Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ed McBain's 87th Precinct

Created by Ed McBain (pseud. of Evan Hunter, né Salvatore Lombino; 1926-2005)
from thrilling detective
Long before Hill Street Blues, Homicide, and NYPD Blue, there was Ed McBain's 87th PRECINCT. The series began in 1956 with Cop Hater. Although not the first procedural, it was one of the first and the 87th Precinct has come to virtually define the genre. The books generally feature an ensemble cast and multiple plot lines. Although the books vary in quality, on the whole this is a major series, a classic of American crime fiction that has entertained, enlightened and influenced the genre for over three decades (and counting!).
The action takes place in and around New York City, and has even been called "the greatest sustained literary exploration of New York City in American literature," but, of course, the biggest joke is that throughout the entire series, New York has pretended not to be about New York at all. Instead, we're told that the action takes place is Isola. As the disclaimer in every book reads: "The city in these pages is imaginary; the people and places all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique."
Yeah, right. It's New York, all right, spun ninety degrees, with only the names changed to protect the guilty. Isola isManhattan, Calm's Point is Brooklyn, Riverhead is the Bronx, Majesta is Queens and Bethtown is Staten Island.
Most folks know Ed McBain is, of course, the pseudonym of Evan Hunter. But that's also a pseudonym. He was born Salvatore Lombino in 1926. Besides McBain, he has also written under the pseudonyms Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, Richard Marsten, and John Abbott. Hunter's first book, The Blackboard Jungle, was published in 1954, and became the basis for the 50's film classic. As McBain, Hunter has also written a series featuring Florida attorney and P.I. wannabe Matthew Hope. In fact, Steve Carella and other members of the 87th play a pivotal part in the latest Hope novel, The Last Best Hope. He's created some memorable eyes, too, including Ben Smoke, Curt Cannon and Dudley Sledge.
In the early sixties, a TV series made its debut, featuring Robert Lansing as Det. Steve Carella and Gena Rowlands as Teddy. It also featured Norman Fell, Ron Harper and Gregory Walcott. Although well-received by critics (particularly Rowlands' performance) it didn't last long, although at least two comic books were rushed out, hoping to cash in. But they weren't quickie recycled TV episodes; in fact, they were relatively "adult" for a "good" publisher like Dell. The first was drawn by Bernie Krigstein, who is so well known for his E.C. horror work, and is truly a bizarre visual excursion. The second deals in great detail with drugs, and may be drawn by one of the artists who also did the Michael Shayne books, another short-lived series which Dell decided to take a similar approach to.

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