Evan Hunter Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Evan Hunter 1926–

(Born S. A. Lombino; also writes under pseudonym of Ed McBain; has also written under pseudonyms of Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, and Richard Marsten) American novelist, scriptwriter, short story writer, dramatist, and critic.

Hunter's works of popular fiction explore such family-oriented topics as parent-child relationships, love, and individual responsibility and such social issues as drug abuse, gang violence, and war. Under the pseudonym Ed McBain, Hunter is widely known for his realistic crime novels that center on a fictional urban police precinct. Although Hunter has maintained a large and faithful readership throughout his career, his work has yet to receive much serious critical attention.

Hunter published many short stories and science fiction works early in his career, but The Blackboard Jungle (1954) earned him his initial critical attention. This novel is based on Hunter's own experiences as an English teacher in a New York City vocational high school. The protagonist is a young, idealistic teacher whose enthusiasm is nearly turned to apathy by the indifferent attitude and lack of motivation of his students. The popular success of The Blackboard Jungle, still considered by some critics to be Hunter's finest work, helped foster greater understanding of the problems of teenage delinquency. The novel was adapted for film in 1955. In Sons (1969), another critically acclaimed novel, both world wars and the Vietnam conflict affect three generations of a midwestern American family. Critics contend that Hunter's depiction of America's rise to power—and the consequences of obtaining such power—evokes a poignant sense of history. In Streets of Gold (1974), another multi-generational novel, Hunter's narrative is focused on an Italian immigrant family and their search for the American dream at the expense of their old-world values. Although some critics noted an abundance of clichés and stock situations in this work, others found Streets of Gold rich in moralistic themes and praised Hunter's ironic depiction of happiness and prosperity in America.

Some critics maintain that Hunter has written his best fiction as Ed McBain. His series of detective novels, collectively titled The 87th Precinct Series, are commended for their authentic portrayal of urban crime prevention. Although there are recurring characters in these novels, most critics consider the precinct itself to be the most recognizable feature of the series. Another notable aspect of these books is the absence of the stereotyped detective common in crime fiction; unlike most other detectives, Hunter's investigators exhibit basic human traits and frailties. Although some critics view the later McBain novels as marginal in comparison to the earlier works, chiefly because they revolve around sensational sex crimes and grisly murders, Hunter is considered one of the most creative and original writers in the genre.

(See also CLC, Vol. 11; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5; Something about the Author, Vol. 25; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982.)

Nathan Rothman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Evan Hunter's "The Blackboard Jungle" is the most realistic account I have ever read of life in a New York City vocational high school. I can testify to its accuracy, having had some years of experience in one of them, as has Mr. Hunter. His novel more than matches the sensations in some of the stories we have seen recently, in newspapers that have become happily school-conscious. But it is free of their distortions and dishonesty; it makes no easy moral assumptions nor does it arrive at righteous judgments. Mr. Hunter's North Manual Trades High—it is fairly typical—is a complex organism, the resultant of many forces, economic facts, social emotions, hostilities, suspicions. It can, if it is not to be considered...

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Barbara Klaw

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Blackboard Jungle" is that rare combination—a problem novel in which both the problem and the novel are intensely interesting and in which both elements are blended so skillfully as to be inseparable.

Evan Hunter's problem is New York vocational schools, where, as he presents it, all the students who are not intelligent enough to qualify for academic high schools are shunted by the city. The author, who has himself taught in one of these schools, gives a shocking picture of dullness, profanity, disrespect and violence among both the students and the faculty. "This is the garbage can of the educational system," one of the older teachers told Richard Dadier during his first day's work as an...

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Stanley Cooperman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The good surface realism of "The Blackboard Jungle" hides its lack of depth. Hunter lays to rest for all time the notion that high-school teaching is simply a white-collar job with "short hours and long vacations." Education, for thousands of boys in New York City, is often a violent hypocrisy, prime examples of which are the "trade schools" set up as depositories for the unmanageables of the academic school system.

The original reason for establishing these schools was sound enough: adolescents who could not, for a variety of psychological and social reasons, profit from academic education should be given the opportunity to learn useful skills. But the schools swiftly degenerated. Relegated to the...

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James Kelly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In its simplest terms, "Second Ending" covers the step-by-step disintegration of a trumpet player named Andy Silvera who has become a hopeless hophead. The theme is what happened and how, not the why. Now in his last days, Andy is full of promises to kick the habit and get back in shape for a job audition. Alternating between exultation and despair, emotional anguish and abnormal lucidity, his is a tortured soul….

Any reader whose personal experience has touched the arena where drugs and music come together will soon accept the clinical, fascinating truth of Mr. Hunter's details. This truth extends beyond the authentic jargon of jive talk or addict talk to the overwhelming human tragedy looming...

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Wilder Hobson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Second Ending" there] is nothing stereotyped or simply sensational in Hunter's portrait of the trumpet player Andy Sivera. It is a very human and moving achievement. When he comes for aid to the apartment of his old jazz band associate Bud Donato, who is now boning up for examinations at the College of the City of New York, the trumpeter talks of curing himself by the agonizing method he knows as "cold turkey" (stopping at once, no tapering off). Hunter almost immediately manages to suggest that this is very unlikely in Silvera's case. It proves all of that, despite the efforts of that harassed college boy and of two young women, one of whom has herself conquered heroin. The account of Sivera's final descent is...

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Robert C. Healey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With an abundance of compassion and clinical detail, [Hunter, in "Strangers When We Meet",]… has traced a year of tragic adultery by Larry Cole, thirty-one, free-lance architect, and Maggie Gault, twenty-seven, free-lance housewife….

Doggedly realistic most of the way, Hunter gives the whole book an oddly moralistic tone by plunging into a cloudy compound of philosophy and symbolism for his climactic sequence. Finally forced to decide between Maggie and his wife, Larry drives wildly through a shrieking tropical storm lashing New York. He broods on the meaning of his moments with Maggie. Was sex just "a sure thing in a world of uncertainties, an accomplishment in the world of unrealized dreams and...

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Riley Hughes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It was inevitable that Evan Hunter would turn his attention to the suburban development jungle. In his earlier novels problem and background were given equal attention—one seemed to grow out of the other. [In Strangers When We Meet] background is merely backdrop; the problem is everything. The predicament of the unfaithful husband occupies these 375 pages of shrill insistence. Perhaps a tract against lust is indeed intended. Still, there is such a ruthless portrayal of the stark realities of the problem that the moral fulcrum is lacking. The best indication of the spiritual poverty in the world Mr. Hunter displays here is that only a deus ex machina … solves the protagonist's dilemma….


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Anthony Boucher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["A Matter of Conviction" seems] intended, by both author and publisher, as a serious mainstream novel; and I hate to report that Hunter's commercial and pseudonymous paperbacks, especially those by "Ed McBain," are more satisfactory by any serious standards. The present book starts off well with a blunt account of a teen-gang killing in Harlem; but most of the novel is devoted to the agonizing of Harlem-born assistant D.A. Henry Bell, who must prosecute the case. The coincidences and improbabilities which arise to torment him might be tolerated in soap operas and the subtlety, validity and originality of his social thinking might just about do for that medium. But even the most credulous television audience, trained...

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James Sandoe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Til Death" is] the ninth of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct stories and as good as any of them. Its perturbation for Steve Carella is a threat sent to his brother-in-law on the day of his wedding. McBain's manipulation of a split-narrative mode in tracing the subsequent excitements is nimble, and although he has taken an easy-chancey way out plotwise to justify the multiple thrills, they seem genuine enough at the time and to a lot of people he has made us suitably worried about.

James Sandoe, in a review of "Til Death," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 20, 1959, p. 15.

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Anthony Boucher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ed McBain's "Til Death" … nobly upholds the traditions of the 87th Precinct: it is a fresh, human, humorous, exciting novel about a vivid and unusual situation—in this case a series of attempts to erase the bridegroom during a wedding and the following reception…. McBain tells a fine suspense story (despite one coincidence too many for purists) while giving an almost anthropological report on an American folk institution.

Anthony Boucher, in a review of "Til Death," in The New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1959, p. 26.

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Anthony Boucher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "King's Ransom"] here am I once more saying, "McBain has done it again."

Praise of a consistently admirable performer must get monotonous and even boring. If you're tired of reading here about McBain, the best remedy is simply to drop this paper and start in reading the book itself. This one's about a kidnaping, with quite a number of fresh variations on the Big Snatch theme. It's as immediate and convincing as any of the 87th precinct tales, and a little more (in the best sense) theatrical than most. The book is powerful and compelling; and one looks forward to a dramatic version that might be even more so.

Anthony Boucher, in a review of "King's Ransom,"...

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James Sandoe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Ed McBain's 87th Precinct when you "Give the Boys a Great Big Hand" … it's human, of course, and turns up in a small suitcase without the rest of the body. The inquiry that follows makes for as good a tale as any McBain has spun in his lively, lengthening series. The mode is procedural and the company includes, of course, a number of old acquaintances including Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes…. The precinct, the city, some curiously contradictory evidence about a stripteaser, an episode in a crowded men's shop, a garrulous landlady are all elements in a muscular, laconic tale, the tenth item in a valuable account.

James Sandoe, in a review of "Give the Boys a Great Big...

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Anthony Boucher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Heckler" tells] how the boys of the Eighty-seventh Precinct worked vigorously and valiantly—and failed to prevent or to punish a singularly daring crime which laid waste a large part of the city…. Despite a number of promising leads, the precinct cops never quite reached [the criminal] (our good friend Steve Carella getting himself nearly killed in the final flight and pursuit.)… Fortunately, the Eighty-seventh is so warmly established in our affections by now that we can find an account of such frustration as fascinating as any of their triumphs, especially when it is told with all McBain's gift for easy naturalism and vivid color.

Anthony Boucher, in a review of...

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Anthony Boucher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

McBain, fortunately, is not concerned with writing according to the McBain formula, and can sometimes depart from it almost entirely. This latest ["See Them Die"] is not a detective exploit of the 87th Precinct, but something close to a straight novel about life in the precinct, in which the police are among the characters. A bigtime Puerto Rican hood, half-despised, half-idolized by his compatriots, is hiding out from the law. The spectacular police siege of his hideaway serves as dramatic focus for a number of other plots, including an oddly realistic love story and an attempted teen-age killing. The action is tight-packed into a couple of sharply illuminating hours.


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Al Morgan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Evan Hunter is a man of many talents and many names. As Ed McBain, he is writing the most authentic squad-room thrillers since Sidney Kingsley researched "Detective Story." You may have read him as Richard Marsten. A couple of other aliases tag his science-fiction and paperback and pulp output. Under the parent name, Evan Hunter, he has written what he must consider his serious novels … "The Blackboard Jungle," "Second Ending," "Strangers When We Meet" and "A Matter of Conviction."

Whether he is writing the whodunit, the potboiler, the pulp or the serious novel, he is a thoroughly professional writer: a "pro." His style has drive, pace, tempo and authenticity.

All of these virtues...

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Victor P. Hass

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mothers and daughters who manage to speak to each other without the urge to kill are going to love this novel because it will make them feel so good.

If you can believe Evan Hunter, there can't be many mothers and daughters who enjoy what we like to think of as a normal, happy relationship. Indeed, he wasn't able to find any, and ["Mothers and Daughters"] is a ghastly parade of intolerably messed up people with tormented psyches and quivering ids.

Incidentally, the title is woefully incomplete. It would have been closer to the mark if it had been "Mothers and Daughters and Sons and Husbands and Assorted Slobs," or something of the sort….

The novel covers 20 years...

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Anne Keehan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although it gets off to a slow start, "Paper Dragon" does develop into a quite interesting story of a five-day plagiarism trial. As a novel, though, there are shortcomings which do not permit me to give unqualified praise, although the author is consistent within his own style of presentation. Evan Hunter is an extremely prolific writer who has turned out six novels under his own name, as well as many pseudonymous works and short stories. Perhaps the best known of these is the "Blackboard Jungle." As is perhaps typical with a consistent producer of fiction, acclaim has been spotty. Hunter's books have been appraised alternately as authentically powerful, melodramatic, cliché ridden. "Paper Dragon" has elements of the...

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Kirkus Service

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Grant that the designation is ours rather than the author's or publisher's—[A Horse's Head] is a light comedy of male menopause. It would make a fine movie vehicle, motor-governed to Jack Lemmon's speed and it's lots lighter and brighter than Hunter's big sellers that went to Hollywood—The Blackboard Jungle and Strangers When We Meet. It's all about the killingly scheduled hours in the life of Mullaney who was standing on the corner of 14th Street down to his last few cents, with a hot tip on a horse called Jawbone and no place to raise the money for a bet, when along comes this limousine … Mullaney had been abducted by a Mafia-esque mob that needed a stand-in for a corpse. From there on...

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Frank N. Jones

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[A Horse's Head] is a lively, fast-moving tale of big-time robbery in New York City recounted by the innocent victim of an abortive plot to spirit the loot out of the country with a genuine corpse. Instead of becoming the corpse, the narrator has two days of whirlwind chases and hair-breadth escapes from Newark to the lower East Side to the Bronx to the Aqueduct race track…. In the end, when the harassed narrator, who is in fact a book salesman on a year's gambling junket, gets trapped by the crooks, he tosses in his chips and goes back to the loving wife he deserted to make a killing with the big-time gamblers. He is a sort of poor man's James Bond character, and Mr. Hunter combines features of O. Henry,...

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Katherine Gauss Jackson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Last Summer is a] slow-building but compelling story that begins innocently enough with an idyll involving three bright and funny young people—two teenage boys and a girl just turned sixteen—and a seagull on a summer-resort seashore island. The shocking end of that episode should prepare one a little, though not entirely, for what comes later when a new girl joins the three. It is an unforgettable—and highly sophisticated—story, for all its apparent simplicity, of young love and explosive violence, which tells as much about the moderately rich, pleasure-seeking, middle-class adult life that shaped them as it does about the young themselves. It's not a pretty story but once started on it I don't think...

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John D. Foreman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Novels of any real significance are rare these days. The role of the artist, or the poet, or the novelist as a social commentator doesn't seem to be appreciated. The most effective and the most trenchant comment has often been the least "acceptable" to the "establishment". "Sons" can be an important exception to this observation since it is a powerful novel that says something about the chronic problems that retard the pursuit of the American Dream. Evan Hunter, who has previously enlightened darkened corners of our society in such novels as "The Blackboard Jungle," has now put together an outstanding new work that examines some of our problems as they have appeared to three generations of an American family. (pp....

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Richard P. Brickner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

To read "Sons" is to read the just-published work of a serious novelist in a Joan Crawford movie. It covers thousands of miles and more than 60 years while unfolding the story of a 20th-century American family over three generations. But it is no mere rugged epic. It has an intellectual frame, like horn-rimmed glasses. Wat, Will and Bert Tyler take turns narrating the novel in the continuously repeated sequence of son, father, grandfather. This is meant to expose ironic twistings in the family line—and, or so one would have thought, differences between the narrators' voices. But the voices are one voice, and it belongs to one thousand writers. Its timbre is no less glib for being earnest as hell….


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William B. Hill, S. J.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Evan Hunter has a good sense of structure, he can write a lively scene with realistic dialogue, and he can keep a plot in motion; nevertheless, his "Nobody Knew They Were There" is curiously out of focus. It is a futuristic sort of book with only contemporary relevance and very poor projection, a realistic sort of parable that fails in realism though it has its moments of strength as a parable.

It starts off with a man about to blow up a bridge. He manages to project the image of fearless, practical secret agent but it is a fragile image. His co-conspirators, amateurish though they are, find him out rather quickly. They merely wanted him, in the time of the novel which is some few years from now, to...

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Louis D. Mitchell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Streets of Gold," by Evan Hunter, is a novel which encircles the character Ignazio Silvio di Palermo who is also called Iggie, Ike, Blind Ike, and Dwight Jamison. This blind pianist was born in Harlem in 1926, one fourth of a century after his Italian grandfather emigrated from a little southern Italian village. He came, like so many others, in order to make his way on and over New York City's "gold paved" streets. The grandfather of this briefly idolized pianist wanted to return home; but Grandfather never managed to journey home to his beloved and often-dreamed-of Italy. He married Teresa and what with the many years and all the babies—along with her family that naturally became his own—La Vicinanza evolved...

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Jean M. White

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

McBain's forte is his ability to evoke the atmosphere of big-city streets and the workaday world of a police squadroom. In Bread …, the familiar faces of the 87th Precinct are investigating arson in a fire that gutted a warehouse jammed with a half-million dollars worth of miniature wooden animals. This lilliputian menagerie leads to a tale of greed, double-dealing, a real estate firm and love nest in the black ghetto, and some very unpleasant characters and facts…. McBain not only solves an exciting case but, as always, captures a feeling for the problems of everyday law enforcement on the streets.

Jean M. White, "The Case of the Cornflake Crunch," in Book...

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The New Yorker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Streets of Gold" is a] pop epic that takes the form of a family history and autobiography by Iggie Di Palermo—in later years known as Dwight Jamison—a blind jazz pianist who rises from a New York slum and attains stardom briefly in the fifties and sixties…. At times, Iggie speaks of the confusion of someone who has exchanged his ethnic past for an Anglicized "American" illusion; since Mr. Hunter is also of Italian blood, the book can be read as a disguised search for the author's own roots. The scenes of tenement life are warm, witty, and accurate-sounding, yet tend toward coarseness and violence…. When we come to Iggie's decline, which hinges on a bit of standard adultery, the familiarity of his story...

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James R. Frakes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The country may not be exactly drooling with hunger for another novel about "Westering," but Evan Hunter, in his 17th book ["The Chisholms"], evokes some freshness from the tritest materials and focuses our concern on complex, often perverse, human beings rather than on the vacuous panoramic vista that too often dominates this genre. When the Chisholm family pull out of barren Virginia in 1844 and head doggedly for the promised land, they do not automatically become archetypes, rendered featureless by the author's grim determination to make some Big Statement about the pioneering spirit of our hardy forefathers or how Noble Women Helped to Win the West. (p. 42)

This family may be the center of the...

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Julian Symons

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The first of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct stories, "Cop Hater," appeared in 1956, and for a while he published two or three tales about the Precinct each year…. Mr. McBain did not invent the police procedural story, in which the investigation of a crime is shown as it is handled by a police department, but his books are among the best in the field.

This is chiefly because Mr. McBain has succeeded in making his detectives distinct individuals. Steve Carella, who appears most frequently, marries the beautiful deaf and mute Teddy in "Cop Hater." Cotton Hawes, who has a white streak in his hair and was named for Cotton Mather, plays the feminine field; Meyer Meyer had a father who thought the double name...

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Jean M. White

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ghosts], Ed McBain's latest 87th Precinct mystery (the 34th), has a new twist for the many fans of this long-running police procedural series. Can you imagine Steve Carella, the hard-nosed cop experienced in the routine of tracking down criminals in a grimy big city, going off with a psychic to a New England haunted house?…

The spooky scene in an abandoned summer cottage (yes, Carella does see ghosts) is scary enough. Yet, it's a strange interlude. Carella and McBain are much more convincing on their big-city turf. In the end, it's slogging police work that turns up to the clues to the killer. Ghosts is middle-grade McBain but far superior to last year's Calypso with its kinky...

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Stanley Ellin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There's a high degree of magic in a novel when you now and then find yourself so acutely frustrated by the self-destructive behavior of a character in it that you want to grab him by the shoulders and shake sense into him. Or her. Nor is the frustration eased by your awareness that of course this behavior stems from the very nature of the character and has a terrible inevitability.

Evan Hunter's Love, Dad has that magic. A long book but never a dull one, it deals with a segment of comparatively recent social history—the upsurge of youth against the parental Establishment under the impetus of the Vietnam conflict—which even in retrospect has the power to hit a good many nerves.


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Ivan Gold

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Born "Lombino" in New York City in 1926, Evan Hunter, under that pseudonym and the further noms de plume of Hunt Collins, Richard Marsten and Ed McBain, has published upward of 60 books of fiction since 1952, which should make him one of America's most prolific authors over the past 30 years. Lately, without greatly affecting production, Marsten and Collins have dropped from the picture. But in the banner year of 1956, all four were represented, McBain weighing in with three thrillers and Hunter contributing a collection of stories as well as a novel, for a total of seven full-length works.

One could more easily accept this kind of productivity from pornographers or pulp writers, but Mr....

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Jean M. White

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Heat] demonstrates why McBain, even when he is not at the top of his form, still writes the best American police procedurals.

The McBain hallmarks are there: dogged police leg-work, crisp dialogue, Q. and A. transcripts with the ring of authenticity, detectives who have become human beings with personal lives, victims and murderers lifted full-bodied from big-city streets, and sinewy, taut prose.

In Heat, Steve Carella, the quiet, steady man of the 87th Precinct regulars, investigates the apparent suicide of an alcoholic commercial artist. But Carella is bothered by some nagging questions. Why did the victim turn off the air-conditioner in the midst of a sweltering...

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Bill Greenwell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A maudlin score of violins has maundered down the scale. 'Well then,' admits the officer in charge, 'the airplanes got him.' But our hero has another theory: 'Ohhh no. It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.' And thus the last, melancholy seconds of King Kong surrender to the credits. Ed McBain, effortless progenitor of so many mutilations, amputations, and general spiller of the common corpuscles, is up to the third in his new sequence of novels [with Beauty and the Beast]. They are 'based' upon fairytales (the last two were Goldilocks and Rumpelstiltskin), although most of the original plot is cheerily jettisoned…. But if the Beast unfairly cops it in King Kong,...

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Helen Rogan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Evan Hunter writes the kind of reliable engrossing novel that is a welcome sight in the paperback racks at airports and bus stations. The police procedurals he's written under the name of Ed McBain, and his popular novels, which include The Blackboard Jungle, Strangers When We Meet, and Love, Dad, are sometimes slick or overwritten, but always readable. In Far From the Sea, he's done it again, but he's chosen to work with a most dismal set of circumstances….

Hunter's interest is primarily in his characters—their reflexes, preoccupations, foibles. Instead of dumping stereotypes into a situation, he shows how the small details animate people: the relatives gathered every day...

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Richard Freedman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hooked into a cat's cradle of life-sustaining apparatus, few of us today can hope, with Keats, for an "easeful Death" in which we "cease upon the midnight with no pain"—to say nothing of the humiliation of having tubes jammed into every available orifice. So thanks to the marvels of modern medical science, it takes Morris Weber, the moribund central figure of Evan Hunter's 17th novel ["Far From the Sea"], a full Monday-to-Friday workweek in which to die, following a colostomy. And thanks to Evan Hunter's keen reportorial eye, we're with him all the way, or at least with his son, David, who has flown down to Miami from his New York law practice to be at his father's bedside.

Approaching 50, David...

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Jonathan Coleman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I must be one of the unfortunate few who have never read Ed McBain before. He has written more than 60 novels—including those under his real name, Evan Hunter—and that is clearly impressive in itself. But more important is the fact that his work is good and entertaining—something I am pleased finally to discover for myself….

[In "Ice"], "the Eight-Seven" must solve the murders of Sally Anderson, a dancer in a hit musical; Paco Lopez, a teen-age cocaine dealer; and Marvin Edelman, a precious-gems dealer, among other things. There is only one common link in these cases: A .38 Smith & Wesson is the murder weapon. As Detectives Carella, Meyer, Kling et al. begin looking for other connections,...

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Robin W. Winks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ice] is grim stuff, as McBain usually is. By now McBain has the 87th Precinct down pat: he could probably write in his sleep. But then Arnold Bennett wrote a good bit of his prose in his sleep too, and if a writer really knows his craft, there surely comes a time when it is possible to coast. Ice begins with a seemingly senseless killing on a New York City street—not a novel idea—and moves through the underworlds of drugs, diamond smuggling, and a scam involving theater tickets, with the usual patented McBain ease, in which real people sound like real people. In the classic mystery every detail counts, or may be assumed to count; with McBain, as with real life, there is an enormous amount of what...

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David Lehman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ed McBain is an acknowledged master of the detective subgenre known as the police procedural, and in "Ice" he returns us to the Detective Division of the 87th Precinct in Isola. That imaginary metropolis bears more than a passing resemblance to New York City, McBain's hometown. Like its more than two dozen predecessors in the 87th Precinct series, "Ice" features a conglomerate hero—in this case, officers Carella, Meyer, Kling and Brown. Their ethnic identities correspond, in one of McBain's many comic asides, to the sandwiches they eat for lunch: sausage and peppers on a roll, hot pastrami on rye, tuna on white and ham on toasted whole wheat, respectively.

Three apparently unrelated homicides put...

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Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "The McBain Brief"] the creator of the famed 87th Precinct gives us eight stories with policemen…. Also included are an amusing story about a con man who gets conned ("Hot Cars"), a private eye mini-whodunit ("Death Flight") and a miscellany of other amusements, including a case of infanticide and one of fratricide. Mostly, the violence is by men against women, but there's one ruthless female here. The stories vary in merit—a few are too predictable—but all entertain. The reader is drawn in from the start, and the pages seem to turn themselves.

A review of "The McBain Brief," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 224, No. 3, July 15, 1983, p. 43....

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John L. Stubing

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Through the years, Evan Hunter has written stories under a number of pseudonyms, including those of Richard Marsten and Hunt Collins. His most familiar nom de plume, is, however, that of Ed McBain. The McBain Brief is a collection of his short stories which were published at various times under other names….

This book isn't just an excuse for McBain to clean out his closets, though; it is a museum of an author in transition. Arranged in no apparent order, the stories reveal a writer in search of his style….

Occasionally, the rough edges show. As with any compilation, there is trash lurking among the treasure…. Some experiments simply don't work, while others...

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Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

McBain's new mystery [Jack and the Beanstalk] is another in the series featuring Florida lawyer Matthew Hope, a strong rival of the author's popular 87th precinct police series. Based on another macabre fairy tale burlesque, it is the story of Hope's young client, slain Jack McKinney, and his stolen fortune. And it's racy, intricate, well-crafted suspense.

A review of "Jack and the Beanstalk," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 225, No. 5, February 3, 1984, p. 398.

(The entire section is 70 words.)

Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Lizzie] Hunter has … produced a hybrid work that is not successful as a novel and only partially convincing as a detective story. Using the actual transcripts of the inquest and Lizzie Borden's trial in August 1892, he intersperses fictional flashbacks to Lizzie's trip to Europe two years previously, and comes up with a provocative theory to explain both the motivations and circumstances under which the murders were committed. The contrast between the actual and the invented material is so acute, however, that it is almost like reading two different books that do not fuse. Hunter's account of Lizzie's trip abroad amounts to a travelogue of London, Paris and the Riviera, full of local color and period...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Eugene A. Dooley, O.M.I.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Lizzie] is a retelling of the famous murder trial of a spinster girl of New England whose name has become immortalized in the four-line bit,

Lizzie Borden took an ax,
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

It would be wise to read the very last chapter of this bulky novel before embarking on page one, because Hunter admits he has mixed facts with lots of fiction. A reader may easily become befuddled at the way the story is told. The novel cleverly alternates the whole story between Fall River,...

(The entire section is 196 words.)

D. V. O'Brien

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The mystery novel has changed in many ways since 1900, and this Matthew Hope adventure [Jack and the Beanstalk] is a tour de force of the new genre. Hope, who has appeared in three earlier novels, is a long way from the omniscient Sherlock, and even from the suave, self-assured sleuths of the Forties. He is a lawyer with apparently an indifferent practice, and his former wife despises him…. He can't fight too well, and even an old country lawyer with diploma-mill credentials outfoxes him. Worst of all, he can't determine whodunnit without turning to the detective who also has to teach him that Marquis of Queensbury rules of pugilism are as archaic as his professional and romantic methods. Indeed, the...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Charles Michaud

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Lizzie] Hunter presents his case in chapters that alternate between the imagined story of Lizzie's seduction by a hedonistic English lady during an 1890 European tour and the almost verbatim court record of her 1893 murder trial. This approach is not always satisfying and at times seems a curious cross between a court stenographer's emotionally uninvolving transcript and a sexed-up version of Henry James. Yet the portrait of Lizzie that emerges is fascinating, ultimately sympathetic: a murderess yes, but the victim of the repression and sexual exploitation of her time.

Charles Michaud, in a review of "Lizzie," in Library Journal, Vol. 109, No. 11, June 15,...

(The entire section is 103 words.)

John House

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The case of Lizzie Borden] has inspired more than a dozen books, several plays, two television treatments, even a ballet. Like many of those before him who have been fascinated by the case, Evan Hunter [in "Lizzie"] comes away from his research with a theory, a handful of facts rounded out with supposition and the zealous conviction of the amateur sleuth who's cracked an elusive nut. Widely known for the police novels he has written as Ed McBain, Mr. Hunter is a keen analyst of criminal motive, and his reconstruction in the last chapter of Lizzie Borden's actions on the day her parents were slain is an intriguing piece of speculative history that makes for the best reading in the book. Unfortunately, the platform on...

(The entire section is 240 words.)