Cut Me In by Ed McBain

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Reviewed by Annabel

Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter, although that wasn’t his original name either) was a prolific author, writing over eighty novels. These included over fifty ‘87th Precinct’ books; with these, he effectively created and introduced the police procedural style in crime novels. This series ran from the late 1950s until Hunter’s death in 2005. He also wrote many other books under a variety of other pseudonyms – from children’s SF to the early 1950s novel that brought him to prominence – The Blackboard Jungle.

One of his early novels was Cut Me In. Published in the early 1950s under the name Hunt Collins, it has been rescued from pulp fiction oblivion. Hard Case Crime  working with Titan Books have republished it for the first time in over sixty years with a glorious new pulp style cover painting by Robert McGinnis.

Gilbert and Blake is a literary agency in New York City. As the story opens, Josh Blake is saying goodbye to his take-home date from the night before – he doesn’t even know her name. It’s already sweltering and Josh needs to be at the office early to take a call from Hollywood, about a series of Western stories that they owned the TV rights to. If everything goes to plan, when the studio signs to make the movies, they’ll make a fortune as rights holders. The letter is in the office safe.  ‘This was our meal ticket, and we weren’t taking a chance on it getting lost or misplaced.’

Everything’s too quiet at the office and Josh goes into Del’s office, where the safe is open and papers are all over the floor. Then Josh sees Del:

He was lying on the floor. In front of the couch, which was perfectly all right since this was his office, after all. But three holes had very carelessly been left in his face. Two were set close together on his forehead, and the third rested just beneath his left eye, like a small dark tunnel.

His tank of tropical fish has also been smashed:

… I wondered idly why anyone would want to smash a fish tank.

The mind works like that sometimes. I knew Del was Dead, and I knew those were bullet holes in his head, but I didn’t stop to wonder who had killed him. In fact, I don’t think I even realized at the moment that someone had killed him. I simply accepted the corpse and then wondered about the aquarium.

The letter is missing, and Josh’s immediately thinks that Del’s murder is linked to the deal – which will be lost if he can’t find it.  But it can’t be that obvious can it? The police detective assigned to the case is unimpressed by Josh’s theory, for Del was universally disliked in the industry for the way in which he got his deals.  It could have been anyone; it could have been his wife – or his mistress …

Josh in convinced the Cam Stewart Western deal is at the bottom of things and continues his own investigations while the police do theirs. Soon he finds that the film producer who was involved in the studio deal was looking to finance it himself. He goes in search of him.

I wasn’t prepared for the blonde who answered the door. She wore a cocoa-brown sweater that was simply crazy in this heat, but she didn’t seem to mind very much. If anything, she seemed to thrive in it. She seemed to thrive everywhere, in fact, from the unhidden curve of her breast, to the flowing curve of her hip, to her legs, to her throat, to everywhere. She was one of the most thriving creatures I had ever seen.

Classic pulp imagery – but I rather like the description of the girl as ‘thriving’!  I enjoyed all the wise-cracks and Chandleresque quips in this novel a lot.  McBain also succeeds in making us feel heat and humidity of the New York summer (a device he will later use to great effect in his first 87th Precinct novel Cop Hater). With all the shady business deals on the side and a couple of red herrings, the plot is suitably complex and Josh is led from pillar to post sorting it all out. I couldn’t help but envisage Josh as akin to Mad Men’s Don Draper as he goes through this novel with women continually throwing themselves at him, well, most of them.

This edition also includes a bonus novelette called Now Die In It, featuring Matt Cordell, a disgraced PI, who features in McBain’s 1958 novel The Gutter and The Grave. Whereas Cut Me In is set in a glossy world, this novella is set among the less fortunate denizens of the city and Matt is looking for a missing pregnant teenager – it’s more serious in tone and paints a very different picture.

The Hard Case Crime series contains many gems of rediscovered noir and hardboiled crime novels, doing for these sub-genres what the British Library Crime Classics are doing so well for Golden Age mysteries. Having enjoyed this Ed McBain novel so much, I’m looking forward to exploring their list further.

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.

Ed McBain, Cut Me In (Hard Case Crime/Titan books, 2016). 9781783294459, 240 pp., paperback.

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