Thursday, 4 February 2016


When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't matter if he didn't like him, he's supposed to do something. That was the kind of thing Sam Spade said when Miles Archer got bumped off, and it's sort of what Josh Blake feels when his partner Del Gilbert is murdered in their office, leaving an open safe behind him, and a missing contract that could be the reason why there's a corpse.

Because Gilbert and Blake aren't detectives; they're literary agents specialising in selling bulk to the pulp magazine market. But the pulp market is drying up, replaced by the westerns that proliferate on TV. And the missing contract is with a top western novelist who'd catapult them into a whole different territory. But first, Blake has to figure out who bumped off his partner.

Cut Me In was originally published more than 60 years ago, with Ed McBain writing under a different alias, Hunt Collins. And at times it's very funny about the world of publishing, because like many of the last generation of crank-it-out pulpsters in New York, McBain himself worked at the Scott Meredith literary agency, who specialised in just the sort of stuff Josh Blake is peddling. The sort of stuff this novel is.

It's fast-paced and superficial, and it's hard to tell the dishy dames apart: there's the secretary who was having an affair with Gilbert; there's his new widow who seems to find Blake the answer to her problems; there's a woman who comes as a big surprise; and there's a woman Blake wakes up with and has no idea who she is. All very Hefner-esque, just about the time Hef was getting the idea for the Playboy philosophy. There's also a frustrated pulp writer who needs an agent, and a dogged cop who really does remind me of one of the 87 Precinct cops, as if McBain already had the prototypes in mind. It's all a lot of fun, even though you'll be sure you've spotted a few holes in the plot big enough to drag a corpse through.

There's also a bonus short story featuring the disgraced detective Matt Cordell, who has a lot in common with Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder (and Block was part of that Scott Meredith crowd)

. Although it's a slight story, and McBain's drawing character in with a broad brush, I was wishing that he'd given this more serious theme more time--it would play better today--and it reminded me that McBain got better the darker and deeper he got.

Cut Me In by Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime/Titan Books, £7.99 ISBN 9781783294459


Lawrence Block said...

I too am glad for a chance to read this book again; I was in fact working at Scott Meredith when I last read it in 1957-8. I didn't know Evan, except as the Golden Boy who had started there and was now a star. It would be decades later when we became friends.

I loved the Matt Cordell stories when I read them in Manhunt, and along with Fredric Brown's The Wench is Dead and Sara Harris's Skid Row USA instilled in me a romantic view of the Bowery and its denizens. Evan of course collected the Matt Cordell stories in I'm Cannon—For Hire, with Cordell's name changed to Curt Cannon; around the time I started re-publishing some early work with Hard Case, he called me to ask about Charles Ardai and his publishing enterprise, and to express his own uncertainty about allowing the Matt Cordell stories to be reprinted. I gave Charles high marks, and told Evan that I had relished the stories, and that while I could understand his own disdain for his early work, it was much better than he thought. He did decide to greenlight Charles, and the ensuing Hard Case title, The Gutter and the Grave, became one of their top sellers. And my own words to Evan came back to me when I looked at early pseudonymous work of my own, which I'd been reluctant to acknowledge, let alone republish. Ego and avarice won out, as they so often do around here, and I decided to allow everything of mine to come back to print or ebook. My readers, I realized, are creatgures of taste and discernment, and they can decide for themselves what they do and don't want to read.

I have a lot more Scott Meredith memories and quite a bit about Evan in The Crime of Our Lives

Michael Carlson said...

Thanks, Lawrence. Ego and avarice are indeed strong motivators. Nothing wrong with that, in moderation!