Book Review: See Them Die by Ed McBain

I decided to return to the 87th Precinct, and I’m glad I did as this is a belter. 

Love the variety of covers for the same book

It ditches the usual formula of starting with a body being discovered and instead sets the scene on a hot, sunny street. The characters are introduced slowly; a sailor, a cafe owner, a punk kid, the cops. Then it transforms into a tense stand off between the police and a cornered criminal. 

It’s aided by McBain’s knack for evocative description and character, a keen eye which layers in background for all the players in the tale. It’s also quite interesting to see McBain, through the interaction of two of the Precinct’s detectives, loutish Parker and Puerto Rican Hernandez. The story is set in the Puerto Rican neighbourhood, and the racial tensions bubble away in the background and in the different characters. 

It adds a different level to the book, and allows an exploration of how the community reacts to the stand off and the criminal involved. To some he’s a hero. To others a disgrace. Even the cops differ on their view of how he wound up there.

The tension ratchets up and the different subplots unfold nicely throughout, with McBain cleverly acknowledging what would be a happy ending before stating “but that’s not what happened “. The finale, a tense, bloody climax to the siege is handled with simple brutality and manages to be satisfying and frustrating.

Throughout the writing is filled with the usual wit, toughness and intelligence that I’ve come to expect from McBain and while the slang and some attitudes are dated, it still holds up as a gripping, enjoyable read with depth and empathy beyond it’s pulpy trappings.

Verdict: Another excellent addition to the series, this is an incredibly absorbing quick read which hooks you in. McBain builds tension throughout and crafts realistic characters. A cracking read. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Books of 2016

As ever split into fiction and nonfiction. Fiction first.

5. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Brown isn’t the best writer and some of the characterisation and dialogue is wooden but you can’t deny he crafts an easy pageturner and I ploughed through this.

4. Lady Killer by Ed McBain

When the detectives get a note taunting them about a murder which will be committed in twelve hours it kicks off a ticking clock thriller as they try to work out who the killer is, as well as their target. Proves writing under pressure works.


3. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A warm easy read about life, death, fate and the connections we form in our lives. A nice read and wonderfully unpretentious. Review.

2. Ex-Purgatory and Ex-Isle by Peter Clines

Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series gets better and better with two clever installments. The first sees a bizarre parallel universe and the second sees the heroes discover a new group of survivors while tensions mount back at home. Quality stuff and the full reviews are here and here.


1.  Killer’s Wedge by Ed McBain

I am loving McBain’s Precinct 87 series and this is probably the best yet. It starts with a woman entering the detectives’ office and announcing she has explosives in her bag. The rest of the book is a tense face-off as the cops try to work out what to do and Steve Carella, her target makes his way for the precinct. Full review here.

Honourable mentions, all the other Precinct 87 books I read and Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook. 

And now nonfiction.
5. Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Perkins’ memoir is warm, funny and incredibly moving in places. I liked her going in but I liked her even more afterwards. A real gem. Review.


4. A Life Inside by Erwin James

An honest, clever look into the life of a prisoner James has a knack for observation and telling quick, short stories which are still insightful. Full review.

3. Are You Dave Gorman?/Too Much Information by Dave Gorman (and Danny Wallace)

Massive fan of Gorman and his funny, fussy and friendly writing. Whether looking for his namesakes or examining the weird customs and conventions of modern life, he is an affable, funny narrator and I enjoyed both books.


2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson delves into the world of online jobs and shaming in a clever, funny and well researched book. He writes with compassion and he goes off in different directions. Review.

1. Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

A book that moved me immensely, delving into the political and personal stories behind Nelson Mandela’s ambitions for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The great man comes across wonderfully and the optimism and healing powers of sport had me quite misty eyed. My full review here.


Honourable mentions The Football Neutral by Jim Smallman and D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz.
Any recommendations for the coming year? Let me know in the comments. BETEO.


Book Review: The Heckler by Ed McBain

I’m not going to lie in the early stages I wasn’t hooked on this entry in the 87th Precinct series. The writing had the usual McBain flair and there’s some good dialogue but unlike several others it doesn’t hit with a big crime.

But when it does get going it really moves. Detective Meyer is contacted by an old family friend who has been having threatening calls to his business telling him to get out. Meanwhile, Detective Carella investigates an unknown male found dead and almost naked in the park. 

Slowly Carella ID’s his man, but is no closer to finding a reason for his death or for why his clothes were taken. The man’s name appears to be John Smith, which seems phony and doesn’t narrow it down.

At the same time a deaf man and three associates are planning something big, but what is their strategy and how are all three strands connected.

This is a pretty sharp thriller with a well done plot and the usual wit and well judged dialogue which are hallmarks of the series. It’s obvious early on that the two cases will be linked but how it all plays out is well done, especially a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League”. The criminal plot is grander than anything the men of the 87th have dealt with so far and McBain handles this well, talking about how the cops are always at a disadvantage and used to stupid criminals.

Here they have a smart crook with an elaborate plot and it stretches the!. The villain is smug and talks of playing numbers and probabilities, and it’s nice that in the end it all wraps up thanks to gut feeling and luck. It’s not the strongest but it’s still a solid thriller and once it gets going quite gripping.

Verdict: A decent thriller that takes a while to get going but soon hits its stride. McBain’s skills shine through and it builds to a tense finale. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Give the Boys a Great Big Hand by Ed McBain

This is another cracking instalment in the 87th Precinct series and is quite an interesting one. It opens with a patrolman seeing someone leaving a bag at a bus stop, and doing his duty he looks in the bag to find a severed hand.

With nothing else to go on, Steve Carella and the other detectives begin trying to find who the hand belonged to and who left it at the bus stop.

Their investigation leads them to two missing men, but they have no further leads, until they find an unexpected connection between the men, a stripper named Bubbles. The problem? Bubbles is missing too.

Like the other stories in the series this is a well crafted crime story which is helped by McBain’s knack for character and humour. The story unfolds at a decent pace and the shifts between different detectives keeps it fresh and further develops the characters who have been built up over the series.

It’s not the strongest in the series, with a slightly rushed ending, but it’s still an entertaining book and solid thriller.

Verdict: A well done thriller as can be expected from McBain, with a decent plot and some nice touches. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: King’s Ransom by Ed McBain

I decided it was time to return to the 87th Precinct and this proved to be another entertaining crime thriller.

It starts slow with some boardroom politics involving businessman Douglas King. Planning to pull off a big deal that will set him up for life there’s a bump in the road when King receives a call saying his son has been kidnapped. But his son returns and it transpires the kidnappers grabbed his playmate, the chauffeur’s son.

This brings the men of the 87th Precinct to investigate as the action switches between the Kings and their associates, the cops and the crooks. Will King pay the ransom for someone else’s kid? Can the cops work out who has the boy? And will the crooks stay together to pull off the job?

Like the rest of the series this benefits from McBain’s ability to write gripping, pulpy fare which is shot through with humour and a good sense of character. The shifting focus shows off his knack for creating characters that feel real and the action moves along at a decent pace.

It’s not the strongest in the series, but it’s a gripping thriller that I devoured in a matter of days, and McBain’s writing is clever and the wry humour works well.

Verdict: A solid, engaging thriller. McBain is a master of the genre and this one is entertaining. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: ‘Til Death by Ed McBain

The 87th Precinct series is fast becoming my favourite series, as Ed McBain cranks out cracking story after cracking story, and this, the ninth installment is another winner.

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Steve Carella is woken on the day of his sister’s wedding by a nervous phonecall from the man soon to be his brother in law. The young man has received an unusual wedding gift, a black widow spider. He tries to think of it as a gag, but Carella isn’t so sure.

Carella quizzes him and finds out some potential suspects, asking his colleague Meyer at the precinct to chase the lead. He then asks his fellow off duty detectives Bert Kling and Cotton Hawes to come to the wedding to keep an eye out for danger.

The wedding unfolds as Carella, Kling and Hawes look for dangers and investigate guests while Meyer and O’Brien try and track down the prime suspect.

The set up is gold and McBain quickly sets up a handful of potential suspects, and while one quickly emerges as a favourite, he manages to keep enough doubt to make it a gripping read. And as ever it benefits from the writer’s knack for observation, characterisation and humour.

It moves along at a clip due to the shortened time frame and this ensures it never loses the reader’s attention. There are thrills and spills along the way and it builds to a tense, satisfying conclusion.

Verdict: A fast, fun read which sees McBain execute a brilliant idea as a gripping, enjoyable thriller. There’s enough danger and drama to keep you hooked until the end. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Killer’s Wedge by Ed McBain

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series goes from strength to strength as the eighth installment is an absolute belter. It hinges on one genius idea that McBain uses to create an incredibly tense and gripping thriller.

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The plot sees a few of the cops of the 87th Precinct at the office when a woman enters looking for Steve Carella, who is out on a case. She decides to wait and raises suspicion before pulling a gun and a bottle of what she says is nitroglycerin and holding the officers hostage. She means to kill Carella when be arrives.

Carella, meanwhile, is working a case and trying to work out if a suicide is all it appears. And his wife Teddy, who has just found out she is pregnant means to meet him at the station.

Is the woman bluffing about the nitro? Can the cops she holds hostage work it out or stop her? Can they do it before Carella arrives?

It’s a fantastic read as McBain switches perspective between the different cops and teases Carmella’s return repeatedly. The tension builds impressively and the different characters are well realised. By the end I was powering through, utterly engrossed and captivated by the story.

It has the same wit and tough smarts of the others in the series but the contained setting and tense plot mean that this is probably the best one I’ve read so far.

Verdict: McBain crafts a sublime and gripping thriller which is hard to put down. He’s a writer of great skill and eight books in he continues to surprise and develop in the series. A fantastic read. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Lady Killer by Ed McBain

This is the seventh book in McBain’s 87th Precinct series and it is definitely one of the strongest. The setting and characters are the same, as the detectives of the precinct work a case but the plot is an utter gem.

On a baking hot day in the city a cryptic note is delivered to the detectives saying that in 12 hours there will be a murder. While they suspect it to be a crank the detectives can’t ignore it and what follows is a tense twelve hours for the men as they try and work out who the potential victim might be.

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It’s a really gripping read with the “ticking clock” aspect paying dividends (McBain says it was written in a similar way as he faced a deadline). The plot never lets up and McBain really ramps up the tension and uses the blistering weather to create a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere.

The detectives are familiar faces by this point and McBain writes them and their interactions with ease and a tough, gritty sensibility. His talent for creating a cracking page turner is evident and I breezed through this. The plot as well, loaded with red herrings, is possibly the best in the series so far.

McBain’s humour is present and his writing is fantastic in places.

Verdict: An intensely gripping thriller which McBain keeps moving throughout, it’s hard to put down and wonderfully entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Killer’s Payoff by Ed McBain

I really love McBain’s 87th Precinct series, with each novel continuing the lives of the detectives but dealing with a separate case. What makes them is McBain’s dry, sarcastic writing which is wonderfully evocative in places and flows nicely. He also has skill in writing good, pulpy

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In this installment the focus is on Cotton Hawes and Steve Carella as they investigate when a blackmailer is gunned down, gangland style. The case takes them after the victims marks as they try and work out whether what he had over them was worth killing to keep secret.

It’s a tight, clever thriller with a few nice subplots and touches, and while the final mystery is easy to solve, it still works and keeps you gripped.

What also works is that the focus has moved to Hawes who is a tough guy but learning the ropes. His mistakes add tension and his womanising ways make for entertaining reading.

It’s an easy read and flows well and McBain continues to impress as a talented and capable writer.

Verdict: Gripping and fun it’s a quick, easy read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Killer’s Choice by Ed McBain

I’m getting to be a bit of a fan of McBain and the men of the 87th precinct. This is the fifth installment and as usual follows the detectives as they attempt to solve a crime.

The crime here is a young woman gunned down in a liquor store, but as they delve into her life a series of contradictions appear and they struggle to get a clear picture of who she was. With a new member to the team and a series of dead ends, it is a frustrating time.

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The situation gets worse as one of their own is killed at the scene of a liquor store robbery. Are the two related, or is it mere coincidence?

I enjoyed this book, although it’s not the strongest entry in the series, with the core mystery being a little rushed in conclusion. What makes it though is McBain’s wry humour and the characters, with the 87th’s detectives all different and with individual traits which works well. The dialogue is fast and well observed. McBain develops the story with skill, layering in subplots and red herrings, which makes the final dash to the finish line even more frustrating.

I’m already eyeing up the sixth book.

Verdict: McBain is an accomplished writer but this one feels a bit flimsy and the ending disappoints. But there’s just enough in terms of humour, character and pulpy flair to get it through. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.