Book Two in the McBainiad – my quest to read all of the 87th Precinct novels in the order they were published. At this rate, I’ll finish the 54 volume series somewhere around my 52nd birthday. McBain was quicker writing them than I am in reading them; The Mugger is the second of three books that McBain published in 1956, and he kept up a similar output until the early 1960s, when he settled down to a still respectable rate of one book a year.
The Mugger picks up pretty much where the previous book – Cop Hater – left off. It’s a good illustration of McBain’s aim ‘to make the squadroom itself the hero’ – whilst Steve Carella is the main character in Cop Hater, in The Mugger he is away on his honeymoon, and attention switches to Patrolman Bert Kling, who was shot and injured in the previous book. Whilst recovering, he’s approached by a childhood friend and asked for a favour. Parallel to this, the boys of the eight-seven are intent on tracking down a mugger who has been attacking and robbing women in the city. These two storylines converge as the novel progresses, and Kling finds his career as a policeman put to the test.
The Mugger is a much more assured work than Cop Hater. All of the elements of later books are now in place – the various members of the detective squad, the city as a character in its own right, the use of facsimile documents and reports – which all help to put the policemen into their wider context. McBain gives us a lot of detail about their working lives – from the hours they work through to the route that Kling takes on his daily beat – and again this helps to anchor them in their city. It’s this ability to bring the routine of a policeman’s lot to life that gives the novel its humour, and humanity; we see a group of men (and one woman) trying to do a difficult job in challenging circumstances.
Cop Hater suffers in comparison with The Mugger – largely because of its ending, which is unexpected and unbelievable. The cops get their man in the first book not through hard work, but because the assassin is an idiot – it ties the novel off neatly, but isn’t totally satisfying. In contrast, The Mugger is driven by Kling’s character, and his determination to keep plugging away which finally gets a result. It’s down to his worn shoe-leather that the case is finally cracked; and it’s pleasing that the ending is a genuine surprise, but one which also rings true with what has gone before.
Next up is The Pusher, which unlike the first two isn’t currently available as an ebook. I have no idea why. It may take me some time to track down a copy – so expect a review in early 2015.