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Cut Me In


Cut Me In

2016 starts with yet another treat from Hard Case Crime: the second lost Ed McBain novel from the 1950s. June 2015 saw the publication of SO NUDE, SO DEAD, written in 1952, which (along with CUT ME IN) predated the 87th Precinct books by several years. During this time, McBain (whose real name was Salvatore Lombino) was working in a literary agency by day and learning the writing craft by penning dozens of stories for the pulps in his free time. He covered different genres --- including mysteries, crime fiction and westerns --- and published under various pen names.

These were the dying days of the real pulp fiction. There were a number of pulp magazine titles released every month, and the pulp paperback business would exist right into the 1960s, providing a training ground for future great writers like Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block. The pulps were the minor leagues and training grounds for writers, and all are gone today. Some things, though, like the lack of money paid to writers, sadly never change.

CUT ME IN was published under one of McBain’s pseudonyms, Hunt Collins, in 1953. It is being released now for the first time in six decades. Not surprisingly, McBain set his crime in a place he knew: a literary agency.

Forty years after this book first appeared, McBain was one of the bestselling authors in the world. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk writing one cold winter afternoon in Connecticut. It was like attending an advanced graduate seminar in fiction writing. He was kind and generous to a then-young writer, patiently explaining his process to me. He was also, as only great teachers are, totally inspirational. He made me want to spend the rest of my life as a fiction writer and begin writing a book immediately. “Starting a mystery novel is simple,” he told me before a roaring fire. “You start with a dead body or someone about to be a dead body.”

"...a fine example of pulp mystery writing.... CUT ME IN is a required addition to the library of any Ed McBain fan. Once again, Hard Case Crime has shown why they do essential work."

So begins CUT ME IN, a fine example of pulp mystery writing. Del Gilbert is a powerful New York City literary agent. His partner of five years, Josh Blake, is having a tough morning when he awakens to find a girl he does not know “sitting at the kitchen table in a bra and half-slip.” Blake adds, “I didn’t really give a damn, you understand, because the buzz saw inside my skull and the decaying caterpillar in my mouth told me there’d be plenty I wouldn’t remember about last night.” The day does not improve when he goes into his office and finds Gilbert lying in front of his couch with three bullets in the face. Furthermore, the safe has been ransacked.

It turns out that the deceased was widely hated, even by his partner. Josh says, “I really should have cared more. But somehow I couldn’t muster up the sorrow necessary for such an occasion. Del Gilbert was an out and out bustard. He screwed more writers than I could count on my fingers and toes, even though the agency’s success was partly due to his tactics. He was also a lascivious rat who made a grab at every girl who went in his office... He had alienated more editors than there were magazines and had somehow managed to get all those he’d feuded with fired on one pretext or another.”

But Josh soon realizes that a letter in the pilfered safe could have gotten his partner killed. Cam Stewart, the author of a successful series of westerns, wrote a letter giving the agency permission to handle the TV and movie rights to her books. But Del was killed before the deal could be finalized. Now the only copy of the permission letter is gone, and Josh must retrieve it without getting himself killed.

There are plenty of twists and turns in CUT ME IN. Its colorful characters are all trying to cut in on the lucrative writing deal and are perhaps capable of killing to get there, including the writer, a Hollywood agent and a movie producer. You can also see the great writer emerging in these pages. Throughout his career, McBain used the weather as a character in his novels. It is a sweltering New York summer in this book, and even a young McBain could come up with memorable noir lines (“The city needed a lot of rain to wash the heat out of the pavements. And the blood.”) and wonderful descriptions (“Her auburn hair was pulled back over her ears, piled onto the top of her head like strawberries onto a white layer cake.”)

CUT ME IN is a required addition to the library of any Ed McBain fan. Once again, Hard Case Crime has shown why they do essential work. It is easy to imagine these books lost forever without Charles Ardai searching them out.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 15, 2016

Cut Me In
by Ed McBain