The Big Bad City

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct mysteries evoke the gritty urban reality of a city like New York as they follow the precinct’s detectives through violence and murder. McBain starts The Big Bad City as he does many of his mysteries, with an attention-grabbing scene. Here, it is a knife fight in a holding cell that ends with the knife-wielder’s death. McBain then skillfully weaves together three separate threads: the murder of a woman found strangled in a park, a burglar who leaves chocolate-chip cookies at the scene, and the stalking of Detective Steve Carella by the man who killed his father.

Detectives Carella and Artie Brown pursue the homicide, discovering that the woman is a nun who has recently had breast augmentation surgery, suggesting that her past might have caught up with her. Carella goes about his business unaware that a thug named Sonny is tailing him, bent on killing Carella before the detective kills him. Meanwhile, Detectives Meyer Meyer and Bert Kling try to find the Cookie Boy, whose simple burglaries take a turn for the worse.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this complicated plot could confuse and bore the reader, but in McBain’s capable hands, the vividly drawn scenes hold a reader’s interest until the end. McBain continues to create the standard for the police procedural.