Sunday 12 May 2024

One Man's Opinion: BREAD by ED McBAIN

Bread is a belter of a book. It's great on a couple of fronts. First of all, the case being investigated is wide and complex. There are a lot of bodies and there's plenty of detection. Secondly, the chemistry of the detectives is effervescent, what with the return of Cotton Hawes and the need for he and Carella to work alongside Ollie Weeks from the 83rd. 

It's August and it's hot. Many of the 87th are on vacation, which is why Roger Grimm is forced to come in to the station when the detective handling the case (Andy Parker) of his torched warehouse leaves the investigation to take his break. 

Grimm needs a speedy resolution to the arson case in order to convince the insurance companies to pay up so that he can buy his next shipment of small wooden animals and make a killing when he sells them on. Carella's sympathetic to Grimm's cause, after all there would be no logic to Grimm burning his own stock given the way the circumstances are explained. 

The only problem is, to proceed with the case, Carella needs to go to speak to Parker. Parker's no friend of Carella at the best of times. Given that he's at home in his shorts and vest with a beer in his hand, he's less inclined to talk about police work than ever. He's the bad apple in the force- violent, opinionated, lazy and racist, to name but a few of his traits. He talks a good game on this one, but when Carella follows up, it's clear that Parker has given his usual below-par minimum. 

After Grimm's home is also torched, Carella and Hawes dig deep. In doing so, they set off a chain reaction that make the threads of the case difficult to hold. One of the them is the murder of a suspect in the case, a junkie who wears fine suits and drives a Cadillac, which happens to be in the territory of the 83rd. 

Enter Ollie Weeks (aka Big Ollie, aka Fat Ollie), a huge man with personal hygiene issues and a streak of racism running through him that's as wide as he is broad. He digs into a new element of the case, a financial institution looking to clean up Diamondback's slums. He also digs deep into the patience of liberal-minded Cotton Hawes who finds the new working set-up intolerable. It's only Carella who manages to keep Hawes on the case, explaining that while Weeks might be a pig, he also happens to be a tenacious detective with a range of skills that will be useful during this investigation. 

The three work together, bringing those threads together to form a curious tapestry. 

There's little to be said without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say the interview room set pieces are top drawer and the psychological angles employed by the detectives are spot on. 

A great case, then, and fabulous entertainment. 

The question is, will we see Ollie Weeks again? Part of me, like Carella and Hawes, hopes he'll disappear into the mist. The other part thinks he's a great asset to the books and the needles he pokes his colleagues with add a nice dose of spice to the series. 

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