Wednesday, August 07, 2002

August 7, 2002: Here's my take on forgotten writer Jonathan Craig, in a message I posted to the rara-avis list:

Dragnet probably spawned plenty of fictional procedural
series, but two of the best were published as paperback
originals. You all know about one of them, Ed McBain's 87th
Precinct series, which eventually went into hardback and is
still going on. The other one began about a year before
McBain's, and hardly anyone remembers it. Too bad, because
it's a good one. The author was Jonathan Craig, and the
series is set in a (named) New York City. The main
characters are two homicide cops, Pete Selby and Stan
Rayder. They work out of the 6th precinct, and most of
their cases (I think there were 10, all for Gold Medal) are
in Greenwich Village. The book I picked to re-read (for no
particular reason) was CASE OF THE PETTICOAT MURDER (1958).

The book opens, as nearly every Selby/Rayder case with the
discovery of a beautiful nude murder victim. It proceeds
with very little action but a lot of attention of details
(both of forensics and of regular police routine). And with
plenty of cross examination by Selby. Craig was really good
with dialog, and the story moves right along. Like all the
crimes Selby and Rayder get involved with, this one has
plenty of sexual overtones. Here's Selby: "People do weird
things for sexual enjoyment; strangling themselves and
others is only one of them. The idea, of course, is to stop
just the other side of climax and just this side of death;
but by the time that point is reached, the victim is often
in such a state of excitement that he no longer recognizes
it. In our years together, Stan and I have cut down a lot
of them: men dressed in women's clothing, girls with their
bodies coveredwith obscene words written in lipstick, men
and women with their stomachs bristling with needles or
forearms livid with cigarette burns." Pretty strong stuff
for 1958. (Trust me; I was there.) But at the same time,
there's Gold Medal's apparent ban on the grosser
body-function words. One character, for example, is "peed

If you read several Selby books in a row, there would
probably be a sameness about them, but I highly recommend at
least one. Why didn't they hit the big time like McBain's
books? One reason was almost certainly Craig's decision to
write in the first person. He doesn't have the big cast
that McBain does. And of course McBain's plots are a lot
more varied.

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