THE LAST BEST HOPE (1998) by Ed McBain
reviewed by Barry Ergang
Jill Lawton comes to attorney Matthew Hope's law office in Calusa, Florida to get a divorce—with alimony—from her long-gone husband Jack. Nine months earlier, Jack had gone north, ostensibly in search of freelance graphic design work, and she has not heard from him since. Jill hopes to invoke the Enoch Arden Law, but Matthew explains that not enough time has passed for this to apply, and that they'll have to find Jack and serve him with the divorce papers.
It's not long thereafter that a man's body is found on a beach in Calusa, the face gone from a shotgun blast. A driver's license and Visa card in the man's pockets suggest he's Jack Lawton. But when Jill is summoned to positively identify the body, she instantly determines from the absence of a miniscule blue dot on his Adam's apple that the man is not her husband.
Matthew puts a firm of private investigators on the case, and on his own phones a precinct in the city where Jack was last known to have been. The city is unnamed; the precinct is the 87th; the detective Matthew talks to is Steve Carella.
Thus McBain melds two series and the sleuths therefrom, each working in different locations on the same case.
As the body count increases and surprises unfold, McBain with the skill his fans know and love conveys the story's past and present from different angles and viewpoints, switching among the various investigators and multiple villains. The reader is taken into the heads of the characters, all of whom are believably fleshed-out, and comes to know them from their conversations with others and their internal monologues—another McBain trademark.
The Last Best Hope never lets up—it's a superb example of a "page-turner"—as characters and events converge in a wild climax tense with excitement but leavened with humor situational, coincidental, and authorial. The lyric from a song in a James Bond movie aptly sums up Ed McBain: "Nobody does it better."
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Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages.