Friday, 11 December 2009

Doll by Ed McBain

This is the other book I picked up at the Amnesty International sale for 20p a couple of weeks back. I've been interested in crime and detective fiction for a couple of years now, mostly as a model to use in my own writing. Solving a crime provides a nice set of plot pegs to hang everything else on, after all, and I've noticed that a lot of my fiction rather naturally gravitates towards this sort of mystery story shape anyway.

I've not read any of McBain's 87th precinct novel (of which this is one) but I've heard of them, so I was interested to give it a whirl (and at 20p, you can't complain). Rather than a series of plot pegs to hang other stuff on, the crime is everything here. Characterisation is pared back to absolute minimum. McBain seems to forget about it entirely for large stretches of the novel, and then suddenly remember that these are real people and so chuck in a few paras about one of his detectives worrying about being fat or another one who goes on a similar tangent about going bald.

A degree of sympathy is required for Steve Carella, who's kidnapped and hooked on junk by a strange sexy villainess. So we get a little about his wife and kids and some scenes where other detectives think he's dead and dwell on what a stand up guy he was. The reveal that Carella's not really dead is nicely done and fitted in with another minor plot step on the way quite well. The more I think about the plot elements, in fact, the more I appreciate this novel. Sure, it's somewhat dry in terms of character, and amusingly lurid melodramatic for a PoMo hipster such as I, but it's solidly constructed with some nice suspense.

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