Wednesday 19 June 2024


Having just completed the excellent Deadly Honeymoon by Lawrence Block, the fact that I followed up with So Long As You Both Shall Live by Ed McBain suggests an element of design. Truth be told, the McBain was simply the next in the series, so having decided to dip back into the 87th Precinct, back-to-back honeymoon stories became inevitable.

Working your way through a series, no matter how slowly, has its benefits. Character histories, memories of previous plots and the sense of place all allow for smooth running and familiarity. In this case, it also helped glue me to the page until the climax was reached. I'll try and explain. 

Bert Kling marries a model. The party after the ceremony is attended by police and those connected to the modeling industry. Also in attendance is a photographer who is quite besoted by Kling's new bride. Bert and Augusta remove themselves from the attention and retire to their hotel. There's a brief underlining of their love for each other before Bert takes a shower. When he comes out he finds Augusta has gone. He goes through the logical steps of finding her, but when he finds evidence of the use of chloroform, it's clear that Augusta has been taken against her will. 

You can imagine what follows. The 87th will do anything to help Kling out. They round up their snitches, upturn every available stone and look in every dark corner, all to no avail.

So here's the thing. In many a book, it might be clear what's about to happen. The most likely outcome is that the cops will find their suspect and free the wife after a suitable amount of detection and tension. With Kling and McBain, we know that this is in no way a given. Kling has already lost one fiancee, murdered in as a casual bystander in a bookstore (at least I think it was a bookstore- any necessary correction gratefully received) and we know that bad things can happen to anyone as the series progresses. That in itself creates a level of tension that a standalone by another author might not be able to manage in quite such a simple way.  

It's also useful to undersand what Fat Ollie Weeks stands for. Having managed to get precisely nowhere with the investigation, Carella can't refuse Weeks's offer of help on this one. The fact that he's a racist bigot who uses a strong arm more he should is marginally trumped by the fact that he is capable of thorough detective work and loves the legwork more than most. As a reader, it's easy to hate the guy, but it's also possible to be rooting for him 100% given that Kling's world and Augusta's life depend upon it. 

Suffice to say that the conclusion is gripping and the race to the end a real sprint. I'll keep my feelings about what happened to myself and recommend that you read it to find out. 

So Long As You Both Shall Live is a treat. Along with Deadly Honeymoon, it's a book that is an excellent example of what can be done in a short space of time when the quality of the writing is so high. I'd hold these up as excellent examples for those learning to write crime fiction and those who already do. Top notch. 

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