Book #2: Ed McBain – He Who Hesitates

0446601470.jpgI let this slim volume jump into my hands because I wasn’t exactly sure which of the words on the cover was the book title… Is the book called 87th Precinct, while “He who hesitates…” is a quote or allusion to the story? Maybe the author’s name is “Ed 87th Precinct McBain” since as a critically acclaimed writer of “police procedurals” he felt a change in name was necessary. Maybe his obscure middle name has driven him to write them since childhood.

I’m not even sure what “police procedurals” are. I hope I’m not going to read 151 pages on traffic violations, paperwork and donut runs.

The book is so light I can hold it and forget where it is. I doubt it leaves much time for the characters to evolve, or develop a genuine understanding of where they are and what they’re doing. So the crime fiction eye for detail is likely to be stripped back, while the central character (Ed McBain? Is it a character-as-title novella?) lets everything unfold around him and does very little to actually advance the plot.

I expect to digest this one in little more than an evening, and if there’s not at least one prostitute or junkie adding to the gritty-bafta setting, I’m going to be disappointed.

Well… I thought He Who Hesitates would have little or no space for character development. Apparently it makes that space by throwing out everything else. Let the ripping to shreds commence…

Roger Broome came to the big city and did a BAD THING, and he’s going to spend all damn day deciding if he should tell someone, including the reader.

From the start of this tissue-thin novel there are some obvious rookie mistakes and terrible, terrible devices, most notably the way the narration switches which head it’s coming from, often mid-sentence. Literally everything is explained with painstaking detail, which serves to highlight Broome’s naivety, but also makes the entire text slow and ponderous, and has him crawling through the city like the slow Norris while everyone zips around him.

When he’s not sitting on a bench staring slack-jawed at a lamppost or contemplating every single sip of a coffee, Roger’s thinking back to earlier events, events that are quite frankly much more entertaining and better written. It’s as if the writer had a few good scenes in mind and trussed up a novel around them for padding.

Then again, that’s most fiction.

The characterisation of Roger Broome is a little bizarre. The distance the author maintains by not revealing the full depth of Roger’s thoughts make it unclear as to exactly which of the words on the page are Roger’s thoughts. On one of the many occasions he decides not to contact the police, there is the suggestion that “maybe it was too early to be bothering them” and I still can’t decide if the writer is interpreting that as Roger’s reason, or if Roger himself is actively thinking this.

Not a big deal, right? Right, unless the author/Roger starts talking about children and “their small high perfect breasts” or the concession that a rape victim “was probably a slut anyway.” Does the author think that kids and their under-formed breasts are just great, or is it just that Roger’s a little bit more twisted than his constant James-Stewart-esque “well how do you do?” nonsense would have us believe?

I don’t think I’ve ever wished so hard that someone was a sex offender, that the narrative resolution would show Roger as a baby-eating cattle-raping racist, that it was all in his head and not just how the author sees the world. Unfortunately, other than the BAD THING, little or no insight is given into Roger’s attitudes, and the author apparently remains happily complicit in the racial ignorance and pederasty throughout.

Roger learns nothing, and the reader gains nothing by reading about him. He Who Hesitates is just a wank fantasy toilet book for repressed serial killers and first year college students. Any shock of the final narrative resolution is overshadowed by the ineffectual way the BAD THING is presented, and the fact that pretty much nothing happens.

He sits somewhere. He has a coffee. He sits somewhere else. He takes a “coloured” girl for a walk (and oh it’s such a damn shame that’s she’s “coloured”) and then he fucks off home.

He Who Hesitates… fills pages.


No more crime fiction for a while, and hopefully no more pederasty.