Way back in 1959, critic Anthony Boucher blew the whistle on author Evan Hunter's use of the pseudonym Ed McBain for his crime novels. Since then, it has become one of the worst-kept secrets in the mystery field. Therefore, the appearance of both names as collaborators on the novel "Candyland" (Simon & Schuster, $25, 302 pages) is obviously not an attempt to fool anybody. There's a playfulness about the way the "collaboration" is presented, carried to its ultimate by a gimmicky jacket photo in which a dapper, suit-and-tie Hunter shares a street corner with his more casually attired alter ego.
There's also a purpose, the same one that originally led Hunter to use the McBain moniker. The names suggest the shift in story content that occurs midway through the novel. The first section, attributed to Hunter, isn't really crime fiction. It follows the misadventures of Benjamin Thorpe, a middle-aged West Coast architect whose addiction to sex gets the better of him on an overnight business trip to New York. The mystery element occurs in the second part of the book, when, in McBain fashion, the focus shifts to police detectives investigating the particularly brutal murder of a young woman whom Thorpe encountered on his dark night.
Missing from the crime scene are McBain's familiar cops from his popular 87th Precinct series. One of the reasons is that the 87th exists only in Isola, a fictional metropolis that merely mirrors Manhattan. The setting here is the real Big Apple, a wormy one at that, with temptations and dangers and grit and squalor that underscore the irony of the title. Standing in for Steve Carella is Emma Boyle, a policewoman in the Special Victims Unit assigned to homicide. She's a worthy substitute--a shrewd, tough-minded, but not insensitive, detective and a recent divorcee who has lost the first round in a court battle for custody of her child. She's definitely a character worth encountering again, should Hunter and McBain decide to get together for another joint effort.
If the pure enjoyment of stories well-told is not inducement enough for you to pick up the softcover edition of Ed Gorman's "Moonchasers and Other Stories" (Forge, $14.95, 384 pages) as well as his new mystery novel, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (Carroll & Graff, $22.95, 197 pages), perhaps the added discovery of the two books' literary link will do the trick.
The collection, which features a number of polished gems, is distinguished by the remarkable long novelette "Moonchasers." Set in a lovingly depicted Iowa town in the late 1950s, it's the story of two teenage boys who discover a wounded bank robber slowly bleeding to death in a deserted warehouse. On a whim (the felon reminds them of their favorite screen idol, Robert Mitchum) they decide to keep his presence a secret and provide him with food and medication. The robber is not the villain of the piece; that's a mean-spirited and, as it turns out, homicidal local cop who lusts after the robber's loot.
The inventive, often-surprising yarn is narrated by one of the boys, a bright and observant lad with a fondness for B movies, rock 'n' roll, Gold Medal paperbacks and justice. Give him another 10 years and keep him in that same 1950s small-town Iowa setting and you have Sam McCain, the hero-narrator of Gorman's highly entertaining mystery series of which "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" is the third and most recent entry. It delivers an often witty, fast-paced whodunit while smartly evoking the mood of conservative, better-dead-than-Red middle America in the days just before Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 U.S. visit.
The mystery begins with Black River Falls' most vocal ultraliberal expiring in McCain's office with a bloody hammer and sickle adorning his forehead. Nearly everyone--including the obnoxious local lawman and a variety of visiting spooks and spies--makes the obvious assumption that the murder is political. But lawyer and part-time detective McCain suspects a more personal motive. It's his provincial outlook that helps him solve crimes and, not incidentally, adds to the series' originality. Here's a sample: "In legend, the first blacksmith in these parts was a Plains Indian said to have mystical powers. It was a nice story, but according to town records the first blacksmith was a guy named Louis J. Nordberg, Jr., who later ran for mayor. If he had mystical powers he kept them to himself."