July 10, 2005
RIP, Ed McBain

The great and highly prolific novelist Evan Hunter, who sold over a hundred million books as crime writer Ed McBain, has died at the age of 78 from cancer.

In a 50-year career, Mr. Hunter, sometimes as Ed McBain and sometimes using other names, wrote a vast number of best-selling novels, short stories, plays and film scripts. With the publication of "Cop Hater" in 1956, the first of the 87th Precinct novels, he took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.

Set in a New York-like metropolis named Isola, "Cop Hater" laid down the formula that would define the urban police novel to this day, including the big, bad city as a character in the drama; multiple story lines; swift, cinematic exposition; brutal action scenes and searing images of ghetto violence; methodical teamwork; authentic forensic procedures; and tough, cynical yet sympathetic police officers speaking dialogue so real that it could have been soaked up in a Queens diner between squad shifts.

I've been a fan of McBain's for many years now, and I've read most of his books. A favorite of mine was one he wrote as Evan Hunter, Criminal Conversation. It's a book that has a lot of dialogue, and there are few writers who do dialogue better than he did. I may have gotten started on mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown, but it was Ed McBain who made me appreciate the genre as an adult. Rest in peace, Ed McBain.

(Thanks to Matt for the tip.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 10, 2005 to Books | TrackBack