Steve Carella, star detective of the 87th Precinct, has a hunch. The knife that disembowelled and killed Sarah Fletcher bears the fingerprints of a hapless junkie-cum-burglar named Ralph Corwin. What’s more, Corwin has confessed to the killing. Yet Carella believes that guilt for the murder lies elsewhere, and his suspicion focuses on Gerald Fletcher, Sarah’s husband, who tells police at the crime scene, “[M]y wife was a no-good bitch, and I’m delighted someone killed her.” As Carella plays his hunch, a peculiar cat-and-mouse game unfolds, and the detective isn’t always be sure whether he or Fletcher is the “cat.” A highlight of that battle of wits comes when Fletcher gives Carella a Dante-worthy tour of the sexual netherworld that flourished in Isola (otherwise known as New York City) during the swinging early 1970s. From this dark game, Carella emerges as the winner, more or less—but even he isn’t prepared for the double twist of the narrative knife that concludes this slender, sharp-edged tale.
[ADDENDUM: I came to the 87th Precinct series late in my reading life. For too long, I shunned the entire police-procedural genre, assuming that because the word “procedural” sounds so boring, the fiction written under that rubric must also be boring. Publishers and writers, moreover—including McBain, whom many observers credit with launching the modern American police-procedural form, back in the mid-1950s—have tended to market the genre as one devoted to realistic depictions of workaday crime solving. But who wants a detective story to be “realistic”? In the real world, most murders are committed by an obvious culprit, or else they go unsolved. And the circumstances behind them, far from evoking either intellectual stimulation or emotional investment, are usually as predictable as they are tawdry. Fortunately, McBain didn’t take his realism too far. Within the procedural framework, he created all manner of mystery and suspense stories, including a taut psychological thriller like Sadie, an occasional old-school whodunit, and even a ghost story.]