"Lady Killer" was written early in the history of the 87th Precinct series, during a nine-day period in the summer of 1957 while vacationing in Martha's Vineyard. As he wrote in a funny introduction to the Armchair Detective Library edition, he wanted to get it done before some house guests arrived, and almost managed to do so.
It's an unusual 87th entry for several reasons. Those expecting lots of violence and profanity will be surprised by how tame this reads compared to later editions. It's the only 87th novel I've read where Steve Carella was not the main investigator, as Cotton Hawes, a background character in other volumes, strides to the fore. Most notably, there is a very compressed time frame in this book, just over 12 hours from the time a mysterious boy hands a note to the 87th's desk sergeant that states someone's plans to kill "The Lady" to when the note says the killing will take place.
I have a hard time believing that the Isola crime lab would or could respond so quickly to what seems a likely crank note, developing prints and precisely identifying paste and paper. Also, the resolution was unsatisfactory. The would-be killer, who we get shadowy glimpses of before the full reveal, seems to be one type of person before we find out he's another. Maybe Ed just didn't like keeping his guests waiting, but a couple more days would have helped make for a better resolution.
But the pace of this book is great. It has a real kind of moment-by-moment vibrancy with assorted diverting detours like the hunt for the mysterious kid and various leads on who "The Lady" might be. While reading it, you don't want to do much of anything else. Food and bathroom breaks seem unwarranted intrusions. Maybe it's because the book is such a tight read, at well under 200 pages, but it feels like a really good episode of "Law And Order" or "24," though you'd have to call it "12" instead.
Add to that McBain's wicked sense of humor, his canny ear for dialogue, and his brilliance in observed detail, and you have a recipe for a terrific crime fiction read. Too bad he didn't finish what he started, but maybe you will find the ending more satisfying than I did.