First A few quotes From Ed's review:
"Donald Westlake, who was not only a master writer but a master observer of our society, wrote a novel in which an older man, the former cop Mitch Tobin, is forced to defend a young hippie girl accused of murder. Tobin's wife insists because the girl is related to them."
" In each book we see Tobin building the wall in his back yard. He literally wants to wall himself off from the world. He has good reason to. Tobin had a mistress he couldn't leave alone, He'd sneak up to see her while his squad car buddy covered for him. Then one day his buddy needed back up while Tobin was in bed with his mistress--and his partner got killed without Tobin there to back him up."
" Westlake takes us on a tour of hippie life in NYC `67. He has the eyes of a good reporter and the constitution of an honest broker. Tobin sees a lot he likes and a lot he doesn't. I especially like the intersection he sees between crime and the hippie lifestyle. Some very bad people hid out with the somewhat naive hippies."
The first thing that stuck me about Murder Among Children was the cover of the battered hardback that the Iron Wood Michigan sent via inner library loan was the Cover.
If you can't see it,it's a coffee cup, saucer and spoon. I doubt anyone in 1967 ever thought that coffee and coffee shops would become what they are today. I doubt that the hippie wannabe Beatnik coffee joint would give way to starbucks and a million small chains and local places. It's an interesting place to look back and realize just how radical the concept of the coffee house was in the late 1960s. You throw in some upstart religious weirdos and you have a pretty average guy Tobin peering into this world and trying to figure out who has it out for the kids and why.
On the surface it is about the murder and about Tobin being forced out from behind his wall and having to face an imperfect world. It's this element that pushes the novel beyond the standard PI story-- it really deals with Tobin's guilt about what drove him off the force and his inability to seemingly forgive himself.
Westlake was a master and the Tucker Coe books are well worth seeking out. I look forward to checking out where Westlake took Tobin in the third book.