The Last Best Hope

As Ed McBain and Evan Hunter, the author of THE LAST BEST HOPE has written close to one hundred novels. He has also been the recipient of almost every honor that can be bestowed on a crime writer, including the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America and the Diamond Dagger Award of the British Crime Writers’ Association. Surely, a mild case of burnout would be understandable at this stage of McBain’s career, and the hints that he is with this book terminating the Matthew Hope series might lead readers to suspect that something of that sort has indeed developed. Such suspicions would, however, be unfounded. THE LAST BEST HOPE finds McBain in excellent form. He remains one of the most reliable entertainers now writing crime fiction in America.

The plot is pleasantly complex, but McBain is always in control. What looks like straightforward legal work, arranging the terms of a divorce, is complicated by the fact that the husband’s whereabouts are unknown. Things become still more complicated when the corpse found bearing the missing husband’s identification turns out to be somebody else. What gradually emerges involves the cup from which Socrates is alleged to have drunk the hemlock, a plot to steal said cup from a provincial museum, a conspiracy of amateur and professional thieves, a heavy dose of homicide, and a fair amount of kinky sex.

McBain even manages to introduce what could easily become a gimmick without descending to the gimmicky. In the course of his investigations, Hope enlists the aid of the detectives of the 87th precinct, the focus of another, even better known, series by McBain. It is the mark of a master that McBain brings this off without for a moment becoming cute. As incidental amusements, the book also offers some sly observations on detective stories that feature cats and rueful reflections on the relative obscurity of the scriptwriters of Hollywood movies. Do you know who wrote THE BIRDS? (Evan Hunter)

In short, THE LAST BEST HOPE admirably reflects the craft and confidence of a consummate pro. It is unthinkable that any McBain fan would pass this one by. It is probable that the number of McBain fans is about to increase.