Friday Reviews: Calypso and Ghosts by Ed McBain

Calypso by Ed McBainCalypso

Ed McBain

A calypso singer is murdered one night walking home from a gig in the rain. In the wee hours of the following morning, so is a hooker. With the same gun. Before it’s all over, the reader is introduced to an insane woman holding a man prisoner.

I didn’t really like this 87th Precinct. It seems like it’s recycling the previous two novels. In this one, Carella worried about his faithfulness to his wife, Teddy (though never crosses any lines.) This was a major subplot of Long Time No See. And just two novels after Bert Kling’s wife is taken hostage by a stalker, So Long as You Both Shall Live, we have the roles reversed with a male captive and an obsessed female stalker. Even the presence of Monaghan and Monroe, the useless homicide detectives who do their vaudville schtick to the annoyance of Carella and the other detectives of the 87th, wear out their welcome in this one. So does Genero, the precinct’s resident idiot. Only Fat Ollie Weeks, who has become the series’s resident Archie Bunker, seems to be interesting in this one. I was disappointed.

 Ghosts by Ed McBainGHOSTS

Ed McBain

Detectives Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes respond to the fatal stabbing of a woman outside her apartment. The woman was stabbed once as she carried groceries into the building. While they start work on her death, a call comes through that another person is stabbed inside the building, this one a famous writer named Gregory Craig, who wrote a bestselling book about a haunted house in Massachusetts. The only witness? Craig’s young girlfriend, who is a dead ringer for Teddy Carella, Steve Carella’s wife.

The temptation of Carella has become a regular theme to the story at this point. Hillary Scott, the woman who could be Teddy’s twin, has a twin herself, one who eventually hits on Carella. In Calypso, it sounded like a rehash of Long Time No See. This time, however, the resemblance to Teddy Carella adds a new spin that not only messes with Carella but also resident lothario Cotton Hawes. Hawes finds the sisters very attractive but is made nervous by their resemblance to his partner’s wife. Late in the story, Carella is asleep in a motel room when he seems to dream that he gave into temptation. By the end of the scene, he’s not so convinced. So maybe the precinct’s resident boy scout may have finally screwed up.

Near the end of the story, in a scene reminiscent of Detective Rick Genero’s introduction in Fuzz, the character of Tak Fujiwara makes his debut. While I haven’t read any of the books featuring Tak, I suspect he’s there for two reasons. First, the squad needs a little diversity at this point. By 1980, Arthur Brown is the squad’s sole black officer, and his race only seems to be mentioned anymore if Fat Ollie Weeks is in the story. Second, Genero as the young rookie detective is kind of a dud. It seems like he’s supposed to be play the wet-behind-the-ears noob that Bert Kling had played up until Fuzz. However, he’s sort of become the village idiot, displacing bigoted lout Andy Parker in tandem with a smarter, more likeable bigot, Fat Ollie. However, while Fat Ollie (who gets only a passing mention in this story) is smart but ignorant with an interesting personality, Genero is little more than a punchline. Bringing in Tak off the streets is probably to correct that shortcoming. And notice that Parker hardly rates a mention anymore. Good riddance. He was an annoying character.

This one feels a bit more modern as McBain is clearly referencing The Amityville Horror, which had come a year before this, the first 87th Precinct novel of the 1980s. In one bizarre sequence, Carella may have actually seen a ghost. It not only scares Carella into paralysis but causes the psychic Hillary Scott to faint. McBain never actually says if it’s an actual ghost, but it’s enough to rattle the steely Carella. It’s a different entry in the 87th Precinct, which isn’t quite as flat as Calypso.

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