Sunday, October 09, 2011

McBain around the world

I speculated idly four years ago that Ed McBain might be the most influential crime writer ever. I thought of that post again last month when preparing for Bouchercon 2011.

I'd read David Hewson's The Fallen Angel, then gone back to earlier books in the series and was surprised to see the nine books referred to as "the Costa series," after the young Roman police officer Nic Costa. The Fallen Angel is very much an ensemble piece starring Costa but also his colleagues on the Questura. "Almost like an Ed McBain novel," I said during my PASSPORT TO MURDER panel at Bouchercon, of which Hewson was a member. Yes, Hewson acknowledged, McBain was very much on his mind when he wrote the book.

Ken Bruen has one of his characters not just read McBain novels but try to write one, and Sweden's Kjell Eriksson pays tribute as well. Bill Crider's books work in mentions of McBain.  Anyone else?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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18 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I think John Connolly once names a character Ollie Weeks. McBain was not amused.

It's good to see McBain get his due. He'd been so good for so long he was taken somewhat for granted by the time he died, and has been since. He's acknowledge, but most often as an afterthought. ("A and B and C are the masters. Oh, yes, and McBain, of course.")

October 09, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Just tried a McBain novel. Couldn't read it. All that interminable dialogue.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I think you're right that he was taken for granted -- as is the group police procedural, which he popularized if he did not invent. See also my answer to I.J. Parker to follow.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I’ve read just two McBain novels, so I’m no expert. You may simply not be the McBain type, but you may also have chosen one of the lesser efforts in a vast body work – more then fifty books in the 87th Precinct series. I’ve read just two of the books, and one of them, Nocturne I virtuoso job of juggling multiple storylines, then bringing them together.

October 09, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Well, this one was 85,000 Eyes, or some such. Straighforward investigation involving interviewing people. Not much else going on.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One McBain novel that I read was marred by the sloppiest job of typesetting I have ever seen. The other was the aforementioned stunning Nocturne, a memorable performance.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I had a brief period of correspondence with Evan before he died. He was a sardonic, intelligent guy, curious and engaged right to the end.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Evan, you say? Not Sal? What were the circumstances of your correspondence?

We think of McBain as name from the 1950s, but he was, as you say, engaged as recently as the Transgressions novells project in 2005.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And yes, I know he long ago changed his name legally to Evan Hunter!

October 09, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

He read one of my books and liked it and I emailed him and we kept in touch.

Incidentally, as I know you know, Bono's real name is Paul David Hewson or it may even be David Paul Hewson. David Hewson can count himself lucky that most people know that talentless, short, tax dodging, hypocritical egomaniac, Bono as Bono.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You do celebrity aliases a disservice by mentioning Salvatore Lombino and David/Paul Hewson in the same breath.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and I think it's cool that you got a nod from a legend like McBain.

October 09, 2011  
Blogger Dana King said...

What made McBain great was that he kept getting better, even after 50 years. 80 MILLION EYES is a fairly early effort. I'd recommend some of the later books. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY; THE FRUMIOUS BANDERSNATCH; and FAT OLLIE'S BOOK come to mind.

His swan song, FIDDLERS, is poignant in many ways if read with the knowledge he knew he was dying when he wrote it.

No author I can think of gave better interviews, I've read many, and he was always honest, thoughtful, and entertaining. There's no point in envying Adrian's superior talent, but I'm jealous that he got to know Evan Hunter, even a little.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Another McBain fan recommended "Fat Ollie's Book," so I may try that the next time I try McBain.

October 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I.J., re All that interminable dialogue in Ed McBain.

I find this to be one of McBain's greatest strengths. That he manages to give each character (and there are often many) in each book his/her own distinctive voice is right up there with, dare I say it, Dashiell Hammett. After a while, the reader doesn't need the "so and so said" after entire passages of dialogue. Many authors don't try to achieve this or can't grasp the simple fact that nobody talks just like someone else and many of us talk very differently from one another.

We've all read books where the dialogue pace, vocabulary, incomplete sentences, etc. blend together and I always imagine that I am reading the way the author speaks as a result of this. If this is just all of a piece with lousy writing, oh well. But this practice bothers me particularly when I'm reading an author I really like, ex. Peter Temple. Too many of his characters (male and female) sound alike in their speech. I wonder if this is why I loved The Broken Shore (his best book to date in my opinion), with its emphasis on description of place, delineation of character, and only like his Jack Irish novels, which contain much more dialogue...?

Peter, In the foreword to one of McBain's short story compilations, Lombino/Hunter/McBain explains in some detail why he changed his name, why it was not a repudiation of his Italian heritage, and why a person ought to be able to do as he damn pleases when it comes to changing his name. It seemed pretty clear that he was getting off his chest all the tiresome (by then) queries about "Why the name change?" That Evan Hunter was his name, not a nom de plume.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I'd always assumed that he changed the name because he didn't think someone with an Italian name would be taken seriously as a writer in America. If I'd interviewed him, I'd have found out before the interview why he changed the name. That way I'd have avoided pestering him with a question he had heard many times before, but armed myself with some knowledge that could lead to interesting follow-up questions.

October 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, the editor in 1952 telling McBain he ought to change his name may have encouraged him to do so because Salvatore Lombino was "too ethnic," esp. at a time when "the mob" was much on America's mind. Not that he wouldn't be taken seriously as a writer. Then as now, there was a certain amount of "identity politics" in writing, that is, only Ethnic Group X can write convincingly about Ethnic Group X characters and the reverse, that EG X can't write convincingly about anybody outside EG X.

Hunter just wanted it made clear that he was not "in denial" (a phrase he loathed as much as I do) about his Italian heritage and that he really did want to be known as Evan Hunter to everyone, from his wife to his readers.

October 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, ethnic associations and fear of the mob would be a powerful combination. He certainly leapt far from any Italian associationsin his choice of new names and noms-de-plume.

I've known a Lombino and a Hunter, but no McBains.

October 10, 2011  

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