Book Review: The Con Man by Ed McBain

I’m really getting into McBain’s 87th Precinct series now, and this, the fourth installment, may be my favourite so far. It follows the standard formula, dealing with the same bunch of detectives and moving on the strands and subplots from the previous stories.

con man

Here there are two cases developing next to each other, both involving cons and swindles. Detectives Brown and Kling work to track down and stop a serial con man and his partner who have been fleecing the residents of the city with various schemes, a case which angers Brown immensely.

Meanwhile, returning to duty after being shot in The Pusher, Steve Carella investigates a series of murders. Several young women turn up in the river, all killed by arsenic poisoning and all with similar tattoos on their hands. Carella begins looking into it, talking to different tattooists to track down his killer.

At the same time McBain shows us Priscilla, a woman responding to a lonely hearts advert and who meets a charming, good looking man who proposes, before revealing he’d like her to get a tattoo on her hand…

Will Carella find his man before Priscilla becomes the next victim? Is there a connection with Brown and Kling’s case?

What I love about this book is that McBain’s writing style, which is tough, vivid and loaded with sardonic wit. He’s a clever, funny writer who includes little riffs and insights between the action. It’s an engaging story and his decision to give Carella’s hearing and speaking impaired wife, Teddy, more of a role is quite a nice touch and lead to a thrilling and gripping conclusion. McBain builds the tension fantastically and I blazed through the closing stages, totally swept up in the story.

A fantastic, engaging crime thriller.

Verdict: McBain is a fantastic writer, showing his skills with building tension and naturalistic dialogue. This is a wonderfully crafted thriller and a great, quick read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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