In the introduction to Ed McBain's first 87th Precinct mystery, Cop Hater, McBain said his city, Isola, is a character. It's fascinating to see the description of that city in the opening chapter of The Mugger. It opens with, "The city could be nothing but a woman, and that's good because your business is women." McBain then vividly describes the various locations of the city as parts of a woman's body, beginning with "Her tossed head in the auburn crowns of molting autumn foliage, Riverhead, and the park." And, the opening description ends, "But she could be nothing but a woman, and that's good because your business is women. You are a mugger."
The detectives of the 87th Precinct are dealing with a mugger who has already attacked a dozen women. After hitting them, and taking their purses, he bows to them and says, "Clifford thanks you, madam." Steve Carella is on his honeymoon, but the mugger is driving the other detectives nuts. Detectives Hal Willis, Roger Havilland, and Meyer Meyer are all involved. They try everything from an undercover detective, Eileen Burke, to the use of snitches. When a seventeen-year-old girl is murdered soon after a visit from patrolman Bert Kling, it appears that the mugger has grown more violent. Kling may not be a detective, but something just feels odd about the young woman's death.
It's fascinating to go back and read these wonderful police procedurals written in the 1950s. The police must still resort to old-fashioned hard work. Havilland even resorts to police brutality while interrogating a suspect. Even so, the book has its humorous moments. Meyer Meyer keeps a long-running joke going through the course of the story. There's a great scene with Havilland after the mugger is captured, in which he says, "Havilland thanks you, madam."
I'm very glad Gar Anthony Haywood insisted I read the 87th Precinct novels. Once you read one, it's obvious why Ed McBain was popular. The Mugger is just one example of his mastery of the police procedural.
The Mugger by Ed McBain. Grand Central Publishing, ©1956. ISBN 9780446601436 (paperback), 178p.
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