Book Report: Transgressions edited by Ed McBain (2004)

In his introduction, McBain says he wants to honor a mostly-forgotten form from the pulp era, the novella. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novel, the form doesn’t get much love these days. So he rounds up a number of people to contribute works in this form.


  • “Walking Around Money” by Donald Westlake. The story of series character Dortmunder and a plot to break into a printing plant and print a number of bills of a foreign currency from the presses used to make the currency and reset the serial number equipment.
  • “Hostages” by Anne Perry. A crime novel, sort of, depicting the seizure of an Irish Protestant leader by Irish Catholics. That’s all secondary to the main plot: Men are stupid, and docile women really have to save the day.
  • “The Corn Maiden: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates. A rather pedestrian, almost high-schoolish effort detailing the abduction of a young special needs kid told in a variety of viewpoints, including that of her abductors. Side note: I was very down on the novella at first, but I realized I had confused Joyce Carol Oates with Erica Jong. Once I realized my mistake, I enjoyed it more. Because I don’t have a lot of respect for Erica Jong.
  • “Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line” by Walter Mosley. This novella doesn’t feature his series character, but instead a rather crazy setup spun from the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin paradigm. I enjoyed it a lot and was disappointed that Mosley hadn’t created a series with the characters.
  • “The Resurrection Man” by Sharyn McCrumb, not so much a crime fiction piece as a character study about a slave/former slave charged with a grisly task for a medical school in the South circa the Civil War.
  • “Merely Hate” by Ed McBain, a chance for McBain to mention once again that he really hates George Bush. Pathetic.
  • “The Things They Left Behind” by Stephen King. After the attacks of September 11, a man who called in sick that day must deal with some remainders and reminders from his coworkers who died in the attacks. The introduction mentions The Tommyknockers by name. Consider that foreshadowing.
  • “The Ransome Women” by John Farris. A reclusive artist chooses an art dealer’s assistant to be his next subject, and her police detective fiance thinks there’s something amiss since the former subjects are all reclusive.
  • “Forever” by Jeffrey Deaver. A police statistician thinks that an abnormal number of suicides might mean murder. A bit of a fish-out-of-water tale that was very pleasing.
  • “Keller’s Adjustment” by Lawrence Block. A murderer-for-hire has a change of heart after the September 11 attacks and has to work it out while on the job. Plenty readable.

On the whole, it was a pretty good book, although I didn’t enjoy a couple of the novellas very much. Sadly, that includes the McBain piece.

It weighs in at nearly 780 pages, so it’s quite an endeavour to read it. But the novellas move along and you can read each in one or two nights, so it might expose you to some writer whom you’d enjoy in longer form.

Books mentioned in this review:

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