Saturday 5 March 2022

One Man's Opinion: AX by ED McBAIN

'Uptown, in a slum basement, one cop missed death by four inches and another cop missed staying alive by four inches.'

When there's a reading slump here in the Bird house, I can usually rely on Ed McBain and the fighting 87th to shake me out of it. Ax certainly helped in that respect, watering barren landscapes to produce a brief flowering of enthusiasm for books. I'm hoping the plants will last all year, but am equally ready for the bloom to disappear as if it's a momentary oasis in a desert. 

As the title suggests, there's an axe (I'm adding the e out of habit, not to be obtuse) in this one. And there's a corpse that has been savaged by said axe. It's that of a janitor found in a dingy basement and it's not a pretty sight.

The discovery of the body leads Carella through a series of encounters with mothers and their children. There's the wood-chopping Sam and Mrs Whitson, the agoraphobic son of the janitor who stays at home to look after the vulnerable new widow, the curious boy and the nosey neighbour Mrs Moscowitz and the wonderful Mrs Teddy Carella and their own kids. This series of meeting provides the background to the story as interesting vignettes, but the investigation doesn't really kick in until these foundations have been laid. 

In the course of this novel we meet a great cast: ex cons, an informer, a bunch of veterans from the Spanish-American war, a psychiatrist and a bent cop. Each set piece is well handled, all the more so because Carella and Hawes take the lead, and allows us to circle the case without nailing anything down.

As the number of pages diminishes and a solution seems as far away as ever, there's a bolt from the blue. My initial feeling was one of being cheated- all the legwork and the stories and the answer falls into their lap (something that happens from time-to-time with the 87th). Only it doesn't and the false conclusion is yet another satisfying twist in the tale. 

Thanks go out to Ed McBain for bringing another dose of sanity into a crazy world. Well worth the read.   

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