The Last Best Hope by Ed McBain (Warner Books, 1998) is the concluding book in the Matthew Hope series of 13 titles. One of the noteworthy aspects of this story is that the author clearly ends the narrative arc of Hope’s adventures with it. That option isn’t granted to many writers. I have always found it intriguing when an author deliberately decides his (or her) creation has reached an end. This entry in the series is also anomalous in its title, the rest of the books all have titles taken from children’s stories.
Matthew Hope is a lawyer in Calusa, Florida, who is recovering from severe injuries incurred during his previous case. Hope is one of those lawyers who cannot sit quietly behind a desk and devote his attention to paperwork and legal filings. Unlike his legal brother-in-arms Perry Mason and more like Brady Coyne, Hope generally resolves his cases via investigation instead of in court. Sometimes, as his injuries attest, his investigation gets too close. This final story is no different. Jill Lawton retains him to find her missing husband, who left Florida to find work in New York City and hasn’t been heard from since. What appears to be a straightforward skip-tracing exercise changes to a murder inquiry when a body with her husband’s identification is found. Jill says the dead man is not her husband, creating an entirely new line of questions.
The only known New York address for Jill’s husband falls in the 87th Precinct’s area of responsibility, and Hope ends up talking to Steve Carella of McBain’s other long-running crime series in a great cross-over that runs through the entire book. This isn’t the only reference to McBain’s additional work. A reference to Blackboard Jungle (1954), an early book published under the name Evan Hunter pops up, as does a mention of a later Hunter novel, Lizzie (1984). There’s also a sly allusion to writers named Evan toward the end.
Parellel story lines show Hope and the police searching for the missing husband and the killer of the unidentified man while the crew of criminals plots to steal a priceless artifact from a museum. Shifting loyalties among the team and a dazzling sequence of double-crosses prove unequivocally that there is no honor among thieves.
This isn’t a particularly old series but it is largely forgotten, unfortunately. With 13 books still readily available, it is definitely binge-worthy for those readers looking for a lengthy distraction. Fans of contemporary private investigator tales and legal thrillers might especially be interested. Some of McBain’s best work!