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31Aug/130

Radio Drama Review: Powder River, Season Three

The third season of Powder River picks up several months after the second left off and begins in with a noticable change. With son Chad Macmasters (Chad Alerud) gone, Marshall Britt Macmasters (Jerry Robbins) becomes a darker character. He's no longer raising a young son, but drinks hard, and is just a far tougher morose character. Even after Chad returns home in the second episode this remains the case because even though Chad's home, he's basically viewed as full grown man and there's little reason to hold back from his darker impulses.

The first half of the season really continues in the same vein as the second. Chad has gone undercover with the Lucas Clyde gang and become a wanted man. Macmasters along with the rest of the Powder River regulars has to to track down the gang, and this is the central point of the first four episodes of the series, including some interesting twist on how non-vigilante justice was dispensed in the old West.

The fifth episode gave some needed comic relief while also educating as Deputy Clay Tucker (Deniz Cordell) had a toothache and the town's citizens offer suggestions for taking care of it that will make listeners thankful for modern dentistry and then this this leads into the three part series of episodes, "Morgan's Town" which has Powder River's top guns trying to catch a cattle rustler and murderer that committed a murder-that he couldn't possibly have committed. It makes for a nice mystery and plenty of action as they have to go to the town that Morgan owns and controls lock, stock, and barrel in order to gain the evidence they need to convict him.

The second half of the season is different. It seemed to be trying to get away from having nearly every episode involve the chase of the villain of the week.  Unfortunately, the quality of these episodes was decidedly mixed due to airtime given to a new actors who didn't seem to be on the same level as the existing cast and a few plot points that strained credulity.

Perhaps, the most disappointing part of the set was the two part finale which features a crooked saloon owner hoping to take over Claremont. After sizzling finales for Season 1 and 2, this one fizzled. Simply put, the saloon owner wasn't a worthy foe for Britt Macmasters and Sheriff Dawes. The guy was in way over his head and didn't know it. He wasn't a nice person, but unlike Lucas Clyde or Morgan, I didn't think this guy was a threat. In addition, the episode with the relationship or potential relationship between town reporter Sandy Dolan (Diane Capen) which had never really been developed and seems to suffer from no interest at all from Macmasters.

This isn't to say that the second half was without good episodes. "The Bride from the East" was the best episode of the season. It starts out looking to be a lighter episode with Clay having told a girl he was corresponding with that he was a General and trying to rope the town into upholding his outrageous lie. However, when the woman (Kate Manson) arrives, it turns out she has a secret of her own. Manson is superb and the episode is both education and well-written. I also have to say that the two part episode featuring the return of Sam Donato (Sheriff Wilkins from Season One) was fun listening even if there were a couple points that were far fetched.

Despite some stumbles towards the end of the set, as a whole, Season 3 of Powder River works with some good solid exciting stories and some dramatic twists. As both "The Awful Tooth" and "Bridge from the East" show, the series is thoroughly researched, and has an authentic western feel. While not as great as the brilliant Season Two , Season Three is a worthwhile installment for fans of Britt Macmasters and friends.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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31Aug/130

EP1040:The Line Up: Babs, the Baggy Bungling Brunette Bombshell Case

William Johnstone
Ben searches for a stripper accused of a hold up and shooting a clerk.

Original Air Date: May 6, 1952

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30Aug/131

EP1039: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Fathom Five Matter, Part Five and Crime for a King

Bob Bailey

Johnny was wrong or was he?

Original Air Date: March 2, 1956

Roger King finds out what the big deal is about the 18th and finds himself in the middle of a $300,000 caper.

Aired week of December 27, 1957

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29Aug/130

EP1038: Nick Carter: State’s Prison Evidence

Lon Clark

Nick goes undercover in prison to prove a suicide was actually a murder and conspiracy.

Original Air Date: October 18, 1943

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28Aug/130

EP1037: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Fathom Five Matter, Parts Three and Four

Bob Bailey

Is a missing businessman alive or dead? Johnny continues his search for the truth by a man missing in a boat crash.

Original Air Dates: February 29 and March 1, 1956

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27Aug/130

EP1036: Mr. Moto: The Case of the Dry Martini

Mr. Moto is investigating dope smuggling and witnesses the murder of the owner of an import-export company.

Original Air Date: October 20 1951

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26Aug/130

EP1035: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Fathom Five Matter, Parts One and Two

 Bob Bailey

Johnny investigates the disappearance of a man missing at sea while local officials are pushing for a quick declaration of death and murder.

Original Air Date: February 27 and 28, 1956

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25Aug/130

EP1034s: Play it Again: Box 13: Blackmail is Murder

Alan Ladd

An elderly woman has found a body in her room. She wants Dan to remove the body and find the killer.

Original Air Date: October 31, 1947

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25Aug/130

Book Review: Farewell, My Lovely

Raymond Chandler's  second novel begins on two seemingly unrelated tracks. A man named Moose Malloy walks into a Black establishment and kills the owner because he's looking for his girl Velma who used to sing at the place when it was a white club. Marlowe does a favor for a police detective because he doesn't have anything else to do and because it can be handy in his line of work for a police detective to owe you a favor. Then when he hits a dead end, he takes a job for a man named Marriott to help him deliver ransom money for a stolen jade necklace and Marriott ends up murdered.

Marlowe goes on a wild ride, gets beat up, knocked out a couple times, drugged all leading to the conclusion of the case. If anything, the book is more cynical than The Big Sleep with crooked cops abounding and a de facto 1940s open marriage. The attitude portrayed towards blacks in the book was sadly stereotypical and if not hostile, was at least indifferent to their plight. In addition, while the dialogue was good, I don't think it was quite as good as the The Big Sleep.

However, even with its faults, it's one of the best detective stories ever written.  If it didn't have a a clever mystery, if it didn't have Marlowe on a scary trip while drugged as a sleazy sanitarium, it would be a great book because of  its characters. They're on every page.  They had depth and nuance, even corrupt Bay City cops, a gambling magnate, a drunk widow, and of course Moose Malloy. You add all the elements together and you have a masterpiece.  Whether it's as good as the Big Sleep, we can argue about, but its a masterpiece none the less.

And of course, Philip Marlowe remains the honest man, the knight who's courage and incorruptibility  make the book work.  In this book, he doesn't do anything near as dramatic as ripping apart his bed when he rebuffed Carmen Sternwood. Here, it's more subtle. In a classic scene, Marlowe is being questioned by a police lieutenant and helps a fly out of the police office and lets it go. At the end of the book, he asks the Lieutenant about the fly and he doesn't know what he's talking about.

It subtly paints a picture of a Marlowe who doesn't quite see the world the same way his contemporaries (even good men) do as they accept corruption as just a matter of course. While Marlowe isn't a crusader, his sense of honor compels him to challenge the corruption that's in front of him.

Except for some offensive racial language, the book really stands the test of time. While Philip Marlowe books are not recommended for kids or very sensitive adult readers, for fans of hard boiled fiction, the book is a must.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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24Aug/130

Review: History of Harry Nile, Set 4

Set 4 of the Adventures of Harry Nile settles into a good rhythm with these adventures set in 1952-54 and having a flawless golden age feel. The series is so right, so good, and so relistenable.

Harry Nile is to 1950s Seattle what characters like Barrie Craig were to New York or Jeff Regan to Los Angeles. French captures the time, the place, and the feel of a great city that just wasn't represented as a consistent locale among writers of golden age detective fiction.

Jim French had clearly become the master of the 20 minute episodes as Harry plows through one case after another with mystery, comedy, and a good dose of suspense. The late Phil Harper is flawless. He's mostly supported by French's wife Pat as Murphy, but also an ensemble cast of local actors appear. However, some bigger names do make an appearance including Russell Johnson (the Professor from Gilligan's Island) and Harry Anderson (Night Court) takes a couple turns, most memorably as the owner of a jazz club facing vandalism and harassment.

The set includes "The Case of the Blue Leather Chair" the only Harry Nile to be broadcast live. In addition, many were recorded live before a studio audience, who are heard throughout the production. The most amazing thing about these stories is that they were recorded in the 1990s, at a time when most people thought radio drama was a lost art. However, the Frenches and Harper showed that the formula worked: good writing and professional acting can make magic in the theater of the mind, even in 1990s Seattle. Even for a detective like...Harry Nile.

Purchasing Information:

The set is available at French's website for $49.95 on CD or as a digital download for $25.

The History of Harry Niles, Set 3  (along with Sets 1,2  and 4-6) are available on Audible for $19.95 for members or 1 Credit. I bought this set with my an Audible listener Credit ($14.95).

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