Category: Golden Age Article

Review: Nightwatch

What would happen if the immortal detectives, Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown met with a brutal murder to solve?

This is the fascinating question posed by Rev. Stephen Kendrick’s 2001 Book, Night Watch. The plot of the story is that Sherlock’s Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, the British’s government’s most indispensible man as Sherlock Holmes described him, calls his younger brother in to investigate a murder. The rector of an Anglican Church is found dead in his church, with his body mutilated. The prime suspects: leaders of the world’s major religions who’d gathered in Britain for some inter-religious dialog. Father Brown is serving as an interpreter for a visiting  Italian Cardinal.

The murder and its solution are fantastic. However, the story is dragged down because of some errors in Kendrick’s writing mechanics and also because Kendrick’s story was frequently derailed from the story to Kendrick’s religious agenda. In part, the book was written to back up Kendrick’s assertions in Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes which seems to suggest that in Holmes later days in became someone who could best be described as “spiritual and not religious.” Unfortunately, the author seemed to work too hard on this angle, which distracted from the main point that readers who weren’t enthusiasts of Universalism picked up the for: a murder mystery.

Kendrick’s treatment of Holmes, Watson, and Brown was good, but in places uneven. I found some of the conversations between Holmes and Watson not entirely believable and out of place in a mystery novel. Kendrick’s Holmes was a cut below Doyle’s in solving the case, and Kendrick tried a cheap out by simply saying that Doctor Watson’s accounts had been exaggerated or unrealistic. To be fair, Kendrick is hardly the first author of a Holmes pastich to use that out. What Arthur Conan Doyle created in Holmes was a bit of a mental Superman, and like Superman it’s very hard to come up with a worthy opponent for him. So, it’s far easier to move the character closer to reality.

His portrayal of Brown, while not having the flair of G.K. Chesterton, and leaving the character a little flat was still essentially the same orthodox Catholic priest that readers have come to know and love. Given that Kendrick, as a Unitarian Universalist,  comes from a completely different theological perspective than Chesterton, he deserves to be commended for not trying to tamper with the character, as some interpretations have tried to change Brown into their vision of what a Christian should be rather than the character Chesterton created.

Of course, in a two-detective story, one detective usually draws the short straw, and Brown clearly has the back seat to Holmes. However, in Chesterton’s books, Brown off hung around in the background until coming forward to the solution to the crime.  

Kendrick’s deserves credit for the audacity of it all. He’s the first author I know of to try and bring these giants of detecting onto the same stage. And he produces an interesting, albeit not completely satisfying tome.  Here’s hoping that others will follow Kendrick, and this isn’t the last Holmes-Father Brown crossover we see.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Guide to OTR Distribution Models

There are a number of ways to get an Old Time Radio fix. Each has advantages and disadvantages to it.  There’s some debate back and forth between various sites. I think each can meet the needs of a specific base of fans.

My purpose is not to reccomend any specific products, hosts, or services, only to give the interested fan a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each way of accessing Old Time Radio.

It should also be said that just because there are disadvantages to a method doesn’t mean the medium is bad, just giving pros and cons.


Carter Brown: It’s Australian for Vintage Radio

I recently came on a quite interesting discovery in my continuing journey to find the best old-time radio detectives: Australian Detective Series Carter Brown.

Carter Brown isn’t the name of a detective, rather its a pseudonym for an author, or actually several authors of detective fiction in Australia. The primary user of that pseudonym was Alan Geoffrey Yates. In the 1950s, according to the University of Queensland News, imported American cultural items were banned from Australia allowing them to produce many American-style dramas.

The Carter Brown Mystery serials were the Old Time Radio Detective equivalent of the Spaghetti Westerns. The two serials I listened to were set in the United States, featuring Australian actors playing Americans. Overall, in the two serials I’ve listened to so far the actors and writers were quite proficient giving few clues that this wasn’t really released from a big American city.  The main thing that stood out was when one of actors referred to getting “Petro,” a term an American wouldn’t use. However, that’s somewhat nitpicky. I could imagine what an Englishman would say about some of our efforts to recreate Great Britain.

The theme music to the show is incredibly catchy with a great celtic beat. The dialogue is crisp and up to date. I had to do a couple searches to make sure this wasn’t one of those mis-labeled “old time radio shows” that was really performed in the 1980s. But it was written in the ’50s, which made it quite impressive. Unlike, most American detective shows that were half hour dramas, Carter Brown mysteries were four part serials, allowing for more complex plots to develop.

Regarding the suitability of the shows, I’ve never read the Carter Brown books, but the radio shows fall safely into PG-territory as most vintage radio detectives do.

While Carter Brown mysteries doesn’t easily lend itself to be included as one of our “Detective” shows given that they changed detectives every serial, it was still a worthwhile discovery.

How Would You Like Your Detectives Boiled?

The phrase, “Hard Boiled Detective” is well-known to include private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. These tough hombres don’t shy away from a fight, have a downbeat outlook on life, and operate in a gritty, seamy side of  the world. They’re known for the fast fists, and fast mouths.  Johnny Dollar (coming this Friday)  is from the hard boiled school, and so is Pat Novak (coming this Tuesday).  One might say Novak is overboiled, but I digress.

I’ve found out though that there are so-called soft boiled detectives, who are viewed as being more intellectual in solving their cases, not needing to get tough because of their keen reasoning skills. Sherlock Holmes (Thursday) fits into the latter category.

But what about Dan Holiday in Box 13 (coming Monday), or Let George Do It (coming Wednesday.) How do they figure? It depends on who you ask.

OTRCat swears Dan Holiday is a hardboiled detective, but that doesn’t seem to fit Holiday’s overall character. He can be sarcastic, but also goes multiple episodes without using his fists and doesn’t pack heat.

No one’s even willing to place a marker on where George Valentine falls on the spectrum as he usually uses his mind, but isn’t afraid of using his fists.

Detectives we’ll meet in future series have created even greater confusion.  OTRCat claims that both Barrie Craig and Richard Diamond are hard boiled all the way.

However, in a poll of Thrilling Detective readers, Richard Diamond finished as the second in a poll for most soft-boiled detective because he sang. Of course, those who have met with Diamonds fists sing a quite different tune.

Barrie Craig actually made fun of hard boiled detective novels. He is openly philisophical and even at times philanthropic, and generally the type of guy you’d like to have over for dinner.  Of course, if you cross him, he can take you down with style.

And the soft boiled category has its problems, too. A broad category that puts geniuses like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe in the same class as the somewhat clever Mr. and Mrs. North and that lovable single father detective The Big Guy.

Of course, most people will admit that some detectives won’t fit easily into either category, but will still try to jam detectives into a category that may not fit. My thought is that there are many unboiled detectives on radio.

I think of Holiday, Valentine, and Craig as the type of person you might hire as the family detective (if people hired detectives like they do doctors and lawyers): Decent, honest, hard-working,  and generally peaceful folks who could live next door, but who can be counted on in a pinch and when force is called for, will act decisively. While I enjoy the outrageous hardboiled nature of Pat Novak and the mental methods of Holmes and Wolfe, the most real detectives to me are these unboiled detective because they have many counterparts in the real world. Look on your local police force and you’ll find more people like Dan Holiday and Barrie Craig than you will people like Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade.