Thursday, 17 July 2014

ED McBAIN - DRIVING LESSONS


Synopsis/blurb……

A sunny, quiet, perfectly ordinary school day in autumn turns suddenly dark when sixteen-year-old Rebecca Patton runs down and kills a pedestrian during a driving lesson. It all happens so quickly, so inexplicably, like an accident. The victim - a woman carrying a red handbag - had been stepping off the curb at the corner of Grove and Third. Then she was lying in the street, in critical condition.

When police detective Katie Logan arrives at the station house, she finds a distraught but cooperative Rebecca. Her driving instructor, Andrew Newell, is totally disoriented, however. He appears to be drunk. Or on drugs. Certainly, his apparent incompetence warrants his arrest in what has now become a case of negligent homicide.

The situation in this adroitly told tale by a master at the top of his form grows far more sinister, though, when Logan learns that the victim's handbag has been recovered. It identifies the dead woman as Andrew Newell's wife.

Only acquired at the weekend and read already – pretty impressive, huh? Ok it’s a long short story, 72 pages in all, originally published in 1999 – the same year as the 49th and 50th books in his long-running 87th Precinct series appeared.

Apart from the odd 87th series book, I haven’t read anything from McBain for over 20 years. I think my enjoyment of this offering, means it won’t be another 20 before I start re-visiting his fictional city.

We have a learner driver, who knocks down and kills the wife of her driving instructor. There’s 3 or 4 possibilities; a total accident (and a coincidence that the victim is connected to the driving instructor), or the driver did it on purpose, but the instructor remains responsible because it happened under his tutelage, or the instructor himself engineered the accident, or the “troubled” victim decided to commit suicide and either by design or coincidence involved her husband in the act.

As our investigation unveils more evidence, we arrive at a plausible and satisfactory conclusion. Along the way, we cross paths with the church and a priest who was counselling the victim, but refuses to reveal too much to the detectives citing priest-penitent privilege – something which frustrates them but always kinds of interests me as a reader. Detective Logan knows there’s a thread of a clue in the nature of her victim’s availing herself of the priest’s services when it’s discovered he isn't of her own parish. She has to keep picking at it.

As an aside, we learn details of Logan’s own personal situation – her marital troubles and the continuing awkward dialogue with her estranged husband and his new girl, as they try to negotiate a divorce. All of this was irrelevant to the plot but added to my enjoyment – you can’t beat a bit of flesh on the bones.

Overall, not the best book I've read this month, but I certainly got value far surpassing the 50p I paid for it.     
  
3 from 5


Bought second hand last week.     

McBain was a pen-name for Evan Hunter, who published over 30 novels under his real name in addition to further pseudonyms. As McBain there are 55 novels in the 87th Precinct series, 13 in the Matthew Hope (a lawyer) series and about 15 standalone novels as well as numerous short stories. The Ed McBain website is here.

Evan Hunter died in 2005 at the age of 78. 

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PS - A minor irritation to me, why does "Blogger-my PC" mess around with the text in this post? Big writing, small writing, big writing, small writing. It wasn't me, honest ....or if it was it was unwittingly.  

8 comments:

  1. I liked the sound of this when you described it before, and at 72 pages it's worth a try.
    I thought you'd decided to experiment with fonts - but I'm all too familiar with the limitations of blogger, the formatting drives me mad.

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    1. Moira, it's a decent enough way of passing an hour or two in my opinion.

      Blogger is annoying, though I shouldn't moan too much I suppose as it is free. I did have someone say to me the other day they tried to sign up to follow the blog but couldn't - which is uber-annoying as followers are scarcer than hen's teeth round here!

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  2. Col - I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I agree that McBain was good at drawing story lines together for a satisfying conclusion, and I do like the 87th precinct characters.

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    1. Margot thanks. I'm looking forward to delving into the 87th books - probably won't be this year though.

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  3. Col, McBain has come up with some ingenious plots and this, I feel, is one of them. I haven't read it, though. Many of his paperbacks, including the ones in my basket, are less than 150 or 200 pages which makes him that much more appealing to a reader with little time to read.

    Re. font trouble, here's a suggestion as we both use Blogger, assuming you haven't already tried it: after you paste the text on "New Post" from a Word file, click "Remove Formatting" (top right) which will lead to separation of lines or gaps between the lines, which is okay. Then you bring the lines together, insert pictures, and only then choose the font by selecting the entire text. I usually select each paragraph and apply the font. Hope this helps, Col. By and large, I've had no trouble with Blogger.

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    1. Prashant, I think 200 pages is ideal for someone with limited time, or someone like me who wants to get through a large number of books. Obviously I will read much longer books most of the time, but give me 2 @ 200 any day as opposed to 1 @ 400.

      Thanks for your expertise re formatting. I will try and see how my next offering goes. Most of my posts are constructed away from the blog on word and then imported, so fingers crossed!

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  4. Sounds like an interesting story. I will have to give it a try someday, if I ever find a copy.

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    1. I had never heard of this one before picking it up. As I said to Moira - it's worth an hour or two of anyone's time.

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