Book Review: He Who Hesitates by Ed McBain

I returned to the 87th Precinct and discovered a very different story, with Ed McBain pushing his team of detectives to the fringes of the story, and the narrative following an outside character exclusively.

mcbain hesitates

Roger Broome is a craftsman who has come to the city to sell his wares and, having achieved this, should really be heading home to his small town home where he lives with his mother. But before he goes back, he needs to talk to the police and tell them what happens.

But while he heads to the 87th precinct to talk to a detective on a cold February morning he is held up by various errands and his attraction to the young woman who works at one of the shops he visits. Slowly, as the day progresses he reflects on what he needs to talk to the cops about and debates his choices for his future. Will he tell the police what he knows? Will he risk starting a new life with the woman he has met? Or will he just go on home to mother?

I really loved this book, which unfolds at a decent pace and works well for returning readers as we get to see Detectives Carella, Hawes, Meyer and Parker from a fresh perspective, judged by a stranger on their brief encounters.

It’s an interesting instalment in the series as it differs greatly from the regular format and style, giving a more psychological aspect as the protagonist deals with his issues of insecurity, remorse and unease. It’s fairly obvious what’s going on with the character about a quarter of a way through but up until this point McBain keeps you guessing, and there’s an uncomfortable building tension to the closing stages as a supporting character is placed in a dangerous situation. I started to worry the ending was going to be a bleak one, and it kept me clicking through on my Kindle. The ending, when it arrives, seems both fitting and unsatisfying, but in a way that makes sense and you suspect may be closer to reality than we’d like.

It’s wonderfully written, with stark imagery and some well observed dialogue, although it lacks the humour of most of the other books, possibly because our focus here is such a tightly wound character. It’s a brave departure for the series and an involving read, but I can’t help but hope we get Carella and Co back on centre stage next time.

Verdict: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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