87th Precinct #11 - Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

The 87th Precinct series of police procedural mysteries were the crowning achievement of author Ed McBain (1926-2005, birth name: Salvatore Lombino, adopted name: Evan Hunter). The books star a rotating cast of cop characters dealing with the ins-and-outs of big-city policing and the crimes that keep them busy at the intersection of Dragnet and Hill Street Blues. The 11th paperback in the series is Give the Boys a Great Big Hand from 1960.

It’s a rainy day in the urban environs of Isola, McBain’s thinly-veiled fictional analog to Manhattan. A foot patrol officer spots a distant figure with an overcoat, hat and umbrella boarding a city bus while leaving an airline overnight bag behind at the bus stop. The vigilant beat cop makes his way to the bus stop, opens the bag, and finds a severed human hand inside. This is the Chapter One spark that ignites the action in this lean, 200-page mystery.

The patrolman brings the bag and the detached hand to the detective bureau at the 87th Precinct for further investigation, and we get reacquainted with all our chatty old friends chewing the fat in the squad area. The dialogue among the unflappable cops is often some of the best - and most authentic-sounding - parts of any McBain novel. For the reader, the funny conversations are really an opportunity to witness a master writer at work.

Each of the 87th Precinct series installments stand well on their own and feature different combinations of the detectives who solve the cases. The case of the severed hand is assigned to two of the strongest characters in the series: Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes. Carella is a smart, tough and hard-working steel-jawed hero, and Hawes is a redhead ladies' man. We also get a liberal dose of Meyer Meyer, a cop with the mannerisms of a Jewish borscht-belt comedian. It’s like a perfectly-cast buddy cop movie.

Most murder mysteries find the investigators searching for the identity of the killer, but Give the Boys a Great Big Hand turns the formula on its head because the detectives need to find the identity of the victim first. They begin with reports of missing persons and find themselves in a web of strippers, prostitutes, drummers, cheating husbands, and other colorful citizens. All of this leads to a rather gruesome ending that will test your gag reflex and satisfy your search for a logical solution.

Where does Give the Boys a Great Big Hand fall on the McBain-o-Meter? It’s definitely top-tier, but maybe not the absolute tops. It’s certainly worth reading and remains in print today. You shouldn’t have a problem finding a copy. Check it out.

87th Precinct #11 - Give the Boys a Great Big Hand