There was no one character or author who made me a lover of crime fiction. I was raised by a reader, and my dad encouraged me to read everything from Agatha Christie to Lawrence Block to Patricia Highsmith to James Lee Burke (and many stories in between).
But there is one author and one character who will always be the ones I love the best. These guys are the reason that I gravitate to police procedurals above all other types of tales.
Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series includes 54 titles. Yes, fifty-four separate books written over the course of 49 years. Were they published today, these books would probably be called novellas because most of them clock in around 200 pages. Some are even short enough to be short stories by today’s standards. While some of the 87th Precinct’s villains show up in more than one book, each is a stand-alone. And each is a work of art.
Detective Steve Carella is the rock of the 87th, its foundation. Even in the books where Carella is not a primary character, he is a constant presence. He doesn’t age through the series, although he certainly evolves as the world around him changes dramatically. Carella isn’t a shockingly brilliant detective—he’s no Sherlock Holmes—and he doesn’t solve every case. But he tries. He is logical and compassionate. He makes mistakes and learns from them, most of the time. He is sometimes gritty and often tender.
Carella’s wife, Teddy, is deaf. This is a subtle yet important aspect of his story, and of the series as a whole. It also had enough of an impact on me that I took classes in American Sign Language. That’s how much Carella—and his family—means to me. He also has twins, a boy and a girl, and he’s a good dad, but not a perfect one.
We know Carella through his interaction with others. McBain never descends into long, painful internal monologs. These are, after all, police procedurals, and Carella is the guy who, in most of the stories, guides that procedure. He is partnered with different fellow detectives, and he doesn’t love everyone. Not everyone respects him for both good and evil reasons.
Because he’s not a super-cop, Carella made me love cop stories more than I would have otherwise. He never once, through 54 stories, made me feel stupid, but he always made me feel something. People are often surprised to learn that I started reading his books before my 10th birthday, but I wouldn’t change that for anything. McBain is my context, the measure by which I judge all the stories I read. He’s the one who showed me that characters on a page can have a soul.
Curious to know more about Detective Steve Carella and the 87th Precint? You can read all about these books and the author Ed McBain HERE!
When not knee-deep in her marketing day job, Erin has her nose buried in a book…or in Twitter.