Book Reviews

Book Review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain – 1950s Police Mystery

I’m not quite sure where I first heard about the “87th Precinct” books. It likely came up as a recommendation after reading some of Michael Connelly’s Bosch series. I enjoy books where police officers are multi-dimensional and paint a portrait of humans with human failings, rather than supermen who should never be questioned.

Cop Hater was first released in 1956. Hard to believe that was 10 years before I was even born. Ed McBain (not his real name) was a television writer at the time and wanted to do a little more writing than what he was able to for television. He came up with this series of novels that would seem to be about New York City but is supposed to be an anonymous city somewhere in the United States. This allowed him to gain knowledge of how solving crime worked at a time when television was in its infancy.

One of the detectives from the 87th Precinct is shot dead on the street. Is it a random act of violence? When a second detective is also killed under mysterious circumstances, Detective Steve Carrella thinks they might have someone out there with a grudge against cops. They try to find a connection between the murders while the body count is rising.

I liked that the story in Cop Hater showed the policemen as human beings. We see their home lives and I could almost cry thinking about the children left behind when these police officers are murdered. They live in the city they work for, much like it was in New York City post World War II before it became gentrified.

It’s a completely different world then from how it is now. If I thought reading early Harry Bosch novels where he didn’t have a cell phone or much access to a computer was hard, it’s positively medieval reading about police procedures from the 1950s. It was typical back then to bring in people who had been convicted of an earlier crime and just shake them down to see if they would confess to having done something else. There was no cause to do this; it was a fishing expedition. There is an introduction to the book that talks about things like this that have changed over the years.

I found Cop Hater to be interesting. The mystery here was good. I didn’t guess who the murderer was early on and read through the story getting the clues at the same time as the detectives. It may be hard for some people to imagine the world as it was 70 years ago and see the differences for what they are, but the overall story is good and it’s an easy read.