Category: Golden Age Article

Book Review: Enter the Saint

Enter the Saint is the first short story collection featuring Simon Templar after he appeared in the novel Meet the Tiger.

The book collects three stories:

“The Man Who Was Clever” sees the Saint trying to take down a drug smuggler and blackmailer. It’s a good crime-busting yarn that allows the Saint to show his pure unadulterated nerve and ability to bait a trap.

“The Policeman with Wings” has the Saint investigating the curious case of a wealthy man who disappeared from his house after being escorted away by a mysterious policeman. This leads an elaborate and somewhat high-handed set up to uncover the true motives of the kidnappers and prevent them from harming the kidnapped man’s niece and heir.

Finally, there’s “The Lawless Lady” which finds the Saint in the background as one of his men. Dicky Tremaine goes undercover with a gang planning a big jewel heist at sea, and finds himself falling for female leader of the gang. Meanwhile, another member appears to be playing to eliminate him. The Saint does make his presence known at the end, but this is an unusual story to say the least.

The stories this book are enjoyable crime tales for the most part. It’s clear that Leslie Charteris is still developing the nature of the Saint. However, this book features most of what makes the Saint work.  You have dashing escapes, the Saint’s absolute audacity and laughing in the face of danger, and you have three good rogues who are worthy adversaries. The third story is a little strange, but it’s still entertaining.

Probably, the book’s biggest shortcoming is giving the Saint an entire organization of agents in support of him. I can see why this was done. Other popular literary figures of the era such as Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Nick Carter had their men to support him. Besides that it supported Charteris’s attempt to brand the Saint the Robin Hood of Modern Crime. After all, what’s Robin Hood without his merry men?

Yet, the Saint is really best when working with one assistant or two at most. In effect, in most of these stories, that’s what he’s doing. We really don’t get to focus on the Saint’s band, and eventually, they’d be discarded as surplus.

If you enjoy some good crime stories from the Golden Age of fiction, you could do far worse than this book. Despite its flaws, the book showcases the talent and style that would make Leslie Charteris a literary fixture for decades to come.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie

I’m a longtime fan of both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. So, I picked up this selection, the NOIR take on the character with curiosity but also trepidation. Would they completely destroy these beloved characters in an overly gritty, grim, dark story?

To be honest, the early issues had me nervous. The book begins quite dark with Frank and Joe’s father already murdered and them the prime suspects and Frank being beaten up by the lovable Chief Colig from the novels. He’s not so lovable here. No one is to start out. The book begins with Nancy almost hard as nails as she leads the hapless Hardys through her plan to find the truth, a plan that puts the Hardys on the wrong side of the law.

The story gets better and you do feel by the end that these characters do relate to the ones in the novel, even in this grittier world. While it’s not my preferred take on the characters, it’s a respectful one that tells a compelling story with some nice emotional moments.

The artwork helps. It’s more stylized than your typical comic book art, but it uses its colors and shading intelligently to help tell the story and it succeeds in building the noir atmosphere. The cover art is particularly striking.

The book isn’t without its flaws. Anthony Del Col, like many older writers, is trying to tell a story of modern teenagers and has them using pop culture references any teenager would know–if they were alive in a decade before their time. In addition, the book tries to randomly re-imagine other books opened by the same publishing syndicate as the Hardy Boys such as the Bobsey Twins and Tom Swift as a butcher’s son (what the heck?) and occasionally I feel like the book tried too hard to be edgy. Still, these were few and far between. If you’re open to a different take on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, this might be a good book for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

****Disclosure: I Received a free copy from Net Galley in Exchange for an Honest Review***

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Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

In Colonial Radio Theatre’s musical Jimmy and the Star Angel, Jimmy and Samantha, a young brother and sister, are dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. On Christmas Eve, Jimmy destroys one of his father’s Christmas tree ornaments which leads to them being shrunk to the size of ornaments. All the ornaments on the tree come alive. Jimmy and Samantha need their help to reach the top of the tree by dawn to ask the Star Angel for help or risk being turned into Christmas ornaments forever.

If you like Babes in Toyland or the Wizard of Oz, Jimmy and the Star Angel is that type of journey, so you’re sure to enjoy it. This magical quest up a Christmas tree is full of imaginative and fun characters. It’s also an emotional journey for Samantha and especially Jimmy.

The music in this is great. The songs alone are worth the price of the purchase. They vary in tone, mood, and purpose, but they’re all fun. I loved the swinging “Snowman Spectacular” and the penultimate song “Star Angel” is still bouncing around in my head more than a week and a half after I listened to it.

While the plot is a fantasy, there’s an emotional through line for  Jimmy and Samantha that’s moving. I also found the use of the Christmas trees to be interesting. Jimmy’s family has passed down ornaments for years and the idea these ornaments serve as a family connection through the generations is well-presented, and it helps to serve as a solution to the problem.

The plot has minor issues that adult listeners will pick up on. The villain, the pirate Scrimshaw (Jerry Robbins) feels like he’s  been written because these stories need a villain which leads to the less than satisfactory way in which he’s dispatched as well as the strained way he’s brought in. That said, though Scrimshaw’s not necessary to the plot, Robbins (who wrote the play) is a lot of fun in the role. I like the idea of a Christmas Tree ornament seeking revenge against the boy who broke him.

Overall, this is a great production for the whole family. I recommend you try it out and see if it becomes a tradition like your favorite Christmas tree ornaments.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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DVD Review: Assignment Redhead

Note: Twitter followers @radiodetectives voted this as the movie I’d review this week rather than Whodunit.

In 1951, the Australian radio company Grace Gibson released the first audio drama series featuring Major Gregory Keen, of MI-5. Series creator Lindsay Hardy turned this into a book, “Requiem for a Redhead,” which became a basis for the British movie, “Assignment: Redhead.” (aka Million Dollar Manhunt.)

The basic plot is the same as in the radio drama. A criminal mastermind known as Dumetrius kills a Colonel and takes his place on a flight from Germany to London. On the flight is a U.S. serviceman who takes a picture of Dumetrius. With the help of Hedy Bergner (Carole Matthews), a singer who is a secretly a spy for him, Dumetrius has the serviceman killed and a British Airman named Peter Ridgeway is framed for the crime. Keen (Richard Denning) steps in to locate Dumetrius and hunts for Ridgeway when he escapes.

The movie has some solid points. The original 104-part serial had a lot of repetition and the movie cut a lot of the fat. One thing I like is that we don’t get to see Keen acting like a fool in his being in love with Heddy Bergner and blind to the fact she’ s working for Dumetrius for more than 16 hours as in the radio drama. The plot remains interesting and engaging with some great elements still included. Richard Denning (star of Michael Shayne and Mr. and Mrs. North) turns in a good performance.

Yet, the movie is nowhere near as good as the radio drama overall. The film is low budget and it shows. With a Film Noir, a low budget feel can work, but a spy film needs a bit more room in the budget. The seventy-six minute run time cuts some of the more annoying elements of the radio serial, but it also eliminates a lot of the good stuff, including many complicated relationship dynamics. We don’t get to see Heddy’s growth as a character or her conflict as we do in the radio serial. Instead, her change towards the end of the story is abrupt. In addition, because Keen is an American in this version and his aide Sergeant Coutts is a Brit, there’s not some of the shared backstory and Coutts’ tireless loyalty which was such a great highlight of the radio drama. Key sequences from late in the story are cut or compressed. Even if I hadn’t heard the radio serial, I’d know something was missing. Weirdly, the initial set up is kept mostly intact. The acting is as spotty as you’d expect from a low-budget film.

Overall, this isn’t a horrible movie, but it’s tough to offer a general recommendation. If you’ve heard the radio series, then it’s worth checking out for the curiosity’s sake. If you’ve thought about listening to the radio serial, and want to check out the movie first, I’d recommend listening to the radio drama first. It’s far better than what was put out on the screen.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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