The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

30Nov/090

EP0026: Box 13: Shanghied

Dan Holiday answers a letter in Box 13 and finds himself kidnapped and fishing at sea.

Original Air Date: February 11, 1948
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29Nov/090

Who in the World: November 2009

Last month, we took a look at who downloaded the pilot episode. 6 out of 7 downloads originated in the U.S. and 6.3% came from Canada.

Now after a whole month, our downloads are up significantly. The first episode of the month (an episode of Box 13) has been downloaded 1,254 times with the first episode of Sherlock Holmes uploaded 3 days laters garnering another 103 downloads, for a total of 1357.  This makes Great Detectives about 1/3 as Popular as the Old Time Dragnet show, and after only 5 weeks of existence.

Our downloads have risen, and so have the percentage of downloads coming from outside the U.S.  At this point, 76.4% of our downloads are from the U.S. as opposed to 86.1%. The big surprise this month is which country has emerged as a clear #2 in downloads: Germany.

Yep, 15.3% of downloads come from Germany, more than four times the percentage of Canadians who are listening.  In addition to the U.K., France, and Australia, which are shown on the graph, we also got downloads from the Netherlands, China, South Korea, and Switzerland.

Other findings:

  • The percentage of downloads from Itunes was down significantly as Itunes downloads only accounted for 61%  of the total number of downloads in November v. 86% of October.  Zune (16.4%) and Juice (16.3%) accounted for the bulk of other downloads.
  • In terms of which show is the most popular, the answer seems to be "elementary."  Over time, Sherlock Holmes seems to outdraw all other shows.  Every week's shows that have been in circulation for three weeks shows Sherlock Holmes the preferred choice. Yours Truly Johnny Dollar is second. The battle for third and fourth is neck and neck between Box 13 and Pat Novak with Box 13 having the edge. Finishing 5th is let George Do It.  The differences between the shows aren't hugely significant and may be partly explained by when people download shows. Being stuck in the middle of the Week as Let George Do It is may be a fairly significant challenge.
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28Nov/090

Book Review: The Innocence of Father Brown

Father Brown, as best I can tell is the second among the Great literary detectives, right after Sherlock Holmes. In some ways, Father Brown was a continuation of what Chesterton wrote in his classic Orthodoxy. 

The intellectuals of Chesterton's time viewed the orthodox Christian as superstitutious, weak-minded. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy asserted his vision of orthodoxy was something entirely different: It was conscious, sensible, winsome, and wise. 

Two years after writing Orthodoxy, he rapped it in a Cossack, embodied it in the person of Father Brown, a physically unremarkable and humble priest, who uses his wisdom, common sense, and experience as a confessor to solve even the most baffling crimes.

It should be noted that contrary to what many people have said, Chesterton was not a Catholic at the time he wrote the first Father Brown stories from 1910-1914. That conversion wouldn't happen until the 1920s. However, he already knew the priest who would facilitate his confession and Father John O'Connor was the basis of the character.

To enjoy Chesterton's books, you have to appreciate a couple of things. First of all, many are unlik e any detective stories we read today.  While there's plot and action, the main focus is the puzzle, not character development. Outside of Brown, most of the characters remain very flat. Either they're stereotypical Frenchmen, Calvinists, Rich Men, or Atheists. They're there to provide their piece of the puzzle and then get on with it.

 There's also not any sense of danger or mayhem. There's little violence onstage, although Chesterton can come up with some quite ghastly ways to kill a man. If you like your detective fiction hardboiled, well, I'll be honest, this isn't Pat Novak.

This is a battle of wits between you and Father Brown, and most of the time you're going to lose quite badly. The plot unfolds to reveal the puzzle, Father Brown solves the puzzle and the story ends-often abruptly.

What carries the stories is Chesterton's voice which I find delightful, even when reading a book one hundred years after the time. Chesterton uses his prose like a painter uses paint, true artistry that's understandable to a modern reader.

Father Brown is an incredibly fun character, who when he speaks, he says something important. Brown was the first in a long line of unlikely detectives that would include heroes such as Charlie Chan and Inspector Columbo: the last person in the world that the criminal would be worried about finding them out. But somehow, he solves the case with a completely unexpected solution.

There are a total of twelve stories in the collection, each constituting a different mystery. Several were exceptional to me:

The Blue Cross: The first Father Brown story and perhaps his most iconic tale. When Chesterton originally published this short story in 1910, readers must have been shocked to see Father Brown emerge as the hero. As through the whole of the mystery, the focus had been on a police detective. But already, the makings of the great detective were in place. He would often hang back as a background figure until stepping forward to solve the case. When that first story was published in September, 1910, a literary star was born.

The Invisible Man: This was a fitting case, because it not only provided an extraordinarily surprising solution, but also an insight on how Father Brown surprised so many with his observations.

The Three Tools of Death: This is the first Father Brown story I heard an adaptation of, and after reading it, I appreciate it even more. The solution is a gigantic surprise. It's also a reminder that many of the descriptions, Chesterton gives at the start of the story, he's giving the readers what the popular view of a character is, not necessarily what the person is really like.  You may leave the story with an entirely different view from popular opinion.

The Sign of the Broken Sword: This had to be my favorite in the collection. To give you an idea of how different these stories are from modern mysteries, the entire case takes place on an entirely different continent from where the mystery occurred, and no witnesses are actually questioned. The story centers around a simple enough riddle. 

Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what does he do if there is no forest?

From there, the case proceeds to a startling conclusion, all without leaving a forest,  an Ocean away from the scene of the crime.

On the negative side, I thought the Honour of Israel Gow was slightly absurd. I think Chesterton was trying to make a point about his perception of Calvinist legalism, but it fell a little flat. I also thought the solution in the Wrong Shape was not the right shape of Chesterton's best Father Brown stories, but it was still passable.

Overall, I found the stories enjoyable and would encourage others to read them. You can read the entire book online or you can buy it on Amazon. (affiilate link.)

27Nov/092

EP0025: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Murder’s a Merry Go Round

Johnny Dollar heads out to investigate a series of accidents at a carnival, only to find that murder is on the agenda.

Original Broadcast: March 11, 1949

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26Nov/092

EP0024: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

 

While on Vacation in Cornwall, Holmes and Watson find themselves in a mystery that has led to unexplained madness in one case and unexplained death in another.

Original Air Date: May 30, 1936

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25Nov/090

EP0023: Let George Do It: 42 on a Rope

George Valentine gets a lot more than he bargained for when he helps a woman with a lost pearl when she steals his wallet. When George tries to get his wallet back he comes face to face with a big gun and an international smuggling conspiracy.

Original Air Date: October 3, 1947

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24Nov/090

EP0022: Pat Novak: Rubin Calloway’s Pictures

Pat Novak comes across a man tossed in the bay, who gives him the key to a bus locker. A woman pays him $200 to bring her the contents of the locker.

Quotes:

"It was like washing your kid's face and finding out he was ugly to begin with."-Pat Novak

"You couldn't strike oil in a filling station."-Pat Novak

Novak: And you're going to tell me he's dead, Hellman.
Hellman: No, I'm not going to tell he's dead, Novak. He might be a soft breather.

Original Air Date: March 13, 1949

Picture Courtesy of Digital Deli

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23Nov/090

EP0021: Box 13: Extra Extra

A newspaper boy asks Dan Holiday to help him free his father, who has been charged as an accessory in a Jewelry Story Robbery.

Original Air Date: February 4, 1948
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21Nov/090

Pat Novak Doesn’t Swear

One of the great things about Old Time Radio is the lack of swearing on the shows. Many parents are thankful for this, and a lot of us would rather not hear it for whatever reason. However, I think the lack of swearing actually forced the writers to write better scripts.

When researching Pat Novak, I've found that's he's been twice published in modern books from Moonstone Books, which imagine him as an old man still kicking about, getting into trouble. As interested as I might be in these books, I'm almost willing to bet that the writers did something to Novak that would ruin the story. While I've not read the books (and maybe I could wrong), I'm willing to bet that in the updated version Pat Novak swears.

Of course, defenders of realism would say, Of course, Pat Novak swears. He swears like a tough waterfront boat operator, because he's a tough guy waterfront boat operator.  

Realism has a point, but if you're wanting realism, the private detective genre is where to come. Most private eyes live a far more boring live than Novak and other detectives. What makes Pat Novak fun is the dialogue and what makes the dialogue fun is that Pat Novak doesn't swear.

Of course, that doesn't mean Novak's a goody good. He's got a big time bad attitude and is a smart mouth. In a modern detective show, much of the dialogue used to insult Hellman would be cast aside for the ever-convenient curse words.

But without the ever-reliable "four letter dictionary" available in the 1940s, Novak has to be creative in taking on Inspector Hellman:

Pat Novak: I'm walking out of your jail, Hellmann. You got a broken down .38 that won't fit anything but your thumbs. You can't hold me on that.
Inspector Hellman: I found you over the body. I can hold you on suspicion of murder.
Pat Novak: But it will hurt tomorrow morning, Hellmann. The paper's will be down here for a follow-up, and you'll have to tell them what it looks like out in left field.
Inspector Hellman: I'll handle them.
Pat Novak: You can't afford to have them start laughing at you. People will get the idea it's your face.
Inspector Hellman: You can save carfare if you stay right here, because I'll have you back by noon tomorrow.
Pat Novak: You're not that good, Hellmann. You couldn't hold a moth with a searchlight. 

Pat Novak is the Poet Laurete of putdowns. The master of the stinging smart aleck remark. The show's got a rythym, a certain poetry to it. No, it's not realistic, but it's better than realistic.  

A swearing Pat Novak wouldn't have to be near as creative, near as smart, or near as good as the trash talking waterfront rat who couldn't talk trashy. A swearing Pat Novak isn't Pat Novak at all.

20Nov/091

EP0020: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Robert W. Perry Case

Johnny Dollar is assigned as a body guard to a highly insured businessman, who dies as soon as Johnny arrives. Now he must find the killer and find out if the insurance company that's retained him has to pay off.

Original Air Date: March 4, 1949

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