Few television detectives are as iconic as Lieutenant Columbo of the Los Angeles Police Department. His mannerisms, his appearance, his methods—once you’ve seen him on TV, you’re not likely to forget Columbo.
Those wonderful folks at Crippen & Landru (C & L)—particularly Douglas Greene—over the years have been retrieving mystery ephemera that have been unjustly consigned to oblivion, as, for example, old radio scripts and short stories that often appeared only once and were inexplicably forgotten with their authors’ demise.
With The Columbo Collection, however, C & L has persuaded a very much alive mystery master—William Link—to produce 12 new adventures featuring the always underestimated LAPD detective. For fans of the TV series, it’s like seeing a dozen new shows. (As with C & L’s reprints of Ellery Queen stories, in which you can’t help “hearing” and “seeing” Jim Hutton and David Wayne in your mind’s eye, so it is you’ll be “hearing” and “seeing” the peerless Peter Falk going through his paces.) But these “shows” can be “viewed” in 15 or 20 minutes, a mere fraction of the time the original series took.
Although the emphasis is always on the plot—a good thing in its own right—William Link does add the occasional literary flourish that shows he’s not entirely bound to the telegraphic style of TV. No, The Columbo Collection isn’t “Great Art,” but it is an awful lot of fun.
1. “The Criminal Criminal Attorney”—A hotshot lawyer gets his client acquitted of a rape charge only to turn right around and murder him. Lieutenant Columbo must break the killer’s alibi and track down some incriminating physical evidence, as well as figure out the motive for the slaying, before he can close this case.
2. “Grief”—A retired physician is out walking his dog when he is struck by a car and killed. Circumstantial evidence would seem to support the obvious conclusion that it was a simple hit-and-run, but Lieutenant Columbo’s “instincts” (his word) tell him otherwise. By the time he resolves this case, he will have grown to appreciate all the more the ancient expression, Cave canem.
3. “A Dish Best Served Cold”—An Iraq War veteran apparently commits suicide, but Lieutenant Columbo has “second thoughts” (again, his words), especially about the missing fingerprints and gunpowder residue. As he says, “Sometimes you can be too careful when you plan and carry out murder.”
4. “Ricochet”—Columbo must overcome his fear of flying in the only way he knows how in order to visit New York City to follow up on a murder case. The problem is the prime suspect has an airtight alibi that places him 3,000 miles from the crime scene. Of course, people have been known to lie to protect others, but bullets drilled into a tree can only tell the truth.
5. “Scout’s Honor”—In this one, the killer tries to help someone he loves by committing murder; but the irony is that he does too good a job of it and inadvertently ends up putting the person he wants to help squarely in the frame. Everything points to the wrong person being the killer, and from long experience Lieutenant Columbo knows that the physical evidence alone doesn’t tell the whole story.
6. “Sucker Punch”—While they’re out jogging one morning, a professional boxer and his sparring partner are shot; one dies and the other is left in a coma. Columbo is called to Santa Clara to help with the investigation and discovers that his prime suspect lacks sufficient motive. If only he had dropped a bad habit, the real killer just might have gotten away with it. Even with 21st century forensics, it’s Columbo’s doggedness that nails the perp.
7. “The Blackest Mail”—When a Hollywood starlet shoots a celebrity stalker to death, it looks like a case of self-defense—after all, he was carrying a knife. But Lieutenant Columbo senses there’s more to it, with little things that don’t quite compute, such as some missing money, a full tank of gas, that bullet in the garage door, and a few other discrepancies that point to blackmail rather than perverted love.
8. “The Gun That Wasn’t”—A police detective is executed, Mafia-style, in his own house. Another detective sets out in hot pursuit but fails to catch, or even see, the killer(s). Columbo is on the case from the start; gradually he uncovers evidence that leads him away from the Mob and straight to someone with whom he’s been on a first name basis for years. What tips him off are missing candlesticks, andirons, and a widescreen TV.
9. “Requiem for a Hitman”—It’s all so simple: Hire a hitman to kill the old judge and then in a surprise ambush shoot the hitman just after he’s done the deed. Neat. Tidy. Economical. But there’s an unexpected kink in the plan: The hitman has a relative—and it’s really a shame because this person is one of the very few people in Lieutenant Columbo’s universe who doesn’t mind it when he lights up a cigar.
10. “Trance”—Lieutenant Columbo and his niece are attending a police charity event and witness an amusing act featuring a hypnotist having fun mesmerizing two policemen. Later that evening, however, things take a serious turn when the hypnotist’s estranged wife is found dead in her apartment, and one of the officers who’d been hypnotized is discovered, dazed and confused, at the scene, making him the prime suspect. The noose tightens when it’s learned this particular cop had an ongoing, illicit relationship with the victim. But for Columbo this open-and-shut case isn’t so airtight, especially when he comes to consider the importance of that one little bead he finds in the closet ….
11. “Murder Allegro”—A young and talented concert violinist is strangled in her hotel suite. From long experience Columbo is inclined to suspect the husband, but he has an ironclad alibi as well as no discernible motive to kill her. Columbo soon discovers that the husband was far from faithful to his wife. What finally clinches the case, however, is that charming Japanese custom of removing one’s footwear in indoor living spaces—and that seemingly trivial matter of a room key left inside a shoe.
12. “Photo Finish”—When a woman discovers her husband has been having an affair with his “personal” secretary, she decides to issue a thirty-eight-caliber divorce decree. This woman scorned is quite intelligent, and it looks as if she just might get away with it—except for that flaky little cop who keeps asking uncomfortable questions—and that nosy next door neighbor—and that neglected copy of Business Week—and, most importantly, the fact that the camera does not lie. (This story—like several others in the collection—filters events through the consciousness of the killer, thereby slightly distancing the reader from Columbo and his thoughts.)
Parental warning: This book contains strong language.