A lady walked into a bar.
It was an iron bar.
A lady walks into the 87th Precinct squad room.
She was carrying a revolver and a jar of nitroglycerine and she wanted Steve Carella dead.
Carella doesn't know this, of course. He's over at the doctor's finding out that his wife is pregnant and that his life (whatever's left of it) will never be the same.
The woman with the jar of sauce is called Virginia and she doesn't give a monkey's about Carella's news. As long as she gets to blow his head off, she doesn't care about many things. And she has lots of time. All the time in the world.
The reason she wants Carella dead is that she holds him responsible for killing her husband. He didn't. The only part he had to play was arresting him and sending him to the prison in which he died.
It's the job of Kling, Meyer, Byrnes and Cotton Hawes to persuade her on the error of her ways. The problem they have is that she's holding them hostage and seems unstable enough to blow the department up and them with it if they try anything. There's an interesting examination of the loyalties of the men here. Byrne, who possibly feels the most love for Carella, is in the position of having to weigh up the lives of everyone in the room against that of one individual. The others, all brothers in the 87th, are prepared to put their lives on the line if need be and don't necessarily agree with their boss's approach.
As time goes on, the detectives all take turns in trying to calm the situation and get themselves out of a mighty hole. Not that Virginia's listening. She's sharp and alert and has a mean streak that's wider than the band of grey in Hawes's hair.
In a parallel universe of sorts, Carella is trying to get to the bottom of a suicide that doesn't smell right. There are similarities between the situations at the station and on the case. Both are set in confined spaces. Each is limited by the ticking of the clock. None of the people involved are in the mood to cooperate and Carella is the main player.
Star of the show is a violent hooker who brings a pleasing freshness to proceedings and keeps life in the squad room interesting when it might otherwise have lost some lustre.
The pressure builds at the station and in the family home of the suicide/murder victim. Tension mounts at a steady and pleasing pace and there are enough spanners in the works and plot twists to keep the eyes glued to the page.
Lots to love about this one. It stretches plausibility on occasion, but McBain handles it all with enough skill to force any questions to the back of the mind.