My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A woman in black walks into the squad room of the 87th Precinct's detectives. Four detectives are there, going through another routine day of complaints, interrogations, reports, holdups, beatings, rapes, and murders. The woman in black changes their day forever.
She reaches into her coat pocket and brings out her hand holding a gun - a .38. She has the drop on the four men. They are her prisoners.
The woman is on a mission. Her aim is to kill Steve Carella. As it happens, Carella is out when she arrives. He had taken his wife to the doctor's office and then had gone to investigate an alleged suicide. No one knows when he will return. The woman says she will wait. They will all wait.
The woman blames Steve Carella for the death of her husband. Sometime earlier, Carella had surprised the man in the process of holding up a service station. He had shot and blinded the station attendant. Carella overcame and arrested him. He was tried, convicted, and sent to prison and while there he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. And now he has died. Obviously (to his wife, at least), it is all Steve Carella's fault and he must die.
After she has disarmed the detectives, the woman reaches into her purse and brings out a jar of a clear liquid which she says is nitroglycerin. Any false moves from anybody and she will blow them all to Kingdom Come.
While all this drama is happening in the squad room, Steve Carella is out doing his job, investigating the "suicide." A man has been found hanging in a locked (from the inside) and windowless room. It's the classic locked room mystery. And just as in all such mysteries, something smells funny about the crime, although Carella can't put his finger on it. He proceeds to interrogate the family and the butler who was on the scene and slowly begins to work out just how murder might have been accomplished and made to look like suicide.
Back at the precinct, the tense situation continues and is heightened when another policeman comes into the squad room and the woman with the gun shoots him. He lies bleeding on the floor and the woman in charge will not allow his co-workers to get medical help for him.
Various detectives imagine various schemes for alerting the outside world to their plight, but nothing works. All their attempts are thwarted. Things are not looking bright as the day recedes into evening.
Ed McBain has conjured up a prickly and difficult conundrum for his detectives. Do any of them dare to try to be a hero? Are they willing to sacrifice their colleague, Carella's, life for their own? How can they possibly disarm a woman with a gun and a bottle of nitro without blowing up themselves?
This is another typical McBain tale, sharply written, brief, with swift-moving action. It was far from my favorite of the ones in this series that I've read so far. As with the last couple of books, I was really put off by the attitudes and the language of the detectives in their dealings with the public, including suspects. They are so very misogynistic and rude. I try to bear in mind that this was published in 1958, almost 60 years ago, in a very different society, but, as a woman, it is hard not to be deeply offended by it.
One hopes that in the intervening 60 years cops might have learned a few things and may no longer wear their prejudices proudly along with their badges and brutalize the people in their custody and at their mercy. One can hope, and undoubtedly some policemen have learned, but when one reads the daily headlines it seems unlikely that such change has been as widespread as one would wish for.
View all my reviews