“Mrs. Harris,” Carella said, “there are some questions we’d like to ask about your son and daughter-in-law.”
“Yes, certainly,” she said. “I’ll try to assist you as best I can.”
She was adopting the kind of formal speech many blacks used with whites, especially when the whites were in a position of authority. [...]
“Mrs. Harris,” Carella said, “did your son and daughter-in-law have many friends?”
“Some, I believe.” Still the phony speech. Carella guessed she would use the word “quite” within the next several sentences. “Quite” was a sure indication that someone was using language he or she did not ordinarily use.
Of course, Mrs. Harris soon fulfills the prophecy:
“Would you know their names?”
“I did not know any of their friends personally.”
“Did they ever talk bitterly about any of them?”
“No, I never heard them say anything nasty about anyone.”
“Would you know if they’d argued recently with—”
“I believe they got along quite well with everyone.”
Ed McBain (who was actually Salvatore Lombino writing as Evan Hunter writing as Ed McBain) uses quite about a dozen times in each of the half-a-dozen 87th Precinct novels that I've checked (since the Kindle makes it easy to do that). About half are in dialogue, where he might be using the word to characterize his characters' sociolect. But some of these are in dialogue or interior monologue attributed to Detective Steve Carella, to whom the sociolinguistic observation about quite is attributed in the quoted passage, and Carella's own uses of this word don't appear to be cases of "using language he would not ordinarily use". And many of the uses are in the author's voice rather than in dialogue or interior monologue.
So was Ed McBain subversively diagnosing his own style? or was he just blowing smoke? or was he making a valid observation that should have been stated less categorically?
Update — The next few examples of quite in the specific novel under discussion are:
“Yes, I understand. Thank you,” Carella said, and hung up. He sat with his hand on the receiver for quite some time.
“I’m enjoying it,” she said, and her eyes met his, and he knew now that she was flirting and he didn’t know quite what to do about it.
Lemarre couldn’t quite understand why, in the nightmare, Roxanne had become Lloyd’s father.
If you were in the midtown area of the city and heading for the financial area and finally the Old Port, you were still going downtown. And if you were standing in the middle of Van Buren Circle and about to head for the midtown area, you were likewise going downtown. Crosstown was quite another matter.
He smiled back. He had not yet decided quite how to play this.
"Yes, it’s quite a bargain,” Carella said.