Book Review: The Empty Hours by Ed McBain

Next up from the out of order omnibus I bought is this book, actually a collection of three separate stories involving the men of the 87th Precinct. All are loaded with McBain’s usual hard boiled, fast flowing dialogue and knack for character.

While each story is shorter than the normal adventures, each is a well executed crime story, with an interesting, gripping case at the heart.

The book also works in that it gives McBain an opportunity to tell slightly different stories, and to bring other detectives forward. The lead of the series thus far has been Steve Carella, who is the lead detective in the majority of cases. The other detectives play their parts, but Carella is the major hero.

Here, Carella is the lead in the title story, where he uses a victim’s cheque book to piece together the woman’s life. There’s a neat twist in the story and as in many of their cases it hinges on a small detail dropped in early on.


In the second case, J, Carella is a supporting player. When a rabbi is killed during passover it leaves the squad’s joker Meyer reflecting on his own faith and place in his community. Meyer has before been on the sidelines offering quips and humour, but here the jokes are less frequent as he faces antisemitism and fanatacism. It works extremely well and there is some clever wrong footing on display. 

Carella is absent entirely in the third, Storm, where Cotton Hawes is embroiled in a murder investigation while on a ski trip. The story strips him of allies and forensic techniques, and relies on Hawes’ instincts and questioning.

It’s a thrilling read and the ending shows McBain’s writing at its best, bringing intelligence and something approaching poetry to a genre tale.

Verdict: Three great short stories which show McBain’s skill and each hooks the reader. Easy to plough through and entertaining on every page. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. 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: 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: 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.