Raleigh, N.C. — Were Salvatore Albert Lombino, who wrote so prolifically under Ed McBain, as well as his legally adopted name Evan Hunter and numerous other pseudonyms—John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Eras Hannon, Dean Hudson, and Marsten—still alive and asked to name the novel that he enjoyed writing the most, he might just say EVERY LITTLE CROOK and NANNY.
Not his best and certainly not his bestseller. This, after all, was the man who wrote The Blackboard Jungle, Strangers When We Meet, Mothers and Daughters, Buddwing, Last Summer, Sons, and Nobody Knew They Were There.
As Ed McBain he penned world class crime fiction, more than fifty titles in his 87th Precinct novels. During his prolific life he cranked out award-winning short stories and wrote, among other film scripts Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
And here we are suggesting a title that, weight-wise, barely tips the Hunter-McBain scales. The reason is simple. There’s a sense of fun here that not only jumps right off the pages but makes the reader just know that the writer, as he penned this one, was laughing all the way.
The plot is simple, the characters Guys and Dolls.
Carmine Gannucci, a retired “soft-drink” magnate with a trophy bride, a nice little boy and a rather hot nanny—who minds young Lewis—repairs to Italy with his large-breasted wife for a little vacation.
While he’s gone all hell breaks loose.
Luther Patterson is a third-rate book reviewer for unimportant journals and obscure publications and a most unlikely and naive kidnapper—he has no idea who Carmine Gannucci is and how he’s “connected.” And one of the novel’s great jokes is that this napper worships John Simon (books and plays) and Martin Levin (books), two real life New York reviewers, and they, through their lofty language (probably Hunter poking fun at the two critics who are old friends), become his muse as he cobbles together his ransom notes from scraps of his heroes’ prose from New York Times and New York Magazinereviews: “ ...let’s put it this way...you can go along with the rest of this buffoonery...or...invite...anfractuous...unmitigated disaster.”
So Luther nabs little Lewis and cranks out a rather “unique” $50 grand ransom note which the Nanny, who needless to say is freaking out about, is now faced with how to deal with the demand while keeping the fact that someone has stolen the bosses’ kid from the boss’, Ganucci, who is basking in the warm sun of his native Italy.
The mayhem begins when the dots (and idiots) get connected in a lower echelon group of Mr. Ganucci’s “associates,” Goombas’ who Nanny leans on to come up with the fifty thou or better yet find the boy and his napper before Carmine gets wind of it. And as the cliché’ goes, that’s where the fun begins—think Keystone Cops Meet Keystone Wops!
Along with the principals you’ll meet (among others): Benny Napkins, a low level mob operative who was graciously transferred to New York from Chicago because he happened to lean on the wrong person—Carmine’s brother, a restaurateur he offered to provide a rather suspect linen and garbage service to the eatery. When refused Napkins made the “honest” mistake of seeing to it that several garbage cans were hurled through the bistro’s plate glass window and found himself reassigned and packing out of Chicago and headed to New York; The Corsican Brothers, con artists who sell dancing dolls on the streets of Manhattan while waiting for dark to carry out a number of other nefarious “endeavors”; Cockeye, a forger who prints cash in his NY loft faster than the U.S. Federal Reserve, comes with a bit of a problem. Cockeye is well named as his one dollar bills feature a George Washington whose eyes are crossed; Snitch, a $25 per delivery rat who does a brisk business with Bozzaris, a cop who is often on the take; The Jackass, whose more appropriate name would be Dumb Ass; Dominick the Guru, a second story man who breaks and enters by night and lays off his “collectables” by day with a guy named Bloomingdales, who fences everything from hot grand pianos to trinkets that on display would scream high end yard sale. Then there’s the Silver Fox who handles nothing but stolen goods that are really good.
So, (and there are more) Nanny freaks when her charge is kidnapped. Fearing that a call to Carmine’s more high level “associates” would clearly make the Boss aware of the napping immediately, she opts to contact the operatives on the lower rungs of the “organizations” ladder and this brings the above D- Team together and the comedy of errors that is Every Little Crook and Nanny.
How obvious is it that Hunter is clearly having fun with this one? Well, he peppered the novel with really funny characters, delivering them to his readers with first-rate descriptive prose. Hell, then he went out and got friends of his to pose for full-page photos as the book’s not so flattering operatives.
Carmine Ganucci, in the middle of a “business” deal while on vacation in Italy, shows the reader (if only Luther Patterson, the kidnapper knew what we know after reading this) just what kind of business he’s in. The New York Novelty & Souvenir Company, a fence for a drug smuggling, gold coin scam is a little short of capital and so the two Italian thugs, in order to pull off their “transaction”, come to Ganucci for the necessary cash—since he’s right there in Italy on vacation.
“How much cash?” Ganucci said.
“Sixty-two thousand dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money,” Ganucci said.
“Yes, but in return for that, we’ll send the shipment of Virgin Mary medallions (minted to cover stolen gold) to you, instead of the New York Novelty & Souvenir Company. You invest sixty-two, and when the medallions arrive in New York, you’ll get back eighty. That’s even better than loan sharking.”
“No, it isn’t,” Ganucci said. “What’s today?”
“And you need sixty-two by Saturday?”
“You could raise that in a minute if you had to.”
“I could raise it in a minute if I was in New York.”
“Gold is very easy to dispose of,” Truffatore said. “Wash off the silver plate, melt the stuff down and you get rid of it anyplace in the country. There ain’t a soul in the world could tell it was hot.”
“That’s true,” Ganucci said.
“And your profit is eighteen thousand dollars.”
“True,” Ganucci said. “The deal is maybe all right. It’s raising the money that bothers me. I’m not right on the scene; you know I’m here in Italy.”
“Al Capone used to run things from Alcatraz.”
“There are not many men like Al Capone left,” Ganucci said, and lowered his eyes in respect.
Luther Patterson, the kidnapper: “If there were two things Luther Patterson aspired to be, they were both Simon and Levin (the reviewers). Whenever he thought of the unique combination of bile and style that both men possessed, he felt totally inadequate in his chosen profession, and not a trifle envious besides. Several months back, he had begun two separate scrapbooks, one of The Collected Works of John Simon, and the other of the Collected Works of Martin Levin. He studied theses scrapbooks for hours on end, trying to absorb the unique quality both men brought to their work, the essence of which spelled greatness. On occasion, he entertained the bizarre notion that Martin Levin and John Simon were actually one and the same person. Had they ever, for example, been seen together on the same television show? If Martin Levin was not already a person inside John Simon clamoring to be let out, or vice versa, then how did one account for the identical precise, literate, informative, scrupulous, meticulous, painstaking, scholarly, incisive, penetrating, probing, resonant, intensely felt nature of their separate reviews and critical essays?
Benny Napkins, Nanny’s first call: “He was not that big. He was, in fact, exactly five feet and three-quarter inches tall. He had once tried to talk a clerk at the Motor Vehicle Bureau into putting 5’9’ on his driver’s license, but the clerk had been one of those namby-pamby Goody Two-Shoes who insisted on doing everything by the book, even though Benny had been throwing around some pretty big figures. As a matter of fact, he still found it impossible to understand why that mealy-mouthed little clerk could not be convinced—what difference did a lousy quarter of an inch make when the sum in question was something like forty dollars? But five feet eight and three-quarter inches it had remained, and that was what he was, and that was not big.
The Nanny, through Benny’s thoughts as he’s driving to Larchmont, to Carmine’s mansion Many Maples (the scene of the crime) where he will meet with Nanny. He was flattered that she had chosen him over all the other fellows as the person to whom she wished to talk. He enjoyed listening to her. She was a lady to the marrow, and her voice with its pleasant English lilt was as lyric as a lark’s.
“The little bastard’s missing,” Nanny said.
Since Hunter has his Goombas quoting and misquoting everyone from Shakespeare to Bobby Burns, we’ll join the “gang” and do so here—“All’s well, that ends good!” And this one does just that with one screw-up leading to another screw up taking us along to thatgood and reasonable ending.
Every Little Crook and Nanny wouldn’t be one that you could hold for a fifty thousand dollar ransom but it’s clearly a book worth kidnapping—from your local library shelf or on Amazon where you can hold that most deserving company hostage for a copy—for as little as fifty cents by just clicking on the book’s cover.
Bob Cairns runs the site "Page Turners from the Past," a website devoted to bringing readers reviews of older books that deserve a good dusting off! His reviews are featured once a month on WRAL.com.