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Review: McBain again on the 'Money'

"Money, Money, Money"
By Ed McBain
Simon & Schuster
269 pages

By L.D. Meagher
Special to CNN

(CNN) -- The latest crime novel by Ed McBain stretches far beyond the borders of the 87th Precinct, his literary home territory. It begins on the U.S.-Mexico border. A female pilot delivers a mysterious cargo and collects a large amount of cash. She flies off.

Right to the 87th Precinct.

"Money, Money, Money" is the 51st time McBain has trod the familiar streets of his fictional city. He doesn't chart any new territory in this outing, and that's not a bad thing. McBain is nothing if not consistent. He writes police procedurals, period. And "Money, Money, Money" is a pretty good one.

Tough guys and fat detectives

This time, the guys in the precinct catch a couple of weird ones -- the bookseller stuffed in a trash can, the woman tossed (literally) to the lions. And they get help from a detective in the neighboring precinct.

Well, they get Fat Ollie Weeks, and he doesn't really offer much help. It's not just that he's always eating (which he is), but he's also bigoted and not terribly bright (though he thinks he's a genius).

There's quite a collection of bad guys in "Money, Money, Money." Two drug cartel thugs show up, as do a pair of female assassins, a homegrown dealer with delusions of grandeur and, for good measure, some international terrorists. McBain deftly draws the disparate figures together with his trademark tough, smart dialogue and eagle-eyed exposition.

"If you are dealing in controlled substances," he writes, "you do not buy radio commercials or newspaper ads announcing that you are in town looking for a man who paid you with bad money. You play it cool, which is difficult to do when you are eager to tie a man to a chair and pull out his fingernails."

Biting the book business

And if you think the drug dealers and the assassins and the terrorists are bad, wait until you meet the book publishers. McBain, who published his first 87th Precinct novel in 1956, knows where the bodies are buried in the book trade. This novel gives him a chance to bite the hand that feeds him.

"Money, Money, Money" has a comfortable feel, like returning to a neighborhood you've visited on several occasions and always had a good time there. McBain offers enough plot twists, character quirks and shifts of scene to keep the reader wondering what's around the next corner.

And he finishes with a coup de grace -- what may be the single worst piece of intentionally bad prose ever written by an accomplished author. It's not just funny. It's a subtle reminder that Ed McBain is a very good writer.


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