Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 1

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like the Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definition friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Telefilm Review: The Saint (2017)

The latest adaptation of the Saint is a direct-to-digital film originally shot as a pilot for a TV series back in 2013. It was released with the recent death of 1960s star Sir Roger Moore, who appears in it.

The production has some good touches. It is certainly not the 1996 Saint film. Saint (2017) felt like the people who had made it had watched Saint films and TV shows and read Saint books, which isn’t something I could have said about the 1996 film or the telefilm

In the 2017 film, the Saint, the Robin Hood of crime, is called by a wealthy thief. The wealthy thief is involved in a scam to electronically move billions of dollars in humanitarian aid money belonging a third world country into an offshore account. After he grows a conscience and doesn’t follow through, his daughter is kidnapped. The Saint has to rescue the girl and make sure the aid money gets to its intended recipient.

This film has got a lot of nice touches that make it feel a little bit more like the Saint. It features two former “Saint actors,” Moore and Ian Ogilvy, who played the Saint in the late 1970s. The film also features Patricia Holm, a character from the novels, and gives the Saint a dopey sidekick who calls him “boss.” That’s vintage Saint of both literature and film right there.

Adam Rayner brings far more charm and charisma to the role than more recent portrayals. He’s not on the level of George Sanders in the 1940s or Moore in the 1960s, but there’s an infectious swashbuckling fun to the way Rayner plays the character and he’s a joy to watch.

Also unlike the 1996 film, the 2017 film gets the idea that the Robin Hood of Modern crime should, you know, be giving to the poor if he robs some crooks. The movie sets the Saint in the same vein as many of the pre-World War II books did.

So where does the telefilm film go wrong?

There are three big problems as I see it. First, there’s too much technobabble. I get that this is the twenty-first century and everything is computerized, but I’ve seen Star Trek episodes with less implausible babbling to support whatever scene is coming up next.

Second is the way Patricia Holm was written. In an updated story like this, it’d be smart to make Patricia Holm balance the Saint in skills, personality, with confidence in herself and who she is that would exceed what was written in novels in the 1920s-1940s.

What they decided to do is to make Patricia into the Maryest of Mary Sues. Yes, the 21st Century Patricia Holm is a computer genius and a self-defense expert who can handle everything herself. In a flashback, she is handcuffed to a jeep in the middle of the dessert. She manages to kill all three of the men holding her while still handcuffed.

Further, she works in as many opportunities to belittle our hero as possible because…Mary Sue. She even tells the Saint that she’s the brains of the operation and he’s just the muscle. Really?

The other big problem can summed up in a simple paragraph:

The Saint is great. Batman is great. Val Kilmer played Batman and he also played the Saint. However, the Saint is not Batman.

We learn at the start of the story that Simon’s family is tied to the Knights Templar (which is  a very good idea), but we also learn the Saint was the son of a wealthy family, both of his parents were murdered before his eyes, someone who mentored him was evil, and he has a gift for disappearing when people turn their head.

And there are a few other things that make this movie reminiscent of Batman Begins. The pilot also hinted that an evil generic brotherhood would be Bat-Saint’s chief opponent rather than the traditional Saint approach of taking on whatever new and interesting villainy offers itself up to be defeated each week.

Finally, the ending feels tacked on and awkward, particularly a line that draws attention to the fact the actor who played Agent Fernak wasn’t available for this scene.

Some minor characters are so horrifically performed, it takes you out of the story, including in that final scene.

Overall, this isn’t a horrible film, but it could have been better and I felt Adam Rayner’s Saint really deserved a better film. Still, as it is, it manages to get enough right about the Saint to make this an enjoyable bit of action schlock. However, its attempts to update the Saint more often than not go awry and this holds it back.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Four by L’Amour


As I’ve mentioned before, Random House adapted several stories by the great Western Author Louie L’Amour to audio. Most of these are available as single releases, but some are available as collections, particularly those who have the same lead character. However, this collection of four audio dramas only has the irresistible rhyming title with four different heroes (all but one a one-shot character.)

In “No Man’s Man,” Gunslinger Lou Morgan is hired to get rid of a suitor to a woman he was madly in love with. However, he arrives to violence and so many complications.

I like this story. Even though it’s in the Old West, it reminds me of a classic hard-boiled detective novel: There’s a lying client, dangerous hoods, a mysterious woman who captures our hard-bitten hero’s heart. It has great action and a solid story.

In “Get Out of Town,” fourteen-year-old Tom Fairchild is the man of the house at his farm after his father dies and he goes to town to findhelp. He chooses to hire an ex-convict, Riley, against the advice older men in town. Tom’s an interesting character and this is a coming of age story for him. In the course of the hour audio drama, we see how he changes, in his relationship to Riley especially, as there’s a romantic spark between Riley and Tom’s mother. The story’s ending isn’t quite what you expect, particularly if you’re looking for big western action, but it’s still good drama.

In “McQueen of the Tumbling K”, Ward McQueen, the foreman of a ranch, sees a wounded man fleeing through the Tumbling’s K spread. In town, he learns a gambler is setting up a town and making advances towards the female owner of the ranch. In the middle of this, McQueen is waylaid and left for dead.

This story’s not horrible, but it’s the weakest story of the collection. The villain is painfully obvious, but McQueen is also too strong a hero. Once his physical survival is assured, there’s  not much of a question of the outcome. Everyone in town knows him and no one knows the villainous gambler. The earlier stories worked because you had established lone strangers in Morgan and Riley facing off against local bad guys without any locals having a reason to back them up. Here it’s reversed and doesn’t work as well.

Finally, we have “Booty for a Badman,” featuring one of L’Amour’s well known Sackett characters, Tell Sackett. Tell has had little luck as a miner, which makes him the logical choice to transport the other miners’ gold. Every miner who has left the camp as a known success ended up dead. If they send out someone who everyone knows has a failing mine, he shouldn’t get stopped–in theory.

Carrying $40,000 worth of gold is a risky proposition and it becomes even riskier when Tell encounters an Army wife who has had a breakdown and runaway as she can’t take the strain of living in the West.

This is a good story with a great sense of drama as well as a strong action scene. While we only get to spend an hour with Tell, we get a strong idea of his character. The resolution was one I could have seen coming a mile away, but it’s still a fun story.

Overall, while I liked some stories more than others, this is a nice sampling of stories from one of the most beloved best-selling authors of all time.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

 

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Book Review: The Stones Cry Out


The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello features FBI Geologist turned Rookie FBI field Agent Raleigh Harmon. She is assigned to a civil rights case in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia after a police detective and a black gym owner fall to their deaths in the middle of a rally led by the mayor. More than 200 people were present, but no one claims to have seen anything.

Her supervisor wants the case closed quickly and wants Raleigh and her over the hill partner, do the most perfunctory of investigations. Raleigh wants to get to the truth, but to do that she has to deal with a host of uncooperative witnesses and buried secrets.

This book does so much right. It creates a believable and relatable protagonist in Raleigh. She’s smart, dedicated to getting justice, and tenacious. She also has a complicated life. Rookie FBI agents rarely get assigned as close to home as she was but she has an ailing mother who is a bit eccentric and finds peace in regularly attending Pentecostal tent revivals.

Faith plays a role in her life and motivates her in her work, but author Sibella Giorello avoids her being preachy, pushy, or arrogant.

The book also does a very good job with its setting. There’s a clearly a great deal of appreciation and knowledge of Richmond that went into this book, but the description isn’t overwhelming as many books can be.

The investigation itself is well-handled. It shows the challenge the FBI often faces when assigned Civil Rights cases as their job is to get to the truth, yet they’re not trusted by people in the local community and they’re not welcomed by local police.

There’s also a good deal of forensic science in the book, particularly geology, being Raleigh’s specialty.

The book only has one major flaw and that is that the final third of the book really depends on Raleigh making a very stupid mistake and two random men who have nothing to do with the investigation assaulting her out of nowhere. While I suppose random things do happen, even to FBI Agents, it felt like the story slightly derailed even though it did eventually recover.

Overall, this is a well-written book with a great heroine. It’s a solid procedural with many interesting aspects to it, and this is one series I’d like to read more from.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

The digital form of this book is available for free for the Kindle.

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DVD Review: Pie in the Sky, Series 2

Series One of Pie in the Sky was a good enough series with a likable lead that, despite some weaker stories, left me hungry for more. In Series Two, Pie in the Sky really hits its stride.

The basic set up of Pie in the Sky is that Police Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffins) is ready to retire and focus on running a restaurant. Due to a mishap and a crooked partner, Crabbe ends up in line for a murder wrap. Assistant Chief Constable Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair) knows Crabbe’s innocent but holds the threat of an inquiry over Crabbe’s head to keep him on call. Crabbe spends most of his time running the restaurant Pie in the Sky, but when Fisher calls he goes into action to solve a case.

Series 2 manages to expand and clarify much of Series 1. Including giving a clear understanding of Crabbe on a very fundamental level. It only took a single sentence, but in a conversation with newly promoted Detective Sergeant Sophia Cambridge (Bella Enaharo) about the importance he placed on doing police work as opposed to a police career. That defines the difference between Crabbe and Fisher, whose entire focus is on career advancement. For Crabbe, each case is a job that must be worked well and solved correctly. For Fisher, cases are important based on how the outcome will advance his long-term career goals. While In Series One, Crabbe’s problem with other policemen was  vague. In Series Two, it firmly nailed down that it’s officers who are more concerned about advancing their career rather than actually getting things right.

It also explains why Crabbe is so suited to being a chef. The focus on quality work and getting the job done right is at the core of that position. And whereas his lack of attention to career left him in a rut on a police force, the attention to detail serves him well in the kitchen.

Of course, this does lead to some conflicts with his accountant wife Margaret (Maggie Steed) who is the legal owner of the restaurant  to satisfy a British legal requirement that wouldn’t let Henry own the restaurant as a policeman. It doesn’t help that she has no real taste for fine food and only sees how the bottom line can be improved. She doesn’t meddle all the time, but most often her efforts to change the business to make it more profitable cut against Henry’s overall ethic and good restaurant practices such as when she decided to start double booking tables to maximize the profits.

Yet, despite their differences or perhaps because of them, the Crabbes make a lovely middle-aged couple, balancing each other out. Both can be kind. While Henry’s heart of gold and decency is much more obvious, Margaret also shines in the series and the way they play off each other is fun to watch.

We do get some insight on Fisher. In the episode, “The Policeman’s Daughter,” Fisher has Crabbe look for his daughter who has fled to an enclave of drifters. We learn all Fisher really has is his career and that his wife cheats on him regularly and he has lost the respect of his daughter. Crabbe does his best to bring some sort of peace.

Cambridge received a promotion after the first series and this one focuses on the challenges of it. In one scene, another department tries to get her and Fisher fights the head of the other department over her and it becomes apparent she’s merely being used as a way for them to beef up their rankings for racial diversity. This contributes to the fact there are several instances where she doesn’t get respect for her achievements or rank that are due. It’s all done in an understated way though. She’s a still a very good character, but both she and Fisher are in this series less than in the first.

The staff of the restaurant was used more creatively. In the first series, Pie in the Sky was Crabbe’s refuge from trouble. Yet, in a bit of realism, the restaurant itself began to present some genuine problems, particularly when Crabbe had to step away to solve a case. He’d be in and out while his restaurant was in the hands of his twenty-something assistant chef and waitstaff and problems would develop that he would eventually have to solve. My favorite example of this is when they decided to switch out the classical musical Crabbe plays in the chicken coop for heavy metal music in order to get the chickens to lay more eggs. It actually works but with a side effect.

There’s also tension between the assistant chef Steve (Joe Duttine) and the head waiter John (Ashley Russell) as the former is an ex-con and the later is an experienced waiter from many highly regarded establishments. The rivalry mainly serves to show Crabbe’s sense of diplomacy.

The episodes are well-written. Each has a mystery at the core that’s well-crafted, but not so complex it doesn’t leave time for the comedy and drama of the episode. Some of the better ones include, “The One That Got Away,” where Crabbe has to stop a friend from being railroaded from the murder of his fiancee by an ambition Detective Inspector. In “Black Pudding,” Crabbe meets up with an elderly woman whose cookbooks he admires and finds her relatives are after her steamy memoirs. The “Mild Ones” finds Crabbe in pursuit of two elderly con-women who rip off people for thousands but leave behind an amazing recipe for bread pudding. In the “Mystery of Pikey,” some locals pressure Fisher to get Crabbe to investigate a series of minor local crimes. He gets results, but not what they would hope for.

The only weak episode of the series is the series finale, “Lemon Twist” that has Crabbe, Fisher, and Cambridge attending a management training conference. The premise is problematic as its hard to see why Fisher would send Crabbe as Crabbe is only working part time and has no interest in managing for the police or a long-term police career. The mystery is weak and there’s some humor around Crabbe that requires him to act out of character. The episode is not that bad, though. The restaurant plot has some genuinely funny moments after they earn a five star review from a nationally known food critic.

So, the worst episode of this series was but mediocre. The rest of the Series is pure gold. The stories are fun cozy mysteries with a lovable lead doing his best to bring peace and order in the kitchen and to whatever case he’s called to investigate.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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