The Mugger 87th Precinct Series, Book 2 - By Ed McBain


Away back in the dim, distant past, a magazine called Manhunt published a story about a former private eye named Matt Cordell, whose gun license had been revoked after he’d pistol-whipped his wife’s lover. Cordell was a drunk living on the Bowery and reluctantly solving cases for old friends who kept popping up to plague his blotto existence. I always thought of him as a defrocked shamus. The pseudonymous editor of Manhunt was someone named “John McCloud” (I know his real name but will not reveal it under threat of extreme torture) who fancied the Matt Cordell stories and bought some half-dozen of them. One of the stories was called “Now Die In It,” a wordplay twist on the expression, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” McCloud—in the trade the banter was, “He wandered lonely as McCloud”—ran the story in 1953. The byline on it was Evan Hunter.

You will be wondering by now what all of this has to do with The Mugger. Well, by the time I sat down to write the second book in the 87th Precinct series, I knew that I wanted to accomplish several things.

1) Cop Hater had used a classic smoke-screen plot as an introduction to the series, with cops the victims of a killer who seemed out to get cops—a way of bringing my full (at the time) complement of cops onstage as both investigators and potential victims. Having set up the characters who would be around, more or less, in every book, I now wanted to experiment with my theory that the squadroom itself could function as a “hero,” with different cops taking the spotlight in each book. Carella, who’d figured largely in the first novel, would be absent this time around—off on his honeymoon, in fact. A patrolman who’d put in a brief appearance in Cop Hater would become involved in a case that he would solve, thereby earning him a promotion and a leap into the squadroom as a rookie detective. To accomplish this, I needed a very strong plot. In fact, in order to elevate the status of the patrolman and keep alive the detectives already introduced in Cop Hater, I needed two strong plots. (Please stay with me; I’m getting there.)

2) The plot involving the detectives would derive from the title The Mugger. (To this day, I will often start a novel with only a title, winging it from there.) The plot involving the patrolman would focus on a murder—it had to be a serious crime in order to earn him his promotion—and it seemed to me that a perfectly serviceable and unusually strong murder plot had been used by me earlier in a story titled (you guessed it) “Now Die In It.”

At the time, I didn’t know if there were any laws about cannibalism, but it seemed to me that many writers before me had expanded short stories into novels or one-act plays into full theater pieces, and anyway I was a firm believer in wasting not, wanting not. Besides, my patrolman (who was Bert Kling, of course) was a far cry from Matt Cordell, who—in the hardboiled private eye tradition of the day—would as soon sock a woman as kiss her. It seemed to me that a new character would give added dimension to a plot I’d already used once. Seeing the same things through Kling’s eyes would make it all seem fresh and different.

As the book turned out, and I didn’t know this when I began writing it, the two plots merged—or seemed to merge. I can’t tell you more about either just now, or I’d spoil both for you. Let me say only that, for me, the combination seemed to work as a unified whole. I hope it still does. And I hope that Matt Cordell, lying in a gutter someplace with a bottle of cheap wine, will forgive me the petty theft.

“He who steals my purse”—but, after all, I didn’t steal his name.


The city could be nothing but a woman, and that’s good because your business is women.

You know her tossed head in the auburn crowns of molting autumn foliage, Riverhead, and the park. You know the ripe curve of her breast where the River Dix molds it with a flashing bolt of blue silk. Her navel winks at you from the harbor in Bethtown, and you have been intimate with the twin loins of Calm’s Point and Majesta. She is a woman, and she is your woman, and in the fall