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Review: Another terrific Ed McBain

'Frumious Bandersnatch' author shows no sign of slowing

By L.D. Meagher


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'The Frumious Bandersnatch'
  • By Ed McBain
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Fiction
  • 304 pages
    Ed McBain

    (CNN) -- There is music in the air. It's a blues riff, stoked up to hip-hop proportions. It pulses with life and promise. It heralds the birth of a new star.

    Then the music stops. The ensuing silence heralds something quite different -- a horrible crime.

    Welcome back to the 87th Precinct.

    For the 54th time, novelist Ed McBain takes readers along as the hard-bitten detectives of the Eight-Seven go about their business. This time, they are investigating a kidnapping.

    Singer Tamar Valparaiso is abducted from a party yacht as she performs her debut single. Detective Steve Carella catches the call and finds himself swept up in the odd and contradictory worlds of show business and the FBI.

    "The Frumious Bandersnatch" allows McBain to probe -- and pillory -- the way federal agents go about their business, in contrast to the more methodical, but ultimately more successful, procedures of the local cops.

    He also takes swipes at a wide range of other targets -- the news media, which is in a feeding frenzy akin to the recent Janet Jackson uproar; the music industry (especially its symbiotic relationship with radio stations); and modern urban life in general.

    "Many of the hidden warrens in this and other American cities," he writes, "now house drug pads to shame the ancient opium dens of China. Where not too many years ago, you could smoke a crack pipe in one of these places for a mere five bucks, this cheap cocaine derivative has now mysteriously fallen out of favor, to be replaced by heroin as the drug of choice, an ascendancy that no doubt thrills the poppy growers in Afghanistan now that they've been liberated by American soldiers."

    Carella is the point man for his squad in the case and the other denizens of the 87th Precinct make only relatively brief appearances. And Fat Ollie Weeks, from the neighboring Eight-Eight, is back, even though he has no connection to the investigation. Instead, he is (believe it or not) dating.

    Hard-boiled, wryly observant, urbanely cynical -- all the hallmarks of Ed McBain are on display in "The Frumious Bandersnatch." Cops and feds alike get caught up in a criminal enterprise almost worthy of the Lewis Carroll poem that inspired the title. It's another bravura performance by the master of the police procedural.

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