A milestone at the 87th Precinct

THE LAST DANCE By Ed McBain Simon and Schuster 269 pp., $25

Life isn't easy for the cops in the 87th precinct. But they - and mystery writer Ed McBain - know the territory well. "The Last Dance" marks McBain's 50th novel of his 87th Precinct series, a milestone his readers surely appreciate. There are now more than 100 million copies of his books in print.

Depicting the 87th with a Tolkienesque appreciation for detail is simultaneously McBain's strength as a genre writer and his limitation as a suspense builder.

His detective duo, Carella and Meyer, combine the charm and wit of Columbo with the tough-guy mentality of Andy Sipowicz from "NYPD Blue." This time, they investigate multiple homicides loosely connected to conflicting passions over a musical revival. Carella and Meyer are both likeable wiseacres, excellent vehicles for McBain to display his intimate knowledge of detective methods and lingo. Indeed, the characters make frequent swipes at movie and television cops, a thinly veiled nod to the author as the "real McCoy."

But if McBain's characters are animated by his affection for detail and crisp dialogue, they're also slaves to his pedestrian pace.

Mystery readers looking for plot twists and tension better look elsewhere. McBain tries to liven things with sidebars that add brushwork to his portraits, but they can't raise the tempo much. In the end, gritty repartee driven by peppery characters can't make this "Last Dance" swing.

*Joshua S. Burek is on the Monitor staff.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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