HEAT (1981) was written under the pen name of prolific crime fiction writer, Ed McBain. He also wrote under Evan Hunter. His 87th Precinct novels are categorized as police procedural(s) and are the longest running with over fifty books in the series that started with Cop Hater in 1956.
The stories are all set in the fictional city of Isola and features a diverse and large cast of characters. One of the main recurring roles in the story belongs to Detective Steve Carella of the 87th Squad. I like him. He’s a solid character. This is my sixth Ed McBain book. I love to read them because the books are good, short, quick reads.
Detectives Steve Carella and his partner, Bert Kling are called to investigate a suspicious death during the summer’s worst heat wave. The victim was a freelance commercial artist and an habitual drunk. His body is found in the stifling heat of his apartment along with a near empty bottle of Seconal, a barbiturate. It’s up to the detectives to figure out if this was a suicide or a homicide. This is the main story arc. There are a few more subplots that involves a personal matter with Bert Kling who suspects that his wife is cheating on him and an ex-convict recently released from prison for murder, has a vendetta against one of the 87th Precinct detectives and targets him.
I liked the story. I like the familiarity of the characters. This is a solidly written story. McBain’s plots usually involve two or three threads and he traditionally likes to start with a dead body. His novels are known for the investigative technique of the job. Usually there’s some light humor but in here it was almost none-existent. The author loves to sneak in some social commentary.
The thread with Kling and his wife was interesting but then it got tedious. Needless to say there were no surprises in that thread. As for the apparent suicide case, the motive was buried deep. I did like how things unraveled. Interviews with the victim’s family unearthed some interesting information, starting with his ex-wife, who was an former Israeli Captain and the victim’s brother, who was in town all along but never reached out to the police. According to them, the victim was phobic about taking pills. The conclusion of that case was not really surprising given the times we live in now but at the time that this novel was written it was probably a shock.
One of the main reasons why I like Ed McBain is that he is good at characterization and he tells great stories. He’s good at making you care about his characters, too, as you get to know them. He does have a large set of characters but in each book they are paired off and featured in their own stories. I’ve not had any trouble keeping track. The squad room is its own character with showing the camaraderie between the detectives where they hash out their most frustrating cases. I really like Steve Carella, who is described as being really tall with an athletic build and is seen as the hero in the series. He’s strong and capable and the one the guys turn to for advice/back-up. He’s married to Teddy, a woman who is mute/deaf. They have ten-year old twins. McBain usually gives us a peek inside their private lives but in this book, he didn’t have time and I missed that. Overall, this was a good read. I’d rate it a B. My favorite is still The Pusher.
Note: I have read and will probably continue to read these out-of-order as there are so many! I think the author does a good job of filling in any background info to catch readers up. So far, I haven’t had any problems with reading them this way. You will miss out on some of the personal developments of the characters but that’s about it. Source: I bought this book during that crazy Amazon sale.