Ed McBain: All these years - and the cops haven't aged a day

Riots, rookies and blackboard jungles: fellow crime writer Mark Timlin pays tribute to Ed McBain

The film of The Blackboard Jungle, starring Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow, played "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets over its credits, something which led to rioting in UK cinemas as Teddy boys and girls jived in the aisles and slashed the seats in frenzy. At least according to the News Of The World. But when my friend Michael Richards and I, aged 14, sneaked in, illegally, to a matinee performance (I think it was an X-cert) in a long since-demolished cinema in Streatham, the most exciting event was the arrival of the ice-cream lady with frozen Mivvis.

After this success, Hunter also began writing as McBain. The Eight-Seven stories introduced Steve Carella and company to a world which would devour the novels for the next 50 years. The series began with Cop Hater (1956), not published here until 1958 - and we had to wait until 1963 for Penguin to bring it out in paperback for the mighty sum of two shillings and sixpence. But oh boy, it was well worth the wait!

I found a copy in my local newsagent and that was when my literary love affair with McBain began. (And it was years before I found out he was also Evan Hunter.) The books were skinny, and could usually be read in an afternoon. But that was part of their charm - you should always leave your public wanting more.

These were the first police procedurals, and still probably the best. They are set in the mythic city of Isola (New York in all but name), and in all these years the cops haven't aged a day. There have been at least two TV series (not counting Hill Street Blues, which might just as well have been) and countless films. But the books are the real deal, more than 50 in all, published by Pan, Coronet, Allison & Busby and now, Orion. I doubt there's been a day since then that you couldn't find a bundle of the novels at your local W H Smith, which says a lot for the quality (and quantity) of his output.

Not that there was just the 87th. There are also the Matthew Hope series, stand-alone novels, hundreds of short stories, and recently, more Evan Hunter novels. In his time he won a raft of awards, and he deserved every one. I met McBain once, with his wife Dragica, a few years ago at a lunch organised by his publisher. I managed to get a seat next to him and bent his ear for more than an hour, like some demented stalker totally monopolising his time. Why not? It's rare that one meets a hero who is everything you wanted him to be.

It says a lot about him that, upon his arrival back in Connecticut, he was gracious enough to mail me the book he wrote about his time scriptwriting for Alfred Hitchcock, Me and Hitch, with a personal message on the title page - because I told him I'd never seen a copy. His last book was Let's Talk, about the throat cancer that finally killed him, but so prolific was his output that there are more novels in the pipeline- Fiddlers, Becca in Jeopardy - plus a short-story anthology called Transgressions which he edited. Crime writing won't be the same without him. He was an originator and one in a million. He will be missed.

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