Thriller

4 Mystery Writers to Remember – Bland, McBain, MacDonald and Seranella

Eleanor Taylor Bland wrote a police procedural involving an African-American police detective named Marti MacAlister and her small town Polish partner. Her stories take place in Lincoln Prairie, Illinois and are based on the town of Waukegan, a real suburb of Chicago where she lived. She began the series in the early 1990s, while working as an accountant. She died in 2010. I read the first book in the series back in 2003 and made a note to look up the rest of the series. Her books deal with racist and sexist issues. She is still on my list of books to read.

Perhaps the best-known writer of police procedurals was Ed McBain. His legal name was Evan Hunter, which he created from schools he had attended. His real name was Italian and he grew up in New York. One of his first jobs was as a teacher, which was the basis for his first important work, The Blackboard Jungle. It was later made into a movie. McBain/Hunter died of cancer in 2005. His 87th Precinct series was made into an early TV series and influenced many successful television police dramas. I’ve been discouraged from starting the series, because of the lengthy list of titles. I know that I did read several back in my teen years and enjoyed them. He is an important series writer to know, and I hope to tackle his prolific offerings in the future.

John D. MacDonald was just plain fun to read. I’ve read all of his Travis McGee books, some of them twice. McGee lived on a boat in Florida and was a salvage expert. For fifty percent of the take he would salvage or find what you were looking for. He got on his soapbox at times about issues of the day, especially the environment and developers in Florida. There is even a website with his pithy one-liners. His books give you an interesting perspective of the 1960s and 1970s, when MacDonald was in his forties and fifties. MacDonald wrote many non-series books, but you can tell the Travis McGee ones by the color in their titles. He influenced many writers of today, including Stephen King and Dean Koontz. He died in 1986.

Barbara Seranella created a sympathetic character in her Munch Mancini series. Trying to go straight after her addiction to heroin, she gets a job as an auto mechanic. She tries to stay away from the people, who were her friends during her non-sober days, but it isn’t easy. Seranella’s life paralleled her characters in many ways. She died in 2007 of liver disease, but her stories are very much alive and recommended.