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July 12, 2005

It's Easy to Throw Dirt at a Grave
(Sometimes You Can Even Manage to Look Classy)

by Ron Hogan

I ran into Sarah Weinman at a reading last night--more on that when I get some of these interviews I've taped for an upcoming PW feature transcribed--and we got to talking about the backhanded "appreciation" of Ed McBain in the weekend NYT arts section. To Frank Prial, the question of "why readers keep returning to the 87th Precint" is easily answered: "as much to follow [Detective] Carella's career as to savor the police jargon and the often clever twists in the plots." Fancy that, readers appreciating well-delineated characters! Who would have thought? Of course, that's a highly simplistic spin on Prial's part, as James Grady points out in Slate, Carella may get a lot of time in the spotlight, but it's the entire ensemble that drives the stories. (And, at the risk of repeating myself, the 1972 movie Fuzz makes that abundantly clear.)

The condescension in Prial's piece is fairly palpable, reducing McBain's 87th Precint series to the mental equivalent of comfort food, the primary value of which being to kill time in airports. Sarah and some of her readers counterstrike ably, but perhaps this is merely the beginning of a new trend of ugly truth telling at the Times, and we can look forward to future obituaries that discuss how Kurt Vonnegut stopped being funny in 1973 and Stanley Crouch was a punk. Oh, wait, they probably wouldn't do that to real writers.

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