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When a cop is shot down in the street one night, the squad from the 87th Precinct in Isola swing into action. At first the reason for the shooting isn't known. Was it random? Was it personal? But when another cop from the precinct is killed in the same way it begins to look like there's a cop hater on the loose. Now Detective Steve Carella and his colleagues have two reasons to find the killer quickly – to get justice for their fellow officers and to stop the perpetrator before he kills again...

First published in 1956, this is the first in the long-running, successful and influential 87th Precinct series. I read many of them in my teens, but this is the first time I've revisited the Precinct in decades. I have no memory of the individual plots, but vividly remember the setting and several of the characters – a testimony to how well drawn they are. In this one Steve Carella is the main focus but as the series progressed McBain developed an entire group of detectives who took their turn in the spotlight, which is why the series is known by the name of the squad rather than any one detective. Carella stays at the forefront more than the other detectives overall, though, throughout the series. The books are based in Isola, an area of a major city which is clearly a fictionalised New York. The various boroughs have been given different names but are apparently recognisable to people who know the city (which I only do through books and TV or movies - I suspect my first impressions of New York may in fact have come from this series).

The style seems to me like a kind of crossover point between the hardboiled fiction of Hammett, Chandler and their generation, and the more modern police procedural that would come to the fore and perhaps dominate crime fiction over the next few decades. (I hasten to add I'm no expert and not particularly widely-read, especially in American crime fiction, so this is just my own impression – perhaps other writers had been making the transition before McBain got there.) When he writes about the city – the soaring skylines, the dazzling lights, the display of wealth and glamour barely hiding the crime, corruption and violence down on the streets – it reads like pure noir; and in this one there's a femme fatale who equals any of the greats, oozing sexuality and confidence in her power over men.

But when he writes about Carella and the squad his tone is warmer, less hard-edged. While hardboiled and noir detectives always seem to be loners, rather mysterious men without much in the way of backstory, McBain's police officers are real humans, who joke and watch sports, who have wives and children. Personally I prefer that mix to pure noir – McBain's detectives aren't always wholly likeable, but they're human enough to allow me to care about them. Also, because he uses an entire squad as his protagonist, each individual is more expendable than the single hero or partnership of many other authors, so there's always an air of real suspense as to whether they will come through dangerous situations. They don't always...

The plot is excellent – I won't give any spoilers, but I will say that it was only just before the reveal that I really got any idea of where it was heading. McBain creates great atmosphere with his writing, which actually is of much higher quality than I remembered. Some of the scenes had me on the edge of my seat and he left me shocked more than once, but without ever stepping over the credibility line. In fact, realism is at the heart of the book – these detectives have to rely on doing the legwork, using informants and hoping for lucky breaks. There's a fair amount of casual police brutality, with the impression that this was the norm back then, and rather approved of than otherwise, both within the service and by society in general (and, I suspect, by McBain himself). Times change – depictions of casual and repeated brutality by police protagonists in contemporary British crime fiction annoy me because it wouldn't be considered acceptable here today and so jars as unrealistic. But it feels right in this book, and isn't over-emphasised; it's just part of the job.

There's also a strand about the relationship between the police and the press, with an irresponsible journalist creating problems for the investigation. This is handled very well, with the reader put firmly on the side of the police. They may not always be nice guys, but McBain leaves us in no doubt that they're the good guys. And yes, I do mean guys – no women yet in this detective squad. Women are strictly either femmes fatales or loving wives and girlfriends. Well, it was the '50s!

The ending has aspects of the thriller and again reverts to a more noir-ish feel as we discover the motivation behind the crimes.

I was expecting to like this but perhaps to find it a bit dated. In fact, I loved it. Writing, setting, atmosphere, characterisation – all superb. While some of the attitudes are obviously a bit dated, the storytelling isn't at all, and the vices and weaknesses of the human animal haven't changed much over the years. Excellent stuff – definitely a classic of the genre, and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a realistic police procedural with an edge of noir.
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on 25 November 2014
Have been a fan of Ed McBain for 50 years, and have collected and re-read all the 87th Precinct books during that time. Now I'm going back to the 87th - this time with ebooks. This is one of the few McBain stories that I haven't really enjoyed, mainly because, although it's categorised as a 87th Precinct novel, it's not really about the characters that you come to know. It's a different take on the usual format, but for me I wasn't really interested in the main character in this, and wanted to engage more with the regular 'bulls' of the 87th. It's not badly written, the story's as well constructed as you would expect from McBain, but if it was the first 87th Precinct I'd picked up, I'd not be too engaged to pick up another. An interesting read if you know the 87th - but not the usual page turner. I can usually read an 87th in one sitting - it took several attempts to get through this one, I'm afraid.
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on 3 October 2013
I bought this, well because I like detective stories, but also because it was an old story from the mid 1950's I have always imagined how old novels would read like and I wasn't disappointed. It's a very simple easy read, simple plot, although a nice twist at the end, simple characters who you come to like even though there isn't the in depth biography you get in this day and age. A nice simple light read, with the only thi9ng missing is the rain that wipes the slime from the walls, Instead its a heat wave.

If you'd like a quick light read, then this is your book. There is nothing to deep about it, it is just what it is, a nice easy pleasant read. I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series (The Mugger) and others thereafter.
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When you consider that this book was written almost 60 years ago it still seems modern. Not modern in the slang, lifestyle or procedures but in the writing. It has a rather sparse style but still manages to be very atmospheric. You can imagine the heat, the sweat and the detectives' tiredness. I read this book many years ago so the rather simple plot, someone shooting cops, was vaguely familiar but I had forgotten how immersed you get in the atmosphere.
The other reviews have confirmed what I already thought. If you want plot driven narrative Ed McBain is not for you but if you like to live in your reading then this is probably for you.
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on 16 June 2013
This book was originally written a long time ago, which unfortunately meant that the forensics were massively out of date. However, if u bear this in mind it does not matter and does not detract from the storyline.

I enjoyed the book, the characterisation was very good and believable. All about policemen and how, in the fifties, policemen went about solving crimes, now policemen use their famous 'hunches' and how they act upon those feelings/ideas that make them into good police officers.

A good twist at the end that I never saw coming. This was a good book, just out of date, but considering what I paid for it, was a good thriller.
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on 13 October 2013
another dated book I thought I'd give a whirl at. Recently bought for 99p along with another 17 87th Precinct novels. Another wise purchase because it was a fantastic read. I love Steve Carella and his girlfriend, Teddy. The series is set in a non-existent city and so along with the plot, characters, you get to know the city as well.

Fast paced police procedural and with a surprising final twist. I sure weren't seeing that coming!
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VINE VOICEon 22 December 2014
It's thoroughly enjoyable, but the mystery is harder for the detectives to solve than for readers, most of whom will have worked it out well before the end. The characterisation is sketchy, but it doesn't detract; if anything it moves things forwards more quickly.
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on 15 May 2017
An interesting story, a change from the writer's other stories as one main character fills the tale. The Reader waits for the different scenarios to run to the end.
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on 17 October 2016
This is a fascinating diversion from his other stories, written from the perp's POV. And he managed, as ever, to put it all together in a very thin book. Love his work
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on 14 October 2013
Yet another top class short novel in this long series. This is different from his usual, in that the reader is kept guessing almost to the end exactly what is happening. It gradually, and very tantalisingly, becomes clearer as realisation dawns on the reader. The police department (87the Precinct) appear only occasionally, unlike most of the other books.
The man was a master!
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