The Paperback Review: “The Mugger” (1956)

The Mugger
1st edition cover of The Mugger

There is a creep that stalks the night. He is like a wild animal, on the prowl and desperate for food. He preys on women. Attractive, rich, and vulnerable women. The city is his playground. The shadows his sanctuary. He lives in darkness. He is The Mugger. He greets his victims with a fist to the face and says his farewells with a bow. He is a contradiction. Polite, yet dangerous. Friendly, yet lethal. He started with robbery and assault, but has promoted himself to murder. The detectives at the 87th precinct are on the manhunt for a tall man wearing sunglasses and a trench coat. There are thousands of people in the city, but only one mugger calling himself Clifford.

The Mugger is the second novel of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series of paperbacks which ran from 1956 to the time of McBain’s death in 2005. These stories follow the work and personal lives of an ensemble of beat cops and detectives. They take place in a fictional city, resembling New York City, but also exemplifying the pulse of any domestic city that never sleeps. The Mugger reveals to readers the drudgery of police work. Not a single pistol is drawn. There are no shoot outs or high speed car chases. It’s the story of police officers and detectives doing police work, following up on leads and making tiny steps towards solving a crime. The 87th Precinct novels were the first series of paperbacks to portray police officers as regular people, with their own personal lives that sometimes interfere with their jobs. In this present day we’ve seen a number of television shows and movies that provide us with a realistic depiction of police officers and their work, but in 1956 this was new to the general public. McBain’s 87th Precinct paperback novels provided us with the backbone that so many cop procedural stories are built from.

I found this little novel at Sideshow Books in Santa Monica where there is a plethora of mystery/crime paperbacks from decades past. When I saw the front cover of this 1st edition I had to have it. Like the mugger himself, I was obsessed. I took a chance and I dove into the dark world of police investigation and I hold no regrets. It transported me back to a 1950’s metropolis, complete with hard-boiled, snappy dialogue and snot-nosed, little dames. So take a trip back in time, and enjoy this novel of crime.

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