Category: Golden Age Article

Review: Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 4


The fourth volume of Avengers, The Lost Episodes offers listeners four more recreations of the lost first season of the Avengers.

The set kicks off with, “Kill the King,” in which Steed has to protect a visiting king who is key to the British gaining access to his country’s oil. The story becomes a pretty interesting thriller as we encounter three separate individuals who all appear to be setting out with the same assassin’s mission. The story has a very clever twist at the end that hits Steed like a punch in the stomach. It’s the best episode of a very good set and probably one of the most innovative stories in the Lost Episodes range.

Next up is, “A Change in Bait.” Originally, aired at Christmastime, this episode has a lighter tone than, “Kill the King,” as Steed tries to break up a complex insurance racket involving arson at warehouses. The story isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious,or so over the top in its humor that it would feel like it didn’t belong in this season, rather the humor is mixed in in a way that feels quite natural. The arsonist is probably the most amusing guest character. His stance that they couldn’t steal money from a building they were burning because that would be unethical is priceless. Overall, a fun story.

In, “Hunt the Man Down,” a convicted robber is released from prison and immediately waylaid by two thugs who want to know where his loot is. Steed intervenes and Keel treats the ex-convict. Carol is kidnapped by the gang who believe she knows where the loot is. Overall, this is an exciting case with good twists, particularly as to who the boss of the gang is. A very solid outing.

Finally in, “Dead of Winter,” Steed investigates a body found in a shipment of beef and sends Keel undercover to a man he suspects is behind it after a a pathologist is murdered and the body disappears. This one of the more fantastic plots in the Lost Episodes and very reminiscent of the sci-fi like stories that would come during the show’s most well-known run with Mrs. Peal.

Overall, this is a strong set. It’s not as great as Volume 3, but there’s not a poor episode in this bunch.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: A Study in Terror

In A Study in Terror, while trying to work on his latest novel, Ellery Queen is distracted by a friend who brings him a manuscript purporting to be a lost Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson recounts how Holmes investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

The book is mostly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an Ellery Queen story framing it. The pastiche is a good one that shows proficiency in Holmes and a love for the character that the author obviously possesses. The framing story is mostly okay. It’s hindered by an unnecessary romantic angle that doesn’t add much to the story. It takes quite a while to figure out why Ellery Queen is in this book and it’s that someone thinks the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story is wrong. The author deserves credit for finding some way to make this argument without creating a situation that makes Ellery Queen out to be a better detective than Sherlock Holmes.

The book is enjoyable but those looking for a realistic solution to the Ripper murders will have to look elsewhere. The solution offered in the book is consistent with the book but not with all the evidence that’s been put out on the Ripper murders. It would have probably been better to fictionalize the murderers rather than to make it a well-known case and not offer a plausible solution.

Still, A Study in a Terror is an enjoyable mash up of two great detectives that gives both of them their due.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes


Continuing where the previous box set left off, this box set finds Holmes overseeing the funeral of his brother Mycroft. Holmes is the only one who believes Mycroft’s death is anything other than an accident. More than a quarter of a century after he and Watson faced off against the Society in the prior box set, the anarchist evil organization returns with a vengeance with the goal of bringing down the war-weary British government and the world.

This is a  rich set. The four episodes tell one story over the course of a single day. Several themes run through them: Holmes’ retains much of his deductive powers but finds himself out of place in the 1920s. At many times, Holmes feels like John Wayne’s character in the Shootist past his prime but with one last fight in him. The Society’s strike comes right after World War I, and shows a younger generation wants to escape from war and is willing to pay any price to appease them, compared to Holmes and Watson who view them as intolerable evils.

Watson’s marriage is an interesting focus as Eleanor is cool to his adventuring ways and he feels she loves him less than his first two wives. Plus Holmes is menaced by a figure from his past.

Some elements in this story don’t quite work for me. The Extras portion of each CD references this as being, “Victorian Melodrama,” which neither of the previous box sets were. This seems to paper over a few elements that are over the top and out of place in the tone set by the previous sets. This isn’t enough to ruin the stories by any means but without them this would be a perfect four-hour, suspense-filled, action thriller with many great character moments.

As usual, Briggs and Earl are on top form as Holmes and Watson. Natalie Burt and Elizabeth Rider are superb additions as ex-spies. (Vivienne Scott and Eleanor Watson respectively.) The soundscape conveys the epic power of the script quite nicely, and despite a few minor issues, the story is compelling listening from start to finish.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Nightbeat: Night Stories

Nightbeat: Night Stories presents readers and listeners with six new stories based on the 1950s Radio series that starred Frank Lovejoy by Radio Archives.

Radio Archives offers an ebook of the stories for $3.99. There’s one reason to choose the audiobook version instead and that’s Michael C. Gwynne who does one of the flat out best readings that I’ve ever heard. He should read all the best hard-boiled detective novels. His voice carries the production and brings each tale to life. Gwynne doesn’t try to imitate Frank Lovejoy’s take on Stone, but his interpretation of the character captures Stone as the street wise yet warm hearted reporter.

The stories themselves have a very strong love for the series that comes through loud and clear. While the tone varies a bit from story to story, they all carry the idea that Stone is a hero and friend to the ordinary people of Chicago that are so frequently the subject of the Night Beat column.

The book leads off with, “The Strangler” which finds Randy going to an ex-girlfriend who returned to town and began working as a stripper. She’d promised a clue in a series of serial killings. Instead she’s the next victim. It’s probably the most hard-boiled story in the collection and it’s brilliantly written with a decent mystery that I didn’t figure out until 2/3 in. The atmosphere is perfect. It’s a little darker story than would have been played on the radio but I don’t think it went over the top.

In, “The Chicago Punch,” Randy is called in to help a boxer who is at risk of being drawn into an illegal fight scene that could ruin his career and maybe cost him his life. It’s a terrific story with the mix of knowing skepticism about the manager’s proclamation that the kid has what is to be champ, along with an interesting concept that seems plausible for the time.

“The Puzzle in Purple,” finds Randy walking into the police department only to find a lieutenant sweating over a puzzle that’s a potential clue to the location of a kidnapped woman. It’s a two act story with the first being Randy helping the lieutenant and how the two relate to each other as they try to solve the puzzle, and the second finds Randy trying to save the woman on his own when he solves the puzzle. The first half was superb as the interactions between the lieutenant and Randy are brilliantly written. The second half was okay but is probably one of the stupider things Randy Stone ever did, though not unbelievably stupid.

“Down Addison Road,” has a mother with an absent husband asking Randy’s help to get her teenage son out of a racket he’s become involved in. This story works well because it features some well-written action and also the type of quirky characters that made the best Night Beat episodes so interesting to listen to.

“Lucky” is inspired by a couple quirks in the show’s history. In the pilot episode of Night Beat starring Frank Lovejoy, the character was known as Lucky Stone rather than Randy.

In addition, there’s a division among fans as to whether the series is Night Beat or Nightbeat*. So it happens Randy Stone had a competitor, a guy nicknamed Lucky with a first name that starts with an “R.” And he started at a rival paper around the same time Randy started at his and he had a column on Chicago after dark and it was called Night Beat while Randy’s was called  Nightbeat. However, he was fired for plagiarizing one of Randy’s stories. When Randy gets word that Randy Stone’s dead, it’s actually Lucky who’s been killed and Randy has to figure out who wants him dead before the murderers find out they killed the wrong Stone. This story manages to take radio show production issues and add some tense action and make a very enjoyable yarn.

Finally, “The One that Got Away” finds Randy meeting another old flame, this one a famous singer who stopped writing him quite a while ago. She’s back in town and she’s in trouble. This one has good atmosphere, but the characters aren’t as strong as in other stories.. Though, it’s probably my least favorite of the six, it’s still a solid well paced tale.

I was blown away by this collection. There are so many mistakes that you can make with a book like this. It can easily become weak fan fiction or modern ideas and concepts can be inserted and take readers and listeners out of the story. However, the authors avoided these pitfalls and they produced stories that feel genuine to the era and also the type of adventures that Randy Stone might actually have. If you love Night Beat  or even good, 1950s, hard-boiled mysteries, this audiobook is definitely a must-buy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

*As best I can tell, the spelling of the show is Night Beat  based on promotional materials from the time. However, Radio Archives uses the spelling, “Nightbeat.”

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Audio Drama Review: Tom Swift and His Motorcycle

When I was growing up, I’d say I read Tom Swift books from the library. That wasn’t exactly true. I checked out 1950s books about the atomic age adventures of Tom Swift, Jr. and a 1990s reboot. Tom Swift, Jr. was an inventor and tech genius extraordinaire who had far out adventures with atomic age technology. His dad was a supporting character as the CEO of Swift Labs. Little did I know, he’d had adventures of his own, adventures that had started the whole Tom Swift craze all the way back in 1910.

The original Tom Swift series was forty children’s books published between 1910 and 1941, and the first of twenty-five of which have fallen into the public domain. Colonial Radio Theatre recently adapted the first of these, Tom Swift and His Motorcycle.

In it, Tom Swift lives with his inventor father Barton Swift in upstate New York. Tom repairs a motorcycle and plans to drive his father’s patent plans as well as a model of his father’s latest invention to the attorney’s office but is waylaid by a gang of robbers who steal the invention. Tom ends up trying to get them back and foils the robbers.

This story is a basic boys adventure story, the type which was so popular for much of the twentieth century but made accessible for modern listeners. It paints a picture of a transitional time in American history as technology such as the telephone and the motor car were making inroads but weren’t universal particularly not in Swift’s upstate New York stomping ground. The story highlights that these technologies were like the wifi hotspots and natural-gas powered cars of their day, so it’s a fascinating look at their era that I don’t think I’ve seen explored in any modern works.

Tom (Colin Budzyna) is the perfect hero for this sort of story: loyal, honest, and a compulsive tinker who has to fix anything he sees that’s broken.

The play is well acted and charming with some dialogue that’s unique and unintentionally hilarious to twenty-first century ears. One character is constantly prefacing his sentence with phrases beginning with, “Bless my-” such as, “Bless my liver….” and “Bless my very existence.” That gives it a nice period feel.

Overall, this is a fun treat. Colonial took an obscure and less-remembered book and has skillfully brought it to life, creating a play that’s enjoyable for both kids and those who remember what it was like to be kids. In doing so, they manage to capture a less remembered era in literature and America History. And Bless my iPod, that’s an accomplishment.

 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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