Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ax: Review

Ax (1964) by Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter, born October 15, 1926) is the eighteenth entry in the 87th Precinct series. It finds Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes investigating the gruesome murder of an elderly man in the basement of an apartment building.

Danny Gimp was a stool pigeon....He was a gossip supreme, his ears keenly attuned to every stray piece of information that wafted his way on the unsuspecting air. His mind was a complex of compartments and cubbyholes, each storing kernels of seemingly worthless in formation which, when evaluated, added up to a meaningful fund of knowledge. He was an expert at sifting and sorting, collating and cataloguing.... (pp. 52-53)

But can Danny's well of knowledge help Carella and Hawes answer their most pressing question: Who would want to kill an eighty-six year old building superintendent by the name of George Lasser? And if they did want to kill him, why did they think it necessary to attack him with an axe--delivering several blows before burying the hatchet (sorry, horrible cliche) in his head? 

There are several possibilities. There is the powerful, but somewhat slow-witted veteran of the Korean War who chopped wood for the victim and who well knows how to wield an ax. There is Lasser's unbalanced wife--a former actress with a paranoid schizophrenic diagnosis. There is Lasser's agoraphobic son who just might have had a motive powerful enough to overcome his fear of leaving the house. There are the habitu├ęs of the regular craps games which Lasser hosted in his basement. And then there is the source of this janitor's mysterious wealth--enough funds to allow his son to have attended an exclusive private school and his wife to be treated at an expensive mental home. 

Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora has been dangling Ed McBain in front of me for quite some time. He's been reading his way through all of the 87th Precinct novels and just recently finished #39 in the series. Despite his fabulous reviews, Carella and company just never sounded like my particular cup of tea. But when I came across a few of the novels in the little pocket-size editions that I love, I decided to grab them up and find a way to work them into my reading schedule. This is the first novel I've read by McBain. Rumor has it--both from Sergio and Goodreads--that this is not McBain's best work. Well, if this isn't his best....then I've certainly got some good reading ahead of me. Because I enjoyed this thoroughly.

And I enjoyed it in spite of  myself. The murder is rather more gruesome than I like. The talk is a bit more rough than I appreciate. But, my goodness, McBain can write! He picked me up and threw me into the story and I couldn't stop reading until I was done. I enjoyed Carella's interactions with Hawes and with Danny. I enjoyed the way Carella and Hawes worked as a team when interviewing suspects and witnesses. There are false clues as well as genuine clues and they are all checked thoroughly in a very nice police procedural.★★  and a half. I look forward to reading more of the series.

This counts for the "Out of My Comfort Zone" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


fredamans said...

I like the use of words in the snippet you posted. Great review!

Anonymous said...

Well, I consider that a personal victory (sorta) - so glad you enjoyed it Bev! Hurrah another McBanian!