Killer's Payoff by Ed McBain: A review

Killer's Payoff (An 87th Precinct Novel)Killer's Payoff by Ed McBain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Continuing with my reading of Ed McBain's iconic 87th Precinct series, I've reached number 6 which was first published in 1958. It was the second book that featured the character of Cotton Hawes.

Hawes was introduced in the previous book because, as McBain explained in a foreword to the later edition which I read, his editor warned him that a married cop - such as Steve Carella was - could not be the hero. He needed someone who was unmarried and available to the ladies. Thus, Cotton Hawes was born.

In Killer's Payoff, McBain is obviously still working on the development of the Hawes character. He's presented as a man who falls in love - or at least in lust - with every pretty girl he meets and, immediately after falling, he's generally in bed with them. It seems to make little difference whether they are someone who is involved in a case he's investigating as a possible murder suspect or just some random waitress he meets on the road. The result is the same - a one-night stand and the next day moving on without a backward glance. So this, I guess, is what passed as "heroic" activity in the eyes of book editors in the 1950s.  A reader can only hope that in future books, Cotton Hawes might show a little more depth to his personality.

In fact, I found this book quite dated for several reasons. Many of its references would be characterized as racist and misogynistic by today's standards. Even bearing in mind the era in which they were written, reading them was not a pleasant experience. This is probably my least favorite of the books I have read so far in the series.

This time the detectives are investigating the murder of a known blackmailer named Sy Kramer. Kramer was shot with a hunting rifle on a street in Isola. The obvious suspects would seem to be the people whom Kramer was blackmailing. The problem is that he was a lone operator and nobody knows who those people were. A search of his apartment turns up no clues about their identity. His bank accounts give the detectives their first leads and Carella and Hawes pursue those leads doggedly hoping to get a break in the case.

The trail eventually leads them to a private hunting lodge in the Adirondacks and it is there that Cotton Hawes is able to develop the information that finally helps them to solve the case.

The saving grace of the book is that it, like all the others so far, was short, so it didn't involve a big investment of time, but I just couldn't get terribly interested in the plot or any of the characters involved. I really had the feeling that the author was struggling with trying to get Cotton Hawes' personality fixed, and that seemed to consume his efforts. This book did not have the sharp writing or descriptions of settings and individuals that I had come to expect from him. It was a workmanlike tale and not terrible, but just not one of McBain's best.

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