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the heckler

8 february 2015

The Heckler is an uneven and uninhibited policier with a jagged, conversational style, a metaliterary plot, and the brand-name atmosphere of the 87th Precinct.

It may not be the best of Ed McBain's procedurals, but The Heckler has its moments. Like many a Maigret, its keynote is provided by seasonal temperatures. It's April in New York – sorry, I meant "Isola" – and the bizarrely mean streets of McBain's metropolis can't altogether expel the warmth and fresh air of springtime.

The plot also seems like a folly of the season, at least at first. Sure, there's a dead body in the park, blown open by a shotgun blast, but that's nothing the Precinct hasn't seen before. The other affaire du jour consists of the title character's shenanigans. The heckler keeps calling a small-time garment-district entrepreneur and warning him to get out of his rented shop by the end of April or else. He showers weird attentions on the merchant, sending him catered luncheons and hordes of red-headed job applicants – shades of Conan Doyle, of course, which is exactly what the cops think and exactly what the heckler wants them to think.

The two cases come together, and gruesome violence breaks the air du printemps. But despite some cops' blood shed and a particularly nasty heist-gone-wrong moment, the whole novel stays somewhat tentative and artificial. It's a chance for the writer to show off, and show off he does.

McBain, Ed. The Heckler. 1960. In Ed McBain. New York: Octopus / Heinemann, 1981. 465-587.