The start of another great crime novel series

Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Ed McBain is the author who really created the police procedural novel, with his series of fifty-five 87th Precinct books written between 1956 and 2005. In the introduction to Cop Hater, he tells how he came up with the idea of a squadroom of police officers, all with different characters, whom together would make a ‘conglomerate hero‘.  Thus was the 87th Precinct born, set in a fictional city similar to New York.  Different policemen star in the novels, and as in real life, they will come and go from the squadroom, with one detective in particular, Steve Carella, holding a central position.

McBain is a pseudonym of Evan Hunter, the author of Blackboard Jungle (1954) in which a new young teacher has to deal with unruly pupils in a New York High School.  Hunter took a new pen-name for this series as he was advised that publishing crime fiction under the Hunter name could dilute his success; arguably he went on to achieve even greater popularity as an author as McBain.

Cop Hater is set at the height of a sweltering summer – everyone is suffering from the heat and humidity, even the cops – especially as they know that with the heat comes open windows, raised tempers, and more crime for them to deal with.  The novel starts with a man getting up to go to work on the evening shift. But he’ll never get there – for a gunman shoots him in the back of the head. The corpse is no ordinary  body either – ‘Mike Reardon was a cop‘.

Steve Carella leads the investigation which faces difficulties from the outset as there were virtually no clues.  Then events take on a more frenzied turn when another cop is murdered, and then a third.  It must be a ‘cop hater’ – who will be next? Carella is then put in a difficult situation when a journalist prints Carella’s off the record remarks and puts his girlfriend in danger leading to a final twist that I never saw coming.

The drama is backed up by wonderful descriptions of solid policework, taking casts of footprints, blood typing and spatter analysis – telling us how its done without being too heavy-handed, (remember this is the 1950s, so no DNA testing or computers here).  Anyone who’s seen the later TV series  Hill Street Blues, or NYPD Blue will be able to picture the squadroom, complete with typewriters, and the bar separating the desks at the entrance.  Carella is  a solid, dependable and likeable detective with a surprisingly tender side to him in his relationship with Teddy, his girlfriend.  The other policemen are also well-drawn and complementary, and those who survive will come to the fore in some subsequent novels.  I definitely want to read more 87th Precinct novels. (8/10)

I bought this book.  For another review read Jenny’s at Shelf-love.

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Cop Hater by Ed McBain


8 thoughts on “The start of another great crime novel series

  1. Glad you liked this !
    Haven’t read a McBain in years but I spotted that the library has a whole shelf (must have been reprinted recently) so it’s maybe time to reaquaint myself with Carella and co.
    They always make me think of Hill Street Blues too – loved that series!

  2. I think having seen and loved Hill Street Blues, I was bound to love this too. The ensemble cast making a conglomerate hero was a winner on screen and page.

    I’ve got about half a dozen more in the TBR pile, mostly later ones though – so not sure whether to try and find some more earlier ones before reading these, as it might spoil the continuity of the squadroom for me.

  3. If you can find some of the earlier ones it might make sense.
    Although they don’t all feature the same characters to the same degree, I seem to recall some references back to previous books which could cause a degree of confusion.
    Having said that, there are an awful lot to work on!

  4. I have never heard of this author (sometimes the fact I say this so often in peoples comments actually worries me a little) or the novel but it does sound rather interesting. I am in a funny place with crime at the moment as I think I might have over binged and only a few of rather a lot I have read of late have really stood out. Not quite sure if this would be stand out for me or not, it may be worth a try at somepoint to find out.

    • Simon – I’m going back to the beginnings – not reading the latest crime novels, but exploring the ones written some years ago that have influenced today’s crime authors. The best of the previous generation or two’s crime fiction is proving to be wonderful.

      (That said, I do have the new Sophie Hannah waiting for me at the end of March and my TBR commitment.)

  5. An interesting fact is that McBain/Hunter’s real name was Salvatore Lombino. He changed it early on because he believed at the time that there was prejudice against Italian American writers in the publishing business. Gay Talese wrote a long piece about this in, I think, The NY Times a few years ago.

    Also, McBain used to come into a bookstore I managed in New York City every time a new book of his was released. He would sign tons of books and personalize them for the Booksellers with a little drawing in each one. He was a great guy and a great crime writer.

    • Wow – nice guy! I shall definitely be reading more of the 87th precinct books. I knew about his pseudonym of his pseudonym – I always think that’s a shame when writers choose a pen-name for those reasons – but I can see it made good business sense at the time.

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