Picks and Pans Review: Vespers

updated 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ed McBain

A parish priest has been stabbed to death. The list of suspects is long and crammed with liars. There's the drug dealer with much to hide; the devil worshipers with motive linked to their madness. There's Kristin Lund, the woman who dials 911 when she learns of the murder. There's also "the usual street mix. Crack dealers and buyers, hookers, hoodlums, the mix," all of which combine to make for yet another hard homicide for Steve Carella and the cops of the 87th Precinct.

This is the 42nd novel in the 87th series and one that clearly illustrates how much in command McBain is of his fictional city of Isola (a stand-in for New York City) and the cops and crooks who walk its streets. Isola is beset by racial tensions, its police officers racked by personal problems. The murder of a gentle young priest is merely the most recent heinous act committed on a populace numbed by the weight of death.

Into such a breach fall the men and women of McBain's 87th, sifting among humanity's rubble, hoping to deliver a killer to justice. The pressures of the task are great. Vespers is one of the best in the 87th saga: Each book should be treated as a contribution to a fictionalized history of modern urban police work, a collection that began in 1956 and has evolved into our finest procedural series.

There are few writers around who understand cops and crime as well as McBain. In McBain's city, there are no lethal weapons, no room for loose cannons, no time for lone wolves. There are only hard-working men and women, knocking on doors, asking questions. The questions that help bring in a murderer and keep the city safe. For at least another night. (Morrow, $18.95)

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