Ed McBain Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ed McBain’s fifty-plus 87th Precinct novels rank him among the most prolific authors of police procedurals. Acclaimed the best in this genre by, among others, the Mystery Writers of America, McBain won a Grand Masters Award in 1986. His knowledge of police methods was thorough and convincing; the 87th Precinct novels focus on them with a ruthless economy that adds to their excitement, information, and entertainment. In spite of this singular concentration, McBain nevertheless managed to present his readers with several plausible, three-dimensional—though never complex, profound, or overpowering—characters who operate in an otherwise largely implied, lightly sketched and labeled urban landscape. McBain’s special skill lay in his keen depiction of these characters as trackers and the unwavering quality of his narrative gaze. A major contribution of the 87th Precinct series to the genre has been to establish the ensemble detectives scenario in the popular consciousness. Long before the television series Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)—which many readers believe was based on McBain’s series—the detectives of the 87th Precinct set the standard for intelligent police procedural featuring a group cast. In addition, McBain’s Matthew Hope series, begun in 1978 and concluded in 1998, as well as suspense and mystery novels written outside the two series, furnish the genre with many compelling, complex, and involving works.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Anderson, Patrick. The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. New York: Random House, 2007. Anderson praises McBain, saying he was prolific and produced quality works that evoked New York City.

Dove, George N. The Boys from Grover Avenue: Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Novels. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985. Though an old resource, this book is focused on McBain’s best-selling series.

Landrum, Larry. American Mystery and Detective Novels. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999. A thorough critical analysis of the American wing of the genre. Details McBain’s seminal role in the development of the police procedural.

McBain, Ed. The Official Site: Ed McBain. http://www.edmcbain.com. The official Web site of Ed McBain. Offers many interesting links to interviews and other sources. A complete bibliography (no small feat) accompanies a short biography.

Stasio, Marilyn. “Evan Hunter, Writer Who as Ed McBain Created Police Procedural, Dies at Seventy-eight.” The New York Times, July 7, 2005, p. B10. Obituary summarizes Hunter’s career, focusing on his popular 87th Precinct series and noting his Matthew Hope series and early success. Describes some of his private life as well.

Vicarel, Jo Ann. A Reader’s Guide to the Police Procedural. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995. A helpful source for short entries. Covers 271 writers and more than one thousand titles, including Ed McBain and many of his novels.