The Eight-Seven is official police jargon for the 87th Precinct, the setting for a long-running series of novels by Ed McBain.

Published by E. P. Dutton, the books were produced over a period from 1956 to 2005 – with the major characters remaining pretty much the same age, throughout (as in a comic strip).

Presenting hard-hitting crime stories with style and wit, McBain’s 87th Precinct set the standard for the American police procedural, as we know it.

“The city in these pages is imaginary…”

All the stories are set in Isola, an imagined city bearing a strong resemblance to the New York City borough of Manhattan.

Other districts in McBain’s metropolis correspond to NYC’s other four boroughs.

Calm’s Point stands in for Brooklyn, Majesta represents Queens, Riverhead substitutes for the Bronx, and Bethtown for Staten Island.

“…Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.”

Jargon. Station house geography. The chain of command. Even the paperwork and equipment of bureaucracy.

All are accurately detailed – but not in an obtrusive way.

McBain’s style is always conversational, yet informative.

Entertaining Stuff

Sadly though, movies and television haven’t done justice, to the literature.

“87th Precinct”, a TV series, ran for one season between 1960 and 1961. The show starred Robert Lansing and Norman Fell.
Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

There have been several indifferent movie adaptations, for television and theatrical release.

The likes of “Heatwave”, which starred Erika Eleniak (of Playboy and “Baywatch” fame).
YouTube provides video, again:

Or this YouTube clip of Johann Carlo in “Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning”, directed by Bruce Paltrow and starring Randy Quaid and Ving Rhames:

Missing the substance of the books. Pretty much entirely.

See, It’s All About Cops…

Each novel features a different set of detectives.

Almost all of them follow the exploits of Detective Second Grade Stephen Louis Carella.

A tall, slender man with a slightly Oriental appearance (think Keanu Reeves), Steve Carella’s no genius. Just a solid, persistent officer, who gets the job done. He serves as the reader’s eyes and ears, as the investigation proceeds.

Other characters on the Eight-Seven’s duty roster include:

Arthur Brown – A huge, fearsome-looking black man. Brown is the only African-American detective in the 87th Precinct. Due to his menacing bulk, he often plays the “bad cop” role, during interrogations with his smaller colleagues.

Meyer Meyer – Bald, friendly-but-cynical Jewish cop. His unusual name was given to him by his father as a joke. From all the childhood teasing he endured, Meyer now has almost infinite patience.

Bert Kling – Young and impulsive, but a generally solid detective. Goes through numerous romantic involvements.

Cotton Hawes – Distinctive, because of the white skunk stripe (resulting from a bullet graze, to the skull) in his otherwise flaming red hair. Hawes is extremely competent at his job.

Hal Willis – The Eight-Seven’s shortest detective, he became a police officer just before an official height requirement was instituted.

Eileen Burke – Originally introduced as an undercover detective who works with the precinct on special assignments. In the final novels she joins the squad proper, becoming their only female detective.

Roger Havilland – Self-centered, and corrupt. Generally a brutal, nasty, piece of work.

Andy Parker – Lazy, boorish, and almost certainly corrupt. Parker succeeds Havilland as the most disliked member of the squad.

Bob O’Brien – A nice guy and a good cop. Unfortunately, O’Brien is notoriously unlucky, and regarded as a jinx by most of the squad.

Richard Genero – Not especially bright, Genero has been over-promoted and is clearly in over his head. Generally disliked by the other detectives.

Monoghan and Monroe – Arrogant and buffoonish homicide detectives, who virtually always appear together. “M&M” (who usually dress like The Blues Brothers) theoretically administer any homicide investigations done by the detectives of the 87th, but never seem to do any actual work.

Lt. Peter Byrnes – The tight-lipped detective squad commander.

Alf Miscolo – The clerk in charge of records – and brewing the worst coffee in the world.

Dave Murchison – The long-suffering desk sergeant.

Detective Oliver Wendell “Fat Ollie” Weeks – Uncouth, rude, racist, and obese. Fat Ollie is very hard to like, though he does get results. He is a central character in several 87th Precinct novels, though he is actually on the squad of the neighboring 88th Precinct.

And Robbers?

Plenty of them. Killers, too. You can cover a lot of crime, in 49 years.

Even the Eight-Seven’s resident criminal mastermind (and a personal favorite of mine): The Deaf Man.

We never know for sure if this tall blond gentleman is really hearing-impaired, or if the hearing aid he always wears in his left ear is just for show.

What’s certain is that, over the years, The Deaf Man has been involved in grisly murders, elaborate money-making schemes, and a notable attempt to eliminate the officers of the 87th Precinct, entirely.

The Deaf Man appeared in six novels, was mentioned in several others, and his real name was never revealed.

Ironically, the wife of McBain’s principal character – Theodora “Teddy” Carella – is unable to either hear, or speak, and has been, since birth.

Often a pivotal part of the investigation’s storyline, Teddy Carella is typical of McBain’s world; strong, vibrant, beautiful, and complex.

Of writing an 87th Precinct novel, Ed McBain said:

“I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out – just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits – all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for… (I) believe strongly in the long arm of coincidence because I know cops well, I know how much it contributes to the solving of real police cases.”

It’s cracking good stuff. I urge you to check it out.

My turn to check out, now.

See you, for our next installment.