The 87th Precinct is a series of police procedural novels and stories written by Ed McBain. McBain's 87th Precinct works have been adapted, sometimes loosely, into movies and television on several occasions.
The series is based on the work of the police detectives of the 87th Precinct in Isola, a district of a large fictional city based on the New York Cityborough of Manhattan. Other districts in McBain's fictionalized version of Manhattan correspond to NYC's other four boroughs, Calm's Point standing in for Brooklyn, Majesta representing Queens, Riverhead substituting for the Bronx, and Bethtown for Staten Island.
Relation to Dragnet
Each novel begins with the same disclaimer:
"The city in these pages is imaginary. The people, the places are all fictitious. Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique."
In interviews and articles, McBain has freely admitted that his series was heavily influenced by the radio and TV seriesDragnet. This introduction, simultaneously evoking and contradicting Dragnet's introductory phrase, "The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent," was apparently McBain's way of acknowledging the debt, yet announcing his intention to go his own way in every book.
The series focuses on the detectives of the 87th Precinct, and although different detectives will "star" in different novels, most 87th novels feature a significant, if not a starring role for Detective 2nd Grade Stephen Louis "Steve" Carella.
The regular characters in the 87th Precinct novels are:
Detectives of the 87th
Steve Carella - Dogged and persistent; intelligent, but no genius; usually able to piece together a case. At the conclusion of the first novel, Carella marries Theodora "Teddy" Franklin and over the course of the series raises a family. During investigations, Carella is most often partnered with Meyer, Hawes, or Kling.
Meyer Meyer - Bald, friendly-but-cynical Jewish cop. His unusual name was given to him by his father as a joke (in retaliation for the ultimate joke played on him, since Meyer was born after Mrs. Meyer had gone through menopause). As a consequence of all the childhood teasing he endured, Meyer now has almost endless patience. His wife's name is Sarah.
Bert Kling - Young and impulsive, though a generally solid detective. Goes through numerous romantic entanglements and married once, all of which ultimately end disastrously.
Cotton Hawes - A slightly later addition to the cast. Hawes is tall, good-looking, and red-haired, with a white streak in his hair. This was caused when his head was slashed by a building superintendent -- the hair, after being shaved to stitch up the wound, grew back white. Originally from a "posh" uptown precinct, his attitude did not endear him to his new colleagues at the 87th on his first few days there and nearly got both himself and Carella blown away. Chastened and sobered by the experience, he finally settled in as part of the 87th's Detective Squad, and became extremely competent at his job.
Arthur Brown - Hip, popular and well-liked, though occasionally introspective and moody, Brown is the squad's only black detective.
Hal Willis - The 87th's shortest detective, he became a police officer just before an official height requirement was instituted; however, his skill at judo makes up for his lack of height.
Eileen Burke - Eileen is originally introduced as an undercover detective who works with the precinct on special assignments, including rape decoy. In the final novels, she joins the squad proper, becoming their only female detective, and becomes romantically involved with Kling for a time.
Roger Havilland - Self-centered, corrupt, and generally a nasty, brutal piece of work; eventually shot and killed.
Andy Parker - Lazy, boorish, and almost certainly corrupt. Parker succeeds Havilland as the most disliked member of the squad.
Bob O'Brien - A nice guy and a good cop. Unfortunately, O'Brien is notoriously unlucky, and has been forced to use his gun on numerous calls. Consequently, he is regarded as a jinx by most of the squad.
Richard Genero - Originally a patrolman stationed at the 87th and not especially bright, Genero has been over-promoted and is clearly in over his head. He's generally disliked by the other detectives, who never refer to him by his first name.
"Tack" Fujiwara - The squad's only Japanese-American detective.
A number of other detectives are mentioned, or have smaller roles. In the first novel in the series, Cop Hater, Carella is partnered with a detective called Bush. Bush's wife has hired someone to murder Bush, as well as two other officers who are not mentioned in the other novels.
Some of McBain's cop's names, including M. Meyer, B. Kling and R. Havilland, are seen in a duty roster posted on a squad room wall in the original 1962 film version of Cape Fear. At the point the film was made, over a dozen 87th Precinct novels had already been published.
Others at the 87th
Lt. Peter Byrnes - The sometimes curt detective squad commander.
Captain Frick - The vain, self-promoting captain.
Alf Miscolo - The clerk in charge of records and coffee.
Dave Murchison - The desk sergeant.
Other regular characters
Theodora "Teddy" Carella - Steve's deaf-mute wife
Detective Oliver Wendell Weeks (a.k.a. "Fat Ollie") - Uncouth, uncultured, rude and racist, Fat Ollie is distinctly difficult to like, though he does get results. He is a central character in several 87th Precinct novels, even though he is in fact on the squad of the neighboring 83rd Precinct.
Monoghan and Monroe - Buffoonish and arrogant homicide detectives, who virtually always appear together. "M&M" theoretically administer any homicide investigations done by the detectives of the 87th, but never seem to do any actual work.
Sam Grossman - Crime lab supervisor.
Paul Blaney - Medical examiner from the Coroner's Office.
Carl Blaney - Paul's twin brother, also a medical examiner from the Coroner's Office.
Danny Gimp - A regular police informant, usually reporting to Carella, who sees him more as a person than as just a stoolie.
Fats Donner - Another regular informant. Distinctly more distasteful than Danny Gimp, as it's implied that Donner may be a latent paedophile, barely kept in line (and out of jail) by the detectives of the 87th.
The Deaf Man - A Professor Moriarty-like criminal mastermind who appeared in six novels, was mentioned in several others, and whose real name was never revealed. He generally uses aliases that loosely translate into "Deaf Man": "L. Sordo" (Spanish - el sordo), "D.R. Taubmann" (German - der taubman), "Mort Orrechio" (Italian - dead ear), "Dendove" ("Den döve", Swedish - literally "the deaf"), etc. He enjoyed plotting elaborate crimes to bedevil the men of the 87th, especially Carella, whom he actually impersonated on one occasion. The Deaf Man's plans usually create chaos and extreme tension, but generally end in failure, often due more to pure chance than to the efforts of the 87th.
Ed McBain on writing an 87th Precinct novel
"I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out—just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits—all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for...(I) believe strongly in the long arm of coincidence because I know cops well, I know how much it contributes to the solving of real police cases."