Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Woodcutter, The Mugger

Ed McBain's The Mugger is the second of his well-regarded 87th Precinct series.  Unfortunately, this one shows its age a bit; it feels a bit derivative of Chandler here and there.  It's not a bad novel, but also not a great precursor of good things to come.

The Woodcutter, on the other hand, is by an author with a long career, and here Reginald Hill is almost at the top of his form.  I think that the final climactic revelation is a little too melodramatic, but it's also almost irrelevant to the story, and, up till that point, the book is pitch-perfect.  As usual, Hill is very aware of his literary antecedents, in this case The Count of Monte Cristo.  Although he's not in way aping Dumas, it's clear that he knows that story well, while putting a more modern twist on it.

The first part of the story (the unfair incarceration) is communicated to us through essays that Wolf Hadder is writing for his prison psychiatrist.  So they're not in particularly chronological order, and, of course, Wolf has every reason to be careful with his revelations, since his parole will depend on her evaluation of his progress.  Also like the Count, Wolf finds a secret hoard of cash, and he will take his revenge in indirect ways, eschewing direct violence.  Dumas's Count, though, comes to a moral clarity in his actions toward Mercedes.  Does Wolf do the same for Imogen, his Mercedes?  The contrast between Imogen and Mercedes is probably one of the biggest structural differences between the two books.  (Obviously, the addition of the psychiatrist is the other).

This is a much more straight-forward suspense novel than the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and it was a nice break from those.

No comments: