Tara Valparaiso is about to make it big as a pop diva, at least, that's what Barney Loomis, head of Bison Records hopes. He's hosting the launch of her new CD titled Bandersnatch and the hard sell is being made to attending media and important guests.
Partway through the performance of the song that should launch Tara to super-stardom, the party is rudely interrupted by a couple of masked men carrying guns. They boldly stride in and kidnap the budding songstress from under the noses of over 100 onlookers.
The part of the river that the kidnapping took place happens to fall under the jurisdiction of the 87th Precinct and the detective who happens to catch the call is Steve Carella. Long time readers of this series would probably agree that Carella is the best and brightest of the 87th Precinct detectives, certainly he's the central character in most of the books and he takes the lead again here.
The case is only in the 87th Precinct's hands for a short time before the FBI become involved and takes over. Carella however is enlisted to help on the task force at the request of Barney Loomis. As can be imagined neither the FBI nor Carella are thrilled at the prospect of working together and it isn't terribly long before Carella walks out on the team turning the investigation into a head to head race between the FBI and the 87th Precinct to catch the kidnappers and find the girl.
It's only when Carella leaves the FBI task force and begins investigating using the tried and true methods that have made the series so popular and long-lived, that the pace picks up. That's not to say the first half of the book was terribly slow, but it does seem to spend a good deal of time in setting up the adversarial atmosphere between the kidnappers and the law enforcement agencies.
One tiny annoyance was the portrayal of the FBI in this book. Painting FBI agents as egotistical fools has been done many times before, particularly when the police are the heroes, and so it happens again in this case. While I thought that this was a rather clichéd scenario which led to an obvious outcome, McBain has overcome it somewhat by giving the book a rather shocking ending by throwing in a touch of the unexpected.
There is a curious side story involving a semi-regular character named Oliver "Ollie" Weeks, a police detective who works at the 88th Precinct. Ollie is in the early stages of a new romance with a uniformed officer and the story constantly flashes to the progress of their various dates. I kept expecting Ollie's story to somehow be linked to the case but it never happened. It appears that the Ollie Weeks story was just meant to simmer and may perhaps be continued in a later book. This is just pure speculation on my part, though.
There were also signs that Ed McBain was poking a bit of fun at his series, particularly when it comes to the agelessness of his characters. In one scene, Cotton Hawes was entering a building and noticed some elderly people drinking cups of coffee and wondered what it must be like to grow older, to reach your fifties or sixties. Given that the series is bearing down on its 50th year and Cotton Hawes has barely aged a year in all that time, it's no wonder he's starting to grow curious about the elderly. Meanwhile, the detectives now have the benefit of the latest technology such as mobile phones and the Internet to assist them. It's a fascinating paradox of time and technological advancement clashing with the timelessness of the characters. And I'm sure Ed McBain is having a chuckle in this book.
For fans of the 87th Precinct series and also for newcomers, I recommend THE FRUMIOUS BANDERSNATCH as a terrific example of a police procedural, written by the master of the sub-genre.