As widely reported throughout the blogosphere (and with a particularly heartfelt tribute from Sarah), the man who signed his checks Evan Hunter and who offered books under the names Hunter and Ed McBain has passed on. He was 78.
My first introduction to Hunter’s books were through a few hardcovers that somebody had given to me. This person was going to throw the tomes away and, being a selective packrat when it comes to books, I stopped him in the nick of time. Let’s just say that I was dubious about the “sultry” women on the covers, who sported pistols and wore their hair in dated feathery 1980s efforts to look what some publisher perceived as “trashy.” Presumably, it moved books. But the look of these ladies, to my eyes anyway, was about as morally compromised as It’s a Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey.
But I read them anyway. And found that the text itself was far from the pinup cliches on the cover. These were cops who had sizable problems, inhabiting a gritty world that was damn near hopeless, but bristling with life as if to defy the hard breaks. What made the McBain novels work were the telling details tossed so effortlessly throughout the text. A carefully wiped counterpane or a hastily tied garbage bag wouldn’t just give you a hint to the crime. It would tell you everything you needed to know about the people.
I’ve only read a few of his novels and that was many years ago. But now than Hunter’s gone, I hope I can work in some time to check out a good deal more.