Penzler Pick, January 2000: When it comes to the novels of big-city cop life revolving around a single station house's daily dramas, Ed McBain wrote the book--50 of them, in fact. And whatever one thinks of the virtues of NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, or even Law and Order, there's the undeniable truth that McBain was there first, with his wonderfully reimagined New York. (Fans know that Isola is the stand-in for the borough of Manhattan, Riverhead for the Bronx, Majesta for Queens, Calm's Point for Brooklyn, and Bethtown for Staten Island.)
Here, as one hopes and expects, a body turns up within the opening pages. And also, as is often the case, Detective Steve Carella is there to spar with the medical examiner.
But there are other bodies and other police personnel in a story that takes the typical McBain route--no short cuts--that amounts to a crook's tour of the city he loves. With a cast of characters that ranges from socialites to hookers, The Last Dance takes in theater world chicanery, police brutality, and a pizza-joint massacre.
Ed McBain, also known as Evan Hunter, is the only American ever to have won the British Crimewriters Association's Diamond Dagger; he is a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America; his books have sold over a hundred million copies around the world; and he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, the Matthew Hope series of mystery novels with fairy tale and nursery rhyme titles (Rumpelstiltskin, Goldilocks, etc.), as well as the classic The Blackboard Jungle.
Celebrating the publication of the 50th novel in a series that stays amazingly fresh and incredibly readable is no small thing. This much-loved and seminal writer is a national treasure. If you're a mystery reader, you've undoubtedly read Ed McBain. If you haven't read one for a while, try this one. It's so good it will immediately send you scurrying back for the ones you missed. --Otto Penzler