SO NUDE, SO DEAD
By Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime
Available July 25, 1915
As both a reviewer and writer, I am often asked who my favorite writer is…or was. With over fifty years of reading behind me, there are many writers who’ve entertained me and I follow faithfully. But the one who tops the list and stands above all the others is the late mystery/crime author, Ed McBain. And that isn’t even his real name.
Ed McBain (Oct. 15, 1926 – July 6, 2005) was born Salvatore Albert Lombino. He legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952 under which he became a very successful writer. In 1956 he adopted the penname Ed McBain when writing Cop Hater, the first novel in the 87th Precinct crime series. These were cop procedural mysteries starring a group of detectives working the fictionalized city of Isola, based on New York. Hunter would use many other pseudonyms in his stellar career but none ever achieved the success he earned under the McBain moniker and the more than fifty 87th novels he wrote.
I discovered the 87th Precinct mysteries while in high school and immediately was mesmerized by the smooth flowing prose. There was a fresh economy of words employed by McBain and he was a genius at dialogue. Within a few short sentences, he could capture a character’s entire persona thus setting the table quickly and allowing his readers to enter his tales effortlessly. His plots were ingenious and fun and I became an instant, lifelong fan. When he passed away in 2005, I purpose held off reading his last 87th Precinct book, published posthumously, because I simply hated the thought there would be no others.
In the 1960s various publishers began reprinting many of his earlier crime shorts and novels using the McBain by-line and now Hard Case Crime is following suit. So Nude, So Dead, has the distinction of being the first crime novel by Even Hunter published 1952 as The Evil Sleep. It was later reprinted in 1956 under its current title and has been out of print since. It tells the story of a gifted pianist named Ray Stone who falls prey to drugs. One night, while on a heroin high, he falls asleep next to a beautiful blond singer after they both shoot-up. He awakens the next morning to find her dead beside him, having been shot several times during the night by an unknown murderer.
Confused and dazed, Stone flees the scene and is immediately tagged as the police’s number one suspect. An All Points Bulletin is put out on him across the city. Normally any clear thinking person would immediately turn themselves in to clear their name. The problem is Stone hasn’t had a “fix” in over twenty-four hours and his addiction is torturing him so that he is doing anything but thinking clearly. Initially his first thought is to find a dealer and get another shot but that plan quickly falls apart when he realizes he is a wanted man and his own suppliers are afraid to get anywhere near him. In his delusional state, Stone desperately decides the only way to prove his innocence is to find the killer and he begins investigating the dead girl’s associates, some already known to him in the city’s close-knit music community.
All the while he has to keep evading the police manhunt chasing after him. Then when one of the people he questiones is also murdered, things go from bad to nightmarish. McBain paints a picture of a pathetic lost soul in Ray Stone and does so vividly. He never makes excuses for his protagonist’s fate but at the same time pulls us into his grim narrative where the elusive possibility that there might be redemption at the end of the story does exist.
So Nude, So Dead is a remarkable glimpse Ed McBain’s early efforts and the evidence of his amazing talents is apparent throughout. If, like me, you are an avowed fan of this master storyteller, you need to pick this up and at the same time thank Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime for resurrecting it.