Saturday, June 5, 2021

Ed McBain's Cut Me In (AKA The Proposition)

American writer Ed McBain (1926-2005) was born Salvatore Lombino but legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. He wrote under various names but was best known for his incredibly long-running 87th Precinct series of police procedurals written under the name Ed McBain. Cut Me In (which was later republished as The Proposition) was written in 1954 under the name Hunt Collins. The more recent Hard Case Crime reprint was issued under the Ed McBain name (and with a great Robert McGinnis cover painting).

Cut Me In begins when literary agent Josh Blake (who narrates the novel) wakes up next to a blonde. He has no idea who she is. It’s the start of an interesting day. He arrives at his office to find his partner Del Gilbert lying on the floor of his office very dead, with three bullet holes in him. And the office safe door is wide open.

No-one is the slightest bit sorry that Del Gilbert is dead. Not his wife, nor his mistress nor his partner nor anyone who ever had business dealings with him.

Josh thinks the murder may have something to do with a very important contract which was apparently stolen from the safe. Detective Sergeant Di Luca however is not buying that theory. He believes that murder is a very simple business. People commit murders for simple straightforward motives.

For Josh Blake life is about to become anything but simple and straightforward. Del Gilbert is not even cold when Gilbert’s wife Gail and mistress Lydia try to seduce Josh.

There will be more murders, and more women will try to seduce Josh Blake (some more successfully than others).

This is not a police procedural but it’s really a noir novel either. And it’s only very slightly hard-boiled. Although there is a cop and although Josh Blake finds himself having to give some thought to solving the case it’s not quite a novel in which a detective (amateur or otherwise) spends the whole book trying to solve a crime. Di Luca remains in the background and Josh isn’t all that interested in finding Del Gilbert’s killer. Not until he’s put in a position where for reasons of his own he has to do so. This is more a story in which a mystery gets solved when a particular character stumbles across the solution.

This is however a genuine mystery novel. And it’s fairly clued. It’s one of those mysteries which is complex but in which the solution seems obvious and right once the final piece of the jigsaw is slotted into place.

The key to the mystery hinges on whether Di Luca is right about murder being a simple business or whether Josh Blake is right in thinking that sometimes murder is more complicated.

Di Luca is not a genius cop but he’s a professional who knows his job. Josh Blake is not a genius amateur detective but he is an intelligent man who can see a pattern when it starts to form. Josh is no plaster saint. He’s not as ruthless a businessman as his deceased partner but he’s still pretty ruthless. He can be a bit ruthless in personal as well as business matters. The difference between Del Gilbert and Josh is that Gilbert would do anything to make a buck whereas Josh will do almost anything but does draw the line at certain things. Josh does have some moral compass even if his morality is a bit flexible.

McBain’s style is straightforward but it does have a certain rugged style and there are some humorous touches.

There’s not much sleaze but there is a fair bit of tasteful sexiness.

This is a good solid mystery novel and it’s highly recommended.

The Hard Case Crime reprint also includes a McBain novelette, Now Die In It, featuring one of his early series characters, Matt Cordell. Matt Cordell has a few problems but nothing that cheap whiskey can’t fix. He used to be a private eye. Now he just drinks. Until an old pal convinces him to take on a case. The case soon becomes a murder case. It’s an OK story, a bit more hardboiled than Cut Me In.

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