“Heat” by Ed McBain: a story you could actually live in

Ed McBain - HeatIf it’s a cold, dark winter, reading “Heat” (1981) by Ed McBain is a double treat. One, because it’s a vintage Steve Carella crime novel. Two, because the story takes place in one of the hottest summers in the history of the city and McBain paints a convincing picture. The airconditioner in Carella’s old car is not the only one drawing the reader’s attention as the heat is oppressive not only for the inspector but for the other characters as well. McBain skillfully weaves the different stories together with the main event, the death of a man in his apartment in the hot city. There’s Carella’s colleague Bert Kling who’s worried about his model wife’s possible infidelities. There’s the family of the victim to deal with and there’s an ex-convict looking for revenge. All this comes together in the hot, dry city and McBain succeeded in creating an atmosphere that both made me thirsty and made me feel strangely at home. Crime novels can be over the top sometimes, with exorbitant psychos for killers, and police inspectors that feel remote because of their own obsessions, being more than just the guy on the job. In “Heat“, the police guys could be the guys next door, they could be one of us readers, and that feels good. I’m tempted to quote Harrison Ford, who in real life said this in respect to his work as an actor: “I just work here.” Now there’s a down to earth attitude I can relate to, and it’s this attitude that works so fine in this novel. Ed McBain builds a story that you could actually live in for a while and that’s a great accomplishment for any writer; the crime writer in this case. It’s an underestimated accomplishment. “Heat” is a gem in the genre. See what you think.