By Tom De Haven
April 28, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

When Ed McBain (a pseudonym for author Evan Hunter) published Cop Hater, his first novel in the 87th Precinct series, Dwight Eisenhower still lived in the White House, I Love Lucy topped the Nielsen ratings, and everybody was talking about a new ”hillbilly” singer named Elvis Presley. Some 39 years and 45 novels later, McBain’s busy cops are still solving murders in the imaginary (but suspiciously Manhattan-like) city of Isola. If they’re not as gritty or soul-weary as the cops on NYPD Blue, or as psychopathic as James Ellroy’s hair-raising creations, they’re still a pretty authentic bunch, and their police work is always up to the minute. McBain’s latest effort, Romance (Warner, $22.95), crosscuts between two parallel stories, one a fairly standard mystery involving homicide among theater folk, the other an interracial love story about a male detective at the precinct and a female police surgeon. Both narratives provide McBain with ample opportunities to do what he does best: generate brisk, compelling scenes and write some of the very best dialogue in American fiction. Michelle Cassidy is the leading lady in a featherweight play. But soon after complaining to the police that she’s been threatened by a telephone caller, Cassidy is killed. Who done it? Her jealous understudy? The / disgruntled playwright? The nervous producer? Or none of the above? McBain knows the police-procedural drill inside and out and puts his investigators straight to work. While it’s doubtful that anyone will get a headache trying to figure out the killer’s identity, it’s just as doubtful that regular fans of the series will be disappointed. What Romance lacks in misdirection and plot ingenuity, it compensates for with satiric, often hilarious character studies and irresistible soap opera. No matter how well the 87th Precinct books have kept pace with changing times, they remain stubbornly committed to the old-fashioned verities of strong, vigorous, no-nonsense storytelling. What other American product can you think of that has remained so durable, and so consistently dependable, for nearly 40 years? B -Tom De Haven

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