In 2005, I think September, I encountered something that brought me both sorrow and joy.
I walked into Barnes and Noble and there was a book display. Fiddlers, by Ed McBain. It had the usual subheading, “A novel of the 87th precinct.” However, I knew more. It was the last novel of the 87th precinct. The last case of the 87th precinct.
When it it me, I stepped out to my car and failed to fight back the tears.
Ed McBain died in July of the same year and Fiddlers was his last novel.
I discovered McBain in 1988 while serving in the US Coast Guard. I picked up a couple of his novels at a garage sale for maybe a quarter, if that, read them and was hooked.
I tore through his books – I’ve read all 55 of the 87th precinct novels, most more than once – as quickly as I could. Shared them with everyone and loved them all the time.
I remember reading the New York Times obituary of McBain, whose real name is Evan Hunter. The guy could write and was a best-selling author under his real name. The Blackboard Jungle, starring Sidney Portier, was written by Hunter (McBain), and I’m talking the best-selling novel and the script for the acclaimed film.
I read the obituary and thought about how much it sucked that one of my favorite authors was no longer with us.
When I saw that book, it ran over me like a truck. The simple fact is, when a series comes to an end, it is hard.
Later that evening, copy of Fiddlers in hand but not wanting to read it, not wanting the 87th precinct to stop solving cases, it occurred to me.
Ed McBain brought me sorry and joy. I was saddened to see him go and the stories to come to an end. But those books pulled me through good times and bad, through boring days and long days, and brought me Lord knows how many hours of joy.
That’s the point of it. The books brought me so much pleasure I had to be glad McBain spent what time he did with us.
I’ve never been a big fan of police procedural novels. But since McBain passed, I’ve looked high and low for something, a series, that could take the place of the 87th Precinct. It’s not out there. At least I can’t find it.
There are great writers of mysteries and crime fiction whom I love. Robert Crais. Harlan Coben. Joseph Wambaugh. Quite a few others.
None of them, sadly, are Ed McBain. And their characters, though great, are not the cops and detectives at the 87th precinct.