Wednesday 27 September 2023

One Man's Opinion: JIGSAW by ED McBAIN

This was an interesting one for me. It brought two of my favourite things, the 87th Precinct books and Lt. Columbo, together in a way that I wasn't expecting. The blurb hinted at the connection, but it took me until the first illustration of the piece of a photograph to confirm that they were going to be very similar indeed. It took me a little more reading to realise that they were almost identical, the main difference been the switching of parts so that Columbo was now Detective Arthur Brown (or vice versa).

Essentially, two bodies are found and it's clear that they killed each other. There's not much to go on, the only strange thing being the oddly-shaped piece of a snapshot in the hands on one of the victims. 

In steps insurance investigator,  Irving Krutch (played by Ed Begley Jr in the Undecover episode from Falk's tenth season). He's up to speed on the photograph puzzle, owning a piece himself. When all the pieces are put together, it will lead to the finding of $750K stolen from a bank several years earlier. Krutch wants to find all the pieces to clear his reputation at work and suggests to Brown and Carella that they would make a good team. 

The problem for me is that I couldn't separate the book from the TV episode. My mind was constantly creating clashing images and any tension or attempts at problem-solving were undermined by knowing what was just around the corner. 

To complicate matters, I watched How To Dial A Murder, where I bumped into Ed Begley Jr again, this time in the role of a police officer. 

Trying to unscramble it all became impossible. Let me say that I love the Undercover episode and I also really enjoyed the book. 

There are only a few differences between the adaptation and the book as far as I can tell. 

First of all, the way the criminal is pinned down is totally altered. The TV version comes up with a slightly unlikely piece of detective work as it seemingly was unable to use the actual ending, possibly because of the potential for controversy. 

And second, and a big miss from the adaptation, there are the racist events that Brown encounters while doing his job (including a terrific observation from a prostitute who attempts to dig herself out of trouble by offering Brown oral sex, commenting that the colour of the male appendage makes no difference to her and contradicting her opening lines in the process- go check it out). To me, this tips the win to the novel and I'm sure if I'd read it before watching that this feeling might be even stronger. 

All in all, it was great to be back with the 87th again even if this isn't among the best; I'm already looking forward to the next.  

Saturday 23 September 2023



'Rico was a simple man. He loved but three things: homself, his hair and his gun. He took excellent care of all three.' 

Takes me back, this, to the days when Saturdays were black and white and to trips to the Scala cinema in Kings Cross where a double or triple bill of gangster movies ranked among my favourite passtimes.

All these years later, I've finally caught up and read the book. 

It's a terrific tale, always growing and moving forward, like Rico himself, written in a simple style that captures description and mood with plainspeak and aparent ease. 

Rico is rising through the ranks. From nothing, he soon takes over his gang based upon his cold menace, violent actions and clever calculations. Needless to say, he makes enemies along the way. He also ignores his orders during a heist and plugs a policeman mid-robbery. It's clear from then on that this is going to haunt him and, indeed, will eventually lead to his downfall. 

There's an interesting cast of characters surrounding our protagonist, most of them with a nickname that gives you everything you need. They're all pretty exaggerated. Characatures if you like. It's not that they're not three-dimensional, more that they're distilled downed to their essences - loyal-to-a-fault, bitter, yellow, hard, straight etc. 

When he gets to meet the big players, Rico realises that his eyes are bigger than his stomach. Perhaps its his drive to rise further that leads him to errors of judgement. Whatever it is, he's soon on the run and the cops are determined to get their man. His demise is tense and offers a great contrast to the opulence of his dreams and past status, as well as showing us where he came from in the first place. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was everything I expected. Not that it was without its challenges. I found some of the dialogue tags (or sometimes the lack of them) difficult to follow and the runs of adjectives could have been cut from three or four to one or two. Even so, it's fast-paced, efficient and a wonderful discription of a disintigrating human mind. I'm sure if I knew my Shakespeare, I might venture to add Shakespearean to pack it into a nutshell. 

Punchy writing, brutal clarity and really enjoyable.

To finish, a Big Boy quote just for fun:

'I got a library too and a lot of other stuff that ain't worth a damn. I was talking to a rich guy the other day and he said I was a damn fool to buy real books because he had a library twice as big as mine and dummy books. What the hell! If a guy's gonna have a library, why, I say do it right. So there you are. I got so damn many books it gives me a headache just to look at 'em.'


Wednesday 20 September 2023



I've often been tempted by these books, partly because of the great covers, because of the recommendation of Keith Nixon and due to the names of the central characters. Now, I've finally dipped in my toe and I can pass on the verdict: come on in, the water's fine. 

It's been a while since my last book thoughts, which reflects the time this one took to get through. This is often an indicator that I wasn't driven to pick up a book to read in quiet moments and there's an element of that here. It's also because it's a fairly substantial read. 

The opening section took me by surprise, with one of central figures being taken out by an explosion. What followed was an investigation spanning decades, on the one hand looking at Bryant and May's first case together and on the other trying to find the killer of Arthur Bryant and the way it relates to that Second Word War investigation. 

I was taken by the scenes at the Peculiar Crimes Unit where the pair first meet. The pair interact wonderfully, each clearly suited to their posting on account of their curious personalities. The conversations are a treat, often flavoured with comedy and wit, and it was impossible not to fall for them very quickly. 

The central case involves a series of murders in London's magnificent Palace Theatre. A dancer loses her feet at the point of death, giving a local street trader a shock when they appear when he returns to work. Members of the cast of the rather provocative show continue to be bumped off, disappear or experience near misses while a ghostly face is often seen at the scene of the crimes. All very Phantom. A little unlikely, perhaps, the show continues while the detectives dig into the lives of those involved in the performance, including the shadowy workings of the theatre's Greek owner. 

I've noted comments in the reviews about some historical inaccuracies, but I sailed through it blissfully unaware, loving the detail of the period and enjoying many of the facts that added to the sense of time and place. 

I also really enjoyed Bryant's leaning towards the spirit world to help him solve crimes. His clairvoyant friend is an asset to the case and certainly added to the enjoyment of this reader. 

There are a few minor issues. The points of view dance around in a way that's not always helpful and the shifts between past and present aren't always clearly marked. The plot is also slightly stretched and a little less of it would have suited me just fine. 

That said, I suspect the strength of this series is likely to be based upon Bryant and May and those in their team and I'll definitely be coming back for more to find out what other peculiar cases they might stumble into. 

Good stuff.