Ice coats the streets where the rapist prowls. Ice spills from the pockets of a dead diamond dealer. Ice runs through the heart of a cold-blooded killer and that of the players in a multimillion dollar show-biz scam. And the deep chill of winter, it is the 87th Precinct who must brave the winds of death to save a city frozen with fear.
Title: Ice | Author: Ed McBain | Series: 87th Precinct #36 | Publisher: Warner Books | Pages: 324 | ISBN: 9780446603904 | Publication date: 3 August 2021 | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Purchased
Anyone who follows my reviews on my crime and thriller blog, CriminOlly, will know that I’m a huge fan of Ed McBain’s ‘87th Precinct’ series of mystery novels. Starting with ‘Cop Hater’ in 1956, McBain pretty much defined the police procedural sub-genre in the series, which ran for 55 books until 2005. I’ve read many of the books over the last 40 years, and embarked on a full chronological read through of the series in 2013.
For a while now, I’ve been looking for a book to recommend to people who are new to the series other than ‘Cop Hater’, which is great, but at over 60 years old could feel a bit dated to a modern reader. ‘Ice’ from 1983, which is book 36 in the series, feels like a great candidate so I thought I’d review it for Crime Files, in the hope it converts other people to McBain.
As the series title suggests, the books take place in the 87th Precinct of a US city that is fictional and unnamed, but clearly based on New York. The books follow the precinct’s detectives as they investigate various crimes in the city. Whilst the series is famous for having a wide cast of characters who all play a part in the stories, its leading character is Steve Carella. Carella is a principled, decent guy, devoted to both his family and to justice.
Like many of the books, ‘Ice’ has more than one storyline running through it. The main one sees Carella investigating a series of murders. The victims are seemingly unconnected, but the same gun has been used in each. It ends up giving ‘Ice’ a more complex plot than many of the books, with the investigation covering the theatre industry, drug dealing and the diamond trade. It’s a satisfying mystery, with the police work very much of the shoe leather and forensics variety for which the series is famous.
The second storyline involves one of the series’ few female cops, Eileen Burke, on stakeout trying to catch a criminal who is holding up women in laundrettes. McBain often does a good job of writing about race and social injustice, but he isn’t known for being good at writing women, although this did improve later in his career. Many of the 87th books focus far more on male than female characters, with the women showing up as wives or daughters rather than taking centre stage. Eileen Burke is an enjoyable character and it’s great to see her have a story of her own in ‘Ice’, but it’s shame that she’s little more than a decoy in it. There’s also some problematic discussion of rape fantasies that feels entirely inappropriate.
That caveat aside, ‘Ice’ is a very solid crime novel. The mystery is engaging and McBain’s talent for snappy dialogue is second to none. It’s a book that is entirely representative of the series, packed with humour, realistic investigative techniques and a wonderful intellectual tension as the mystery unfurls. If you like crime fiction, you owe it to yourself to give the 87th Precinct series a try, and ‘Ice’ is as good a place to start as any.
If you like the series already, I’d also unreservedly recommend the podcast ‘Hark! The 87th Precinct Series’. It’s a brilliantly engaging, informative and entertaining book by book run down of the series that’s essential listening for McBain fans.
You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found here at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.
Olly joined the team in August 2018. He is our first non-American team member, and lives in the UK. He is the head of our UK team. Olly reviews both science fiction and horror books and movies for the site. He also enjoys writing articles when time allows.
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