(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ed McBain’s taut, punchy style and roster of well-developed characters have made his tales of the 87th Precinct among the best known and most popular of current detective novels. Chronicling the harsh reality of police work in a big city with unflinching attention to detail, the series has developed an audience of longtime readers who have followed the characters’ lives over several decades. McBain specializes in snappy dialogue that both establishes character traits and captures the camaraderie among the members of the precinct.

TRICKS, as its title suggests, is set on Halloween, and all the cases under investigation involve masquerades and trickery of one kind or another. Detective Eileen Burke spends the night working undercover as a prostitute, searching for a vicious killer, while detectives Meyer and Carella set out in pursuit of a gang of robbers described by their victims as young children in Halloween costumes. Before the long night is over, Detective Hawes will find himself involved in the strange case of Sebastiani the Great, a magician who seems to have vanished into thin air. Adding a grisly note to the proceedings is the appearance of human body parts scattered throughout the city.

McBain maintains a high level of suspense throughout the book by crosscutting the threads of its several plot lines, dropping one story in favor of another at key points in the action. TRICKS intersperses police business with the ongoing events of its characters’ private lives, a technique which allows character development to occur naturally as the mechanics of the story unfold. It is a novel which will not disappoint McBain’s loyal fans, and its skillful construction and tongue-in-cheek humor should please newcomers to the 87th Precinct who admire a good, tough mystery well told.