Hark!, the 54th novel in Ed McBain’s ever-popular 87th precinct series, brings back the mysterious “Deaf Man” to taunt everyone at the station with cryptic letters of his plans to murder and perhaps cause widespread disaster. He particularly wants to outwit Steve Carella, but the entire squad has become his private obsession.
The notes to Carella are complex puzzles, often quotations from Shakespeare and/or baffling anagrams and palindromes whose meaning is unclear even when eventually deciphered, except that something bad will occur soon, and nearby.
The reader sees something of the Deaf Man in action, as he calmly shoots a woman who had double-crossed him in a thirty million dollar theft. He subsequently takes in another woman, who may or may not be able to resist his plans for her. As master criminals go, he has his attractions. Will he or will he not ever be caught?
In the midst of all this, perhaps what is most appealing about the novel is the glimpse into the personal lives of the recurring cast of police officers. “Fat Ollie,” from a neighboring precinct, is more sympathetic than ever despite his coarseness and prejudices. Bert is having an affair with a female newscaster who is almost killed by a sniper. Two other detectives begin a romance. Steve Carella is in total disarray because both his mother and his sister are getting married, in a double wedding no less, to men whom Carella has reasons to dislike and resent.
Hark! is one of McBain’s shorter novels, and less intense than many, but still enjoyable.