The Pusher by Ed McBain (who also wrote as Evan Hunter) is the third book in the 87th Precinct series. The series is told in third person and has a large cast and diverse set of characters. In the afterword, the author sums up the premise of the series saying it is about the “conglomerate hero in a mythical city.”
“There are, to be truthful, a lot of troubles with murder–but there’s one in particular.
It gets to be a habit.”
“The Pusher” like the others in this series, is set in the fictional city of Isola. A high ranking cop learns an ugly truth about his son and finds himself compromising his job and his principles to protect him.
Detective Lieutenant Peter Byrnes gets a phone call from an anonymous stranger who tells him that his son is a junkie. Like most hardworking cops, Byrnes hasn’t been around his family much. His wife Harriet has always understood the demands of his job and knows that she is a cop’s wife.
So this awful news about his only son, Larry, throws him for a loop. The scene where Byrnes confronts his son about his heroin addiction was emotionally tense and electrifying because Byrnes goes from a concerned father to a cop who interrogates his son. That scene between father and son was fully charged to say the least.
To complicate matters even more, a pusher by the name of Anibal Hernandez is found dead from an apparent suicide/overdose with a syringe that might have Larry’s fingerprints on it suggesting that he was the last person to see Anibal alive. Byrnes is committed to finding this “stranger” who seems to know more about his family than he does and threatens to expose his son.
Detective Steve Carella and another officer are investigating the Hernandez death and find that things just don’t add up. To Carella, Hernandez’s death doesn’t look like a suicide so he digs deeper, searching for a pusher with the street name of “Gonzo” and gets three bullets to the chest from a .32 calibre gun for his efforts. His wife Teddy, who is mute and can’t speak, stands vigil by his side.
I’m hooked. This series and McBain’s writing is timeless as another reader has stated. I can’t do this book justice in how good it was to read. The writing is simply flawless but still it is not a perfect read. What fascinates me about this series is the writing and the characters.
Despite the fact that cops come and go in this series, they each make their own mark. But the central recurring character in the 87th and who we have been mainly following is Steve Carella. I love this guy. The fact that he married a woman who can’t hear or speak says a lot about his character.
Steve and his wife, Teddy make a really nice couple and the author goes a little bit into how they first met. Their scenes together, the few times we get to see them together, are memorable. Here is a brief snippet of Teddy’s thoughts about how they first met:
He had entered the office, and he was tall, and he walked erect, and he wore his clothes as if he were a high-priced men’s fashion model rather than a cop. He had showed her his shield and introduced himself, and she had scribbled on a sheet of paper, explaining that she could neither hear nor speak, explaining that the receptionist was out, that she was hired as a typist, but that her employer would see him in a moment, as soon as she went to tell him the police were there. His face had registered mild surprise. When she rose from her desk and went to the boss’s office, she could feel his eyes on her all the way.
McBain seems to not end his books in any big way. The cases get solved by good detective work, sweating suspects in the interrogation room and then hauling the bad guy away in cuffs. No big bang or shoot outs here. In the end, this was a well written story about the seedier side of the street. We see that junkies come from all different social and economical backgrounds. The ending was a bit idealistic but this is fiction after all.
I also enjoyed reading the afterword where the author admits that Carella was originally meant to die in this entry but that his editors at Pocket wouldn’t let him kill “the hero.” Oh, noooo. Thank goodness his editors guided him down the right path in keeping Carella alive because he is truly a great guy and hero. The Pusher gets a grade of B+ from me. Onwards to the next 87th Precinct novel.
Additional book info: The Pusher is a reissue and is currently available as an ebook and is #3 in the 87th Precinct series. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group Pub. Date: November 2002 ISBN-13: 9780743463058