I'm sure that in one of my more recent 87th Precinct reviews, I mentioned that I was distressed by the increasing bitterness and hard-heartedness of Bert Kling. In Doll, it's got to the point where Lieutenant Byrnes has had enough of Kling's style of policing; he's a bad apple and the mood and performance of the precinct is suffering because of him.
Steve Carella, being the impressive human being he is, intervenes and persuades his boss to let him take Kling under his wing. One last chance, if you like.
The case they take on is of the brutal murder of a beautiful model while her daughter was sitting in the next room overhearing it all. The murder is slow and violent, an almost literal death by a thousand cuts and we get to experience every slice through McBain's vivid description.
When they find the little girl, she's clutching her doll. As typical with an 87th, this may be the doll of the title, but there's another surprising one that will be revealed later on in the plot.
Kling and Carella go off together and, true to form, Kling makes a hash of it. Not even Carella can maintain a professional approach with Kling in tow, so he cuts him loose. Heated and frank words are exchanged as the two separate, words that will haunt Kling as the story develops.
Now he's alone and has the space to think, Carella continues the investigation and solves the case.
Normally, this would be the end of the book, but here it's only a new beginning.
There's a major twist in this one. A huge turn of events that really did stop me breathing for a few moments. The shock almost had me crying out, but I was on a train to Newcastle, so I supressed it and stopped reading for a while as the development sank in.
Thankfully, with a little bit of thought and application of my own reader skills, it all fell into place and it was only a few pages later that I knew I could continue without feeling sick, not that the book gets any less exciting. There are still events and sharp corners to turn that keep the pace of the story quick and the intensity of the white-knuckle ride high.
Doll will stand out as a favourite of the series when I finally get to the end, I'm pretty sure of that. Everything about it works and I was especially pleased to get a sense that maybe Kling is on the way to recovery.
When I finished, a particular episode of Starsky And Hutch came to mind (one I saw over forty years ago, I imagine). If you read it or have done so, I wonder if it will be/was the same for you. I'd be interested to hear.
Anyway, this book is tops and I'm going in for more by heading straight for Eighty Million Eyes.
And for another opinion, check out the HARK podcast.
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