Even the Wicked, by Ed McBain**

eventhewickedBest known by the pseudonym Ed McBain, Richard Marsten, the name under which this book was originally scribed in 1958, was born as Salvatore Lombino.  I was a huge fan of McBain’s, and every time I see some small thing he wrote that I haven’t had a chance to read yet, I snap it up. And so it was with this DRC, which I received compliments of Net Galley and Open Road Media. But once I reached the halfway mark, I felt sort of queasy and couldn’t continue. I suspect that much of what he wrote as Marsten might as well be left in whatever obscure attic corner it’s perched in, because society has moved forward since the 1950s, and this book is still there.

The re-publication date for this book is October 25, 2016.

The premise is this. Our protagonist, Zach, is returning to the beach house where he and his now-deceased wife stayed on their wedding night. He brings their little girl Penny along with him. Before he can commence to do any sleuthing, however, the real estate concern that rented the place to him tells him it’s been taken by someone else. Zach isn’t going down easily for two reasons: first, he wants to see if his suspicion regarding the possible murder of his wife is true, and second, he’s already paid in full for the entire stay. The story starts with the excellent, tense build up that would become Lombino-Marsten-McBain-Hunter’s hallmark. I rolled up my sleeves and snuggled in.

And then bit by bit it all went to hell.

First of all, why would a man on a deadly mission bring his little girl with him? Leave the tot somewhere safe or stay home. And then there’s the stereotypic, racist crap about the local Indian. (He’s ‘chiseled’, of course, but he’s also just plain creepy looking.) Next, Daddy Zach tells Penny that he’s pretty sure her mommy was murdered.

The fuck?

And as he sets up his date with destiny, he finally realizes he has to have a sitter for Penny after all—in the contested house, of course, where surely nothing bad will happen to her while he’s away—and so he asks a complete stranger for the name of a babysitter, and the person refers him to someone that’s also a complete stranger. He sets it all up, arranging to leave his little girl, all he has left in this world, with someone he’s never heard of till today and doesn’t even plan to interview, and hits the road to solve the crime.

I got halfway through this thing and finally threw up my hands. Had I read the rest, I might have thrown up, period.

I know that in bygone times, people in the US were much more relaxed about child care arrangements than we are today. Many Caucasian people were also really racist, and men and sometimes even women were sexist, too. But that doesn’t mean I care to see it in my escapist fiction.

If you haven’t read Ed McBain, find something he wrote after 1980 and you’ll be in for a treat. But this one is a thumbs-down.

Cold Quarry, by Andy Straka**


This is 1.5 stars rounded up. No, no, and no.

I received this DRC free from Brash Books in exchange for an honest review.

I was attracted to this mystery, which is set in West Virginia, because it has the novel element of hunters that use falcons, in addition to white Supremacist bad guys known as the Stonewall Ranger Brigade. And it started out as a promising read, with detective Frank Pavlicek and his former Navy Seal partner, Jake Toronto, looking to find out who shot Chester Carew in the back, leaving him dead on his own land. The birds of prey stand as metaphors for Pavlicek and Toronto, who will now hunt the killers as “cold quarry” in order to exact justice.

Who was to expect, then, that the entire novel would be riddled with blantant sexism, with only one positive depiction of a female? It is this one redemptive moment that saved this mystery from a one star rating, a rating I save for the illiterate and the blatantly offensive.

Before I explain further about the stereotyping of women in this work, I should also mention that the N word is used twice–once by a bad guy, once by a more complex figure–and our hero is known to have shot and killed a young African-American man when he was a cop. We are told this was a righteous shooting that gives our hero terrible nightmares nevertheless.

What timing.

But back to the women. Because I wanted to enjoy this book–who picks up a murder mystery without wanting some escapist enjoyment?–I withheld judgment until the 75 percent mark, and even then I read the whole thing to see whether there would be some sly move in which the sexist behaviors of the main characters were called out, or in which the protagonist found himself reflecting that he’d misjudged some women and situations. But the entire narrative was loaded with it, not just the main character’s dialogue and behaviors, so I didn’t think it was likely, and in the end, there was only one good moment for a female character, and the rest were endless cliches.

We have Betty in her apron (“It’s all right, I’ll just be in the kitchen”); nutcase bar owner Roswell Parker; seductive reporter Kara Grayson, who goes to pieces during a violent scene in which she is not injured.

“You stay here with the woman…” Frank tells Jake.Kara tends to an injured animal, and when the dust has settled the two menfolk rush out to save the world while “A female sergeant had also arrived and seen to it that Kara Grayson and the German Shepherd were taken care of.”

We often hear of women that occupy professional positions; we just never see them do their jobs, or if they do, they mess it up. Federal agent Colleen Briggs is one such character, and everyone feels great when she is openly dissed by the deputy sheriff, since she is “a robotic clone of a federal agent”.

Pavlicek has a grown daughter who’s out of state doing some work for him online, but when he gets her on the phone she “pouts”, and he tells her, “You let me worry about that, honey.”

Chester Carew’s son Jason is just old enough to read The Cat in the Hat, but he is old enough to protect his mother, who is helpless, apparently.(Remember Betty? In the kitchen?) Pavlicek gets her permission to speak to her son alone, but he doesn’t tell her what the kid knows or what the kid has seen. And the kid doesn’t want her to know.

We meet Jake Toronto’s girlfriend, who is an attorney, but when we run into her at home, she is cradling a baby. Frank’s daughter Nicole, who has arrived in town, takes time for “the appropriate oohing and ahhing over the baby”, and then follows her father and Priscilla into…where else? The kitchen. At this point–and I don’t want to give a spoiler, so I’ll use broad strokes–Frank needs to take care of something for Jake that Jake isn’t available to do, and this includes getting confidential material out of the house. Priscilla is concerned because Jake keeps that door locked; of course she wouldn’t have a key, right? But Frank does. When his daughter asks what is in there, he says, “It’s just Jake’s little office.”

Priscilla does help, though, by getting “‘Just, um, some personal stuff I already knew about in the bedroom’…she looked at Nicole and the two of them giggled.”

Oh, but it isn’t over yet. Not by a far sight. “Priscilla’s hands were dwarfed” by Jake’s shotgun, so of course, Frank took it from her.

It occurs to me during all this that since Priscilla is–we are told–an attorney, perhaps Frank is protecting her professional credibility by having her not know some things, or else maybe Jake was, but the word “attorney” is mentioned just once and never comes into play again.

We have a number of promiscuous women, all of whom are morally compromised. We have lazy nurses. And in a confrontation with bad guys, the uglies hurl the ultimate insult and Frank and Jake by calling them “little girls”.

Excuse me now. I am going back to my DRC of Gloria Steinem’s memoir. I need something to read that will remind me that women are worthy of dignity and respect.

If your ideas about gender are lodged in the 1950’s, by all means, get this book, and have a real good time.

As for me: no more Andy Straka!