Category: Golden Age Article

Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know


In 400 Things Cops Know, veteran Milwaukee and San Francisco Police patrolmen Adam Plantinga shares his experiences as a 21st Century big city police officer.

The book is divided into nineteen chapters, the first eighteen are centered on subjects ranging from what you would think would be the mundane issues in seasonal policing to the straight dope about shootings and car chases. The final chapter is fifty-four miscellaneous “things” that didn’t fit easily into the proceeding chapters. The “400 things” are a mix of short vignettes, quick tidbits of cop information, and longer reflections on the life and methods of police officers.

Plantinga makes each of these tips engaging. Some are humorous, some are poignant, and others are just plain interesting. Some of these include sharing the advice that when a police officer stops a car full of shady characters to do a search, that the passengers should be seated in a specific manner to avoid a sudden escape or interference with the search.

Or the fact that it’s possible for pedestrians to be hit so hard by a car, they fly out of their shoes.

If you ever wondered about criminals in TV shows and movies who were horrible shots and fire repeatedly at a target without hitting it, that isn’t necessarily unrealistic. “Most bad guys can’t shoot for spit,” writes Plantinga. The book also tells how police officers can recognize a shoplifter.

The book offers several rules of the road for patrolmen that you won’t find in a manual. For example, Plantinga says, if an officer comes across children selling lemonade or raffle tickets for their school or sports team, “you shall buy some, and if you have no cash on you, you shall go to an ATM and procure some.” He further states police officers should give an offending motorist either a ticket or a lecture but that’s “it’s not fair” to give both.

The book goes into deeper and sadder sides of police work in chapters about “being among the Dead,” “Domestic Violence,” and “Hookers and Johns.”  Plantinga’s insights are often poignant and always honest. Often the book’s language reflects the ugly and coarse world many metropolitan policemen operate in.

This insightful book is a must-read for anyone who writes modern day crime fiction. It’s further recommended for anyone who wants to know what real life on the street is like for a modern urban patrolmen.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 7


Big Finish concludes its four-year promise of adapting all the episodes from the mostly lost first season of the Avengers starring Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel and Julian Wadham as John Steed. There are three stories in this final release, but only one features both protagonists.

Dragonsfield is a superb Cold War story that finds Steed on his own and investigating espionage at a British lab. The lab is trying to create a top-of-the line space suit in order to sell it to the Americans. This story is a delightfully done mystery with plenty of suspects and manages to keep you guessing. We do see Steed using some enhanced interrogation methods on one spy, but other than that this is a very well-done story featuring Steed alone.

In the Far Distant Dead, on his way home from a South American holiday, Dr. Keel stops to provide medical relief in the wake of a cyclone. In the process, he encounters a fisherman with food poisoning and discovers the source–a can of hydraulic fluid mis-labeled as olive oil.

Keel sets out to get to the bottom of the deliberate act meant to save on custom fees. Following on the heels of a solo episode for Steed, this solo episode for Keel balances things out and we get a story that centers on Keel as a physician and where the mystery is driven by Keel’s compassion and righteous anger. Dr. Sandoval is an interesting supporting character. Is her outrage real or is she in on the conspiracy?

The story does suffer from a villain who is over-the-top. The way he says “Kill him!” is hilarious but I don’t know if that goes well with the tone of the story.

Finally, in The Deadly Air, Steed and Keel investigate sabotage at a laboratory trying to discover a vaccine. This story suffers from being in the same box set as Dragonsfield which is a much better story, rendering The Deadly Air a repetitive episode.

The story is okay, but it pales in comparison to Dragonsfield which has more suspense and more interesting characters. This adventure by comparison is an average story with a few good moments.

Overall, this is a good set in what’s been a good series. The Lost Episodes has filled a big hole in the history of one the 1960s most beloved and iconic programs with superb acting, good writing, and a dedication to authenticity.

Overall rating for this box set: 3.75 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Line Up


The Line Up is a noir film based on the 1954-60 TV series of the same name (later syndicated as San Francisco Beat.) The film begins with an exciting scene where a cabbie flees police and drives erratically until he’s shot. Lieutenant Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and the police discover a smuggling ring which smuggles heroin through the baggage of innocent people and then retrieves the heroin from them.

There are two basic reasons to see this film:

The first are the stars are not the police but the villains. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is a psychopathic gangster and is assisted by his wiser mentor Julian (Robert Keith) in collecting the drugs and disposing of those who know too much which turns out to be most people.

Unlike in an earlier era where these two would walk around sounding dopey, Dancer and Julian are constantly well-spoken, polite, even friendly when the job calls for it. However, in an instant, they turn deadly. Julian sums up Dancer well, “There’s never been a guy like Dancer. He’s a wonderful, pure pathological study. He’s a psychopath with no inhibitions.” Wallach makes the character very believable and menacing.

Johnny Dollar star Bob Bailey has one scene in this film as a finger man telling Dancer who the drugs had been smuggled in with. It’s a decent performance.

Also, though he only appeared in one scene where he barely spoke, Vaughn Taylor turns in a memorable performance as the drug kingpin, “The Man.” It’s practically an acting clinic on how much can be communicated using only facial expressions.

The second big reason to see this is San Francisco. So much of the movie is shot on location in the City by the Bay. The locations aren’t only good looking but they’re used in some innovative ways in the story. It really makes for a unique look.

The film’s biggest issue is the police characters. The film’s intent was to rope in the 30 million fans of the TV series, “The Line Up,” which is why stars of that series were brought in. However, these scenes are the least interesting in the film. Not bad per se, just obligatory. Policework can be interesting in a Noir film (see: He Walked by Night) but it doesn’t happen here.

In addition to the trailer, the DVD release includes a kind of interesting special feature with Dark Knight Director Christopher Nolan discussing how the NOIR genre influenced him. I was surprised that this film had a commentary track, but listening to it, I found it a bit unpleasant as one of the commentators was just randomly foul-mouthed rather than insightful or funny.

Overall, The Line-Up is a solid film and there’s much to recommend it to those who love Noir films, San Francisco, or Bob Bailey. Ironically, the only thing you won’t get out of it is a sense what the classic radio series the Line Up looked like on film.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Sinister Shadow


Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Sherlock Series 4 Review


Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”

The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries.  We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.

Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.

“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.

There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.

The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.

Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.

I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.

“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.

This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.

This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.

Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.

The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.

On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.

The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”

And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.

The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.

The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.

Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.

I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series,  but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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