Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 21, 2014: Ed McBain Day

Ed McBain was one of the many pen names of the successful and prolific crime fiction author Evan Hunter (1926 - 2005). Born Salvatore Lambino in New York, McBain served aboard a destroyer in the US Navy during World War II and then earned a degree from Hunter College in English and Psychology. After a short stint teaching in a high school, McBain went to work for a literary agency in New York, working with authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and P.G. Wodehouse all the while working on his own writing on nights and weekends. He had his first breakthrough in 1954 with the novel The Blackboard Jungle, which was published under his newly legal name Evan Hunter and based on his time teaching in the Bronx.
Perhaps his most popular work, the 87th Precinct series (released mainly under the name Ed McBain) is one of the longest running crime series ever published, debuting in 1956 with Cop Hater and featuring over fifty novels. The series is set in a fictional locale called Isola and features a wide cast of detectives including the prevalent Detective Steve Carella.
McBain was also known as a screenwriter. Most famously he adapted a short story from Daphne Du Maurier into the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). In addition to writing for the silver screen, he wrote for many television series, including Columbo and the NBC series 87th Precinct (1961-1962), based on his popular novels.
McBain was awarded the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 1986 by the Mystery Writers of America and was the first American to receive the Cartier Diamond Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. He passed away in 2005 in his home in Connecticut after a battle with larynx cancer. (From his author page on Amazon)


One of my favorites of Ed McBain's books was written under his real name Evan Hunter.LAST SUMMER is the story of three teenage friends - Sandy, David, and Peter  who are spending a summer vacation on an island. They are a little out of control, stealing beer, experimenting with the life they are headed for, running naked through the woods. Their tightness as a group, a nearly perfect thing with Sandy taking the lead in almost everything, is tested when a new girl comes on the scene. It is their last summer of innocence and Rhoda, with her neediness and nerdiness, brings out the worst in them. Sandy uses Rhoda to test her mastery of the boys. An interesting novel that made an interesting movie.

Of course the books set in the 87th Precinct made McBain an eagerly awaited author for me. I think I read almost every book in the series. I was never as attached to Matthew Hope as I was to Steve Carella. IMDB lists all of the films McBain had a hand in. His website gives a complete list of his books and it's astounding.

 EPITAPHS by Bill Pronzini 

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of books along with countless other mysteries, westerns, anthologies, short stores and horror novels. You can find him here. 

Epitaphs (Nameless Detective Mystery Series #20)

Epitaphs is one of my favorite Nameless novels for a number of reasons.

For one thing this is one of Pronzini's finest depictions of  Nameless' painfully complex relationship with his old partner Eberhardt. The anger, the distrust makes you feel sorry for both of them.

Then there's the even more serious problem of his friend and lover Kerry not wanting to marry him.

The novel is also a fine depiction of how Nameless' North Beach is changing and is being refurbished not only commercially but also sociologically. Proninzi writes with real power about how the Italian heritage he obviously reveres is also suffering because of the changes.

Then there's the story and it's one of Pronzini's most skillfully conceived and maneuvered. Gianna Fornessi is the name of the beautiful granddaughter who is missing. A mutual friend of Namless' asks him to help the grandfather who fears for her.

When he finds where she lives Nameless also realizes that something is wrong. She came from a humble area of North Beach but lives in a style fitting a much more moneyed life.

From this hook Pronzini takes us through enough ruses, masques, dead ends and mysterious but enigmatic clues to fill three or four average novels. And he does so with prose so evocative of both place and passion that you race to the end.

One of Bill Pronzini's finest novels and I don't have to say much more than that, do I?

Sergio Angelini, BLOOD RELATIVES, Ed McBain
and Brian Busby, CATTLE, Winifred Eaton
Bill Crider, THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, Third series, ed Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas
Martin Edwards, DOVER AND THE UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL, Joyce Porter
Curt Evans, PARTNERS IN CRIME, Agatha Christie
Rich Horton, THE ADVENTURER, Mika Waltari
Jerry House, THE COUNTY OF GASTON, Robert S Cope and Manly Wade Wellman
Nick Jones, Twenty Books to Remember
George Kelley, DANGER: DINOSAURS, Richard Marsten (Ed McBain)
Margot Kinberg, THE BURNING, Jane Casey
Rob Kitchin, CORRIDORS OF DEATH, Ruth Dudley Edwards; DISAPPEARED, Anthony Quinn
B.V. Lawson, NOCTURNE, Ed McBain
Evan Lewis, DANGER CIRCUS, Raoul Whitfled
Steve Lewis/William F. Deeck, SOMETHING TO HIDE, Philip MacDonald
Todd Mason, Assorted Publications
Neer, DOWNTOWN, Ed McBain
J.F. Norris, CHILL AND THE KILL, Joan Fleiming
Richard Robinson, DEAD SKIP, Joe Gores
Gerard Saylor, LET HIM GO, Larry Watson
Ron Scheer, FLINT'S GIFT, Richard S. Wheeler
Michael Slind
Kevin Tipple, THE PERFECT DETECTIVE, CLark Casey
TomCat, THE BISHOP'S GAME, H.C. Bailey
Prashant Trikkanad, The Science Fiction of Evan Hunter (Ed McBain)


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a writer worth reading. I'm lucky in that I've got quite a few more of his to read.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Patti--though in the slimmest of reeds, I managed to make my quick survey of the Renown Publications fiction magazines relevant to the man who would eventually legally become Evan Hunter (having hated the slights he faced as Salvatore Lombino). All told, I've never read a Hunter/McBain/etc. story that didn't have something importantly stupid about it, and he'd made any number of dopey remarks outside his fiction over the decades, though I did agree with his championing of Hammett over Chandler in THE PARIS REVIEW special issue about crime fiction (though, again, he managed to spike it somewhat by his utter hostility to Chandler, which I don't share...Hunter was an angry man, and often not too discriminate in his prey).

Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Thanks for the link to my 1000th post, Patti! Very kind of you.

Deb said...

I'm sorry I somehow missed this date because I know I've posted before that Evan Hunter's Mothers and Daughters was the first "adult" ( as in themes and also flashbacks/non-linear storytelling) that I ever read. It was the first book I read with one of those slowly-revealed "shocking" revelations--to this day, one of my favorite story-telling methods.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for including my post Patti and great to celebrate McBain's large contribution to fiction in general - by the way, I also posted two other McBain reviews earlier this week in anticipation:

J F Norris said...

Mine's up now, Patti. Thanks in advance.

The Chill and the Kill by Joan Fleming

Jerry House said...

My apologies; Evan Hunter week slipped right past me. Mention should be made of his 80-plus paperback originals under the name "Dean Hudson" for William Hamling's sleaze publishing company Corinth; although a number of these books were actually written by writing students of Hunter, he remains the author of record for each of them. Hunter received a thousand bucks cash for each book, allowing him to hide the money from his then-wife and to spend it on things his wife would not approve of.

Thomas Pluck said...

I read my first Ed McBain novel, "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here" thanks to Erin Mitchell, who was so flabbergasted by this lapse in my crime fiction education that she bought me two of his novels. (For the record, I bought her a Richard Stark novel in trade, and we are both the better for it)
I loved the book, his ability to paint rich characters with a few strokes and juggle so many plotlines effortlessly, while building a city from scratch as he goes, is rather amazing. I may not read all of the 87th Precinct novels but I will surely be reading more of them.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

Slight typo fellow Italian-American was born Salvatore Lombino, rather than Lambino. Happily for me, Italian-Americans were much less likely to be messed with by they time I was born, and I'm only a quarter, and have the world's WASPiest name...except perhaps for "Evan Hunter"...

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, thanks for hosting the Ed McBain special and highlighting my contribution. I'm glad I still have many of his books to read.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Sorry for missing that this was Ed McBain day. Not sure how I did that, but clearly I did.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I had originally set this aside as Ed McBain day but when the response to Shirley Jackson Day was sparse I took it down (and also Dorothy Hughes). When a few people came forth with reviews for McBain I quickly added some info.

If anyone wants to do a special author on their blog, I will gladly participate.

Todd Mason said...

And, fwiw, my post isn't about Assorted Publications per se, but about all the fiction magazines published by pulp veteran Leo Margulies and his wife, Cylvia Kleinman, as Renown Publlications...the magazine group that, among other things, fostered (not exclusively, but not insignificantly) the careers of James Reasoner, Joe Lansdale, Lewis Shiner, Richard Moore and others...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Maybe the best idea would be for you to give me a heading each week. There is usually too many to get them neatly on a line.

Todd Mason said...

Will do!

Anonymous said...

Of course I missed this because we were on the road, but also I forgot about it. I would definitely have wanted to participate as Hunter/McBain is one of my favorite authors. I've read more of his books (92) than any other writer other than Simenon, including a play and several collections of his stotries.

While they aren't all great - surely the worst book he ever wrote was the Matthew Hope title MNARY, MARY - there are a lot of gems there, including STREETS OF GOLD. I finally read LAST SUMMER a couple of years ago and was surprised how good it was and how close to the movie adaptation (in tone at least).

The one howler that stands out, Todd, is in one of his later books (can't recall which offhand) where the protagonist is telling someone of the worst, pivotal day of his life, the day JFK was assassinated, which also happened to be the main character's birthday. It was a day etched in his memory forever.

And yet, several times in the book (so it was not just a one time typo) he said the day was November 21 rather than the 22.

Editing, please!

Jeff M.