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Carey Thorpe, Enough
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:36:53

"Well, she was dead and there was no use crying over spilt milk."

—Carey Thorpe, Enough, 1977, by Donald E. Westlake

Dr. Watson on Irene Adler, "a Scandal in Bohemia,"
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:37:36

"To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman."

—Dr. Watson commenting on Irene Adler, in "A Scandal in Bohemia," The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Alex Tabor, Miss Melville's Revenge
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:39:29

"I'm never going to take you to a party again, Susan,"Alex Tabor said,"if you're going to go around killing the guests."

—Alex Tabor to Susan Melville, Miss Melville's Revenge, 1989, by Evelyn E. Smith

Sir Roger Shallot, the Poisoned Chalice
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:40:39

"If Murder is Satan's eldest son then Poison, Queen of the Night, is his favourite daughter."

—Sir Roger Shallot, The Poisoned Chalice, 1992, by Michael Clynes

Message Left on Jim Rockford's Answering Machine, "Colter City Wildcat"
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:45:14

"It's Shirley at the Planted Pot. There's just no easy way to tell you this, Jim. We did everything we could. Your fern died."

—message left on Jim Rockford's answering machine, "Colter City Wildcat," episode by Don Carlos Dunaway, 1976, The Rockford Files

Matt Cobb, Killed in the Ratings
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:46:23

"If anyone ever offers you a choice between luck and brains, take luck every time."

—Matt Cobb, Killed in the Ratings, 1978, by William DeAndrea

Philip Trent, Trent's Last Case
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:47:15

"Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?"

—Philip Trent, Trent's Last Case, 1913, by E.C. Bentley

Lord Peter Wimsey, Busman's Honeymoon
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:48:05

"It is a gentleman's first duty to remember in the morning who it was he took to bed with him."

—Lord Peter Wimsey, Busman's Honeymoon, 1937, by Dorothy L. Sayers

Norman Bates, Psycho
Teri Duerr
2010-07-13 12:48:41

"I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times."

—Norman Bates, Psycho, 1959, by Robert Bloch

My Book: From Murder to Looting
Maria Hudgins

hudginsnb114_egypthudgins_deathontheaegeanqueen

Archeological site photo from the author's trip.

In the third book in my Travel Mystery series, a man disappears off the stern deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the night. I could have put that ship on any ocean or sea in the world, but I chose the Aegean Sea simply because I had recently taken that cruise myself.

At one point it dawned on me that a cruise ship would be an ideal way to smuggle antiquities from the islands along its scheduled route. I don’t know that it has been done, but it could be done.

In Death on the Aegean Queen, Dotsy Lamb is an ancient history teacher with a thing for digging into the past, but she must first dig into the disappearance because her friend is the prime suspect. I gave the ship an archaeology-Ancient Greece-Minoan-Mycenaean theme and a resident archaeologist/lecturer. I scattered the various decks with display cases flaunting real, but not necessarily legally obtained, ancient artifacts.

hudgins_mariaDotsy discovers that some of these artifacts are stolen from museum collections such as the Museum of Ancient Corinth where, in real life in 1990, thieves made off with some 250 items. Many turned up years later in a Miami warehouse. Ancient Egyptian artifacts, she learns, are sometimes painted black for export to make them look like cheap tourist junk. The Western world’s greatest museums acquire and display these priceless antiquities while their countries of origin plead for their return. A prime example is that of the Elgin Marbles, sculptures taken from the Acropolis in Athens by Lord Elgin in 1810, and now on display at the British Museum in London. On my own recent trips to Athens and London, I couldn’t help comparing the physical condition of the pieces in London to that of the caryatids, female figures originally used as porch columns on top of the Acropolis and now kept in a small museum underneath. The Elgin marbles look pretty good, while the caryatids are barely recognizable as human—victims of Athenian air pollution. But Greece has improved its ability to house old treasures and has campaigned for the return of the marbles. England claims Lord Elgin had permission from the Ottoman government of the time. It seems there are always two sides to everything.

Who owns these scraps of history? The countries of origin argue that they do, but boundaries shift, cultures change, and the current occupants of a piece of land may have little connection to the ancient culture that produced the work to begin with. All too often of course, the battle is decided in favor of the wealthier country versus the poorer country.

Death on the Aegean Queen doesn’t solve any of this, but it does answer the question, “What happened to that guy on the stern deck?”

hudgins_deathontheaegeanqueen

Death on the Aegean Queen
by Maria Hudgins
Five Star, May 2010, $25.95

Buy at Amazon
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Teri Duerr
2010-07-14 16:37:01

hudgins_deathontheaegeanqueen"In the third book in my Travel Mystery series...I chose the Aegean Sea simply because..."

The First Rule (Audiobook)
Dick Lochte

When one of Joe Pike’s former mercenary teammates is brutally murdered, along with wife and children, Elvis Cole’s partner embarks on a revenge mission that puts him up against rival Russian crime czars who are staking out sections of Southern California. The first portion of the novel proceeds pretty much as you might expect, with the efficient and street savvy Pike working his way upward through the criminal ranks and displaying a brutal single-mindedness reminiscent of the relentless thief Parker in Donald Westlake’s The Hunter (aka Point Blank and Payback) and The Outfit. It’s good, satisfying hardboiled fiction. And then Crais throws something totally surprising into the mix—a little nipper.

In a twisted scene worthy of the great filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, we find Pike, with a baby in his arms and a gun in his fist, spending his last seconds before the bad guys reach him by looking for something to protect the child’s ears from the sounds of the coming shootout. The rest of the novel, which might be subtitled Joe Minds the Baby, is a reminder of how good Crais is at making a literary trope—in this case, an infant melting a hardboiled hero’s heart—seem like a fresh concept. The author’s narration of an earlier novel, Hostage, was a little too intense, but here he maintains an even, emotions-in-check tone that perfectly matches Pike’s grace-under-pressure, not just facing off the Russian mafia but also dealing with a 10-months-old baby’s full diaper.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-14 19:04:23

When one of Joe Pike’s former mercenary teammates is brutally murdered, along with wife and children, Elvis Cole’s partner embarks on a revenge mission that puts him up against rival Russian crime czars who are staking out sections of Southern California. The first portion of the novel proceeds pretty much as you might expect, with the efficient and street savvy Pike working his way upward through the criminal ranks and displaying a brutal single-mindedness reminiscent of the relentless thief Parker in Donald Westlake’s The Hunter (aka Point Blank and Payback) and The Outfit. It’s good, satisfying hardboiled fiction. And then Crais throws something totally surprising into the mix—a little nipper.

In a twisted scene worthy of the great filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, we find Pike, with a baby in his arms and a gun in his fist, spending his last seconds before the bad guys reach him by looking for something to protect the child’s ears from the sounds of the coming shootout. The rest of the novel, which might be subtitled Joe Minds the Baby, is a reminder of how good Crais is at making a literary trope—in this case, an infant melting a hardboiled hero’s heart—seem like a fresh concept. The author’s narration of an earlier novel, Hostage, was a little too intense, but here he maintains an even, emotions-in-check tone that perfectly matches Pike’s grace-under-pressure, not just facing off the Russian mafia but also dealing with a 10-months-old baby’s full diaper.

Iron river
Dick Lochte

A couple of years ago, in Parker’s L.A. Outlaws, Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood fell under the spell of Suzanne Jones, a charismatic school teacher and mom who transformed herself by night into a dashing feminist version of her ancestor, the 19th century California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. With fatal result. Last year’s The Renegades found a still-mourning Hood having to deal with Suzanne’s bright, agile, remarkably self-assured teenage son, Bradley, who was edging toward the dark side.

Now Hood is working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, focusing on a gun manufacturer who, in the tradition of other weapons entrepreneurs plying their trade along the US-Mexican border (the “iron river”), is preparing a major company-saving sale to a brutal and violent cartel leader. And, up pops Bradley, now an explorer cadet in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, who apparently is involved somehow in the arms negotiations. The action shifts from Hood to the oddly likeable gun manufacturer (who’s discovering romance along with the rebirth of his business) to the still-youthful Bradley (who’s planning his wedding in addition to the gun deal) and, finally, to a sour luck ATF agent (who, in the course of an arrest, kills the son of a cartel chief who demands revenge and partially achieves it). There’s another character, a fascinating little fellow named Finnegan, with remarkable recuperative powers and an uncanny knowledge of just about everything, who claims to be a minion of Satan, albeit a very genial one.

Parker is as generous in creating these folks in full dimension as he is in providing detailed landscapes almost as lyrical as those of James Lee Burke. Reader Colacci, a collaborator with the author on a number of audios, including the two previous novels in this series, does well by the cast of characters on both sides of the border. He may miss a California pronunciation or two, but he’s deadly accurate in nailing the mood of the book, inspired primarily by Hood’s mixture of frustration and worry and, in spite of all, vague optimism.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-14 19:17:20

A couple of years ago, in Parker’s L.A. Outlaws, Deputy Sheriff Charlie Hood fell under the spell of Suzanne Jones, a charismatic school teacher and mom who transformed herself by night into a dashing feminist version of her ancestor, the 19th century California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. With fatal result. Last year’s The Renegades found a still-mourning Hood having to deal with Suzanne’s bright, agile, remarkably self-assured teenage son, Bradley, who was edging toward the dark side.

Now Hood is working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, focusing on a gun manufacturer who, in the tradition of other weapons entrepreneurs plying their trade along the US-Mexican border (the “iron river”), is preparing a major company-saving sale to a brutal and violent cartel leader. And, up pops Bradley, now an explorer cadet in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, who apparently is involved somehow in the arms negotiations. The action shifts from Hood to the oddly likeable gun manufacturer (who’s discovering romance along with the rebirth of his business) to the still-youthful Bradley (who’s planning his wedding in addition to the gun deal) and, finally, to a sour luck ATF agent (who, in the course of an arrest, kills the son of a cartel chief who demands revenge and partially achieves it). There’s another character, a fascinating little fellow named Finnegan, with remarkable recuperative powers and an uncanny knowledge of just about everything, who claims to be a minion of Satan, albeit a very genial one.

Parker is as generous in creating these folks in full dimension as he is in providing detailed landscapes almost as lyrical as those of James Lee Burke. Reader Colacci, a collaborator with the author on a number of audios, including the two previous novels in this series, does well by the cast of characters on both sides of the border. He may miss a California pronunciation or two, but he’s deadly accurate in nailing the mood of the book, inspired primarily by Hood’s mixture of frustration and worry and, in spite of all, vague optimism.

The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Vol. 2
Dick Lochte

This full cast audio, like the two Mike Hammer television series, also starring Stacy Keach, keeps its tongue firmly implanted in cheek with a tale of gangsters, gambling clubs for society swells, sudden death, vast sums of skim loot and, what else, a dame who may or may not be as innocent as she seems. The script by Collins, titled The Little Death, is, according to the credits, based on a story by him and Spillane. As expected it’s got some violence, some sex and, let me tell you, the gunshots are remarkably realistic and as loud as any I’ve heard since I saw the movie Shane as a kid. Keach will always be the definitive Mike Hammer (and don’t even mumble the name Rob Estes). Others in the cast perform well. That includes Collins who seems to be following in the master’s footsteps by, if not appearing as big Mike, at least writing a character or two to enact.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-14 19:43:10

Gangster, gambling, and gunshots galore in this full cast audio starring Stacy Keach.

Rizzoli & Isles With Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander
Oline Cogdill
When it comes to bringing criminals to justice, the new TNT series Rizzoli & Isles takes the same approach as just about every other TV cop drama.

But Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, has one major twist: the respect and friendship of the two female leads.

As in Gerritsen’s novels, Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles respect each other’s insights and skills. They don’t always agree and sometimes are at odds, but that doesn’t affect their relationship. The two characters genuinely like each other.

Call it the female buddy syndrome, or a realistic glimpse at women’s friendships. Whatever.

This relationship is paramount to the inner workings of Rizzoli & Isles, which airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.

Angie Harmon as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Isles make the viewers believe that these two women would bond over a crime scene, talk about their personal lives in the morgue and, if time ever permits, get together for drinks, dinner, or to help clean up a trashed apartment.

During a recent conference telephone interview with several journalists around the country, the actresses’ chemistry with each other was one of the first subjects that cropped up.

“When we were trying to find the woman to play Maura, it was kind of like a no-brainer when Sasha came in [to audition],” said Harmon. “We just knew it was her right then.”

Alexander agreed: “From the moment we read together, it just sort of clicked.”

Part of the appeal for both actresses also were the surface differences between the characters – the blue-collar Rizzoli is more comfortable in jeans and a sloppy shirt while blue-blood Isles’ ideas of dressing down is flat shoes.

“I really loved the friendship between these two women and watching these two very different women working in this environment, on this kind of gritty male environment,” said Alexander. “That was really the reason that I wanted to be a part of it.”

Both actresses are more than a little familiar with crime drama. Harmon became a household name playing ADA Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order from 1998-2001. Alexander played Special Agent Caitlin Todd on NCIS from 2003 to 2005.

“What stands out [in Rizzoli & Isles] the most is that there’s a lot to these characters,” said Harmon.

“We see their back stories. We see their present situations. To me, that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedure with four heads standing around a body spelling it out for you. Rizzoli & Isles definitely has got a lot more grit to it. It’s not just a typical procedural show. Our cast will show the different colors of the characters,” said Harmon, who added she spent time preparing for her role by spending time with the actual homicide unit in Boston.

Alexander echoed those sentiments.

Sasha Alexander plays Dr. Maura Isles on Rizzoli and Isles "I really love Maura Isles; she’s very fascinating to me,” said Alexander. “I was very compelled by a woman who would choose this profession. [She] came from a very highly educated wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things. She is this uber-feminine kind of modern woman [who chose] to work this job."

Gerritsen’s novels not only provide the foundation for the series but they also inspire Harmon, who says she is a fan of mystery fiction.

“I hadn’t read Tess’ books until we started playing the characters and now I’m obsessed. I come home, I’m exhausted, but I am ready to read more. I just finished The Sinner, and I’m getting ready to start The Keepsake,” said Harmon.

In a way, the novels are enhancing the way Harmon approaches her character.

“It’s like I’m getting a prequel and a history to these people in the book,” Harmon said. “Here I am shooting the history of these two characters and I’m reading their future. You’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them,” said Harmon, who added that the series does not always follow the novels’ storylines.

“I’ve never actually had that happen before in a character that I play. I am shooting a scene with Billie Burke (who plays Gabrielle Dean) and here I am reading about our future.”

Although Harmon has had many roles in the past decade, including a year on The Women’s Murder Club, she will always been Abbie Carmichael, thanks to the endless reruns of Law & Order. Indeed, most of us said we were also watching an episode of that recently canceled drama during the interview. Harmon looks back on those days with fondness.

“I learned some wonderful things from that show. I learned it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you always hang up your wardrobe. I learned from Sam [Waterston] that you never come to the set without your ties. [The Law & Order set] was a wonderful, wonderful place for me. I really thought that the revolving door of Law & Order would sort of going.”

“I would sit in my dressing room and stuff my envelopes with my save the date cards and my wedding invitations,” said Harmon who is married to former football player Jason Sehorn; the couple has three daughters.

But now there is Jane Rizzoli for Harmon to concentrate on.

“Jane is witty, she’s funny. It’s been a fun time playing her humor and playing her attitude. She’s also very serious about her work. And you know she’s a complete tomboy and that’s very different from me. I love playing her.”

Rizzoli & Isles airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.
Admin
2010-07-17 11:14:22
When it comes to bringing criminals to justice, the new TNT series Rizzoli & Isles takes the same approach as just about every other TV cop drama.

But Rizzoli & Isles, based on the novels by Tess Gerritsen, has one major twist: the respect and friendship of the two female leads.

As in Gerritsen’s novels, Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles respect each other’s insights and skills. They don’t always agree and sometimes are at odds, but that doesn’t affect their relationship. The two characters genuinely like each other.

Call it the female buddy syndrome, or a realistic glimpse at women’s friendships. Whatever.

This relationship is paramount to the inner workings of Rizzoli & Isles, which airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.

Angie Harmon as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Isles make the viewers believe that these two women would bond over a crime scene, talk about their personal lives in the morgue and, if time ever permits, get together for drinks, dinner, or to help clean up a trashed apartment.

During a recent conference telephone interview with several journalists around the country, the actresses’ chemistry with each other was one of the first subjects that cropped up.

“When we were trying to find the woman to play Maura, it was kind of like a no-brainer when Sasha came in [to audition],” said Harmon. “We just knew it was her right then.”

Alexander agreed: “From the moment we read together, it just sort of clicked.”

Part of the appeal for both actresses also were the surface differences between the characters – the blue-collar Rizzoli is more comfortable in jeans and a sloppy shirt while blue-blood Isles’ ideas of dressing down is flat shoes.

“I really loved the friendship between these two women and watching these two very different women working in this environment, on this kind of gritty male environment,” said Alexander. “That was really the reason that I wanted to be a part of it.”

Both actresses are more than a little familiar with crime drama. Harmon became a household name playing ADA Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order from 1998-2001. Alexander played Special Agent Caitlin Todd on NCIS from 2003 to 2005.

“What stands out [in Rizzoli & Isles] the most is that there’s a lot to these characters,” said Harmon.

“We see their back stories. We see their present situations. To me, that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedure with four heads standing around a body spelling it out for you. Rizzoli & Isles definitely has got a lot more grit to it. It’s not just a typical procedural show. Our cast will show the different colors of the characters,” said Harmon, who added she spent time preparing for her role by spending time with the actual homicide unit in Boston.

Alexander echoed those sentiments.

Sasha Alexander plays Dr. Maura Isles on Rizzoli and Isles "I really love Maura Isles; she’s very fascinating to me,” said Alexander. “I was very compelled by a woman who would choose this profession. [She] came from a very highly educated wealthy background and could have chosen to do a lot of other things. She is this uber-feminine kind of modern woman [who chose] to work this job."

Gerritsen’s novels not only provide the foundation for the series but they also inspire Harmon, who says she is a fan of mystery fiction.

“I hadn’t read Tess’ books until we started playing the characters and now I’m obsessed. I come home, I’m exhausted, but I am ready to read more. I just finished The Sinner, and I’m getting ready to start The Keepsake,” said Harmon.

In a way, the novels are enhancing the way Harmon approaches her character.

“It’s like I’m getting a prequel and a history to these people in the book,” Harmon said. “Here I am shooting the history of these two characters and I’m reading their future. You’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them,” said Harmon, who added that the series does not always follow the novels’ storylines.

“I’ve never actually had that happen before in a character that I play. I am shooting a scene with Billie Burke (who plays Gabrielle Dean) and here I am reading about our future.”

Although Harmon has had many roles in the past decade, including a year on The Women’s Murder Club, she will always been Abbie Carmichael, thanks to the endless reruns of Law & Order. Indeed, most of us said we were also watching an episode of that recently canceled drama during the interview. Harmon looks back on those days with fondness.

“I learned some wonderful things from that show. I learned it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you always hang up your wardrobe. I learned from Sam [Waterston] that you never come to the set without your ties. [The Law & Order set] was a wonderful, wonderful place for me. I really thought that the revolving door of Law & Order would sort of going.”

“I would sit in my dressing room and stuff my envelopes with my save the date cards and my wedding invitations,” said Harmon who is married to former football player Jason Sehorn; the couple has three daughters.

But now there is Jane Rizzoli for Harmon to concentrate on.

“Jane is witty, she’s funny. It’s been a fun time playing her humor and playing her attitude. She’s also very serious about her work. And you know she’s a complete tomboy and that’s very different from me. I love playing her.”

Rizzoli & Isles airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET and PT; 9 p.m. EST.
Vital Link: William Link Revisits Columbo
Tom Nolan

columbo_peterfalk01

William Link revisits his most famous creation with a new short story collection.

Most detective characters who earn enduring fame in movies or on TV—from Sherlock Holmes to Inspector Morse, Sam Spade to Perry Mason—sprang from the pages of published fiction.

One notable exception is Lieutenant Columbo, the Los Angeles homicide detective brought to vivid life by actor Peter Falk in several years’ worth of television movies and series episodes. That cigar-chewing cop in the rumpled raincoat, with his tenacious insistence on asking “just one more question,”was the creation of the phenomenal writing—and (later) production—team of Richard Levinson and William Link, who first conjured him, away back in 1960, specifically for the TV screen.

But now, in the fullness of time, Columbo is reversing that usual page-to-screen journey, in a volume of original short stories, The Columbo Collection (Crippen & Landru), written by the character’s surviving creator, William Link.

It should come as no surprise, perhaps, that the good lieutenant, after all these years, seems right at home between bound covers. Columbo (no first name, please) was the brainchild of two lifelong friends from Philadelphia for whom mystery novels and short stories were as important in their formative years as were movies, radio, the theater, and comic books.

link_columbocollectionThe short and skinny Mr. Link met the tall and skinny Mr. Levinson—both of whom also liked doing magic tricks—on their first day of junior high school. Almost at once, they formed a team and began pulling fictional rabbits out of hats. They sold their first story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine while still in college; they wrote theatrical shows at the University of Pennsylvania; and, after a spell at the Wharton School of Business, they partnered to become TV writers.

And while they set their sights on the small screen medium, their major influences were print authors.

“I’ll tell you the people I really loved,” Bill Link said recently, from his home in Los Angeles. “Georges Simenon: There was a man who knew character, through and through …I read over two hundred Simenons…John Dickson Carr: There was the cerebral mystery, we thought, at its best. He was great with clues; Dick and I learned how to formulate clues in things from John Dickson Carr. Ellery Queen was another favorite.… Erle Stanley Gardner: [his stories] were brilliantly constructed.… Oh there was a private eye detective, [written by] two guys—another team, [known as Wade Miller]…Dick and I loved them.

“That was the quartet, or more, of the ones that really inspired us, for mysteries.… Dick was not a big Simenon fan, I was; but it didn’t matter. Simenon was not great on construction, and we prized the people who could really put the story together—because we were both gifted with that.”

By the late 1950s, Levinson and Link were in Hollywood writing for Four Star Productions. And in 1960, they wrote an original script for The Chevy Mystery Show, a live-TV series broadcast that summer byNBC. “We beat out a script…about a murdering psychiatrist who kills his wife,”Bill Link recalls, “and a cop called Columbo starts a dance with him, of wits—because Columbo knows he killed the wife but he can’t prove it.”

linkwilliam_richardlevinson

“Bernard Shaw once said, ‘There are some people so valuable and so important in your life that you only lose them with your death’… and I find in the case of Dick Levinson, that’s very, very true.”

Link and Levinson thought this script had Gail Harvey stage play potential and expanded it into Prescription: Murder,which a New York producer optioned for West and East Coast productions featuring character actor Thomas Mitchell as the dogged police lieutenant. The writers’ agent then sold the stage play to Universal Studios for adaptation by its authors into a two-hour TV-movie to air in 1968.

By then Thomas Mitchell had died, and the role of Columbo was blessed with the perfect casting of Peter Falk.

“We knew Peter, and we liked him,” Link says. “He was a very engaging guy, funny, very smart—and he wasn’t good-looking, because we didn’t want a good-looking cop. You know, he was a Joe Regular: He wasn’t ugly in any sense of the word, but he wasn’t handsome.”

Prescription: Murder was a number-one ratings hit, and three years later, a second Columbo movie was a similar success. In ’71, a series ensued, with every episode employing the device used from that very first 1960 play: the audience sees the crime committed, then watches as the detective pins the deed on the culprit.

“We admitted in a lot of interviews,” Bill Link says, “our template for Columbo was Petrovich, the detective-inspector in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky’s great novel; Dick and I both read it in college. And we were very open about that, but we added a lot of other things. And Falk, you know, gave it a whole new spin, because the cop in the Dostoevsky book was not humorous at all.”

There was something else unique about this protagonist. “I have a theory,” says Link, “…that in [this] one man, you have both Sherlock Holmes and Watson. There’s the intellectual, the very clever, great detective Sherlock Holmes; and then you have the Every man Watson. And those two are combined, with Falk as the character. He’s a regular Joe: He’s the kind of guy you sit down, have a drink, a cup of coffee with, he’s very open—but also, hidden behind that, is the computer brain for detection; and that’s the Holmes part of it.

“He’s the regular working-class guy—who’s got a brilliant mind but doesn’t really tout it, you know? He’s humble, even to the murderer! And people identify with that; they like that. And also, they like Peter, I mean let’s face it.”

Columbo was an international sensation, and Falk’s personification of the character became an iconic figure as far away as Romania. Levinson and Link created many other successful mystery series for television, from Mannix to Murder She Wrote—the New York Times once called them “the Mr. Rolls and the Mr. Royce of American television”—but their firstborn remained their best-known.

After Dick Levinson’s death in 1987, at 52, Bill Link continued writing in the short-story form he and his late partner had started with in their high school days. And in a lot of his tales, he cast Columbo as the hero. “I said: ‘Most popular character we ever created; why not?’”

In extending Lt. Columbo’s career through these short stories, Link is also prolonging happy associations with two of the people who’ve meant so much to him, both in life and in art.

“I see Falk, with every line [I write] of Columbo’s,” he admits. “Yes, he’s really in my mind.” As for the late Dick Levinson...

“I think Dick sits on my shoulder all the time,” Link says. “I was with him, you know, forty-three years; we saw each other more than we saw our wives. It was unbelievable.… We grew up and formulated what we thought about life and what we thought about this world, together.… Bernard Shaw once said, ‘There are some people so valuable and so important in your life that you only lose them with your death'...and I find in the case of Dick Levinson, that’s very, very true.”

May Levinson, and Link, and Falk, and Columbo yet be with us all for a good long time.

Tom Nolan's latest book is the just-published Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw (Norton).

Teri Duerr
2010-07-19 15:13:52

columbo_peterfalk01William Link revisits his most famous creation with a new short story collection.

New Books: Cambridge University Started With a Murder
Emily Winslow

winslow_clareandkingsbridgeoverrivercamfromtrinity_bridgewinslow_wholeworld

Clare Bridge and King's Bridge (in the background) over the River Cam, taken from Garret Hostel Lane Bride (Trinity Hall Bridge). Photo courtesy of James F., Wikimedia Commons.

Cambridge University started with a murder.

In 1209, an Oxford student shot a townswoman with an arrow. He maintained it was an accident; townspeople claimed it was intentional. Rioting exploded, and scholars fled. The exact story's been told many ways. 800 years is a long time for legend and history to grow together.

One, or two, or three innocent men were hanged for the woman's death; depends which 13th century historian you prefer. One historian, Roger of Wendover, claims that "3000" clerks left Oxford in the wake of the vigilante justice, three times the number now believed to have populated the university in the first place.

Some of them settled by the river Cam and got on with the teaching and learning. The resulting Cambridge University has grown to encompass 31 colleges sharing dozens of departments. It sprawls over the city, with shops and houses crammed in between the University's medieval stone, Victorian brick, and recent concrete and glass. Massive gatehouses and elegant towers loom over the grocery store and coffee shops.

The river curves through the city, its surface crowded with “punts,” flat, narrow boats propelled by pushing a pole against the shallow bottom. The guides are trained to give commentary about the riverside colleges, and the most experienced ones have a standard patter. I've heard the stories many times: that Hitler wanted St. John's college for his British headquarters, because of its perfect symmetry; that a Harry Potter quidditch scene was filmed in front of a certain ivy-covered wall; that the unfinished sphere on Clare Bridge was the revenge of an unpaid architect; that the wooden Mathematical Bridge was once held together by pure geometry, but was disassembled as a student prank and no one could figure out how to get it back together without resorting to the nuts and bolts that now secure it. None of these stories are true, but they've become a legendary narrative, repeated over and over, passed from one punter to the next.

winslow_emily

"None of these stories are true, but they've become a legendary narrative, repeated over and over, passed from one punter
to the next."

Unpicking legend from true history is part of the fun of Cambridge. Just this week I visited Milton's mulberry tree in Christ's College's garden. Always on the alert for inside information, I asked one of the gardeners if students are able to access the gardens after they're locked. He cheerfully speculated about many possible routes for sneaking in and out, and showed me the cramped hideyholes where someone could avoid being noticed at closing time. He volunteered that it's quite easy to climb over the fence into the stone swimming pool that's supposed to be reserved for college Fellows. In fact, he confided, years ago one Fellow killed another over a woman, using the hook meant to hold up the flood gate that drained the pool.

I looked it up when I got home. It never really happened; it was the plot of a Cambridge-set ghost story novella from 1918.

I started my own novel, The Whole World, with an American narrator so I could gawk at Cambridge through her. But I also wanted to show the real Cambridge as I was getting to know it, and incorporated other voices, more local ones, too.

Set in the present day, The Whole World is the story of a popular graduate student who goes missing, and the terrible things that happen between those left behind. Maybe one day a punt chauffeur gliding past Magdalene College will tell of my missing student, and the domino crash of crime and trouble caused by his disappearance. Cambridge is a wonderful place to make up stories.

winslow_wholeworld

The Whole World by Emily Winslow
Delacorte Press, May 2010, $25.00

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Teri Duerr
2010-07-14 16:37:01

winslow_wholeworld"I started my own novel, The Whole World, with an American narrator so I could gawk at Cambridge through her. But I also wanted to show the real Cambridge as I was getting to know it..."

The Glass Rainbow
M. Schlecht

Rural Louisiana class and racial divisions mingle with murder in a spill murkier than the Gulf-sized BP disaster, in James Lee Burke’s latest Dave Robicheaux bayou bang up, The Glass Rainbow. Detective Robicheaux and his bad lieutenant, Clete Purcell, are not exactly sympathetic Southern bosom buddy cops. Robicheaux is of the old-fashioned, ex-alcoholic, son-of-a-gun school. And Purcell is not even a cop; at least not anymore, after a career in law enforcement—emphasis on the enforcement—that featured plenty of cooperation with shady mob characters. The action gets under way as Purcell goes rogue and bludgeons a pimp, who may have information concerning recent killings of young women, in front of witnesses in broad delta daylight. Robicheaux, called in to bail out his buddy yet again, has a few more manners, but not enough to leave his professional suspicions at work when daughter Alafair begins seeing a local author/Southern aristocrat, Kermit Abelard. The young scion’s close friend is a shrewd ex-con turned memoirist currently staying on at the Abelard estate, and Robicheaux has doubts about just how literary-minded their relationship is, to the continuing exasperation of Alafair.

The Glass Rainbow, thankfully, does not dwell too much on a Meet (and Murder) the Parents scenario, though. Instead we are treated to pure Burkean black gold; sentences you might want to read aloud while sipping a glass of sweet tea. As Robicheaux and Purcell follow the ever-illuminating money trail, they discover that access to oil—surprise, surprise—may be the real motive behind the deaths of the seemingly unrelated victims. Navigating the twists and turns of the case might be a delicate operation, what with the culture’s reluctance to reveal old skeletons in the closet. Burke, as usual, has no such qualms. He gives the reader a faithful, sometimes disturbing portrait of the deep, deep South, warts and all, pushing sensitive issues into the open. And when all else fails, Robicheaux and Purcell are more than happy to just shoot them out.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-20 18:52:22

burke_glassrainbowRacial divisions mingle with murder in the latest Dave Robicheaux bayou bang up.

Live to Tell
Tim Davis

With the appetite of a sumo wrestler but the build of a cover girl—as she openly describes herself—Boston homicide detective D. D. Warren is a tough-minded woman who boasts that she enjoys a good pressure-cooker case even more than an all-you-can-eat buffet. In Lisa Gardner’s latest offering, Warren will have more enjoyment than even she might be able to handle.

A family of four is slaughtered, and the sole survivor—perhaps the principal suspect—lies gravely wounded in the hospital. Meanwhile, as Warren will soon discover, a workaholic psychiatric nurse with a tortured past and plenty of secrets, a desperate mother who would rather die than see anyone harm her dangerously troubled son, a charming new age shaman with miraculous powers, and more blood-thirsty murders, will combine to make the complicated investigation one of the most challenging in the pretty blonde detective’s colorful career.

Notable for a superbly paced narrative, plenty of well-timed surprises, ample suspense, and a bit of seductive passion here and there, Live to Tell is another winner from Gardner, the popular master of the contemporary thriller.

Teri Duerr
2010-07-20 20:01:24

gardner_livetotellLive to Tell is another winner from Gardner, the popular master of the contemporary thriller.