Category: Golden Age Article

DVD Review: Pie in the Sky, Series One

Pie in the Sky  is a British TV show that aired for five  series between 1994-97 and chronicles the adventure of Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths) who would like nothing more than to retire and run his restaurant with the help of his account wife Margaret (Maggie Steed). Instead, while he opens his restaurant and serves as its chef, he’s subject to constant recall by his boss Assistant Chief Constable Freddy Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair.) This set collects the ten hour long episodes in the First Series.

The pilot episode is included, and  it was the worst episode of the first series. In fact, it tempted me to take the whole box set back to the library and be done with it. I’m glad I stuck with the series but the first episode was a hurdle to get over.

The writers had to get the concept of the series written, and it’s that Crabbe wants to retire after twenty-five years to open his own restaurant. However, things go awry on his last case.  He’s framed for taking a bribe from an escaped criminal. Fisher knows Crabbe’s really innocent but there’s no proof and Fisher instead proposed to hold an inquiry into the bogus charges over Crabbe’s head like a sword of Damocles. If he continues to be “on leave” and available at Fisher’s whims, Crabbe can run his restaurant most of the time. If on the other hand, Crabbe decides he’d rather not, then he can prepared to get accustomed to the joys of jailhouse food.

The plot was fine, but the episode got bogged down in giving us way too many details about everything. The lighting was terrible, and the character’s motivations were somewhat unclear.

However, once Pie in the Sky got past its first episode, it took off and became quite enjoyable.  The big change were the characters.

Inspector Crabbe became far more clearly defined. The first episode couldn’t quite decide if he had been frustrated by his inability to move up the ranks as Fisher had. Unlike Fisher,  he wasn’t a Machiavellian schemer. Thankfully, the idea of Crabbe acting out of envy for Fisher was dropped which made him more appealing.

Griffiths  does a great job portraying Crabbe as a crusty, wise eccentric with a strong ethical core that leads him into constant conflict with Fisher. At one point in this series, he’s offered retirement if he drops a case, and he takes  a firm ethical stand. Time and time again, he’s shown to be good-hearted and trying to do the right thing.

Mrs. Crabbe grows quite a bit from the series opener, where she was defined as an accountant unimpressed by good cooking.  Steed and Griffiths have an incredible chemistry and she shows herself a smart and well-defined character with a great sense of humor and opinions of her own. She also is tender and supportive of her husband in a way that makes for a sweet relationship.

I should also give some praise to Bella Enaharo who plays Detective Constable Cambridge. At first glance, she’s little more than a respectful, low-ranking officer on the police force. However, she really grows to be an interesting and fully developed character.

The strength of the show is its characters. The stories are mostly solid tales that are good Comedy Dramas with mystery an occasional and less-developed element.. The writers have strong political viewpoints that work their way into the story. Most of the time, it’s not too strident. Indeed, the series is an example of how to soft sell your political ideas. However, sometimes the writers’ political views make the plots more predictable than they otherwise would be.

If you can get past that as well as the pilot,  this is a very enjoyable and pleasant series with great characters, a good premise, and some fairly interesting stories.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Book Review: Black Orchids


Note: This week, with a lot on my plate in terms and upcoming releases, we revisit a book review from 2012. 

Nero Wolfe had twice as many novels published as Sherlock Holmes before he ever broke into short fiction. However, author Rex Stout would create some of his most memorable stories in the Wolfe novellas. The first two of these are collected in Black Orchids. 

Black Orchids

The titular story for the collection was originally published as “Death Wears an Orchid.” Archie has found himself assigned to flower show duty to watch a new black orchid bred by Lewis Hewitt to see whether it wilts or not. Wolfe finally makes a trip down in person to see it. But then fate takes a hand. Archie picks up a stick, setting in motion a Rube Goldberg style murder, which is the least practical part of the story.

The stick that served as the trigger belonged to Hewitt. Wolfe offers to solve the case and protect Hewitt in exchange for all three of the black orchid plants, insisting on them in advance.

To hold on to his plants, Wolfe has to not only sift through blackmail and jealousies of orchid growers, but he has to endure not one, but two women living under his roof, all while keeping his client’s name out of the press. Wolfe has a clever and somewhat shocking way of doing this that makes for a great twist ending.

Rating: Satisfactory

Cordially Invited to Meet Death

New York’s Premier party planner, Beth Huddleston, engages Wolfe to stop malicious letters that are threatening to ruin her business.  Wolfe has her entire household under suspicion and sends Archie out to investigate. Archie finds a virtual madhouse with a chimp that blocks his way unless he plays tag with him as well as bears roaming around. Their investigation is cut short when Huddleston dies of a tetanus infection with Wolfe only having learned one key thing: the secret to preparing great corn beef hash.

However, Huddleston’s brother is convinced she was murdered. Archie finds proof that the death was no accident, however Wolfe has little reason to be investigate as he has no client. But when Cramer insults Wolfe by taking a dinner guest downtown for questioning, Wolfe resolves to solve the case and he plans to rub Cramer’s face in it.

Within the story, Archie offers a mystery as to why Wolfe sent some of the rare black orchids to Huddleston’s funeral. The question is left open though Archie offers readers their choice of potential theories. Archie confesses there may even have been some past association between Wolfe and Beth Huddleston, but that much of Wolfe’s past remains a mystery to him.  And the puzzle of the black orchids only adds to Wolfe’s mystery.

Rating: Very Satisfactory

Collection Rating: Very Satisfactory

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner

The Sherlock Holmes Audio Drama The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner was originally released by Big Finish to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster. It’s set during Holmes’ retirement to Suffolk to raise bees. The story finds Holmes estranged from Watson, who is grief-stricken after his second wife died aboard the Titanic. Watson’s visit to Holmes is disrupted by Bruce Ismay, an executive of the line which owned the Titantic. He escaped from the ship alive while many women and children sank into the sea and he was viewed as a cowardly villain. Ismay asks for Holmes’ help because he believes he’s being haunted by a specter–a specter that’s leaving people dead in its wake.

Overall, this production is an emotionally meaty story. Unlike many actors who have played Holmes in the past, Nicholas Briggs makes changes to his characterization to reflect the aging of the character. There are slight changes to his voice, but more to his mannerisms. In one scene, Holmes has deduced Watson’s entire reason for coming. Watson says he doesn’t care how Holmes knew he’d come. Holmes tells him anyway as if on auto pilot. Watson has some great scenes with Ismay. The mystery itself is engaging, but not the main attraction of this story. What makes this tale work so well are the great character interactions and the thorough historical research.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Book Review: Doc Savage: The Wristling Wraith


In The Whistling Wraith, a visiting king disappears en route from Blair House to the White House and Doc Savage is called in to investigate in broad daylight with cameras watching. Doc Savage is sent to Washington to investigate and things only get more mysterious as there’s a mysterious woman, kidnapping, a plot involving currency, and most mysteriously the appearance of the whistling specter of a long-dead king.

For those  not familiar with Doc Savage,  the”Man of Bronze” is a pulp hero created by Lester Dent in 1933. He was raised by a group of scientists and experts in various disciplines to the peak of human mental and physical perfection.  He’s extremely wealthy and famous with a wide variety of adventures. He was created in 1933, so he pre-dated the superhero genre. To put him in a modern context, it’d be fair to say Doc was part Batman, part Sherlock Holmes, and part Indiana Jones. He’s surrounded himself with assistants, accomplished  men in their own fields, all with their own eccentricities such as the “homely chemist” Monk Mayfair and the “dapper lawyer” Ham Brooks.

This book was written by Will Murray in the 1993 based on an idea by Lester Dent and is one of the best Doc Savage stories I’ve encountered. This book does several things right.

First, it has an interesting way of treating Savage’s assistants. Usually novels either limit Savage to two or three of his five assistants or include all five but have them keep getting lost. This book took a different tact with the assistants split into two groups for most of the book, with two in one and three in another. As they rarely shared the same scene, everyone got a chance to shine.

Second, this novel gave Savage some challenges he usually doesn’t have. Savage is wealthy, brilliant,  physically near superhuman, and holds an honorary rank of Police Inspector in London and in New York as well as an honorary Federal Agent and can obtain the cooperation of any civilized police department on Earth, a favor Doc usually returns by telling the police nothing about his investigations.

However in The Whistling Wraith, Doc and friends find the NYPD has revoked Doc’s honorary commission. When the police are called by Doc’s foes (who have conveniently planted a body on the premises), Inspector “Push ’em Down” Samson of the NYPD shows up trying to collect, its up to Doc to put him off until he can solve the case. While in other stories, having a police foil is clichéd. Here it provides Doc some needed tension and it’s a nice change of pace.

Also, Doc and his assistants have to dodge the press and public, who are far more aware of him than he’d like after a story appeared in a true crime magazine. Their being hounded by photographers and autograph seekers on the street is an interesting element and something you’d expect given how these characters are and it was brilliant of Murray to put that in.

Third, this is a really complicated mystery that borders on being convoluted, but I don’t think crosses that line. At first glance, it appears to be a simple mystery disappearance with a bit of a ghost mystery thrown in. However, the Whistling Wraith is a story of not just strange disappearances and murders but currency manipulation, political intrigue, and science fiction shenanigans. I guessed part of the solution before the end, but there was a lot I didn’t know and the reveal was really good.

As to negatives, two things stand out. First is the portrayal of political stuff in Congress. It was completely unrealistic as described, even for the 1930s era the story was set in.  While this story was in the style of pulps, it wouldn’t have hurt the story to tell the political stuff realistically rather than making processes up.  As it was, the unbelievable political scenes took me out of the story.

I also have to admit I didn’t like Doc’s treatment of Patricia “Pat” Savage in this story. Pat is Doc’s only living relative and wants to take part in his adventures. Sometimes he lets her, often he insists she stays out of it and she persists anyway. In this story, his efforts to keep her out are  rude, abrupt, and way too pushy, even as she shows herself more competent than ever, rescuing three of Doc’s men after overcoming a kidnapper. I felt sorry for Pat and infuriated with Doc for the way he kept treating her.

Still, despite these flaws, this is a solid pulp story. Yeah, it has the normal flaws you associate with a Doc Savage novel (and accept if you’re a fan of the Man of Bronze), but it’s also got a great plot and some really fascinating turns.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles


The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in  a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is  wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Briggs is great as Holmes.

Of course, what  makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase