- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2001

Perhaps the greatest mystery about the 87th Precinct police procedurals is how Ed McBain, the pen name for Evan Hunter, manages to keep them so lively. His latest, Money, Money, Money (Simon & Schuster, $25, 267 pages), features the same old crew, from Meyer Meyer to Steve Carella to Fat Ollie Weeks, and we are happy to revisit them, but the female pilot delivering drugs and the "professional" burglar are as fresh as the produce at Sutton Place.
Cassandra Jean Ridley had flown military helicopters in the Persian Gulf war so the idea of piloting a small, single-engine plane through the canyons of Arizona — with a $200,000 payoff at the end — sounded like child's play. And so it was. She didn't even need the .45 she was carrying for insurance.
Will didn't ever carry a gun. He was a professional burglar, intent on getting in and out without being noticed by so much as the family cat. He knew there were furs in Cassie's apartment. But the big stash of money was a dividend he was not expecting.
That money proves the death of both Cassie and Will, bringing the 87th onto the scene. The scene being the zoo, where the lions are disposing of Cassie's murdered body — and the evidence of the crime.
At this point the plot reaches "Nellie, bar the door" and we're off on a ride that seems to be going in numerous directions, rather like one of the new roller coasters. Well, hang on, because Mr. McBain brings it all together in his usual satisfactory way. Pieces linked, crime solved. But it is a shame we had to lose Cassie. While she lasted, she was fun.

And while we are in the mood for lively, there Anne George's Murder Boogies with Elvis (William Morrow, $23, 243 pages). This is another excursion with the Southern sisters, two siblings so different it's remarkable that they were both fished out of the same gene pool.
The loud, flamboyant Mary Alice and the quiet, dignified Patricia Anne are at a local festival when one of a chorus line of Elvis impersonators flies off the stage and lands in the orchestra pit.
He and a bass are both ruined. The bass is smashed but the Elvis has been stabbed right through the gizzard.
No one has been near enough to drive a knife through his back except the other Elvises, all dressed in white satin jumpsuits that would show a speck of blood in a military minute.
So, who stabbed Elvis, and why? And why is there a strange man calling Patricia Anne and offering his services as an impregnator of her niece? Why is the niece hiding? Why does Mary Alice want to get married again and dress her attendants in sunflower and mauve? Why is all this happening to Patricia Anne, who finds herself involved in murders when all she wants is a quiet life.
This one boasts a clever plot and an entertaining cast of eccentric characters, most especially the two sisters. This one is light as meringue and just as appealing.

Lindsey Davis once again takes us back to imperial Rome with Marcus Didius Falco in Ode to a Banker (Mysterious Press, $23.95, 372 pages). Falco, the investigator, is Falco, author of satirical poetry when no one is watching. Except a would-be friend, with suspect motives, has asked Falco to share his stage at a poetry reading. It's going to be a high-class affair, complete with a drop-in visit by the emperor, Domitian Caesar, himself. Anyone familiar with Roman history realizes that having an emperor around is a lot like having a hand grenade with no pin around.
Well, things go all right with the emperor and poetry gets read and Falco thinks he's survived the whole mess when Chrysippus, banker, patron of the arts and scroll merchant, suggests that he might be able to market some of Falco's writing. Falco is thrilled, until he learns Chrysippus is an early version of a vanity press and wants Falco to bear all the expenses of the edition.
So guess who might be a suspect when Chrysippus is found murdered in his luxurious home behind his modest scroll shop. But was it Chrysippus the publisher or Chrysippus the banker who was killed?
Falco chases leads with his usual enthusiasm and stages a pre-Agatha Christie reunion in the dead man's library to solve the murder. Along the way we get an authoritative look at old Rome and its people and their beliefs. Such a delightful, entertaining way to digest a history lesson.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.


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