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Another Part of the City by Ed McBain (Mysterious: $15.95; 230 pp.) : CINDERELLA by Ed McBain (Henry Holt: $14.95; 262 pp.)

May 04, 1986|James Kaufmann | Kaufmann writes the monthly Crime Corner column for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune. and

Iwas introduced to modern crime one day in pre-adolescence when I lifted an 87th Precinct novel (I've forgotten which one) from my father's nightstand, smuggled it to my room and read it with guilty pleasure.

The dialogue seemed pretty funny, not to mention adult, and I knew that the dosage of sex and violence unquestionably exceeded my minimum daily (annual, probably) requirement. Finished with it, I swiped another.

Now, years later, I have read many Ed McBain novels, enough to know that his real name is Evan Hunter, and that he has employed other pseudonyms--Ezra Hannon, Curt Cannon, Richard Marsten and Hunt Collins--in the writing of almost 100 books since 1952.

Hunter has published more books as McBain than as Hunter, and the latest two are "Cinderella," sixth in a series begun in 1978 and featuring Florida lawyer Matthew Hope, and "Another Part of the City," a police procedural, starring the 5th--not the 87th--Precinct.

In "Another Part of the City," we start with Sadie, a bag lady, who sees the murderers arrive; then move to the scene of the murder; then back to Sadie, fleeing. Next, we climb the social ladder, arriving at Sotheby's, where Sargent Kidd will sell his prized collection for $36 million and change. Next scene: A shoplifting Santa is busted.

We are introduced to the boys of the 5th Precinct at the murder scene and later at the station house, and get a tight-focus shot of Bryan Reardon, the novel's main cop, as he makes a futile attempt at reconciliation with his wife.

At around this point, as in almost all McBain police procedurals, the principal characters have been introduced. McBain will weave them in and out of the plot until he runs out of pages. That the murderers are found goes without saying--motion is the thing.

"Cinderella"--all the novels in this series are titled after fairy tales--starts with a private eye employed by Matthew Hope, a Florida lawyer working a tail job. No sooner do we meet the shamus than he's murdered on the Tamiami Trail.

The PI was trying to get the goods on a wandering husband, but that's not why he died. No, the force behind "Cinderella," like too many crime novels these days, is cocaine.

But "Cinderella" is just as much about Matthew Hope's surprisingly renewed romantic interest in his ex-wife Susan. Surprising because previous Hope novels have chronicled their acrimonious relationship in rich detail. There are some sexy scenes--are they headed for reconciliation?

"Another Part of the City" and "Cinderella" share McBain's patented story rhythms: the jump-cutting from character to character and scene to scene, the mix of ethnic and social (stereo) types, mildly ironic plot twists, the amusing banter of the squad room.

McBain's novels are always topical, only modestly demanding, well paced, always at least good but never great, and wonderfully comfortable. And though they're far from the new frontiers of style and plot, "Another Part of the City" and "Cinderella" are inevitably, if almost inexplicably, satisfying. What you expect is what you get.

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