Book - Lullaby
Ed McBain's 87th Precinct has been the wellspring for many terrific books, and this is one of his finest. A baby and her sitter are found murdered inside a swanky apartment, and it's up to Dets. Carella and Meyer to solve the crime. The first page introduces the murder scene, and from there on the plot twists and suspicious characters accumulate with bullet-train velocity. The detectives find out another B&E (breaking and entering) occurred in another apartment in this building, and chase the burglar believed responsible, while a lapis pendant found at the scene is overlooked for the moment but will assume greater significance. By the 1980s, people were overlooking the 87th Precinct a little, while McBain himself pumped out one great book after another, finding something a little different to bring out about the precinct territory and the nature of hard crime each time. It's been said McBain writes not "whodunits" but "whydunits," and "Lullaby" is a classic "whydunit," but it also works as a standard police procedural. There's a second plot that introduces a new group of bad guys, members of a Jamaican drug "posse" who tangle with Det. Kling after he interrupts three of them in the middle of a hit on a Hispanic rival. The storyline actually takes us through a parade of ethnic nationalities, each representing a major force in the underworld, in a way that allows McBain full vent for his political incorrect dialogue and humor as he throws them up against each other. When it's all over, and only one group is left standing, the boss decides it's "all a matter of which is the oldest culture." This second story is fun, but it's less integrated thematically and in plot with the other story than is typical for McBain, it moves a bit baroquely and the conflict with Kling is not resolved in a satisfying manner. The first story is the main one, and it moves with force and deftness, but the reveal of the killer striking about 30 pages short of the end read like a mistake to me. Otherwise, it keeps you guessing, as much about motive as identity (who would kill an infant?), and that is a huge part of the story's success. Until then, it works almost as well as a psychological thriller as it does a murder mystery. In order to solve the crime, the detectives have to get inside the mind of someone who killed a child. Even for hardened investigators, this is not an easy place to be. The theme of lost innocence, prefigured by the title, is everywhere in this story, in such details as the lapis pendant, a fugitive who seeks shelter and companionship from his former babysitter, and an old man dying in Washington State. It's hard to say any book that features a dead baby is funny, and certainly McBain handles this sensitive subject with grace and finesse. But the mourning tone does not detract from enjoying the book as a satisfying crime drama, and as a prime representation of a crime fiction master at his best.