ED McBAIN – There Was a Little Girl. Matthew Hope #11. Warner, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995.

   I thought the last Matthew Hope book — Mary, Mary — was poor in just about every respect. I’d enjoyed the series in the past, though, and thought I’d try another. Anybody’s entitled to an off day.

   As the book opens, Matthew Hope is shot twice by an unknown assailant as he emerges from a bar in the Newtown section of Calusa, Florida. He’s rushed to the hospital in critical condition and is stabilized, but in a semi-comatose condition.

   The police and his friends and associates begin to try to backtrack him to find what could have led to the shooting, and find only a real estate deal. Hope was acting as agent for a circus owner to try to buy some privately owned fairgrounds as a permanent home for the circus. Can this seemingly innocuous transaction be the rationale for an attempted murder? Yep. Sure can.

   This is an interesting departure from the norm in terms of structure. The story is told by a combination of flashbacks via the semi-comatose Hope and the actions of his friends and associates as they investigate his shooting.

   The narration segues from one into the other and back, and it works well. McBain does his usual competent job of writing smooth, readable prose, and a good degree of tension is maintained both as to Hope’s condition and finding the killer.

   The circus background was interesting, too. Little Girl goes a long way toward recapturing the form McBain showed in the early Hope stories.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #15, September 1994.