Friday, July 15, 2005

Evan Hunter, R.I.P.

I flipped through today's Entertainment Weekly and got a bit of a jolt. Evan Hunter had died. He was one of my favorite writers, although, oddly enough, I don't think I've read anything Evan Hunter has written.

That is, under his own name. I've read a ton of books he's written under his better-known pseudonym, Ed McBain. McBain is best-known for his 87th Precint novels, police procedurals written from 1956's Cop Hater to last year's Hark!. I've read quite a few of these books, and enjoy the hell out of them. Besides being one of my favorite things in and of themselves, I can't imagine two of my other favortie things -- no, make that three -- would have ever come into existance without them. The TV show Homicide: Life on the Street owes a big debt to McBain -- even though it's based on a real homicide unit, and many times, on real cases. McBain changed the way we looked at cops, from heroes to civil servants, caught up in drudgery and paperwork and bad days and all the other hings real life brings with it. Yet McBain's civil servants find it within themselves to be heroes, putting their lives on the line for the innocent and the guilty alike. On top of this change in attitude, he rally crafted the way these stories are told.

Two great comics owe a big debt to McBain (and to Homicide, as well): Gotham Central, a police procedural in which everyday cops have to deal with Mr. Freeze and a guy who dresses like a bat and scares the crap outta crooks, and Top 10, Alan Moore, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon's comic about a police force in a city where everyone has superpowers. Both have McBain's attitude in their blood.

I got a chance a few years ago to tell Mr. Hunter how much I loved his work, when I interviewed him for the newspaper I was working for. We talked a bit about the 87th Precint, and then a bit about mysteries in general. I had just picked up on a trait that rus through many of his books: murder mysteries are all about the victim. He or she may not say a word, but they're the star of the book, as detectives dig deeper and deeper into who they were and why they were killed. It was good to be talking craft with someone who was so clearly a master of it.

I did see one thing Hunter wrote under his own name: Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. He also wrote the book The Blackboard Jungle, and tons of other things. You can find out about them here.

Me, I'm gonna look over that list for one of the many books of his I haven't read yet. I've got a lot to choose from, but I'm confident I'll pick a winner.



Anonymous said...

This past week saw the deaths of two of our most famous novelists and screenwriters: Ernest Lehman and Evan Hunter. Both worked on films that are dear to the hearts of movie buffs everywhere, and a few that aren't. Both also worked with Alfred Hitchcock. They both had sensational careers, and each offers a lesson in knowing when to quit, and knowing when to get fired . . .

Pat said...

McBain's work was also undoubtedly an inspiration for Hill Street Blues. In fact, in one of the 87th Precinct books, one of the characters notes the similarities between the show and the series, including the main characters (Steve Carella and Frank Furillo).

Rob S. said...

Thanks for the link, Anon (Steven?). Those are great stories.

And you’re absolutely right, Pat. Hill Street Blues completely slipped my mind, probably because I never watched it when it originally aired (for some unfathomable reason—I wonder what was running on the other channels at the time?). But certainly, certainly the 87th paved the way for Hill Street.