Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: The Complete Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1

Random House dramatized many of Louis L’Amour’s short stories, mostly with one-shot characters. However, they also dramatized all eighteen L’Amour stories featuring Texas Ranger Chick Bowdrie.

The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 1 features six hour-long Bowdrie adaptations. It begins with “McNelly Knows a Ranger,” the story of how Bowdrie became a Ranger. It was written much later, but it established what led Bowdrie to become a Texas Ranger.

The series is fascinating. As a Texas Ranger, Bowdrie wanders throughout the wide expanse of the State of Texas. He has to act alone, hundreds of miles from headquarters with no other law around. Occasionally, local law enforcement is present but complicit in crimes. Many of the stories require Bowdrie to play detective before tracking down the criminal. L’Amour makes these work as good Western stories and as well-constructed mysteries.

All the dramatizations on this release are excellent, with high production values and good acting. However, two stories are particularly noteworthy.

“The Outlaws of Poplar Creek” features a stunning cave scene which is one of the tensest you’ll ever hear on an audio drama.

In “Bowdrie Follows a Cold Trail,” Bowdrie stumbles on a dead body at an abandoned homestead. The story portrays how Bowdrie uncovers clues at the crime scene. He also discovers how the victim built his dream ranch for his family, only to be murdered and have them disappear. Bowdrie pledges to bring the man’s killer to justice, no easy task in the wilds of Texas. A lot isn’t said but can easily be inferred by the listener. The scene shows a subtle use of emotion to reveal an aspect of Bowdrie’s character.

Note one episode includes a recording of L’Amour talking about his research into the Old West.

My only issue is one aspect of Bowdrie’s character is not believable as written. We’re told repeatedly Bowdrie could have ended up walking “the outlaw trail.” Bowdrie is so morally upright from his first story that it’s just not plausible. Reathel Bean’s straight-laced portrayal in the audio drama amplifies that wholesomeness.

Overall, these are six fine stories of law, order, and justice in the Old West, written by a master of the genre. It’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Audiobook Review: Brand of the Black Bat

Introduced at the same time as Batman, the Black Bat was a pulp fiction vigilante appearing in sixty-five short novels between 1939-1955.

Brand of the Black Bat provides the character’s origin. DA Tony Quinn’s eyes are splashed with acid leading to disfigurement and blindness. However, a mysterious woman helps him get an operation that restores his sight. He sets out to punish evildoers and fight crime outside the law as the Black Bat.

The Black Bat in his first appearance is given a pretty solid origin story which was unusual for the time. We get to see the events that changed his life, how he met his associates, and his first case as the Black Bat. As a pulp crime story, Brand of the Black Bat is fairly good. It’s no Maltese Falcon, but it has some good villains, a decent mystery, and a satisfying conclusion.

The story does feature a lot of oddities and eccentricities that reflect the silly publishing practices of the time. There’s the case of Silky, a burglar who breaks into Quinn’s house on the night before he’s blinded. It’s the same night another person is breaking into Quinn’s house to kill him. Silky wakes Quinn which allows Quinn to thwart the killer. In turn, Quinn makes Silky his valet and has him following into court the next day.  Silky immediately becomes his loyal servant and lifetime confidante. Quinn keeps pretending to be blind. To avoid suspicion of not being blind, he constantly finds new ways to appear klutzy and totally helpless. In real life, most people who’ve been blind a long time don’t have such foibles. And then there’s the over the top dialogue.

The audiobook is read by Michael McConnohie, who also reads the Doc Savage audiobooks. His powerful, resonant voice makes this book a delight to listen to. The exciting and epic moments of the book sound even better with McConnohie’s powerful reading voice. For the same reason, those parts that are unintentionally funny are even funnier.

If you like pulp fiction, the Brand of the Black Bat is worth a read or a listen. It gives a good, detailed origin story for its protagonist and supporting characters. It’s the type of story that can be seen as a potential inspiration for modern heroes like Marvel’s Daredevil. Despite its flaws and the parts that haven’t aged well, it’s well worth checking out.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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TV Series Review: The Indian Detective

In 2017’s CTV/Netflix series Russell Peters stars as Toronto Police Constable Doug D’Mello. D’Mello stops a truck at the border that he’s been led to believe contains drugs. When it turns out not to be the case, D’Mello becomes a viral video joke. He is suspended for a month and demoted to Constable Fourth Class. When he receives a report that his Indian father is ill, D’Mello catches a flight to Mumbai, India. There he ends up staying with his father, who is in the habit of telling people Doug is a detective. This sets Doug up to be involved in multiple mysteries that end up tying into a case far closer to home.

In the first three episodes, the mystery works quite well. The first two episodes are seemingly disconnected cases but do end up tying together. Our overall mystery isn’t a whodunit. It’s trying to understand what their plot is and how our hero is going to stop them. The main villain, Indian drug lord
Gopal Chandekar (Hamza Haq) uses Doug’s investigations in the early episodes to forward his own ends. The actual method of resolving the case is not as strong as it could be, but it’s not stupid or unbelievable.

The supporting cast has some solid performances. Hamza Haq not only plays Gopal Chandekar, he also plays his American twin brother and does a good job making them feel like separate characters. Doug’s father Stanley D’Mello is one of the more likable characters in the story. He and Doug share regret over him never being around, and he’s trying to rekindle the relationship. He and Doug don’t get far but there’s room left open for a second series at the end of this one. Priya Seagal (Mishqah Parthiephal) is a young Indian attorney fighting for poor clients in the slum. She serves as Doug’s conscience and he also starts to fall for her. Canadian acting legend William Shatner plays David Marlowe, an overleveraged, ultra-rich developer looking to strike a deal with the Chandekar brothers for some property. He’s fun whenever he’s on screen.

I have more mixed feelings on Peters’ performance. His character reminds me of Paul Blart, Mall Cop, only less likable. Peters’ character can be obnoxious, particularly in India. It’s as if someone decided the stereotype of Canadians being polite was harmful and used Peters’ character to remedy that. He is rude and condescending to Indians. Thankfully, it’s not all the time, but it’s still off-putting. However, he’s more complex than his worst moments and I give the character credit for correcting his father’s mischaracterization of his job. He volunteers that he wasn’t a detective in Canada in the first episode rather than having it drug out or revealed in a bit of forced comedy.

The series is advertised as a comedy, but it’s not funny. Few scenes amused me and nothing made me laugh. I found the ending for Doug’s character too pat. Things happened to him that couldn’t be justified on the basis of the story.

The series is no classic, but it’s not bad either. It has some charming characters and a pretty solid plot and it managed to hold my interest throughout its runtime.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 1

Paul Temple is a legendary amateur detective. His adventures first aired over British radio in the 1930s and continued until 1968. Like much British radio of the era, the earliest Paul Temple serials are lost. This collection offers three adventures that managed to survive in that era. Each serial is composed eight twenty or twenty-five-minute episodes. (The most popular format for Paul Temple.)
The first serial, Send for Paul Temple is a Canadian remake of the first Paul Temple broadcast. This is a treat. Little Canadian radio from the era is circulating, so it’s nice to see how they measure up to the BBC. This holds up to most American and British programs of the time, but the sound effects are a bit sparser.  The police are baffled by a series of jewel thefts, and in the newspaper, there’s a simple cry, “Send Paul Temple.” The official police are reluctant to call in the amateur sleuth. A policeman friend of Temple’s wants to talk to him but is murdered, setting Temple on the trail. The story stars Bernard Braden as Temple. It’s a fairly good mystery that shows how Paul and his wife Steve met.
1942’s Paul Temple Intervenes features Paul (Carl Bernard) and Steve (Bernadette Hodgson). They look into an affair to find the head of a ruthless blackmail ring named the Marquis. This story was fine. It’s not horrible, but it does have some improbable plot turns, and it goes too deep into melodrama for its own good. Not bad, and I’m thankful for almost any classic radio that survives, but it’s easily the weakest story on the set.
The actor Kim Peacock plays Paul in 1950’s Paul Temple and the Vandyke Affair. Paul investigates the disappearance of a baby and her sitter, Miss Millicent. The only clue is a message referencing a mysterious Mr. Van Dyke. Of course, their investigations lead to a sinister trail.  At this point, Steve is far more assertive and a stronger character.
One thing that makes this stand out is Marjorie Westbury’s performance. Westbury took over as Steve in 1945. She continued opposite four different Paul Temples until 1968. Kim Peacock also turns in a solid performance. I’d be thrilled if more episodes featuring this pair came into circulation. The story features a strong supporting cast. This includes future Paul Temple Peter Coke and Roger Delgado (Doctor Who.)
The box set has more to offer than just the stories. The set includes a documentary on the remastering of the Canadian Send for Paul Temple. It began as cardboard transcription disks. Yet they managed to make it sound good in the twenty-first century. How is a fascinating story for audio buffs. Further, the CD features an interview with Coke. Also, there are three episodes from incomplete original Paul Temple serials. They will only appeal to hardcore Temple fans.
Many Paul Temple fans council new listeners to avoid this set for a first listen. This isn’t Paul Temple at his best, and it doesn’t feature the most well-known Paul Temple actor. There’s merit to that argument. But I like to hear things from the beginning. While these stories had their weak points, I found them a lot of fun to listen to. If what’s to come is even better, then I’ll enjoy all the Paul Temple collections to come.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Tales of Max Carrados

Max Carrados is one of those easily overlooked figures of detective fiction’s golden age. He’s thrown into a mass of detectives that entertained readers in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Like many of them, he’s been mostly forgotten.

Yet, Carrados is worth checking out. If you like Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown, Carrados will be right up your alley.

Carrados was created by Ernest Bramah. Carrados was a blind man and compensated for the loss of his sight to such a degree that he became a first-class amateur detective. He often assisted a private investigator named Carlisle as well as the official police. He’s assisted by his observant and able manservant Parkinson.

Tales of Max Carrados is audiobook released by Audible and is read by British Actor/Comedian Stephen Fry (Fry and Laurie).

The stories are generally solid mysteries that are remarkably clever and well-written for the most part. The stories have a light and fun tone. Carrados solves a variety of cases, mostly of the non-murderous variety. The supporting characters are well-written and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know more about a few of them. The stories include Carrados’ work during the War and a case that involves Britain’s militant suffragettes.

A few cases involve Carrados in peril and how he handles himself. “The Game Played in the Dark” is a classic example and is quite suspenseful. The last story is in the same vein but with heightened stakes. In “The Missing Witness Sensation,” Carrados is a key witness in the trial of an IRA member and is abducted off the street and taken to a country house and locked up in the basement. Eventually, the blind man’s left alone without food or water and without any of the aides that he’s relied on the past. It’s all that shakes the generally unflappable detective. It’s fascinating to see how he gets out of it.

I didn’t much care for the first story. “The Coin of Dionysus” introduces Carrados but contains too much actionless exposition and goes on too long for what it offers as a mystery. Other than that, the stories are all quite enjoyable.

Fry is a fantastic narrator and infuses the story with a great deal of warmth and charm. He infuses each character with so much personality, I almost forgot I was listening to an audiobook rather than an audio drama. I’d definitely love to listen to him read again.

Bottom line: If you like Golden Age Mysteries and listen to audiobooks, this is a title that’s well worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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