This pulpy 1952 first novel by the future creator of the 87th Precinct (Fiddlers, 2005, etc.) traces three nightmare days in the life of an addict on the run.
Fallen piano player Ray Stone, who’ll do anything for a fix, hooks up with Eileen Chalmers, who offers him a night of sex and heroin and shows him 16 more ounces of uncut product. When he wakes up after the debauchery, Eileen is dead in his bed, shot twice in the belly, and the drugs are gone. Ray’s attempts to promote his next fix from his father and his former girlfriend, Jeannie, both of whom know all about his habit, are of limited success, and his regular dealer naturally refuses to extend credit. So Ray decides to go looking not for more heroin but for Eileen’s killer. From this foundational implausibility flow many others. Everyone Ray talks to, from Eileen’s husband, bandleader Dale Kramer, to his new sweetie, exotic dancer Rusty O’Donnell, to Scat Lewis, frontman of the combo she sang with, to Barbara Cole, the singer who switched gigs with Eileen, is improbably forthcoming—Babs even takes him to bed—and when the inevitable heavies looking for that pound of H grab Ray, intent on making him talk, he gets away from them and keeps asking questions. Ray’s picture is on the front page of every newspaper in New York, but no one recognizes him, and the police remain a step or two behind right up to the denouement.
Although Ray’s wild adventures seem to get less stressful as they go along, McBain already has voice and tone well in hand in this treasurable blast from the past, which looks forward in fascinating ways to the first part of Candyland (2001). Disgraced private eye Matt Cordell headlines a bonus story focusing on another hopeless addict.