Too small: Goldilocks by Ed McBain

In a small, Floridian town, a doctor arrives home late from a poker game to find that his second wife and their two young daughters have been brutally savaged to death by a maniac with a kitchen knife. There is no obvious suspect. At first the case is just another headache for the doctor’s lawyer, Hope, whose marriage is disintegrating. But soon Hope is drawn into an intricate web of lies, all with different motives. Some lies are simply to deceive, others to protect and some are to incite. It is Hope, not the slow police officers, who delves into the intimacies of several families to uncover the truth, finding a truly tragic story embedded in his small town.

Goldilocks is not the sum of its parts. McBain can do much better. Hope meanders along haphazardly funding clues and, curiously, keeping them from the police officers out of an odd sense of duty to his client – never realising that he could be implemented in the crime because of this. The tale does have its twists – which I enjoyed – but it never really changes direction. It feels very linear, like a long suburban avenue that in this novel McBain hopes will be a decent substitute for New York’s mean streets. Even the inclusion of wise-cracking New York escapee (whose name has to be Frank) is conceited and urbane. I couldn’t help feeling like I – and McBain – wanted to be back in New York tracking down real killers and drug dealers, not nutters guilty of murderous but small-fry family disputes.

McBain’s talent shines through in a number of sequences, though. His gift for writing punchy dialogue in police interrogation scenes elevates this novel above a pulp paperback. Still, I longed for intelligent cops dissecting gangs and playing big-time dealers off one another; I got wife swap gone wrong.

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