Well into the sixties, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series keeps chugging along. He produces a pair of spring time mysteries, Like Love and Ten Plus One. Of the two, Ten Plus One shines. Like Love starts with a lot of promise. First among equals Steve Carella starts the story failing to talk a suicide off a ledge. He then finds himself involved in the case of a double suicide discovered after the gas explodes in an apartment. Nothing about the suicide makes sense as they question the woman’s husband and the man’s brother over and over again. The case itself is interesting enough, but the emotional promise at the beginning, Carella rattled by the first suicide and Bert Kling dealing with the murder of his fiancee in a previous book, doesn’t really pan out.
Ten Plus One, however, drives the bulls of the 87th crazy. McBain puts his own spin on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians with a sniper shooting up Isola. The only thing the victims seem to have in common is attending the city’s Ramsey College all at the same time. McBain provides plenty of red herrings and ramps up the tension higher and higher until they find the most unexpected killer.
Like all the early 87th Precinct novels in the early days, Like Love and Ten Plus One describe law enforcement before the days of Miranda and civil rights investigations. Andy Parker, the 87th’s resident bigot, is back, but seems to be sufficiently chastened after witnessing (and probably contributing to) the death of Hernandez in Lady, Lady, I Did It. He’s mostly a background character who manages to avoid Carella’s fist.
These books were released in 1963, and in a sign that the times were a-changing, McBain is more explicit about sex in his prose. Ten Plus One develops a strong sexual undertone late in the story, and Cotton Hawes has a revelation watching his girlfriend strip, which McBain describes in great detail. While Like Love fell a little flat, Ten Plus One puts a charge into a series already creeping up on a decade old at the time of its writing. There’s a reason McBain wrote this series until his death.
Patti Abbott rounds up all the Friday Forgotten Books this week.