McBAIN'S LATEST BOOK
Other McBain titles
From Legs" and Other Stories
the Cross-eyed Bear
When She Died
Hear It for the Deaf Man
Last Best Hope
Big Bad City
House That Jack Built
by Mike Stotter
McBain is the pen-name for Evan Hunter. His credits include The
Blackboard Jungle and screenplay to Alfred Hitchock's The
Birds. His excellent 87th Precinct mystery series has just
reached its 51st novel, entitled Money, Money, Money. On his
last visit to England he was the recipient of the Crime Writers'
Association/ Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for A Life Time
Achievement. Now he was back again, this time in the heart of
Mayfair, ready to talk about his latest novel.
They say that money
is the root of all evil, a good starting point to any book but why
did you use it as one of the main issues in the novel?
I started noticing in
New York City that a lot of stores were refusing one hundred dollar
bills, and I wondered why. They told me that they were getting stung
once too often. And I wondered what was going wrong. So I started
doing some research on counterfeit money. From which I found out
that there was a hell of a lot of counterfeit money out there. Then
I began thinking, wouldn't it be interesting if something is behind
all this counterfeiting aside the counterfeiters trying to make a
profit. I started writing the book in the April of 2000, delivered
it in December of 2000 - almost a year before the terrorist attack
on the World Trade Center. I thought wouldn't be interesting if
there was chicanery and international conspiracy and screw ups from
intelligence agencies that would account for counterfeiting and
Did this suggest
that it could be a perfect vehicle for the 87th to become involved
I thought it would be
interesting if this little police station in the asshole of
creation, if you will, stumbles upon something that is way beyond
their authority. Something that would be mind-boggling for them to
encounter and to eventually crack. They are warned consistently
throughout the book to go home. Go play in your own sandbox, don't
bother us. But they refuse to do so.
There has already
been comments about the terrorist aspect of the novel, especially
after the events of September 11th. Does
this worry you?
I had just started on
the book tour in America, and had landed in Chicago that morning of
the 11th . While we were driving to the hotel the news came over the
radio. I thought, my God, it's really happening, this is what my
book is about. The tour was cancelled, of course. We couldn't fly
anywhere. So I rented a car and drove home to New York. It was a
kind of eerie feeling for me because much of the research on
terrorism was done on the Internet. I thought, Jesus, if I can get
information on terrorism off the Internet why can't the people who
are meant to be protecting us do the same? It wasn't classified
material, you know? On the money laundering side, I had a
professional researcher do that for me. That was the aspect of the
book that required the most research before I started writing.
Previous to this
were you concerned with FBI and CIA involvement in world-wide
politics such as the Contras in Nicaragua and Afghanistan?
Sure - but I don't
believe there is a CIA. Don't forget it was Fat Ollie who, at one
point in the book says, "There is no CIA, and the agency is so
stupid it has to be a cover for the real agency." And over the
past few decades the involvement of the CIA in international
episodes that I consider inept at the best.
There is a vast array of
characters in the book, more than any previous novel of yours I have
I don't know why, they
were just there. I once got a letter from a woman who said, "I'm
not going to read anymore of your books, there are too many people
in them!" What can I tell you?
You seem to focus on
the people doing the mischief over the police detectives, were they
more interesting to write about?
Let me put it
this way, I think the reader knows more about what's going on than
the cops who investigating the case. Which is not bad because then
the reader has an edge on the cops in trying to figuring it out.
Even Wiggy the Lid knows more than any of them when he cracks the
Although this is the
51st 87th Precinct book I hear you're on book 53. Do they still take
you around a month to write as in the early days?
This one I started in
April 2000 and delivered in December 2000, so that's eight months.
This wasn't through choice but because of the research. The next one
is called Fat Ollie's Book, in which he is about to deliver
Money isn't used as a soapbox, nor has a great deal of your
previous work, or is it deeply psychological, when it could have so
easily gone that route.
True but occasionally I
do. I wrote Hail to the Chief which was a thinly disguised
anti-war novel about Nixon and the Vietnam War told through the
street gangs. I pay a lot of attention to what my readers have to
say, and once got a letter from a guy that said, "if you want
to preach to the masses, get yourself a soapbox." I always
remember what my first obligation to my readers when writing a
mystery and that is to write a cracking good mystery that will give
the readers a good ride to find out whodunit - not to deliver a
You've been quoted
in saying that only the police are qualified to solve murders, not
by some granny with knitting needles. Was that why you stopped
writing the Matthew Hope series?
I stopped writing that
series because I had a lot of trouble reconciling his occupation as
lawyer with his hobby of solving crime. And that's the way it is in
real life. They're working-class cops, if you will. And they will
meet killers, robbers and guys like Wiggy the Lid - you'll never
meet anyone like him in the whole of your life.
If it wasn't for the
terrorist attack in New York, do you think the book would be
receiving so much attention?
In America my publishers
opted not to mention the World trade Center bombing in connection
with the book. As they put it, "We don't want to put up a
lemonade stand on the side of a disaster". I really can't say
if it would attract more attention. I hope people will say it is a
good book with or without that atrocity.
I agree that it is
your best book by far. But it seems that with every new title you're
just getting better, and I may beimpertinent by saying that you're
improving with age, just like a good bottle of malt whisky.
Thanks. I hope so. I
Is it hard to write
something that still reads so fresh after almost 50 years in the
Mike, I try and find
something new about the characters each time out. I've known them a
long time, and suddenly they'll reveal something to me that I didn't
"I cheat at poker."
"What? No you
"Yes, I do."
"But you're only in
"I know. But I
So I find out something
new and that keep me fresh, the readers on his toes and keeps the
Does that explain
why you decided to keep the characters "ageless"? I mean
they must be well past retirement age by now.
Yeah, if I hadn't they'd
be arriving on the scene of the crime in a walker! I started in 1956
and the guys were about 30-ish - they'd be doddering by now and we
can't have that, can we?
In the book you slip
up and called Isola New York. Your mythical city was becoming more
recognisable as the Big Apple.
When I started writing
the series it was supposed to be New York. Then I discovered that I
was in dangerous waters because the cops' ground rules kept changing
and if I was going to keep up with police procedure in New York City
it was going to be a fulltime job. So I froze the police procedure.
Then there were problems with locations; my cops would go to a
building which I described as red bricked but actually turned out to
be limestone or whatever. I couldn't do it, I'd be getting letters
everyday of the week telling me I was wrong. I'm glad I changed it
to a mythical city because I can invent a lot of things.
One of your
recurring themes is the weather. Is it of importance to you?
It is important to each
novel. I set it them at a certain time of the year. Money,
Money, Money is set over the Christmas holidays and Fat
Ollie's Book is set in the spring. The weather nails it down and
gives me the mood of the characters.
Name your favourite
87th Precinct book? And not the last one!
I'm always tempted to
say the most recent. Several previous novels, actually. I liked Long
Time No See a lot because it was a novel where you didn't quite
know what was happening and Carrella is almost tempted to stray. I
like Sadie When She Died, and I just finished a two-hour
teleplay of the novel, which is going to be the pilot for a
television series - I hope. The book wasn't greatly received but I
liked it because it put Carrella out of his element having to go
around with a smart-ass sophisticated lawyer, trying to get to the
bottom of the crime. Blood Relatives is another one.
Finally, would Money,
Money, Money have been a different novel if you'd written it as
When I first thought of
doing a book about counterfeit money I thought it might make the
dramatic novel that Evan Hunter would write. Where a guy would come
upon a large stash of money that at first he thinks maybe fake and
takes it to the Treasury Department to see if it is real. It is
real, and they return it to him. And Evan Hunter would describe how
it would change this guy - he'd been an unemployed actor - how it
would change his life completely. I still think it would be called
Money, Money, Money but the minute I thought of other ways of
entangling all these schemes, it had to be McBain.