A couple of nights ago, I picked up The Gutter and the Grave
by Ed McBain, republished by Hard Case Crime
. The book was first published under a different title (and psuedonym) in 1958. You might think that with fifty years on it, the book would sound dated or somehow silly, but instead it is a marvel to me. I'm halfway through (remember,I'm an awfully slow reader) and the tone of the book is perfect.
The book is told in the first person by a drunken former private eye. The man tries to be unlikable, but I can't help myself. He may carry trouble on him, but I'd want him on my team. Every couple of pages has a succinct description of a place or person that makes me want to read it again (thereby slowing me even further). The prose is tight and crackles with life, a life that is imparted to the central character.
I wonder, however, if such a book would find a big name publisher today. It's quite short at about 200 well-spaced pages, and in the first hundred pages there are no dramatic scenes of violence. Just a guy with attitude reluctantly looking into a case for an old friend. Love the character, but would it be picked up today? Certainly with McBain's name on it there's no problem.
Anyway, though my novels have been compared to McBain's work (even favorably) I've never read one of his novels before. (I read Evan Hunter's Blackboard Jungle as a teenager, does that count?) I'll have to do more to rectify that situation. I think I'd want to stay in the 1950s for my next McBain.
In the mean time, I'll look out for other Hard Case Crime books.
PS: Just finished the book. It's great all the way throughout. If this is his early stuff (and for a writer that prolific, the first few dozen books are the early ones) then it's no wonder he was a MWA Grandmaster. Only one question: Where's Frannie at the end? I mean, the guy's lonely, she's lonely, there's that gaunlet on the floor...