Ed McBain must have had one of the longest shelf lives as a crime fiction writer. I have been coming across his books ever since I started visiting bookshops and libraries. And no wonder. Cop Hater, his first 87th Precinct book, came out in 1956, according to Answers.com. By then he had already had his first taste of success with Blackboard Jungle (1954) which he published under the name, Evan Hunter. I haven’t read that book or seen the film featuring Sidney Poitier. Nor did I know he wrote the original screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Birds, though I did see that film. Only from his obituaries did I learn he was born Salvatore Lombino but changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952 because he thought readers wouldn’t much care for an Italian-American writer. Rather like Harold Robbins. But then he adopted the pseudonym Ed McBain for his 87th Precinct novels.
I can’t say I enjoyed his books when I started reading crime fiction. I preferred more literary writers: Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers, Michael Innes. But lately I started appreciating him. The narrative is tight, the writing professional and unpretentious. The police work described in his books seems so realistic I was surprised to learn he was never a cop. His obituaries spoke about how he practically invented the police procedural and his influence on TV cop shows like NYPD Blue. I recently read two of his books, The Frumious Bandersnatch (2003), which is funny and macabre in turns and ends with a twist, and Fat Ollie’s Book (2002). That is entertaining too. A redneck with a softer side, detective Ollie Weeks is an amusing character.
McBain was no slacker like Ollie. " I write from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. I try to write eight pages a day," he said in an interview five years ago which one can still read on the official Ed McBain website. "McBain had few vices beyond cigarettes, women and staying at Claridge’s, " said the Telegraph. Too bad he died of cancer. But hardboiled guys like him need their coffin nails — despite which he had a long successful life. He was 78.