This story is not about the 87th Precinct. It takes place in the 87th Precinct, and at least four of the detectives of the precinct make an appearance. But this one is about someone with a dark secret he should tell the police. Maybe. He hopes. But first he wants to take this Puerto Rican girl out on a date.
Roger Broome is a woodware maker from upstate. (Probably the same fictional state as McBain’s fictional city Isola.) He’s about to leave town when he realizes he needs to tell the police about something that happened the night before. Only he keeps getting sidetracked. Or things keep sidetracking him. A junkie invites him to a coffee shop for a hot chocolate, where Roger meets loud-mouthed, bigoted cop Andy Parker. On his way back to the precinct, he spots McBain’s first among equals, Steve Carella and follows him as he takes his wife on a date. His nerve falters, and he manages to convince the pretty young clerk at a drugstore to go out with him in his final night in the city. And yet the police come to him. Someone’s stolen his landlady’s refrigerator. He’s questioned by Cotton Hawes (once the slated replacement for Carella and now the series’ resident ladies man) and token short guy Hal Willis. Even then, with two rather friendly (and somewhat confused, as they can’t figure out who would steal an ancient refrigerator) cops, Broome loses his nerve and keeps his own secret. This is an odd book for this series. Broome is as pale and timid a character as ever graced the pages of the 87th Precinct. He’s so nervous and naive that you hope he’s done something horrible just so someone smacks him around for being a wimp. At the same time, you hope if he did that he gets away with it.
A little girl sits in her room and plays with her doll Chatterbox, assuring her that everything will be all right. Only it’s not. She can hear her mother being murdered in the next room. The death of Tinka Sachs falls to Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct to solve. Carella decides to use Bert Kling as his partner. Kling has gotten on the lieutenant’s nerves. Still enraged by the murder of his fiancee four years earlier, he finds Lt. Byrnes is ready to boot him from the 87th. Carella offers to work with him, but it goes horribly wrong. Carella sends Kling home after a blow up, then has an insight that cracks the case. Only Carella doesn’t take any backup. None of the detectives know where he went, and unfortunately for Kling, that means he’s up for suspension and dismissal. Kling is replaced by the tragically named Meyer Meyer (who looks a lot like a young, put upon Ike Eisenhower). But Kling stays on the case. It is the case and the recovery of Carella, whose death was faked to send the 87th off on a wrong path (this is not a spoiler. Carella is seen alive before anyone decides he’s been killed.), that will ultimately redeem the youngest of the 87th’s bulls.
Don’t be shocked by the price in this link. Doll is out of print, and some book shops are selling through Amazon for upwards of $75 as of this writing. My copy was $3.50. Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint is rereleasing McBain’s backlist slowly on Kindle and in paperback.