by Michael Fowler
As a teenager, in the early 1970’s, I discovered the 87th Precinct series written by Ed McBain.
Sadie, when she died was my first introduction to the New York based police procedurals. Thereon, I read many more, and they became my inspiration into writing crime, especially, to develop my own British based police procedurals.
Ed McBain was born Salvatore Albert Lombina, in New Yorks Italian Harlem District, having been delivered by his aunt, a midwife, on the family kitchen table. He was schooled and raised there until the age of 12, and then the family moved across to the Bronx area of the City, where he continued his schooling, earning a scholarship to an Art College. Initially, he wanted to be a cartoonist, but then changed his mind and enlisted in the Navy, serving above a destroyer in the Pacific, during the later stages of the Second World War. It was whilst on board ship he wrote his first crime novel ‘Chalk’ and this was his first steps to being a published author. He left the military in 1946 and returned to college, where he majored in English and Psychology. Graduating, he took up a teaching post at The Bronx Vocational High School in 1950, which only lasted for 17 days, though, the experience he gained from that led him to write ‘The Blackboard Jungle.’
In 1951 he took up the post of executive editor for a literary agency, and worked with many well known authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, P.G.Wodehouse, Lester del Rey and Richard S. Prather. It was whilst working here that he crafted a number of his own short stories and novels, mainly science fiction and horror, some of which he sold. These stories were published under his own name and the pen names of Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins (derived from Hunter College, where he received the latter part of his education), Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams and Ted Taine. It was at this point he made a legal name change - Evan Hunter – having been advised, by the boss of the agency, that the 1950’s ethnic and class conscious marketplace was more likely to buy books from someone with an American sounding name than Italian. The Blackboard Jungle (1954), dealing with juvenile crime in a New York public school, was the first of those novels, which was quickly optioned, and adopted into a Hollywood Movie, featuring Glenn Ford and Sydney Poitier.
Two years later, in 1956, he created another pseudonym – Ed McBain, and began
writing crime fiction. ‘Cop Hater,’ the first of the ground-breaking 87th
Precinct Series was published. He introduced us to Detective’s Steve Carella,
Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer in the fictionalised setting of ‘Isola’ (‘island’ in
Italian). He continued to use this ‘nom de plume’ for almost half a century,
turning out a phenomenal 55 of the 87th Precinct books at the rate of 2 books a
year. On the back of his successful novels NBC ran a police drama, also
called 87th Precinct.. From 1978 until 1998 he also published the Mathew Hope
Lawyer Series under this name. Under the Evan Hunter name he wrote more
literary type novels, and began climbing the bestseller charts, adding ‘Mothers
and Daughters’ (1961), ‘Last Summer’ (1968), the haunting ‘Lizzie’ (1984) and
‘The Moment she was Gone’ (2002).Over the next 49 years as McBain and Hunter
his success continued to grow, and he also added to his repertoire screenplay
writing for film and television. As Evan Hunter he wrote the screenplays
Strangers when we meet (1960), based on his own 1958 novel, and The Fuzz
(1972), based on the 87th Precinct novel of the same name. But, he is best
known for penning the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963),
which was adapted from a Daphne du Maurier short story. For TV he adapted his
own books into scripts for other series, such as ‘Ironside’ and ‘Columbo’. In
the latter part of his life he brought his two most successful personas
together to write a two-part children’s psychological story ‘Candyland’
His 87th Precinct police procedural novels, with their multiple plot
lines, inspired TV dramas, such as Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and The Shield.
During his writing career he saw over 130 of his novels published, and yet, despite his success, none of his works were ever recognised with an Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America. In 1986 that was rectified when McBain received the MWA coveted Grand Master Award.
He died of cancer of the larynx on the 6th July 2005.
Truly a prolific author, as well as a successful screenplay writer who went beyond the crime genre, my remembrance of Ed McBain will be being entertained and enthralled by the cops of the 87th Precinct, Isola’s finest, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Michael Fowler has always written stories. In his teenage years he was into horror, and science fiction, and then at the age of fifteen he discovered the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain. This became a turning point in his chosen genre, both to read as well as write. He joined the police and began jotting down his experiences, crafting incidents in which he had been involved into storylines. As his career developed so did his plots, especially when he became a detective. In 1993 Wharnecliffe Press offered him his first contract for a series of nostalgic stories about growing up in his hometown of Mexborough. Legacy of our Backings and the follow-up book, No More Kick-Can and Cobbles' were a success. In 2006 he retired from the police following 32 years service. He has now written seven books featuring D A Hunter Kerr.