Nightbeat: Night Stories presents readers and listeners with six new stories based on the 1950s Radio series that starred Frank Lovejoy by Radio Archives.
Radio Archives offers an ebook of the stories for $3.99. There’s one reason to choose the audiobook version instead and that’s Michael C. Gwynne who does one of the flat out best readings that I’ve ever heard. He should read all the best hard-boiled detective novels. His voice carries the production and brings each tale to life. Gwynne doesn’t try to imitate Frank Lovejoy’s take on Stone, but his interpretation of the character captures Stone as the street wise yet warm hearted reporter.
The stories themselves have a very strong love for the series that comes through loud and clear. While the tone varies a bit from story to story, they all carry the idea that Stone is a hero and friend to the ordinary people of Chicago that are so frequently the subject of the Night Beat column.
The book leads off with, “The Strangler” which finds Randy going to an ex-girlfriend who returned to town and began working as a stripper. She’d promised a clue in a series of serial killings. Instead she’s the next victim. It’s probably the most hard-boiled story in the collection and it’s brilliantly written with a decent mystery that I didn’t figure out until 2/3 in. The atmosphere is perfect. It’s a little darker story than would have been played on the radio but I don’t think it went over the top.
In, “The Chicago Punch,” Randy is called in to help a boxer who is at risk of being drawn into an illegal fight scene that could ruin his career and maybe cost him his life. It’s a terrific story with the mix of knowing skepticism about the manager’s proclamation that the kid has what is to be champ, along with an interesting concept that seems plausible for the time.
“The Puzzle in Purple,” finds Randy walking into the police department only to find a lieutenant sweating over a puzzle that’s a potential clue to the location of a kidnapped woman. It’s a two act story with the first being Randy helping the lieutenant and how the two relate to each other as they try to solve the puzzle, and the second finds Randy trying to save the woman on his own when he solves the puzzle. The first half was superb as the interactions between the lieutenant and Randy are brilliantly written. The second half was okay but is probably one of the stupider things Randy Stone ever did, though not unbelievably stupid.
“Down Addison Road,” has a mother with an absent husband asking Randy’s help to get her teenage son out of a racket he’s become involved in. This story works well because it features some well-written action and also the type of quirky characters that made the best Night Beat episodes so interesting to listen to.
“Lucky” is inspired by a couple quirks in the show’s history. In the pilot episode of Night Beat starring Frank Lovejoy, the character was known as Lucky Stone rather than Randy.
In addition, there’s a division among fans as to whether the series is Night Beat or Nightbeat*. So it happens Randy Stone had a competitor, a guy nicknamed Lucky with a first name that starts with an “R.” And he started at a rival paper around the same time Randy started at his and he had a column on Chicago after dark and it was called Night Beat while Randy’s was called Nightbeat. However, he was fired for plagiarizing one of Randy’s stories. When Randy gets word that Randy Stone’s dead, it’s actually Lucky who’s been killed and Randy has to figure out who wants him dead before the murderers find out they killed the wrong Stone. This story manages to take radio show production issues and add some tense action and make a very enjoyable yarn.
Finally, “The One that Got Away” finds Randy meeting another old flame, this one a famous singer who stopped writing him quite a while ago. She’s back in town and she’s in trouble. This one has good atmosphere, but the characters aren’t as strong as in other stories.. Though, it’s probably my least favorite of the six, it’s still a solid well paced tale.
I was blown away by this collection. There are so many mistakes that you can make with a book like this. It can easily become weak fan fiction or modern ideas and concepts can be inserted and take readers and listeners out of the story. However, the authors avoided these pitfalls and they produced stories that feel genuine to the era and also the type of adventures that Randy Stone might actually have. If you love Night Beat or even good, 1950s, hard-boiled mysteries, this audiobook is definitely a must-buy.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
*As best I can tell, the spelling of the show is Night Beat based on promotional materials from the time. However, Radio Archives uses the spelling, “Nightbeat.”
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