Ed McBain is best known for his legendary 87th Precinct series. But, on occasion, McBain would write stand-alone works. McBain’s Duet collects two of these works: “Driving Lessons” and “Petals.”

“Driving Lessons” is a police procedural set in a small town. A teenage girl with a Learner’s Permit, while on a drive with her Driver’s Education instructor, hits a woman and kills her.

Detective Katie Logan investigates the incident and discovers the dead victim is the Driver’s Education instructor’s wife. And, the blood test on the instructor comes back with traces of a powerful drug. Logan follows the evidence and discovers plenty of secrets. GRADE: B

“Petals” is a spy story. An American agent in Europe is investigating the recent murders of former Nazis. At the same time, the American agent is falling in love with the woman who might be killing these men. If you’re in the mood for a surprisingly romanic spy story, give “Petals” a try. GRADE: B-


  1. wolf

    I think I read a few 87th precinct stories in the 60s. All those detective stories, especially those with a connection to my dream city NY were fantastic for me – but it took me more than 20 years to be able to visit.
    NYC seemed so far away …

    1. george Post author

      Wolf, McBain based his 87th Precinct series in a city like New York City, but because he didn’t want to deal with reader complaints if he got the streets wrong, McBain invented the city of Isola. Here’s some fun facts for you:
      In 1978 a Swedish journalist wrote to Evan Hunter asking for an 87th precinct map. Thirty-two novels had been published so far — all of them translated into Swedish. The readers’ interest in the series was reaching its peak and the journalist planned to write an illustrated article on Isola for the Swedish daily paper Expressen.

      I keep Evan Hunter’s reply letter in my archives:

      December 11, 1978. Dear Mr. Karlsson:

      I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you with a map of the Eighty-Seventh Precicint, but perhaps the following information will help. If your artist will take a map of New York City and its suburbs, he can perhaps link up the following equivalents:

      Calm’s Point is Brooklyn
      Riverhead is The Bronx
      Isola is Manhattan
      Diamondback is Harlem
      Smoke Rise is Riverdale
      Hillside is Washington Heights
      Majesta is Queens
      Bethtown is Staten Island
      Landis Avenue is Lenox Avenue
      St.Sebastian Avenue is St.Nicholas Avenue
      Hall Avenue is Fifth Avenue
      Jeffersson Avenue is Madison Avenue
      The River Dix is the East River
      The River Harb is the Hudson River
      The Diamondback River is the Harlem River
      Buenavista Hospital is Bellevue
      Dover Plains Avenue is White Plains Avenue
      Grover Park is Central Park
      Grover Avenue is Central Park West

      Best wishes,
      /Evan Hunter/

      1. wolf

        George, thanks!
        Your list brings back fond memories – I think I’ve had a look at least at all the places though of course I can’t claim to “know” them.

  2. Jeff Meyerson

    I read this one years ago. I don’t remember the second story but I do remember “Driving Lessons.” I’ve read all the 87th Precinct novels and a lot of Hunter’s short stories, his Matthew Hope books, and a number of others. I still have a handful of paperbacks on the shelf that I’ve never read. The most recent that I can remember reading was LAST SUMMER, a few years ago.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I have a few “Evan Hunter” novels that I haven’t read. But, by and large, Ed McBain wrote consistently good novels for decades.

      1. george Post author

        Jeff, I read LAST SUMMER in 1968 and remember liking it. I don’t think I knew “Evan Hunter” was “Ed McBain” back then.

  3. Michael Padgett

    I’ve read a few 87TH Precinct novels here and there and remember liking them, but never read McBain in the sort of systematic way that would be required to get through someone that prolific. Jeff’s post reminds me that I’ve read LAST SUMMER. Saw the movie too. John Boy was in it.

      1. Michael Padgett

        Ah, yes, hubba hubba indeed. Wasn’t it Hershey who embarrassed us all a few years later by changing her name to Barbara Seagull?

    1. george Post author

      Michael, Ed McBain’s work hit its quality peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But I admire his early work in the 1960s, too.

  4. Todd Mason

    I read LAST SUMMER as a kid, and its overheated nature got on my nerves (though Barbara Hershey does make the film easier to take than it should be), and I have yet since read anything by Evan Hunter under any of his bylines that wasn’t marred by foolishness at some level…particularly the “Curt Cannon” stories (as by “CC”)(and I’ve jut realized Why Westlake also Was “Curt Clark”, maybe)…his script, too…

    1. george Post author

      Todd, Ed McBain and Donald Westlake traveled on different fictional tracks, but both writers were prolific and maintained good Quality Control.

  5. Jeff Meyerson

    These are the books I haven’t read, with “author” listed:

    Ed McBain – THE SENTRIES
    Evan Hunter – A HORSE’S HEAD
    Ed McBain (originally as by Richard Marsten) – RUNAWAY BLACK
    Marsten – THE SPIKED HEEL
    Ezra Hannon – DOORS
    John Abbott – SCIMITAR

    Evan Hunter – MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS
    Hunter – BUDDWING

  6. Rick Robinson

    I read two or three 87th Precinct books, thought they were okay but a bit choppy due to the several storylines in each.

  7. Patti Abbott

    I certainly read most of the 87th precinct novels and most of the novels that had nursery rhymes, was it, in the title but not these.


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