Night and the city are the perfectly twinned themes of this late entry in the 87th Precinct series. The nocturnal dark provides cover for dangerous urban transactions of every sort. A trio of cocky prep-school boys, all white, bargain with a black pimp for the services of a white prostitute (19-year-old Yolanda Marx, a nice Jewish girl from Ohio). The prostitute, in exchange for agreeing to take on all four of those men, bargains for more money and for an extra “jumbo” vial of crack. Elsewhere in the precinct, an old Russian woman bargains both for her own life and for the life of her cat. Later, two goons each bargain with their shallow conscience over some cash that belongs to the Russian woman’s granddaughter. Murder, and lots of it, will round out the night for these characters, and the cops of the 87th—the noble Steve Carella, the earnest Cotton Hawes, the bigoted Fat Ollie Weeks—will stalk the Stygian expanse of Isola to locate the perps. As always with McBain, what he calls the Big Bad City functions as a character in its own right. A slightly off-kilter replica of New York, Isola has the mythical, timeless quality of a place where anything can happen, especially between dusk and dawn.
McBain, true to the book’s title, waxes lyrical about the noirish charms of this imagined metropolis, this Baghdad on the River Harb. Yet he knows just when and how to keep his poetry in check. Life in the modern city is messy, and he shows the mess. And while narrative convention might call for the novel’s two main plot lines to converge, McBain is content to let them glance off one another, like ships passing in the proverbial night.