Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bookmarks -- Learning to Kill

I found this book in a sale at a library and what a bargain I got! Learning to Kill is a collection of short stories by Ed McBain written during a kind of apprenticeship he had as he worked for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in the 1950s. The stories are not arranged in chronological order, but grouped into categories, like "Private Eyes," "Cops and Robbers," and "Innocent Bystanders" so as to show the different kinds of crime tales he wrote during this pivotal time in his career.

For a crime buff like me, these stories are very enjoyable. I have come to enjoy the story that does not rely on technology to pull together the plot,and as these were composed during the time McBain was literarlly learning how to piece together and shape good, sellable fiction, these tales are gold. At first, I was put off that they did were not arranged chronologically, but now I think this strategy works, since each group represents a different kind of crime sub-genre. There is even a group called "Gangs," which seems appropriate considering this is also the man who wrote The Blackboard Jungle (published under the name Evan Hunter).

Learning to Kill is certainly going to appeal to those who prefer McBain's 87th Precinct novels. But on their own, the stories here are well worth reading and I suspect many will stand up over time. What I found most valuable besides the stories are the insights the writer provides into the their composition and into the publishing world at that time. Most of the stories in the collection were originally published in Manhunt, and they provide a nice idea of what was read in one of best markets for crime fiction at the time. They also provide good clues as to why McBain's work would continue to sell.

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