Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” books can almost be viewed as individual chapters in a much longer novel about the men and women doing difficult, sometimes impossible, police work in a city filled with dark humor, irony and soul-sucking misery.
McBain’s cops are people, with all the warts and flaws, and when they exhibit heroism it is not usually of the shoot-em-up variety. It is more often the quiet heroism of men and women who do their work and snatch moments of happiness where they can, despite what their jobs force them to encounter every day.
Told in smooth, eminently readable prose with great dialogue and much, much dark humor, any book in the series is going to be a good read. That includes “Ax,” the 18th book in the series. I doubt this lean volume makes anyone’s list of top ten McBains, but it is a good read nonetheless.
The crime is about as simple and direct as crime gets: a building superintendent is found in the basement with an ax buried in his head. Detectives Carella and Hawes are tasked with figuring out who put the ax there.
So they do what cops do. They poke around, ask questions, parse clues. They uncover some secrets, they try to tie together various cords of possibilities that don’t quite fit, they grab some family time or date nights where they can and they work the case in the midst of working an impossible caseload of other cases to handle.
And, in the end, this one gets solved (not always a guarantee in the 87th Precinct …) not because cops are geniuses, but because people are people and ax murderers aren’t subtle.
This is a quick, enjoyable read, and if you try it and like it there are a whole lot more 87th Precinct books out there waiting for you.