplished than the private-eye stories the author soon abandoned. What’s most consistent and prophetic is the versatility, the control of tone and pace and the unforced humanity, whether McBain’s writing about baby gangsters, tough guys testing the limits of their toughness or cops whose weary business is crime. Each of the most familiar items—“First Offense,” “The Last Spin” and “On a Sidewalk, Bleeding”—is a tour de force, but all grow out of McBain’s signature solicitude for little guys doomed to guilt or death.
A fascinating look into the workshop that produced McBain.