Monday 10 April 2023

One Man's Opinion: FUZZ by ED McBAIN

Following a series is an interesting thing. I think you build a sense of loyalty to an author and a set of characters that softens the critical eye. That's particularly the case when a series has a lot of entries. The 87th Precinct books were published between 1956 and 2005 and there aren't many that can claim such a span of time. The run is almost as long as that of Coronation Street and they're able to change writing teams when necessary. 

Fuzz was published in 1968 and at only 12 years into the process, it could be seen as a fairly early addition. 

This one interested me as it answered a question that raised itself after reading Doll. Doll is definitely one of my favourites and I wondered if that was because the quality of the writing and storytelling was simply getting better as McBain polished his craft and further understood those occupying his creations. Having read Fuzz, I think the answer has to be no. 

Here we have the return of the Deaf Man. Having read several of the Deaf Man books (because of my early random approach to the series) I was delighted to see him back on the scene. No doubt deep deeds, merriment and drama were to follow. Sadly, and perhaps because of the anticipation his presence spawned, I was slightly disappointed by this one. 

Things start strongly. The Deaf Man promises to kill a member of the city council if $5000 isn't left in a lunch pail on a park bench in a freezing cold Isola. The money is left and, true to his word, the assassination is carried out. 

A second request is made. This time, the council official is higher in the food chain and the demand is now ten times bigger than the first time round. 

 As things play out, a couple of decorators are painting the whole of the department a shade of apple green. As well as the walls, they're spraying phones, files and suits as they work and this is adding to the tension at the station. To make things worse, Byrnes is getting it in the neck and he's giving it back to anyone who fails in any aspect of the case they're following. 

Steve Carella isn't working the extortion case. He's dressed as a homeless man and is hoping to catch the perpetrators of burnings of homeless fold in the district. Things don't go well. 

While Carella sleeps in frozen doorways, the rest of the squad are following their only lead to the assassinations. They focus a lot on this and it's entertaining enough. The issue for me is that this line of investigation is clearly so removed from the Deaf Man that its momentum soon begins to fizzle. It's also a line that is crucial to the denouement of the story and becomes tangled up with the ending in such a way as to make it unsatisfactory. It's all too complicated and indirect. 

Not that Fuzz fails to entertain. There are plenty of excellent set-pieces, Meyer's visit to a sleazy pool hall for one. Some fun then, but for me it dragged its feet (the Miranda references tiring, aspects of the investigation heavy, a need to suspend some belief and perhaps too many of the squad being involved at once). Distinctly below par, a fractured plot, necessary reading for maintaining the streak and still worth checking out.  

Hear more from Hark  episode 22, Chewing A Donkey, where they're a lot more positive than me. 

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