A little time, distance, and objectivity eventually led me to acknowledge that very little of what was wrong with Columbo after 1992 was Ed McBain's fault.
The 87th Precinct series - there are 54 of the darn things - stretched from 1956 to the death of McBain (real name Evan Hunter) in 2005. If these three books are any indication, it was a terrific series, and while they've not been very popular or commented upon in some time, they're really solid police procedurals that reflect their times very well. I was amused by a couple of references to Dragnet putting an unbreakable image of police work in civilian minds, and also to somebody being dismissed as a naïve youngster because he looks like Elvis Presley.
Most of the time, when you find these old book club omnibus editions, they seem to have been assembled at random. This collection reprints the second, fifth, and nineteenth(!) in the 87th Precinct series, but it forms a character arc for Detective Bert Kling. He's introduced in The Mugger as a patrolman, established in Killer's Choice as a rookie detective, and fumbling so awfully in the wake of his girl friend's death in Doll that his lieutenant has concluded that promoting him had been a mistake. Incidentally, I love the two-word spelling of "girl friend." As with "goodby" or "good-by" in John D. MacDonald novels of the period, it's a reminder that language is always evolving.
These are pretty breezy reads, despite the taut and narrow focus of each novel. I enjoyed the very detailed look at procedure in the 1950s and 1960s, and occasional neat and experimental prose that's used really effectively. The Mugger even uses second-person narration for a section to get things started. The first two books just sing with the tone of the 1950s, while Doll's realistic use of hallucinogenic drugs feels appropriately grounded in the 1960s. I love finding fiction from a period that reinforce our contemporary view of that period and being able to say "Yes. This is why we think the 1950s had this feel. It's because books like these were produced then, and contributed to the zeitgeist, and are still accessible both as artifacts and as reminders."
This isn't a series that I'll be able to completely collect immediately, owing to cost and availability, but I will definitely keep my eyes open for more of them. McBain / Hunter was a fantastic talent, and worth waiting to discover.