By Mark Harris
Updated August 06, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Since the plot features (not entirely convincingly) both rap and Google — neither of which was a twinkle in anybody’s eye when Ed McBain introduced his astonishingly durable 87th Precinct mystery series in 1956 — nobody can accuse Hark! of being behind the times. But like ”Law & Order,” which it fondly name-checks, some installments are more compelling than others, and this one (the 54th) suffers from a rickety wordplay-driven story involving anagrams and palindromes as well as the return of the Deaf Man, a guest villain who bedevils the boys of the 87th every decade or so. It’s no place for newcomers to jump aboard; as for the faithful who have been around since the days when the only other crime-drama choice was ”Dragnet,” they won’t need an invitation.