The seventh novel in the 87th Precinct series, Lady Killer is the second book in a row in the series to focus on a single crime rather than one major case with minor ones in the background. The 87th receives an anonymous letter at 8AM on July 24th promising to kill "The Lady" at 8PM that night. With nothing to go on, and with doubts as to whether the threat is real, the boys race against time to try to solve a murder before it even happens.
Strangely enough, the forced time limit of the plot doesn't quite push the suspense of the story beyond anything in the previous novels, possibly because despite the race against the clock, there are still plenty of stretches involving the kind of highly detailed leg work that drives McBains 87th Precinct books. The highest point of action almost seems to be the hour that all hell breaks loose at the station, forcing everyone to set aside the Lady Killer case to handle the other problems that errupt in the city on a regular basis. Perhaps this manic episode is including to help remind author and reader alike that these are not meant to be detective novels focusing on one crime, but glimpses into the daily routines and trials of the police detectives working the city.
Carella and Hawes dominate the story once again, with Meyer, Willis, and Kling filling in the edges. Lieutenant Byrnes gets his hands in this one as he green lights the investigation and keeps a hand in throughout. Meyer's womanizing is on in full force as he crosses paths with an aging madame and her prostitute, a baudy lounge singer (with whom he makes a date), a suspects barely dressed neighbor (whom he perceives as unattractive, but with a "disconcerting" bust), and a cold career woman who slaps him around verbally, knocking him down a peg.
Also noteable is the few asides where Carella and Hawes tackle the moral dillemma of the need to turn a blind eye to some crimes in order to focus on others, and the rational behind keeping some illegal activities (like prostitution) penned in but active out in the open instead of widespread and underground. Previous novels have covered the trials and tribulations of being a cop in the city, but this might be the first one to actively dive into the gray area where justice and the law must sometimes exist.
#8 in publication order of the 87th Precinct mysteries, this one features a case without a killer--at least to begin with. A young boy is sent into the precinct house with an envelope which contains a letter pieced together with cut out letters from the newspaper threatening to kill The Lady if the police can't stop him by 8 pm. First they must figure out if it's a crank letter, and then determine who 'The Lady' is.
It's quite a hoot reading these old mysteries that are very dated because they mention the cost of items and salaries of policemen and where the only forensic evidence are fingerprints, which take a very long time to process. Of course, this means the detectives actually have to detect, and not just push a few buttons on a computer or phone to get the answers they need. Usually these books mention all the detectives at least in passing, and then tend to feature a couple of them as primary protagonists. In this one we get to know Cotton Hawes a little better, and it was an enjoyable quick read looking at police work back in the year when I was born. (1958...long, long ago. LOL)
This is one of McBain's early 87th Presinct mysteries. Back cover says: "I will kill the lady tonight at 8. What can you do about it? That's what the letter said."