A Novel of the 87th Precinct


By Ed McBain

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Just in case anybody thought the 47 earlier novels in the 87th precinct were a fluke, McBain’s gone and revitalized the routine with Nocturne””. — The New York Times Book Review

In Isola, the hours between midnight and dawn are usually a quiet time. But for 87th Precinct detectives Carella and Hawes, the murder of an old woman makes the wee hours anything but peaceful — especially when they learn she was one of the greatest concert pianists of the century long vanished. Meanwhile 88th Precinct cop Fat Ollie Weeks has his own early morning nightmare: he’s on the trail of three prep school boys and a crack dealer who spent the evening carving up a hooker.


Copyright © 1997 by Hui Corporation

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.,

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

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First eBook Edition: April 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56027-6


The 87th Precinct Novels

Cop Hater • The Mugger • The Pusher (1956) The Con Man • Killer's Choice (1957) Killer's Payoff • Killer's Wedge • Lady Killer (1958) 'Til Death • King's Ransom (1959) Give the Boys a Great Big Hand • The Heckler • See Them Die (1960) Lady, Lady, I Did It! (1961) The Empty Hours • Like Love (1962) Ten Plus One (1963) Ax (1964) He Who HesitatesDoll (1965) Eighty Million Eyes (1966) Fuzz (1968) Shotgun (1969) Jigsaw (1970) Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here (1971) Sadie When She Died • Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man (1972) Hail to the Chief (1973) Bread (1974) Blood Relatives (1975) So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976) Long Time No See (1977) Calypso (1979) Ghosts (1980) Heat (1981) Ice (1983) Lightning (1984) Eight Black Horses (1985) Poison • Tricks (1987) Lullaby (1989) Vespers (1990) Widows (1991) Kiss (1992) Mischief (1993) And All Through the House (1994) Romance (1995)

The Matthew Hope Novels

Goldilocks (1978) Rumpelstiltskin (1981) Beauty and the Beast (1982) Jack and the Beanstalk (1984) Snow White and Rose Red (1985) Cinderella (1986) Puss in Boots (1987) The House That Jack Built (1988) Three Blind Mice (1990) Mary, Mary (1993) There Was a Little Girl (1994) Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996)

Other Novels

The Sentries (1965) Where There's Smoke • Doors (1975) Guns (1976) Another Part of the City (1986) Downtown (1991)



The Blackboard Jungle (1954) Second Ending (1956) Strangers When We Meet (1958) A Matter of Conviction (1959) Mothers and Daughters (1961) Buddwing (1964) The Paper Dragon (1966) A Horse's Head (1967) Last Summer (1968) Sons (1969) Nobody Knew They Were There (1971) Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972) Come Winter (1973) Streets of Gold (1974) The Chisholms (1976) Love, Dad (1981) Far From the Sea (1983) Lizzie (1984) Criminal Conversation (1994) Privileged Conversation (1996)

Short Story Collections

Happy New Year, Herbie (1963) The Easter Man (1972)

Children's Books

Find the Feathered Serpent (1952) The Remarkable Harry (1959) The Wonderful Button (1961) Me and Mr. Stenner (1976)


Strangers When We Meet (1959) The Birds (1962) Fuzz (1972) Walk Proud (1979)


The Chisholms (1979) The Legend of Walks Far Woman (1980) Dream West (1986)

This is for
Rachel and Avrum Ben-Avi

The city in these pages is imaginary.

The people, the places are all fictitious.

Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.


The phone was ringing as Carella came into the squadroom. The clock on the wall read 11:45 p.m.

"I'm out of here," Parker said, shrugging into his overcoat.

Carella picked up. "Eighty-seventh Squad," he said. "Detective Carella."

And listened.

Hawes was coming into the squadroom, blowing on his hands.

"We're on our way," Carella said, and hung up the phone. Hawes was taking off his coat. "Leave it on," Carella said.

The woman was lying just inside the door to her apartment. She was still wearing an out-of-fashion mink going orange. Her hair was styled in what used to be called finger waves. Silver-blue hair. Orange-brown mink. It was twelve degrees Fahrenheit out there in the street tonight, but under the mink she was wearing only a flowered cotton housedress. Scuffed French-heeled shoes on her feet. Wrinkled hose. Hearing aid in her right ear. She must have been around eighty-five or so. Someone had shot her twice in the chest. Someone had also shot and killed her cat, a fat female tabby with a bullet hole in her chest and blood in her matted fur.

The Homicide cops had got here first. When Carella and Hawes walked in, they were still speculating on what had happened.

"Keys on the floor there, must've nailed her the minute she come in the apartment," Monoghan said.

"Unlocks the door, blooie," Monroe said.

It was chilly in the apartment; both men were still wearing their outer clothing, black overcoats, black fedoras, black leather gloves. In this city, the appearance of Homicide Division detectives was mandatory at the scene, even though the actual investigation fell to the responding precinct detectives. Monoghan and Monroe liked to think of themselves as supervisory and advisory professionals, creative mentors so to speak. They felt black was a fitting color, or lack of color, for professional Homicide Division mentors. Like two stout giant penquins, shoulders hunched, heads bent, they stood peering down at the dead old woman on the worn carpet. Carella and Hawes, coming into the apartment, had to walk around them to avoid stepping on the corpse.

"Look who's here," Monoghan said, without looking up at them.

Carella and Hawes were freezing cold. On a night like tonight, they didn't feel they needed either advice or supervision, creative or otherwise. All they wanted to do was get on with the job. The area just inside the door smelled of whiskey. This was the first thing both cops registered. The second was the broken bottle in the brown paper bag, lying just out of reach of the old woman's bony arthritic hand. The curled fingers seemed extraordinarily long.

"Been out partying?" Monoghan asked them.

"We've been here twenty minutes already," Monroe said petulantly.

"Big party?" Monoghan asked.

"Traffic," Hawes explained, and shrugged.

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a woolen tweed overcoat an uncle had sent him from London this past Christmas. It was now the twentieth of January, Christmas long gone, the twenty-first just a heartbeat away—but time was of no consequence in the 87th Precinct. Flecks of red in the coat's fabric looked like sparks that had fallen from his hair onto the coat. His face was red, too, from the cold outside. A streak of white hair over his left temple looked like glare ice. It was the color his fear had been when a burglar slashed him all those years ago. The emergency room doctor had shaved his hair to get at the wound, and it had grown back white. Women told him they found it sexy. He told them it was hard to comb.

"We figure she surprised a burglar," Monroe said. "Bedroom window's still open." He gestured with his head. "We didn't want to touch it till the techs got here."

"They must be out partying, too," Monoghan said.

"Fire escape just outside the window," Monroe said, gesturing again. "Way he got in."

"Everybody's out partying but us," Monoghan said.

"Old lady here was planning a little party, that's for sure," Monroe said.

"Fifth of cheap booze in the bag," Monoghan said.

"Musta gone down while the liquor stores were still open."

"It's Saturday, they'll be open half the night," Monroe said.

"Didn't want to take any chances."

"Well, she won't have to worry about taking chances anymore," Monroe said.

"Who is she, do you know?" Carella asked.

He had unbuttoned his overcoat, and he stood now in an easy slouch, his hands in his trouser pockets, looking down at the dead woman. Only his eyes betrayed that he was feeling any sort of pain. He was thinking he should have asked Who was she? Because someone had reduced her to nothing but a corpse afloat on cheap whiskey.

"Didn't want to touch her till the M.E. got here," Monroe said.

Please, Carella thought, no par—

"He's probably out partying, too," Monoghan said.

Midnight had come and gone without fanfare.

But morning would feel like night for a long while yet.

To no one's enormous surprise, the medical examiner cited the apparent cause of death as gunshot wounds. This was even before one of the crime scene techs discovered a pair of spent bullets embedded in the door behind the old woman, and another one in the baseboard behind the cat. They looked like they might be thirty-eights, but not even the creative mentors were willing to guess. The tech bagged them and marked them for transport to the lab. There were no latent fingerprints on the windowsill, the sash, or the fire escape outside. No latent footprints, either. To everyone's great relief, the tech who'd been out there came back in and closed the window behind him.

The coats came off.

The building superintendent told them the dead woman was Mrs. Helder. He said he thought she was Russian or something. Or German, he wasn't sure. He said she'd been living there for almost three years. Very quiet person, never caused any trouble. But he thought she drank a little.

This was what was known as a one-bedroom apartment. In this city, some so-called one-bedrooms were really L-shaped studios, but this was a genuine one-bedroom, albeit a tiny one. The bedroom faced the street side, which was unfortunate in that the din of automobile horns was incessant and intolerable, even at this early hour of the morning. This was not a particularly desirable section of the city or the precinct. Mrs. Helder's building was on Lincoln Street, close to the River Harb and the fish market that ran dockside, east to west, for four city blocks.

The team had relieved at a quarter to twelve and would in turn be relieved at seven forty-five a.m. In some American cities, police departments had abandoned what was known as the graveyard shift. This was because detective work rarely required an immediate response except in homicide cases, where any delay in the investigation afforded the killer an invaluable edge. In those cities, what they called Headquarters, or Central, or Metro, or whatever, maintained homicide hotlines that could rustle any detective out of bed in a minute flat. Not this city. In this city, whenever your name came up on the rotating schedule, you pulled a month on what was accurately called the morning shift even though you worked all through the empty hours of the night. The graveyard shift, as it was familiarly and unaffectionately called, threw your internal clock all out of whack, and also played havoc with your sex life. It was now five minutes past midnight. In exactly seven hours and forty minutes, the day shift would relieve and the detectives could go home to sleep. Meanwhile, they were in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that stank of booze and something they realized was cat piss. The kitchen floor was covered with fish bones and the remains of several fish heads.

"Why do you suppose he shot the cat?" Monroe said.

"Maybe the cat was barking," Monoghan suggested.

"They got books with cats in them solving murders," Monroe said.

"They got books with all kinds of amateurs in them solving murders," Monoghan said.

Monroe looked at his watch.

"You got this under control here?" he asked.

"Sure," Carella said.

"You need any advice or supervision, give us a ring."

"Meanwhile, keep us informed."

"In triplicate," Monoghan said.

There was a double bed in the bedroom, covered with a quilt that looked foreign in origin, and a dresser that definitely was European, with ornate pulls and painted drawings on the sides and top. The dresser drawers were stacked with underwear and socks and hose and sweaters and blouses. In the top drawer, there was a painted candy tin with costume jewelry in it.

There was a single closet in the bedroom, stuffed with clothes that must have been stylish a good fifty years ago, but which now seemed terribly out of date and, in most instances, tattered and frayed. There was a faint whiff of must coming from the closet. Must and old age. The old age of the clothes, the old age of the woman who'd once worn them. There was an ineffable sense of sadness in this place.

Silently, they went about their work.

In the living room, there was a floor lamp with a tasseled shade.

There were framed black-and-white photographs of strange people in foreign places.

There was a sofa with ornately carved legs and worn cushions and fading lace antimacassars.

There was a record player. A shellacked 78 rpm record sat on the turntable. Carella bent over to look at the old red RCA Victor label imprinted with the picture of the dog looking into the horn on an old-fashioned phonograph player. The label read:

Albums of 78s and 33⅓s were stacked on the table beside the record player.

Against one wall, there was an upright piano. The keys were covered with dust. It was apparent that no one had played it for a long while. When they lifted the lid of the piano bench, they found the scrapbook.

There are questions to be asked about scrapbooks.

Was the book created and maintained by the person who was its subject? Or did a second party assemble it?

There was no clue as to who had laboriously and fastidiously collected and pasted up the various clippings and assorted materials in the book.

The first entry in the book was a program from Albert Hall in London, where a twenty-three-year-old Russian pianist named Svetlana Dyalovich made her triumphant debut, playing Tchaikovsky's B-flat Minor Concerto with Leonard Horne conducting the London Philharmonic. The assembled reviews from the London Times, the Spectator and the Guardian were ecstatic, alternately calling her a "great musician," and a "virtuoso," and praising her "electrical temperament," her "capacity for animal excitement" and "her physical genius for tremendous climax of sonority and for lightning speed."

The reviewer from the Times summed it all up with, "The piano, in Miss Dyalovich's hands, was a second orchestra, nearly as powerful and certainly as eloquent as the first, and the music was spacious, superb, rich enough in color and feeling, to have satisfied the composer himself. What is to be recorded here is the wildest welcome a pianist has received in many seasons in London, the appearance of a new pianistic talent which cannot be ignored or minimized."

There followed a similarly triumphant concert at New York's Carnegie Hall six months later, and then three concerts in Europe, one with the La Scala Orchestra in Milan, another with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris and a third with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Holland. In rapid succession, she gave ten recitals in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and then went on to play five more in Switzerland, ending the year with concerts in Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Liège, Anvers, Brussels, and then Paris again. It was not surprising that in March of the following year, the then twenty-four-year-old musical genius was honored with a profile in Time magazine. The cover photo of her showed a tall blond woman in a black gown, seated at a grand piano, her long, slender fingers resting on the keys, a confident smile on her face.

They kept turning pages.

Year after year, review after review hailed her extraordinary interpretive gifts. The response was the same everywhere in the world. Words like "breathtaking talent" and "heaven-storming octaves" and "conquering technique" and "leonine sweep and power" became commonplace in anything anyone ever wrote about her. It was as if reviewers could not find vocabulary rich enough to describe this phenomenal woman's artistry. When she was thirty-four, she married an Austrian impresario named Franz Helder …

"There it is," Hawes said. "Mrs. Helder."


… and a year later gave birth to her only child, whom they named Maria, after her husband's mother. At the age of forty-three, when Maria was eight, exactly twenty years after a young girl from Russia had taken the town by storm, Svetlana returned to London to play a commemorative concert at Albert Hall. The critic for the London Times, displaying a remarkable lack of British restraint, hailed the performance as "a most fortunate occasion" and went on to call Svetlana "this wild tornado unleashed from the Steppes."

There followed a ten-year absence from recital halls—"I am a very poor traveler," she told journalists. "I am afraid of flying, and I can't sleep on trains. And besides, my daughter is becoming a young woman, and she needs more attention from me." During this time, she devoted herself exclusively to recording for RCA Victor, where she first put on wax her debut concerto, the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor, and next the Brahms D Minor, one of her favorites. She went on to interpret the works of Mozart, Prokofieff, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Liszt, always paying strict attention to what the composer intended, an artistic concern that promoted one admiring critic to write, "These recordings reveal that Svetlana Dyalovich is first and foremost a consummate musician, scrupulous to the nth degree of the directions of the composer."

Shortly after her husband's death, Svetlana returned triumphantly to the concert stage, shunning Carnegie Hall in favor of the venue of her first success, Albert Hall in London. Tickets to the single comeback performance were sold out in an hour and a half. Her daughter was eighteen. Svetlana was fifty-three. To thunderous standing ovations, she played the Bach-Busoni Toccata in C Major, Schumann's Fantasy in C, Scriabin's Sonata No. 9 and a Chopin Mazurka, Etude and Ballade. The evening was a total triumph.

But then …


After that concert thirty years ago, there was nothing more in the scrapbook. It was as if this glittering, illustrious artist had simply vanished from the face of the earth.

Until now.

When a woman the super knew as Mrs. Helder lay dead on the floor of a chilly apartment at half past midnight on the coldest night this year.

They closed the scrapbook.

The scenario proposed by Monoghan and Monroe sounded like a possible one. Woman goes down to buy herself a bottle of booze. Burglar comes in the window, thinking the apartment is empty. Most apartments are burglarized during the daytime, when it's reasonable to expect the place will be empty. But some "crib" burglars, as they're called, are either desperate junkies or beginners, and they'll go in whenever the mood strikes them, day or night, so long as they think they'll score. Okay, figure the guy sees no lights burning, he jimmies open the window—though the techs hadn't found any jimmy marks—goes in, is getting accustomed to the dark and acquainted with the pad when he hears a key sliding in the keyway and the door opens and all at once the lights come on, and there's this startled old broad standing there with a brown paper bag in one hand and a pocketbook in the other. He panics. Shoots her before she can scream. Shoots the cat for good measure. Man down the hall hears the shots, starts yelling. Super runs up, calls the police. By then, the burglar's out the window and long gone.

"You gonna want this handbag?" one of the techs asked.

Carella turned from where he and Hawes were going through the small desk in the living room.

"Cause we're done with it," the tech said.

"Any prints?"

"Just teeny ones. Must be the vic's."

"What was in it?"

"Nothing. It's empty."


"Perp must've dumped the contents on the floor, grabbed whatever was in it."

Carella thought this over for a moment.

"Shot her first, do you mean? And then emptied the bag and scooped up whatever was in it?"

"Well … yeah," the tech said.

This sounded ridiculous even to him.

"Why didn't he just run off with the bag itself?"

"Listen, they do funny things."

"Yeah," Carella said.

He was wondering if there'd been money in that bag when the lady went downstairs to buy her booze.

"Let me see it," he said.

The tech handed him the bag. Carella peered into it, and then turned it upside down. Nothing fell out of it. He peered into it again. Nothing.


Cotton Hawes, calling from the desk.

"A wallet," he said, holding it up.

In the wallet, there was a Visa card with a photo ID of the woman called Svetlana Helder in its left-hand corner.

There was also a hundred dollars in tens, fives and singles.

Carella wondered if she had a charge account at the local liquor store.

They were coming out into the hallway when a woman standing just outside the apartment down the hall said, "Excuse me?"

Hawes looked her over.

Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, he figured, slender dark-haired woman with somewhat exotic features spelling Middle Eastern or at least Mediterranean. Very dark brown eyes. No makeup, no nail polish. She was clutching a woolen shawl around her. Bathrobe under it. Red plaid, lambskin-lined bedroom slippers on her feet. It was slightly warmer here in the hallway than it was outside in the street. But only slightly. Most buildings in this city, the heat went off around midnight. It was now a quarter to one.

"Are you the detectives?" she asked.

"Yes," Carella said.

"I'm her neighbor," the woman said.

They waited.

"Karen Todd," she said.

"Detective Carella. My partner, Detective Hawes. How do you do?"

Neither of the detectives offered his hand. Not because they were male chauvinists, but only because cops rarely shook hands with so-called civilians. Same way cops didn't carry umbrellas. See a guy with his hands in his pockets, standing on a street corner in the pouring rain, six to five he was an undercover cop.

"I was out," Karen said. "The super told me somebody killed her."

"Yes, that's right," Carella said, and watched her eyes. Nothing flickered there. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Why would anyone want to hurt her?" she said. "Such a gentle soul."

"How well did you know her?" Hawes asked.

"Just to talk to. She used to be a famous piano player, did you know that? Svetlana Dyalovich. That was the name she played under."

Piano player, Hawes thought. A superb artist who had made the cover of Time magazine. A piano player.

"Her hands all gnarled," Karen said, and shook her head.

The detectives looked at her.

"The arthritis. She told me she was in constant pain. Have you noticed how you can never open bottles that have pain relievers in them? That's because America is full of loonies who are trying to hurt people. Who would want to hurt her?" she asked again, shaking her head. "She was in so much pain already. The arthritis. Osteoarthritis, in fact, is what her doctor called it. I went with her once. To her doctor. He told me he was switching her to Voltaren because the Naprosyn wasn't working anymore. He kept increasing the doses, it was really so sad."

"How long did you know her?" Carella asked.

Another way of asking How well did you know her? He didn't for a moment believe Karen Todd had anything at all to do with the murder of the old woman next door, but his mama once told him everyone's a suspect till his story checks out. Or her story. Although the world's politically correct morons would have it "Everyone's a suspect until their story checks out." Which was worse than tampering with the jars and bottles on supermarket shelves—and ungrammatical besides.

"I met her when I moved in," Karen said.

"When was that?"

"A year ago October. The fifteenth, in fact."

Birthdate of great men, Hawes thought, but did not say.

"I've been here more than a year now. Fourteen months, in fact. She brought me a housewarming gift. A loaf of bread and a box of salt. That's supposed to bring good luck. She was from Russia, you know. They used to have the old traditions over there. We don't have any traditions anymore in America."

Wrong, Carella thought. Murder has become a tradition here.

"She was a big star over there," Karen said. "Well, here, too, in fact."


On Sale
May 30, 2009
Page Count
320 pages