A married couple is found, both with shotgun blasts to the face. The husband is found holding a shotgun pointed at what’s left of his chin. Suicide, right?
Well, no. A patrolman finds a spent shell that could only be ejected if the husband were alive to eject. So much for the open-and-shut case. Things get even stranger when Steve Carella and Bert Kling visit the husband’s place of business. He was supposed to be on the West Coast when he killed his wife and blew his brains out. Even more frustrating, they find a primo suspect only to find he’s disappeared into thin air.
For Kling, things get particularly sticky when his girlfriend, Cindy Forrest, explains how Kling is the basis for her doctoral thesis. Complicating matters is a witness named Anne Gilroy, whose boss refers to her as a nymphomaniac. She apparently thinks that’s a compliment, and wants Bert. Not a good time for the young detective to go astray.
This 87th Precinct takes place in 1968. The language is saltier, and the skirts are higher. In some ways, Shotgun is a throwback to earlier 87th Precinct novels where Kling is usually paired with Carella. There’s a red herring that resolves the unsolved murder from He Who Hesitates that offers a little misdirection on another murder dumped on the tragically named Meyer Meyer. It seems, though, that since Fuzz, McBain’s style has gotten looser, and there’s a more tongue-in-cheek vibe to the series. Shotgun is one of the better 87’s as McBain keeps the plot twisting with every chapter.
It’s starts with a double murder. One guy shoots the man who is stabbing him to death. What was it over? A piece of a photograph. Then an insurance investigator shows up, claiming there’s more to that photograph than what the bulls of the 87th Precinct have. It falls to Steve Carella and Arthur Brown to find the rest of it, as it will solve a years-old robbery case. Soon, the oddly-named Meyer Meyer and perennial man whore Cotton Hawes are drawn in as people who have, or allegedly have, pieces of the photograph start dying. A couple from natural causes, more from more violent methods.
It’s 1969, and you can tell. Hawes is all over a witness in a leather miniskirt while Brown runs up against the racial tension of the day. Arthur Brown is not Bunk Moreland from The Wire. But Bunk’s job would not have been possible without cops like Brown. Carella, however, plays more of a supporting role in this one, being the “token Italian” in the group.
There are some comedic moments, such as when Brown has to interview an aged hooker. Meyer has to endure Hawes’ attempts to bed miniskirted witnesses while no one seems to get Carella’s name right.
The City’s New York is showing in this one. Usually, it is its own entity, even with side trips from Isola (Manhattan) into Riverhead (The Bronx) and Calm’s Point (Brooklyn), but Carella and Brown take the ferry to Bethtown to question a witness. At that point, Bethtown goes from an analog of Staten Island to Staten Island itself. From that point, all I could see was New York rather than a fictional city, even when New York is mentioned in previous 87th Precinct novels.
All in all, this was a pretty cool read.