Audio Drama Review: Murder from the Bridge and Six More

Murder from the Bridge and Six More collects a total of seven audio dramas written by Steven Olney and chronicling the adventures of retired police captain Waverly Underhill (Dave Ellsworth), as reported by his faithful friend Doctor Scofield (Wally O’Hara).

The series was broadcast as part of The Cape Cod Mystery Theater and has a wonderful local flavor to it, similar to the way The Adventures of Harry Nile captures Seattle. These sort of productions are really fun and I wish there were more solid detective audio dramas written in locations throughout the country. I will also say right off the bat that if you’re looking for detective stories that aren’t your typical whodunit, you’ll probably find a lot to like in this set.

The set opens with Murder from the Bridge, which is the shortest release in the set. Captain Underhill arrives to take a young man to the spot where his uncle jumped to his death from the Sagamore Bridge in an obvious case of suicide…or is it? This is a really good, suspenseful piece that builds tension and allows Captain Underhill to really shine, and show that sort of Columbo-like cunning of putting a killer at ease before bringing down the hammer.

In The Mystery of Anna Gale, Underhill investigates the apparent kidnapping of a little girl. This is a good one for showcasing Doctor Scofield’s superior humanity, and his ability to understand and be gentle with kids as a lifetime family doctor. It has an unusual and surprising solution.

The Curse of the Whale’s Tooth is a really solid Gothic mystery complete with a family curse, a cursed heirloom, and the mysterious appearance of a lion. It evokes a sort of New England Hound of the Baskervilles vibe, with a very modern twist ending.

The Mermaid on Halloween Bridge is about a mysterious mural of a topless mermaid being painted on Halloween Bridge. The painter is a young woman who is painting at night to avoid getting into trouble, and there’s an old man with gout who doesn’t like it and calls the police. This is a hard one to evaluate. My biggest problem is that Captain Underhill is shoehorned into the story. There’s a police shortage so severe that they decide to put the 70-year-old retired police captain out on the beat driving a prowl car that makes two appearances. The second problem is that it’s not really a mystery story as most fans expect. Technically, I guess the question of who is painting a mural is a mystery to the townspeople, but it’s not really a mystery to listeners. The story is not bad at all. The characters are decent, and the acting’s good, but the story is eighty-nine minutes long. There’s not enough going on in this story to make this worth a feature-length listen. This should have been no more than 45 minutes.

In The Case of the Automatic Murders, Waverly investigates a case where a young woman is waking up at night and apparently writing very creepy and spooky things in her journal. This one is a decent mystery with a good amount of atmosphere and probably one of the more spooky ones in the set.

The final two were released posthumously, after the death of star Dave Ellsworth.

The Spirit of Christmas finds Captain Underhill investigating an assault and robbery on a blind Salvation Army bellringer. This is probably the most humorous Captain Underhill adventure, although I really found its resolution to be a bit morally problematic.

The set concludes with The Final Case of Captain Underhill. Underhill had often jokingly pretended he was senile or had dementia. In an ironically sad twist of fate, our story ends with him on the cusp of the last stage of dementia, with only a few lucid moments. His friend of 50 years, Doctor Scofield, is working on staff at the facility where Captain Undersell is being cared for, so that he can be near his friend until the day comes when Underhill doesn’t remember him anymore. Underhill discovers a plot that could ruin the life of two young people and is determined to help them. Can Captain Underhill save the day one more time?

On one hand, this is a fitting final adventure that shows Underhill’s strength of character, tenacity, and resourcefulness, even when facing the toughest challenge of his life. On the other hand, without being maudlin, the story captures the devastating effects of Alzheimers and dementia on those who suffer it, and the heartbreak of those who care for them. It’s a poignant story that never feels manipulative, and is probably the best-written of the Captain Underhill stories.

This is a solidly written and well-acted set of stories. While there are stories I don’t like as much as others, on the whole I enjoyed the set. Waverly Underhill was truly a great detective and his adventures continue to be well-worth listening to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5


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