cover image The Last Dance

The Last Dance

Ed McBain. Simon & Schuster, $25 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85513-4

The 50th novel of the 87th Precinct is one of the best, a melancholy, acerbic paean to life--and death--in the fictional big city of Isola. The story begins with death: detectives Meyer Meyer and Steve Carella are questioning Cynthia Keating, whose father lies lifeless in a nearby bed. Cynthia claims she hasn't touched Andrew Hale since she discovered his body, but the cops suspect she's lying: for one thing, the corpse's feet are blue from postmortem lividity, a sign of death by hanging. The detectives' doubts turn darker when, after Cynthia admits she found her father hanged and, in shock, laid him down, the M.E. rules that Hale was murdered. Carella asks stoolie Danny Gimp to listen to the drums on the street for any hints of the killer. Danny calls back for a meet but is gunned down before Carella's eyes by two shooters, who escape. Much shoe leather hits the pavement before the cops find a possible motive: Hale left Cynthia the rights to a play now in preproduction as a major musical. If it's a hit, she and three other heirs stand to gain a fortune--and Hale, the cops further learn, had refused to okay the production while alive. The dicks thus take their investigation into the bustling worlds of theater and high society, which McBain observes tartly. Further deaths ensue, further suspects arise, including a Jamaican hit man who sheds the blood of one of McBain's heroes. The closing of the case comes a tad easily to the cops and to the narrative, but overall this is McBain in classic form, displaying the writing wisdom gained over more than 40 years of 87th Precinct novels (the first appeared in 1956) to deliver a cop story that's as strong and soulful as the urban heart of America he celebrates so well. (Nov.)