Category: Audio Drama Review

Radio Drama Set Review: Father Brown Mysteries Vol. 4

The fourth volume of the Father Brown Mysteries from Colonial Radio Theater collects four more G.K. Chesterton stories. More importantly, the middle two stories have been previously adapted either in the 1970s British TV series or the 1980s BBC radio series.

In the  “Actor and the Alibi”, Father Brown is called in by a theater company to calm down a temperamental Italian Catholic actress and finds himself investigating the murder of the theater owner who most of the company holds to be a scoundrel. This solution as well as the distortion of reality that seems to have engulfed the situation is remarkable. Unless you have the sagacity of Father Brown, there’s little chance of solving it.

“The Worst Crime in the World”  has Father Brown concerned about a young man that might marry his niece. A strange visit to the castle-home of his reclusive father does little to allay his concerns, particularly when the young man seems to have disappeared.

“The Insoluble Problem” is a classic story that finds Father Brown and Flambeau stumbling on an impossible murder after Father Brown is called the house while Flambeau is driving to a museum protect valuable jewels. Unlike all the weird murders Father Brown has solved, is this one truly insoluble?  Really, this was a pretty clever concept that plays quite nicely with classic tropes of the mystery genre.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this clever plot used  more often.

“The Eye of Apollo” is a classic story which pits Father Brown against the founder of a sun-worshiping cult who has convinced a strong-headed wealthy woman to follow his way. When she dies, it appears to have been accident with the cult leader having a perfect alibi. The actual solution has a great ironic twist that’s pure Chesterton.

This is the best quality Father Brown set Colonial has put out yet. J.T. Turner has Father Brown down pat and M.J. Elliott is adept at giving listeners all the life and pleasure of the original stories. One thing I noted in this collection is how Turner would take some of Chesterton’s artful descriptive commentary and put it in the mouth of his characters.

Overall, this is a faithful and high quality adaptation that is a must for fans of Father Brown and of classic mystery.

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Audio Drama Review: Hilary Caine Mysteries, Box Set 1

In the Hilary Caine Mysteres, MJ Elliot, known for his adaptations of classic Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown programs created an original comedy mystery series for Jim French Productions in Seattle.

It’s the 1930s and Hilary Caine (played by Australian Karen Heaven) works as the house detective for the tabloid Tittle Tattle Magazine. She goes and solves crimes and they tell the true story (or something approximating the true story) in the pages of the tabloid Tittle Tattle magazine. She usual assists Inspector Julius Finn (Randy Hoffmeyer) or is it the other way around?

Hilary has a great line of patter that simply has to be listened to in order to be believed. The comedy is priceless. Consider this example:

Hilary: I was having with my friend Hercules Poyrot –
Finn: I believes that Hercules Poirot. And I believe he’s fictional.
Hilary: Nonsense. If he wasn’t real, who was I having lunch with?
And this line:

Hillary: She made me furious when she said English people are repressed.
Finn: You did a good job hiding it.

Another time when asked about her religious affiliation, she declared she was “a lapsed skeptic.” However,  just because she makes statements that could come from Gracie Allen and has an imagination that seems to struggle to under the difference between reality and fictions, she shouldn’t be underestimated. She’s got a keen mind and manages to unravel some clever mysteries. MJ Elliot and Jim French successfully captured the spirit of the 1930s screwball mystery comedies. I was also somewhat reminded of Barbara Britton’s portrayal of Pam North on television, although Hillary Caine’s stories are much more British.

The nine mysteries in this collection are mostly solid though there are a couple that seemed a little too easy to figure. One of them reminded me a little bit of the Father Brown Story, “The Quick One” in it’s set up though it’s denouement was different.

Overall, the people who brought us the Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Adventures of Harry Nile have once again brought fans of classic mysteries a wonderful character to enjoy, so I heartily recommend this collection.

The collection is available at Jim French Production’s website  for $29.95 on CD and $15.00 for audio downloads. It is also available on Audible at a discount or for free as part of an Audible trial offer.

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Audio Drama Review: Father Brown, Volume 3

In this Third Volume of the Father Brown Mysteries, Colonial Radio Theatre takes the stories from The Incredulity of Father Brown and the Scandal of Father Brown, two of the latter collection. Colonial an admirable job with the source material:

“The Oracle of the Dog”: A man is killed in his summer house and the strange behavior of a dog is seen as a key clue. Colonial had to do some work on this story as an adaptation. In the original Chesterton story, Father Brown doesn’t visit the scene of the crime, but rather solves the case based on clues given him by someone else. Thus, it came off as more of Chesterton’s criticism of literary treatment of canines in murder mysteries. Thanks to Colonial, this story comes alive while still getting Chesterton’s point across.

“The Miracle of Moon Crescent”: In America, Father Brown warns four skeptics of that a well-known in millionaire is in danger after telling a story of his encounter with a superstitious Irishmen. They scoff at him, but when the millionaire is found murdered with no reasonable scientific or  psychological solution presents itself, the skeptics begin to doubt themselves and begin to consider a supernatural solution. J.T. Turner did a great job writing the adaptation and captured the subtleties of the satirical elements of the story. The only thing that marred this one was that the accents seemed quite a bit off. Still, a worthwhile presentation of a great story.

“The Green Man”: A wealthy admiral is found murdered in full dress uniform by two golfers and it’s a classic whodunit. The story begins in medias res with Father Brown speaking to one of the suspects before the final denoument, a kind of interesting twist. The story is standard whodunit fare handled quite capably by Colonial.

“The Quick One”: A classic story of murder in a hotel bar of a a Tory curmudgeon. Father Brown insists that that the key to the case is finding an unknown man who stopped in for a drink and didn’t even bother to finish it. (i.e. The quick one.) The mystery was well and faithfully adapted. A couple weeks ago, I criticized the British TV version for trying to mitigate Father Brown’s views of the deceased as a heroic figure who was the one of the last men who could have saved England. Colonial avoided any revisionism in that regards. In one way, they actually improved on Chesterton with an edit. They moved a line that Father Brown delivered in the middle of the original story to the end when Father Brown was talking to his policeman companion on a train. Where it was originally written, it kind of seemed like rambling dictum that readers could easily pass over on their way to the solution. However, put at the end, it offers a vital explanation as to why a Priest would always be involving himself in Homicide investigations. This is probably the best Father Brown episode that Colonial’s done so far.

Overall rating for the collection: 4.5

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Audio Drama Review: Colonial Radio Theatre’s 2nd Father Brown Collection

Last year, I reviewed Colonial Radio Theatre’s first Father Brown collection adapting classic stories from G.K. Chesterton.  I was pleased recently to finally download and listen to their second collection. As with the first collection, production values remain high with quality acting, and well-done sound effects.

This is a tougher collection for the adapters in some ways as two of the four stories they adapted are challenging ones to dramatize, but overall they carried it off quite well.

The Flying  Stars: It’s crime time at Christmastime. Father Brown is one of several visitors to a wealthy English home, including a young socialist where a valuable jewels called, “The Flying Stars” make an admirable target for thieves. And thieves strike-during a pantomime event.  This one was a bit slow getting to the crime as it dragged through preparations for the pantomime.  However, the story as written by Chesterton was equally slow-paced. As slow it was, it was also necessary for the character development of Flambeau and Colonial does listeners a favor by actually showing Flambeau reform. They also did a nice job setting up a transition to the next story.

Point of a Pin: Noisy construction workers are waking Father Brown up every morning as they work on an apartment building, but a potential union strike or lock out threatens to stop construction. The owner of the construction company  lays off his workers and then is murdered. A threatening note points to union radicals as the likely culprit but Father Brown has other ideas.  This was a lot of fun for me, particularly because “Point of a Pin” is a lesser known and later Father Brown story that I hadn’t read yet and Colonial did a great job in bringing this baffling story to radio.

The Three Tools of Death: Along with “The Blue Cross” this may be one of the best Father Brown mysteries.  I actually based much of my Father Brown chapter in my book, All I Needed to Know I Learned from Columbo on this story. However, it’s not always gotten the respect it deserved. In the 1970s, the BBC ruined the story when they adapted Father Brown for television because the original story was so politically incorrect. Colonial didn’t try to airbrush the story. They let it speak for itself and produced a faithful and well-done adaptation of this mystery that centers around Britain’s leading optimist and teetotaler being found murdered. At first, there are no weapons found, and then all the sudden, there are too many. Father Brown says something’s wrong with the crime scene, that all these weapons are “not economical.”  Colonial does a great job telling the story. They even preserved the post-solution ending. It features Father Brown, after having unraveled one of the greatest mysteries in the history of detective fiction, going on about his rounds as a clergyman. That right there tells  you all you need to know about Father Brown.

The Invisible Man: A young man wants to marry a beautiful woman, but finds her being menaced by an invisible man. Threatening notes are left, but no one seems to be around. A threatening poster was put up, but no one was seen in the vicinity. Finally, a man is murdered under the watchful eyes of a man who swore that he saw no one go in.  What’s going on? This story like, “The Sign of the Broken Sword” is one of Chesterton’s most influential stories. It’s also, like “The Sign of the Sword” in that it’s incredibly hard to adapt based on the bizarre ending that Chesterton gave the original story. Colonial tries to work around this by having Father Brown narrate the story, which really doesn’t work all that well. Still, it’s a good story and other than Colonial’s attempt to deal with Chesterton’s quirky ending,  the adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable as well.

Overall Rating for the Set: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars.

Colonial turned out another great Father Brown set.

Audio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Howling Dog

In the Case of the Howling Dog, a man approaches Perry Mason with two seemingly unrelated requests. First, he has questions about the requirements for drafting a will including whether the will would be valid if he were executed for murder. Then he complains about his neighbor’s howling dog which is keeping him up at night.

Mason takes action on the howling dog, contacting the district attorney’s office. The neighbor insists there’s no problem and that Perry’s client is mentally unstable. Then Mason’s client disappears with the neighbor’s wife and later on, the neighbor himself is found murdered. Mason has to unravel the sordid affairs of the dead man, find the client he’s supposed to represent, and unmask the real killer.

The Case of the Howling Dog is the best installment yet of the Colonial Radio Theatre’s Perry Mason series. The mystery is incredibly complex and engaging with an amazing amount of twists and turns. At 78 minutes, this is  a fast paced thriller. Also, this is only the second of the four to feature actual courtroom scenes (The other being “The Case of the Sulky Girl.”) CRT did a much better job with the courtroom drama than in The Case of the Sulky Girl as the court scenes in The Case of the Howling Dog were more vibrant and engaging. Fans of legal dramas will appreciate Mason’s brilliant legal manuvering in the program’s climax.

Throughout the episode, as has been the usual case in these shows, Mason walks a thin line ethically. When confronted over this by Paul Drake, he expresses contempt for lawyers who wouldn’t skate on thin ice for a client. Certainly, the CRT’s Perry Mason series wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if he didn’t.’

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

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