CUT ME IN
By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
As a high school student in the early 1960s, we discovered the paperback crime fiction of writer Ed McBain and instantly became enamored of his enormous talent. He was and remains to this very day our favorite author. “Cut Me In,” is one of his early works but before we get into the review here’s a little background. Ed McBain (Octorber 15,1926 – July 6, 2005) is was one of the pen names of author and screenwriter Salavtore Albert Lombino who legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. Over his career he wrote under several pseudonyms that included John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon and Richard Marsten, amongst others. But he is best known as McBain, the name he used for most of his crime fiction to include his popular 87th Precinct books which became a staple of the police procedural genre.
In 1951, Lombino took a job as an executive editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and there worked with such authors as Poul Anderson, Arthur C.Clarke, Lester del Rey, Richard S.Prather and P.G.Woodhouse. That same year he made his first professional sale; a short science-fiction tale titled “Welcome Martians!” published under his birth name of S.A. Lombino. In reading “Cut Me In,” it is obvious McBain used experiences learned in that job as the basis for his murder mystery.
Protagonist Josh Blake is half owner of a New York Literary Agency. One day he comes to work and finds his partner, Del Gilbert, shot to death. A Detective Sgt. DiLuca is assigned the case and Blake thinks he is an incompetent bumbler. On the verge of signing a big movie deal concerning one of their major clients, Blake suspects someone wants the deal nixed and when the agreement contract goes missing, he’s convinced it was the motive behind the killing. Then Gilbert’s mistress is murdered and DiLuca turns his attention on Blake.
“Cut Me In,” told from Blake’s perspective, is a fast moving, taut thriller and gives the reader a glimpse into the cutthroat world of agents, writers and Hollywood producers; people willing to sell their souls to the devil to gain fame and wealth. Whereas published in the mid-50s, there’s a distinct chauvinistic feel to McBain’s depiction women. All of them appear cookie-cutter beautiful, professional and sexually aggressive ala some antiquated exploitation pulp in which all the women are deprives nymphomaniacs who throw themselves at the hero. In lesser hands, it would be paperback trash and we suspect McBain was all too aware of its tawdriness. Yet he was writing in a time when editors demanded such blatant pandering to their readers. That he manages to deliver a solid mystery despite these handicaps is no small achievement and “Cut Me In” is a wonderful look back at the beginnings of a writer would eventually be awarded the coveted Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America.
And if that isn’t enough to get you to pick up a copy of this book, it also has a bonus Matt Cordell private eye short in it, which is pure 50s tough-guy fiction. Honestly, mystery lovers, it really doesn’t get any better than McBain.