Tag: positive review

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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A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Four (Series 9-Series 11)

See Parts One, Two, and Three


Series Nine of Jago & Litefoot came out in April 2015 and finds Jago and Litefoot on a cruise, trying to enjoy some R&R after the ordeals of Series Eight.

The Series kicks off with, “The Flying Frenchmen,” Jago and Litefoot where they’re quickly thrown into mystery as the ship becomes trapped in a mysterious fog and they begin to encounter familiar faces–their own, however alternate universe versions where London has fallen under the different countries so there’s a German Jago and Litefoot, a Russian Jago and Litefoot, and a French Jago and Litefoot among others.

Overall, the story is interesting but mainly in the way it sets the stage for the rest of the series. There are clever elements thrown in that make these more than “Jago and Litefoot with different accents.” A lot about this story is unresolved by the end of it but it does set the stage for the subsequent episodes quite nicely.

In “The Devil’s Dicemen”, Jago and Litefoot disembark their ship and stumble on a series of mysterious deaths while Jago is led into a high stakes casino where winning requires forfeiting his soul. The story and features a great guest appearance by David Warner as a man who joins Litefoot in investigating the deaths. Though why he’s investigating is an open question.

Jago is a little too dense to how really dangerous the people who are inviting him to gamble at the Dark Casino are. After eight series, such credulity seemed way out of character. This is made up for at the end where Jago’s intelligence does re-emerge in a surprising twist. Plus, the mystery of what Doctor Betterman is up to is interesting throughout.

The “Isle of Death,” is another atmospheric diversion for Jago and Litefoot as they disembark from their ship to explore an uncharted isle. It’s got a nice Isle of Doctor Moreau feel with a mysterious monster causing mischief. A major highlight was the humorous twist in the reveal of the villain.

Finally, “Return of the Nightmare” is a thoroughly exciting finale as Jago and Litefoot find themselves in danger on the boat and have to confront the cause of the trouble that occurred in the series opener and has been in the background all along. What follows is an action-packed and exciting race to the finish. It’s probably the fastest paced episode of Jago and Litefoot I’ve heard. The plot is solid but is let down slightly by an ending that’s too predictable.

Overall, this is an enjoyable series even though it’s not one of Jago & Litefoot’s best. The third tale, “Isle of Death,” is probably the highlight of the box set like good Victorian Science Fiction.

In between Series 9 and 10, Jago and Litefoot appeared in the Doctor Who: Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure. Due to contract difficulties with the BBC, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was not given an appropriate final exit and regeneration story, so Big Finish decided to fill in that gap in the Sixth Doctor’s history which they do with a four episode box set. Jago and Litefoot appear in the third story, “Stage Fright.”

The Doctor and his companion Flip arrive in Victorian London where Jago is taking it easy after Mr. Yardvale (an anagram for the Doctor’s enemy The Valeyard) has rented Henry’s theater at a very high rate so he can stage auditions for his own play behind closed doors. However, all the scenes played are those of the Doctor’s past regenerations. The Doctor is set on their trail when Litefoot asks his help on examining bodies that appear to be aged to death–the actors who played in the Valeyard’s sick little drama.

“Stage Fight” has a great sense of terror as well as suspense. It features the first direct confrontation between the Valeyard and the Doctor in the box set and it’s a memorable one. The supporting cast is superb. Jago, Litefoot, and Inspector Quick are top notch, and Colin Baker really has some strong moments. Flip is a fun character, but her best moment was towards the end of the story when she faced her stage fright in a powerful way.

Series Ten begins with “The Case of the Missing Gasogene” with introduces Jago and Litefoot’s biographer Carruthers Summerton as the two try to one up each other and investigate a locked room mystery separately in order to impress Summerton. The story is full of fun and excitement, and I found it to be one of their most amusing tales.

In “The Year of the Bat,” Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor interacts with Jago and Litefoot, albeit indirectly, through the Yesterday Box, a device that allows letters to be sent back in time, altering the current time line. This is good because they find themselves facing a foe they’d each fought thirty years before (without knowing the other party had fought their foe.) The story is one of Jonathan Morris’ most madcap Jago and Litefoot tales as we get some key highlights including the first meeting between Jago and Litefoot (which neither knew about.) This is a solid plot gimmick that works for an entertaining episode.

In “The Mourning After, ” Henry Gordon Jago is dead, or so Professor Litefoot believes. But after the coffin is lowered, we learn Jago is still alive even as his coffin is being buried.

This story is beautifully orchestrated as Henry finds himself in an apocalyptic future with the last member of the Jago and Litefoot Society while Litefoot faces the threat of zombies in the present. The story is clever and while you have an inkling of what might be going on, there are some amazing twists and turns. The scenes with Jago in the coffin are probably the most tense in the series’s history. The story also does a great job setting up the finale.

The set concludes with, “The Museum of Curiosities” where a series of bizarre murders rocks London and demands Jago and Litefoot’s attention as they have to deal with the “help” of Carruthers Summerton and muse about whether the mysterious Doctor Betterman is involved.

The story works brilliantly as a mystery. While I guessed the solution, the story didn’t let me be sure until the very last ten minutes. In addition, this clever mystery leads into a nice celebration of all the mischief and mayhem, Jago and Litefoot have faced in the course of ten series without going overboard or undermining the plot.

This is probably my favorite series of adventures. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Big Finish obtained the rights to do audio dramas using characters from the revived series of Doctor Who that began in 2005. A natural fit would be to combine Victorian Age characters from the Classic and Revived Series, thus in November 2015, Jago and Litefoot were teamed with Strax the Sontaran butler in the feature length: Jago & Litefoot, & Strax: The Haunting.

The plot finds Strax, having lost his memory and moving in with Jago and Litefoot to hunt a creature that steals brains. This story is a delightful and lighthearted tale that while being fun, never crosses the line into being absurd or campy. Strax fits right into world of Jago and Litefoot, and there’s fantastic chemistry between the three leads.

The one thing I was nervous about listening to the trailer (and having seen Strax on TV) is that the entire story would be one big joke about Strax’s tendency to be unable to distinguish gender in humans. Yet, I needn’t have worried, while Justin Richards played to this suggestion from Stephen Moffat, he didn’t overplay it, thanks to a very clever scene with Ellie in the Red Tavern.

While the plot is a bit simple, the highlight is the fun character interactions. Overall, this wonderful production does a great job bringing Classic Who and New Who together.

This eleventh Jago and Litefoot series brings them face to face with the Master (played by Geoffrey Beevers) who remains in the background throughout the series before coming to the fore in the Series finale. Below is a look at each story:

Jago & Son: A fun romp that introduces us to a potential son of Jago as well as an old friend of Professor Litefoot’s. There’s plenty happening, but this story feels far less self-contained than the previous Jago & Litefoot lead off stories. It lays out a lot of threads that will be connected in later stories, with suspense and spookiness around a Satanic cult thrown into the mix.

Maurice: Probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot episode and a bit of a disappointment from writer Matthew Sweet. The story seems almost like a generic Jago and Litefoot story, but without anything to really make it stand out. There are a few confusing points and the regulars, while still good, aren’t really given the material they need to shine.

The Woman in White: A solid installment that finds Jago meeting up with his friend Bram Stoker in response to Sir Henry Irving behaving oddly. In addition, the most recent production has been plagued by a series of disappearances and strange happenings. The professor’s end of the investigation is a little less interesting, but taken together, this is an exciting and suspenseful story.

Masterpiece: The episode suffers from a lot of waiting and repetition. A body is dropped off at the morgue drained-just like in the previous episode, although there is a difference in what it has been drained of. The focus of the episode is Jago and Litefoot trying to solve a mystery that’s already been revealed to the audience. We also spend much of the episode waiting for the Doctor to arrive.

What does make this work are the solid performances, most notably from Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. The Master isn’t content to wreak havoc for his purposes, but also sets up Ellie for danger and disaster in Series Twelve. The story deserves credit for how it gets the Doctor in. You spend most of the episode expecting the Doctor’s arrival (for that’s the whole point of the Master’s plan) only to realize the truth. Of course, once you realize the truth, the rest of the plot becomes obvious.

Overall, this is probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot outing. The stories aren’t bad by any means but most of them call to mind prior stories, and recent ones in many cases. Jag & Son uses a satanic cult after one had just been featured featured in Series Nine’s “The Devil’s Dicemen.” Even the best story in the set, “The Woman in White,” has a similar to solution to Jago, Litefoot, and Strax: The Haunting, and I’ve noted my problems with “Maurice” above.

The problem may be the Master. Don’t get me wrong. Geoffrey Beevers is great but this may be a case of mixing two great ingredients and not getting a good finished product. Jago and Litefoot, two mystery-solving paranormal detectives matched against Beevers’ Master, the skulking and the obvious ultimate bad guy really doesn’t work as well as you’d think.

Even though the most recent series was disappointing, Jago & Litefoot has a strong track record and will bounce back with Series Twelve, which will be released later on this month.

Over the course of the last seven years, they’ve had an amazing variety of fantastic adventures. The entire series is a testament to the power of audio and imagination as two Octagenerian actors play characters who embody the spirit of adventure through one vigorous case after another, something that just couldn’t be done on television.

Big Finish has created a series that has an established brand and feel but still manages to come up with new twists and new facets to their characters. Jago and Litefoot have had an incredible run and I hope they carry on for many years to come.

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 6


Big Finish released the penultimate volume in is Avengers: The Lost Episodes range, recreating the mostly lost first season of the Avengers featuring David Keel (Anthony Howell) and John Steed (Julian Wadham). This release and Volume 7 (which will be released in January) contain three episodes rather than four as did the first five sets. Here’s a look at the three stories included:

The Frighteners: This is an adaptation of one of the few episodes to be preserved from the Avengers’ lost season. While I’ve never seen the TV version, Big Finish’s take on the story is a very good one.

The titular Frighteners, a group of thugs who blackmail “patients” (i.e. victims) with severe beatings if they don’t perform a desired action that their clients want are genuinely creepy and menacing with their euphemistic language.

At the same time, this is a fairly complicated problem for Keel and Steed compared to the others they’ve faced because they not only have to deal with the Frighteners (Counter Measures), they also have to deal with one of their victims, who has his own agenda for wanting to marry a wealthy man’s daughter. Keel really shows how much he’s grown since he first appeared, easily taking the lead both physically and in planning.

With a guest appearance by Hugh Ross, this is an extremely enjoyable episode and one of the best stories released so far.

Death on the Slipway: This story is a somewhat standard spy tale, that finds Steed investigating a mysterious death at a shipyard with the British Navy’s latest submarine is being built. The sound design is solid on this as it really conveys the feeling of a 1960s shipyard. Death on the Slip has some good moments with Steed in the spotlight as Dr. Keel is relegated to a couple comedic scenes back at the surgery. It’s a decent enough story of a break-in gone wrong and the spy is menacing, but the production’s not a stand out by any means.

Tunnel of Fear: Steed goes undercover at a fun fair to investigate strange goings on after an exonerated prisoner who had pretended escape and worked at the carnival, is beaten so badly he didn’t remember what happened. This is another good story with a bit more humor thrown in. Steed has some of the best lines of the entire Lost Episodes series in this story and there’s some superb fight scenes. The villains are pretty typical, but the unusual locale makes this a fun story.

Overall, this is a solid box set that lives up to the high standards Big Finish has set for the series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Too Many Have Lived

In “Too Many Have Lived,” the Hollywood Theater of the Air presents a half hour Black Mask Audio Magazine dramatization of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade short story of the same title.

Sam Spade is hired to find a missing poet by a man who would very much like to marry the man’s wife. When the poet turns up missing, there are plenty of suspects around.

“Too Many Have Lived,” is a fine classic hard-boiled story. It’s no “Maltese Falcon,” but the Theater of the Era does a great job capturing the mood and it’s very well-acted and narrated with a decent amount of sound design. The story has a solidly clever solution that’s worthy of Hammett.

It also serves as a nice sampler for Hollywood Theater of the Ear’s longer works, including a collection of Black Mask stories.

This story is available for free to Audible Members through Audible’s new “My Content” feature and it also can be purchased by non-members for less than $1.50

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Book Review: Trent’s Last Case

Trent’s Last Case (1913) features amateur detective Philip Trent being called in to solve the murder of a business tycoon with many enemies and a complicated relationship in the tycoon’s own house.

Trent is  a departure from the thinking machines that dominated detective fiction of the time. He was an eccentric, a romantic, and a painter with a light touch and a good deal of humor. Still, he also has a sharp mind.

The case itself is a solid puzzle. Trent uses his deduction and wit to come up with a clever solution which proves to be wrong. We don’t learn who the murderer is until the very end, and the person who did it was someone you never would have guessed.

The story had a great impact on the future detective novels. There is a little bit of over-indulgent social commentary to wade through, particularly after the start. However, even after over a hundred years, the novel holds up well as a light and engaging read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Trent’s Last Case is in the public domain and is available for a free Download through

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