A bitterly cold night offers up a body turned blue—not frozen, but swinging from a rope in a dank basement. The dead teen seems like a clear case of suicide, but Detective Steve Carella and Lieutenant Peter Byrnes find a few facts out of place, and an autopsy confirms their suspicions. The boy hadn’t hung himself but OD’d on heroin before an unknown companion strung him up to hide the true cause of death. The revelation dredges up enough muck to muddy the waters of what should’ve been an open-and-shut case. To find the answers to a life gone off the rails, Carella and Byrnes face a deep slog into the community of users and pushers—but a grim phone call discloses that very community already has its claws in a cop’s son. A new pusher is staking a claim right under the 87th Precinct’s noses, and it’s up to Carella and Byrnes to snag the viper before it poisons their whole lives.
About the Author
Ed McBain was one of the pen names of successful and prolific crime fiction author Evan Hunter (1926–2005). Debuting in 1956, the popular 87th Precinct series is one of the longest running crime series ever published, featuring more than fifty novels, and is hailed as “one of the great literary accomplishments of the last half-century.” McBain was awarded the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 1986 by the Mystery Writers of America and was the first American to receive the Cartier Diamond Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain.
Read an Excerpt
Winter came in like an anarchist with a bomb.
Wild-eyed, shrieking, puffing hard, it caught the city in cold, froze the marrow and froze the heart.
The wind roared under eaves and tore around corners, lifting hats and lifting skirts, caressing warm thighs with icy-cold fingers. The citizens blew on their hands and lifted their coat collars and tightened their mufflers. They had been enmeshed in the slow-dying lethargy of autumn, and now winter was upon them, rapping their teeth with knuckles of ice. The citizens grinned into the wind, but the wind was not in a smiling mood. The wind roared and bellowed, and snow spilled from the skies, covered the city with white and then, muddied and dirtied, yielded to the wind and the cold and turned to treacherous ice.
The citizens deserted the streets. They sought pot-bellied stoves and hissing radiators. They drank cheap rye or expensive Scotch. They crawled under the covers alone, or they found the warmth of another body in the primitive ritual of love while the wind howled outside.
Winter was going to be a bitch this year.
The patrolman's name was Dick Genero, and he was cold. He didn't like winter, and that was that. You could sell him ice skating and skiing and bobsledding and hot rum toddies and all the other fictions of a happy, happy snowy season and he would still tell you to go drop dead someplace. Summer was Genero's season. He was one of those people, that's all. He liked warm sand and a hot sun and blue skies with hardly any clouds in them, and he also liked summer storms with lots of lightning, and he liked flowers blooming and gin-tonics, and you could take all the winters that ever were and stuff them into a beat-up old tin can and dump them in the River Dix, and Genero would have been a very happy man.
His ears were cold.
"When your ears are cold, you're cold all over," Genero's mother used to say, and Genero's mother was a well of wisdom on weather conditions. Genero walked his beat with his cold ears, and he thought of his mother, and then unrelatedly and belatedly thought of his wife and wished he were home with her in bed. It was two o'clock in the morning, and any man in his right mind would not be walking the streets of the city at two in the morning with a temperature in the low twenties and a pretty woman at home in bed.
The wind ripped at his winter overcoat, pierced the heavy blue material and licked at his winter blouse. The cold soaked into his undershirt, and Genero shivered and thought of his ears, remembering not to touch them because if you touched them when they were cold, they would fall off. His mother had told him that, too. He had been tempted on several occasions in his life to touch his ears when they were cold, just to see if they would fall off. He was, in truth, afraid they would not and there would go a son's faith in his mom. So he dutifully kept his gloved hands away from his head, and he ducked his head against the wind and thought of Rosalie home in bed, and thought of Florida and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Isles and Africa, working his way south until he realized abruptly he had reached the South Pole, where the cold still persisted.
It's warm, he told himself. Come on, now it's warm.
Look at all the bathing beauties in their scanty suits, Jesus, but this sand is hot today. Listen to that ocean, ah, thank God for the cool breeze, we can certainly use a cool breeze on a scorcher like today, that's for sure. And...
And I'll bet maybe they will fall off if I touch them.
The streets were empty. Well sure, that figured. Only idiots and cops were out tonight. He walked to the candy store and automatically tried the doorknob, cursing the proprietor for not having the store open so that a cop with his ears ready to fall off could go in and have a cup of coffee. Ingrates, he thought, all ingrates. Home and asleep while I'm trying the stupid doorknob. Who'd pull a burglary on a night like this, anyway? A man's fingers would freeze solid to the burglar's tools, the way fingers freeze solid to metal in the Arctic. There's a cheerful thought. Jesus, I am cold!
He started up the street. Lanny's Bar was probably still open. He would stop there to see that no fights were in progress and perhaps sneak an against-regulations nip to take the edge off this cold. He could see nothing wrong with a little nip. A man could pretend he was chilly, true, but when a man's underwear showed the ability to stand unaided and independently in the middle of the street, it was time to dispense with the "chilly" fantasy and realize that freezing was but a stone's throw away. Genero clapped his gloved hands together and lifted his head.
He saw the light.
It came from somewhere up the street. The street was black except for the light. Genero stopped and squinted his eyes against the wind. The tailor shop, he thought instantly. That stupid ass Cohen is pressing clothes in the wee hours of the morn again. He would have to warn him. "Max," he would have to say, "you're a hell of a nice guy, but when you're going to be pressing late at night, give the house a ring and wise up us poor bastards, will you?"
Then Max would nod and smile and give him a glass of that sweet wine he kept behind the counter. All at once, Max didn't seem so stupid.
Max was the kind benefactor of all cops walking beats everywhere. Max's light was a shining beacon, the shop a sanctuary for ice-bound freighters. Get the bottle out, Max, Genero thought. I'm on my way.
He headed for the tailor shop and the light, and he would have really enjoyed that glass of wine with Max, were it not for one thing:
The light was not coming from the tailor shop.
The light came from farther up the street, spilling from the open mouth of the basement steps under one of the tenements. For a moment, Genero was puzzled. If not Max...
Genero quickened his step. Quite unconsciously, he drew off his right glove and yanked his service revolver from its holster. The faces of the buildings were closed with sleep. Only the light pierced the darkness, and he approached the light warily, stopping before the steps where they descended beyond the hanging chain to enter the bowels of the tenement.
A door was hooded in shadow beneath the brick stoop of the building, and a window was set high up in the brick alongside the door. The window was caked with grime, but it glowed like a single wakeful eye. Cautiously, Genero climbed over the chain and started down the steps.
A narrow alley ran straight as an arrow to the back yard of the tenement. The garbage cans were in for the night, stacked haphazardly in the alleyway, dispelling their stench on the crisp December air. Genero glanced quickly up the alleyway, and then walked quietly to the door.
He stood listening. There was no sound from beyond the door. He held the revolver ready in his right hand, and with his left hand, he twisted the doorknob.
Surprisingly, the door swung open.
Genero backed away suddenly. He was sweating. His ears were still cold, but he was sweating. He listened to the sound of his own breathing, listened for other sounds in the cold sleeping city, listened for the silent scrape of a foot, something, anything. He listened for a long time, and then he entered the basement room.
The light came from a naked bulb suspended from a thick wire cord. It hung absolutely motionless. It did not swing, it did not make the slightest movement, so that the wire cord seemed almost to have been frozen into a slender steel rod. An orange crate rested on the floor beneath the light bulb. There were four bottle caps on the crate. Genero pulled out his pocket flash and swung the arc around the room. There were pin-up pictures on one of the walls, pasted close together, breasts to buttocks, cramped for space. The opposite wall was bare. There was a cot at the far end of the room, and there was a barred window over it.
Genero swung the light a little to the left and then, startled, pulled back, the .38 jerking upward spasmodically.
A boy was sitting on the cot.
His face was blue. He was leaning forward. He was leaning forward at a most precarious angle, and when the first cold shock of discovery left Genero, he wondered why the boy didn't fall forward onto his face. That was when he saw the rope.
One end of the rope was fastened to the barred window. The other end was knotted around the boy's neck. The boy kept leaning forward expectantly as if he wanted to get up off the cot and break into a spring. His eyes were wide, and his mouth was open, and there seemed to be life coiled deep within his body, ready to unspring and catapult him into the room. Only the color of his face and the position of his arms betrayed the fact that he was dead. The blue of the face was a sickly hue; his arms lay like heavy sleepers at his sides, the hands turned palms upward. Several inches from one hand was an empty hypodermic syringe.
Tentatively, somewhat frightened, somewhat ashamed of his superstitious dread of a dead body, Genero took a step closer and studied the blue face in the beam of the flash. To prove he wasn't frightened at all, he stood looking into the blank eyes for a moment or two longer than he felt he had to.
Then he hurried from the room, trembling, and headed for the nearest call box.
Copyright © 1956 by Ed McBain. Copyright renewed © 1984 by Hui Corp.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first book I've read by Ed McBain, and now I'm hooked. The prose is spare, grim, and funny; and the characters are moving. In an early scene, the detectives interview the mother of a victim, and it's the most credible and moving such interview I've read in a mystery. Some of the omniscient narrator's asides are quirky, almost loopy, but the author doesn't pull punches when he's presenting tragedy, and the combination gives the book broad emotional range. I'm amazed at how well this book has weathered the decades since it was published, and I'm look forward to experiencing how the rest of the series develops.