The word "hark" has all but passed from the American lexicon. I
first encountered it in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, when
creator Harold Grey was still at the helm. Annie, while walking in
some dark and dangerous setting, would tell her faithful dog Sandy,
"Hark!" to which Sandy would reply "Arf." "Hark" means "listen up"
or "pay attention," presumably the early twentieth century
equivalent of "Yo!" However, it appears from a cursory glance at
the last six months of the strip that even Annie no longer says
"Hark." So I was intrigued when the word popped up as the title of
Ed McBain's latest 87th Precinct novel. It is a fitting title,
given that it also heralds the return of the 87th's --- and Steve
Carella's --- most enigmatic, frustrating and dangerous nemesis:
the Deaf Man.
The Deaf Man may or may not be deaf. His name, age and background
are unknown. The 87th is not even sure exactly what he looks like.
What is known is that he is extremely intelligent, clever and
dangerous. He has probably never been more dangerous than he is in
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of HARK! is that McBain, well
into his sixth decade of writing, has infused this work with what
is possibly his most complex plot to date. While there are enough
familiar elements of the previous 87th books to provide a
comforting familiarity to long-time readers of the series, there
are also enough changes in the lives of the principals to keep
things fresh and new. There's quite a bit going on with a number of
the detectives. Carella's sister and recently widowed mother are
getting married, in a double-ring ceremony. A romantic relationship
involving a member of the squad is seriously tested, another
abruptly and dramatically ends, and a new one begins for two other
The Deaf Man, however, hovers like a dark cloud over all of them
--- from the moment Carella begins receiving cryptic, mysterious
messages at the 87th Precinct, messages that are quickly determined
to be from the Deaf Man. At first the notes seem to make no sense;
they are, in fact, anagrams --- jumbled letter messages that
quickly become more complex with each passing day.
While the principals of the 87th Precinct age more slowly than the
rest of us do, the times and technology around them change quickly.
There are a couple of brief but touching interludes wherein
Carella's son somewhat bemusedly demonstrates to him a website that
constructs and deciphers anagrams and another that identifies the
source of Shakespearean quotations. None of these, of course,
brings the detectives of the 87th any closer to figuring out what
the Deaf Man is up to.
And what, by the way, is the significance of those palindromes?
McBain drops occasional clues to the reader as well, clues that the
detectives do not have. Ultimately, though, the reader is not going
to figure things out much before Carella does … right in the
middle of the wedding of his mother and sister. That, however,
might be too late to stop someone of