Onyx reviews: Candyland
by Evan Hunter and Ed McBain
The cover lists two authors and the dust jacket photo portrays two men of a
certain age, one dapper and distinguished in suit and tie, the other in casual
attire: jeans, sunglasses, denim cap pulled low. Close scrutiny reveals what
many readers already know: Evan Hunter and Ed McBain are one and the same
Candyland is an experiment in literary voice, akin to the duel
publication of Desperation and The Regulators by Stephen
King and his alter ego Richard Bachman several years ago. The concept is that
authors write in different styles when they slip on their different creative
names. Evan Hunter, author of The Blackboard Jungle, is the more
literary author. Ed McBain is a genre writer, who has tossed off over fifty of
his 87th precinct police novels.
Hunter takes the first half of the book, describing an evening of depravity by
Benjamin Thorpe, an architect visiting New York on business. Thorpe is sexually
obsessed. He has infidelity down to a science, with a little black book filled
with the encoded names and phone numbers of his liaisons across the country.
Nights away from his wife are never spent alone. He must either hook up with one
of his past amours in person or by phone, try to pick up someone new in a bar,
or make use of the services listed in tawdry ads in the back of magazines.
On the night depicted in Hunter's half of Candyland, Thorpe engages
in all of these activities. When he is unable to convince a normally reliable
lover to meet with him, he picks up a young woman in the hotel bar. When that
encounter goes bad, he resorts to his black book, but ultimately finds himself
at the XS Salon, a seedy massage parlor in a grim neighborhood. Even here Thorpe
finds little satisfaction and is ultimately turned out onto the street, beaten
and robbed, bleeding in a gutter.
McBain picks up the story and the focus switches from Thorpe to a team of police
officers investigating the death of a prostitute from the XS Salon found raped
and strangled near the massage parlor. The style switches to the police
procedural McBain is famous for, following the detectives as they unravel leads
and clues to the brutal murder. Thorpe's misadventures of the previous night are
revealed to Detective Emma Boyle and he becomes one of several suspects in the
While the publicists would have readers believe there is a dramatic difference
in the two halves of this book, the contrast is more in content than in style.
The writing is not markedly different, only the focus is. Hunter concentrates on
the person of Benjamin Thorpe, exploring his compulsive personality and how his
obsessions control his life. McBain is more aloof, looking dispassionately at
Thorpe as a suspect through the eyes of jaded police officers who have
investigated more murders and rapes than they would care to admit.
While the story is engaging and the experiment interesting, the dual focus of
the "authors" ultimately leads to a book where too much is left
unresolved. While all the loose ends of the murder are tidied up, Thorpe is left
dangling. It would have been more gratifying if Hunter had picked the story up
again after McBain wrapped up the murder for a brief epilog showing Thorpe's
fate. The early part of the novel focused on how Thorpe's depravity led to his
involvement in the crime investigation. The jacket copy hints at Thorpe's
self-discovery, but this is not explored significantly. He is never seen
first-hand again after McBain takes over, which may leave readers unsatisfied.
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