Fuzz by Ed McBain

This week I took on Fuzz by Ed McBain. Hold on, I have to get something out of my system…

McBain as an author has apparently little to do with The Simpsons character, though. Fuzz doesn’t center on a single Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger character. It’s a number of characters in the 87th precinct. It’s a thrilling crime drama, but not quite the Bruce Willis/Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie kind of a thing.

(For those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 8th for…David Foster Wallace?! Yeah, apparently so.)

The 87th precinct is in a mess. A cunning criminal known as ‘The Deaf Man’ is making extortion demands, and killing city officials when the demands aren’t met. He kills the parks commissioner. He kills the deputy mayor. Fuzz has plenty of stark crime drama type action:

That night, as Parks Commissioner Cowper came down the broad white marble steps outside Philharmonic Hall, his wife clinging to his left arm, swathed in mink and wearing a diaphanous white scarf on her head, the commissioner himself resplendent in black tie and dinner jacket, the mayor and his wife four steps ahead, the sky virtually starless, a bitter brittle dryness to the air, that night as the parks commissioner came down the steps of Philharmonic Hall with the huge two-story-high windows behind him casting warm yellow light onto the windswept steps and pavement, that night as the commissioner lifted his left foot preparatory to placing it on the step below, laughing at something his wife said in his ear, his laughter billowing out of his mouth in puffs of visible vapor that whipped away on the wind like comic strip balloons, that night as he tugged on his right-hand glove with his already gloved left hand, that night two shots cracked into the plaza, shattering the wintry stillness, and the commissioner’s laugh stopped, the commissioner’s hand stopped, the commissioner’s foot stopped, and he tumbled headlong down the steps, blood pouring from his forehead and his check, and his wife screamed, and the mayor turned to see what was the matter, and an enterprising photographer on the sidewalk caught the toppling commissioner on film for posterity.

He was dead long before his body rolled to a stop on the wide white bottom step.

However, oddly enough, there is a slapstick humor element regularly mixed in with all the cop drama and crime aspects:

The painters were in a garrulous mood.

“What have you got going, a stakeout?” the first painter asked.

“Is that what the walkie-talkie’s for?” the second painter asked.

“Is there gonna be a bank holdup?”

“Is that why you’re listening to that thing?”

“Shut up,” Kling said encouragingly.

The painters were on their ladders, slopping apple green paint over everything in sight.

“We painted the D.A.’s office once,” the first painter said.

“They were questioning this kid who stabbed his mother forty-seven times.”

“Forty-seven times.”

“In the belly, the head, the breasts, everyplace.”

“With an icepick.”

“He was guilty as sin.”

“He said he did it to save her from the Martians.”

“A regular bedbug.”

“Forty-seven times.”

“How could that save her from the Martians?” the second painter said.

“Maybe Martians don’t like ladies with icepick holes in them,” the first painter said, and burst out laughing.

The drama was gripping and well written, and I did get a guffaw out of the humor. I did find some weird repetitions in Fuzz that grated a little bit. Here are a few: 1. The city is a bitch. 2. It’s cold. 3. People don’t like working on Saturdays. These didn’t break up the book too much, but they were kind of weird things to harp on.

Fuzz was my first McBain and I have to say I had a lot of fun. I was expecting a fast paced and stark crime drama, and it was and did all that well, but I wasn’t expecting the intermixing of the slapstick humor. Fuzz is gripping and vivid, action-oriented and all that, but it’s also quite funny in parts. That made it a lot more for me than a simple crime drama. I enjoyed myself much more than I thought I was going to.

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