Book #14: He Who Hesitates

He Who Hesitates written in 1966 is a bit of a departure for Ed McBain and the 87th Precinct series. Rather than focus on one (or more) of the detectives solving the crime, the focus of the story is on one Roger Broome, a woodworker from upstate New York who comes to the city to sell his salad bowls and utensils in February. Most of the normal cast of characters are present (Carella, Hawes, Parker, even Sgt Murchinson), but in He Who Hesitates they're strictly peripheral characters as they come into contact with Broome over the course of a single day in the city.

The "mystery" surrounds a brutalized body stuffed into a refrigerator. Broome knows about this, and his constant distractions and hesitation to report it to the police gives the novel its name and its angle. Broome whiles away the day mailing valentines to his mother and landlady, flirting with the counter girl at the pharmacy, and innocently running into various shady characters throughout the city. At first this plays like The Country Mouse Visits the Big City, but as McBain flashes back and forth between Broome's current day and the events of the previous evening that led to the death and stuffing of a woman's body into said refrigerator, things begin to get more and more disturbing as we're forced to re-evaluate what we know about Roger Broome.

This was a nice and brief diversion from the normal continuity of the series. While there's nothing that puts this head and shoulders above your normal 87th story, McBain's terrific writing moves along nicely and serves as additional proof he was one of the best in the business. And like every one of his books, it makes me all the more eager to jump into the next book in the series.