March 2013

WADE MILLER – Shoot to Kill. Hardcover: Farrar, Straus & Co., hardcover, 1951. Reprint paperbacks include Signet 1369, 1957; Perennial, 1993.

WADE MILLER Shoot to Kill

   This is the last of the six Max Thursday private eye novels that the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller produced, and one can only wonder what might have been. Could they have found anything possibly more to say about their character after the way they left him at the end of this book?

   There is a pair of firsts that occur in this novel, unless someone can come up with some earlier instances of each: (1) This is quite possibly the first private eye novel in which the hero loses his girl friend (police beat reporter Merle Osborn) to his client (sporting goods chain store owner Bliss Weaver). (2) This is also quite possibly the first private eye novel in which the hero manipulates the evidence to make sure the police know that his own client is guilty in a murder case.

   Most fictional private eyes are in some great sense larger than life. Very few real world PI’s ever get anywhere near a murder case, go to bed with their beautiful female clients, or do more than routine routine.

   And that’s why it’s such a shocker to find Thursday essentially a loser, unable to keep his own woman and prone to such human emotions as jealousy and deceit — as human as you or I. His rationale is that he knows that Weaver is guilty, and if he gets himself mixed up in the case, then Merle gets hurt.

WADE MILLER Shoot to Kill

   Of course Thursday messes that up as well, and when he’s called on it by his friend on the police force, Lt. Clapp, he confesses right away, and in his sense of guilt and shame, starts to realize that Weaver is very likely not the killer after all.

   I can think of no other mystery novel with a story line anything like this one. If you believe I have told you too much of the plot already, you should note that there are at least two Really Great plot twists yet to come, and I am not going to tell you about those. If you have not come to know what High Intensity means before now, after reading this book, you will know — and I do not mean only “action,” which of course there is. I mean Personal Anguish without letting it show. I mean Tough Decisions to Be Made. I mean, as I said up in the first paragraph above, Where Does He Go From Here?

   Here are the last couple of paragraphs. I believe Wade and Miller were correct to leave Max Thursday at this point, never to write about him again:

    Later, himself in a hospital bed, Thursday would find out about Bliss Weaver, about his time in hiding, the confused and desperate and soul-searching time. […] But now Thursday thought simply of the two of them united, Bliss and Merle. He scowled wistfully. That seemed to be what he had fought for; that seemed to be what he had won, his Grand Prize. Why? he wondered. But then he remembered the grim alternative he had conquered.

    “Clapp,” he croaked again. “He’ll have to tell me I made up for it, after all. I did, didn’t I?”

    He sat spraddle-legged in the ashes and debris, leaning the elbow of his broken arm on the tool kit, stubbornly keeping himself conscious. He heard the cry of a siren in the distance and he waited for the law to come and relieve him of his responsibility.

— February 2004 (slightly revised)

PostScript:   For as much information on “Wade Miller” as I could put together at the time, including an interview with Robert Wade himself, check out this page on the main Mystery*File website:   THE AUTHORS WHO WERE WADE MILLER: Robert Wade and Bill Miller.

William F. Deeck


WILLIAM EDWARD HAYES – Black Chronicle. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1938.

   This, the third novel featuring private detective Arthur Halstead, begins with a remarkable coincidence. Into Halstead’s office comes a goon to employ Halstead to dig up dirt or invent some on Neil Allison. After the plug-ugly leaves, Allison himself arrives to hire Halstead to investigate two attempts on his life. It seems he is involved in, as Halstead puts it, the eternal triangle with a little reverse English on it.” Halstead declines to do anything.

   On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, however, the reverse-English part gets murdered by a cunning killer who, in the hope of disguising his crime, arranges to have the victim’s car run into by a train. Good planning, one would think, but there was no train scheduled for that time. Still, one does show up, sort of machina ex machinus, if I’ve gotten my Latin right. I will spare you the car that at one moment has snow chains on its tires and the next moment is ” roiling smoothly” down the road.

   Perhaps Halstead was delineated well in his previous investigations. Here he is a few idiosyncrasies in a semi-fair-play and rather dull novel.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1991.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:   All with PI Arthur Halstead.

      The Black Doll. Doubleday, 1936.   Film: Universal, 1938
      Before the Cock Crowed. Doubleday, 1937.
      Black Chronicle. Doubleday, 1938.

   Says Al Hubin of the author in Crime Fiction IV: Born in Muncie, Indiana (1897-1965?); had numerous jobs with railroad lines, then reporter and drama critic for New York Evening Journal; editor of Railroad Magazine; later executive with Rock Island Lines.


J. C. MASTERMAN An Oxford Tragedy

J. C. MASTERMAN – An Oxford Tragedy. Victor Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1933; Penguin, UK, paperback, 1954. Dover Press, US, softcover, 1981.

   Mysteries set in Oxford have a cultured, leisurely way with them, The protagonists are generally dons; the conversation in the Senior Common Room is on matters of scholarly import, over coffee, port, and good cigars. One feels the ease and contentment of that sort of life, and it’s acknowledged by Winn, the narrator of this one. Then murder breaks in and changes everything.

J. C. MASTERMN An Oxford Tragedy

   The reality of people’s feelings comes out from beneath the veneer of affability. Suspicion clouds the easy daily routine. Such is An Oxford Tragedy. The title informs us that this is more than mere murder. Shirley, an unpopular don, is shot and killed in the rooms of the dean, Hargreaves, who has left a loaded gun on his table and carelessly told the high table of that fact.

   Brandel, an Austrian lawyer with some experience of criminal investigation, happens to be visiting in college for a week. He is immediately brought into the matter by Winn, who acts as his Watson.

   Winn makes a good Watson, “infirm of purpose” and constantly analyzing his own actions and motives. Brendel is almost too good to be true, a Germanic Holmes. The interest in the book, now so dated, lies in its depiction of life at Oxford in the good old days.

— Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1984/85.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Ernest Brendel solved only one other case that was recorded by author J. C. Masterman for posterity; that is to say, The Case of the Four Friends (Hodder, UK, hardcover, 1957; no US edition). For more on the author himself, you might go first to his Wikipedia entry, which begins thusly:

    “Sir John Cecil Masterman (12 January 1891 – 6 June 1977) was a noted academic, sportsman and author. However, he was best known as chairman of the Twenty Committee, which during World War II ran the Double Cross System, the scheme that controlled double agents in Britain.”


SEARCH Doug McClure

SEARCH. NBC, 1972-73. Leslie Stevens Production in association with Warner Brothers Television. Created and Executive Produced by Leslie Stevens. Cast: Doug McClure as C.R. Grover, Burgess Meredith as V.C. Cameron.

   This is the last of four posts examining the TV series SEARCH and its pilot TV Movie PROBE. For earlier posts:

         Probe [Pilot/TV Movie]:

         Search [The Hugh O’Brian episodes]:

         Search [The Tony Franciosa episodes]:

   Of the featured three Probe agents C.R. (Christopher Robin) Grover’s role was the least defined, but it didn’t start out that way. According to Leslie Stevens, originally Grover was to be the stand-by Probe, unassigned to any unit. He would have been a bit of a goof-off, someone motivated only by a pretty girl. He also would have been an incredible Probe agent, tough, brilliant, eager to solve the case and get back to goofing off.

   You can see some of that Grover in his first episode, “Short Circuit,” but that Grover was quickly gone.

   The key to Grover became his youth. He was impulsive, unconventional, had a sense of humor, fallible and insecure from a lack of experience. He was respectful to Cameron and women. Doug McClure was able to take these characteristic and make Grover the most likable character of the series.

SEARCH Doug McClure

   Sadly, the writers failed to take advantage of McClure’s portrayal in a positive way. Stories and locations should have been aimed to appeal to the younger audience. There were few opportunities for Grover to romance the girl of the week, more often the women were married or committed to another man, and even when there was a girl of the week the scripts did not spend enough time exploring the romantic possibilities.

   Without having a purpose such as belonging to a Probe unit, Grover’s cases were generic, dealing with cases that didn’t fit Lockwood or Bianco or worse, were leftovers. For example, the episode “Numbered For Death” where Grover attempts to convince Probe to take a case to help old friends, a married couple. It involved a mobster and blackmail. All of that was more fitting for Nick Bianco than young Grover.


Produced by Robert H. Justman. Probe Control Cast (recurring): Ron Castro as Carlos, Ginny Golden as Keach, Byron Chung as Kuroda, Albert Popwell as Griffin, Amy Farrell as Murdock, Tony DeCosta as Ramos, and Mary Cross as June Wilson.

“Short Circuit” (9/27/72) Written by Leslie Stevens Directed by Allen Reisner. Guest Cast: Marianne Mobley, Jeff Corey and Nate Esformes *** One of the scientists that created Probe’s technology has gone mad and threatens to destroy Probe Control with a new devices that causes feedback in electronic systems until they explode.

   Logic was not this episodes strong point, but it was entertaining enough. A rare case when Grover gets the girl at the end. Hugh Lockwood would have approved.

“In Search of Midas” (11/8/72) Written by John Christopher Strong and Michael R. Stein. Directed by Nicholas Colasanto. Guest Cast: Barbara Feldon, Logan Ramsey and George Gaynes *** Probe is hired to find out if a reclusive billionaire is still alive. Joining Grover on the case is a female gossip columnist, who is one of the few who knows what the billionaire looks like.

   What a mess of a script. Too many characters overwhelmed the Howard Hughes plot. Some scenes were padded while others needed more setting up to work. The romance was neglected and twists were wasted.

SEARCH Tony Franciosa

“A Honeymoon to Kill” (1/10/73) Written by S.S. Schweitzer. Directed by Russ Mayberry. Guest Cast: Luciana Paluzzi, Antoinette Bower and George Coulouris *** Heiress is about to inherit a trust that would give her control over her “dying” father’s business that specializes in making military weapons. After her wedding, she is shot at and runs off alone. Her husband hires Probe to find her.

   Good action episode with non-stop chases, fights, and twists. McClure and Luciana Paluzzi made the story more watchable than it deserved.

“The Packagers” (4/11/73) Written by Robert C. Dennis. Directed by Michael Caffey. Guest Cast: Xenia Gratsos, Michael Pataki, and John Holland *** After being exiled to Paris with the Country President’s daughter, a failed revolutionary goes missing, Probe is hired to find him.

   Typical 70’s TV low budget portrayal of a revolution with the twists obvious, the believability nil and Grover at his most bumbling. Final episode of the series to air.

   As prior posts have stated, there was a change in showrunners. Two episodes left over from Stevens as showrunner (red Probe Control), one with Lockwood (Hugh O’Brian) “Suffer My Child” and the other with Grover (“The Packagers”) aired after the eight Spinner produced episodes (blue Probe Control) aired. Spinner produced three Grover episodes.

Produced by Anthony Spinner. Probe Control Cast: Pamela Jones as Miss James and Tom Hallick as Harris.

“Numbered For Death” (1/31/73) Teleplay by S.S. Schiweitzer. Story by Lou Shaw and S.S. Schiweitzer. Directed by Allen Reisner. Guest Cast: Peter Mark Richman, Bert Convy and Luther Adler *** Someone had gotten the numbers to secret Swiss banking accounts and using them for blackmail.

   Production values had collapsed with Probe Control looking like it was operating out of World Securities’ break room. The acting was bad, Bert Convy with an alleged English accent bad. The lack of mystery also hurt, but the overly simple way the blackmailer got the information ruined the episode.

“Goddess of Destruction” (2/21/73) Written by Irv Pearlberg. Directed by Jerry Jameson. Guest Cast: Anjanette Comer, Alfred Ryder and John Vernon *** A murder of a dealer of ancient Indian art may signal the return of the ancient cult of assassins, the Thugs.

   The story was mildly entertaining but contains no surprises. Budget cuts show the outdoors of Bombay looking so much like Los Angeles you want to chip in to help the producers buy some stock footage. Probe Control was becoming less and less involved to the point where Burgess Meredith got out from behind his desk to visit the art gallery and client.

“Moment of Madness” (3/14/73) Written by Richard Landau. Directed by George McCowan. Guest Cast: Patrick O’Neal and Brooke Bundy *** Cameron is kidnapped from Probe Control. Searching for Cameron, Grover realizes how little he knows about him.

   Cameron was working nights giving taped orders to various agents around the world. One must wonder if business had gotten so bad Probe laid off the night shift, after all its day somewhere in the world. Seriously, if you have an actor of Burgess Meredith’s talent you need to focus on his character in at least one episode.

   Having Cameron snatched from Probe Control, the top secret headquarters for World Securities was just one of three Spinner produced episodes that portrayed World Securities as a bungling inept organization (the others were Spinner produced Hugh O’Brian’s “Countdown To Panic” where World Securities bungled a scientific experience and exposed the world to a killer virus, and Tony Franciosa’s “The 24-Carat Hit” when Probe agents screwed up and a field agent’s wife was killed and daughter kidnapped.)

   A man who had served in the Korean War under the command of Government Intelligence Officer Captain V.C. Cameron blamed Cameron for his capture by the enemy. Now he sought revenge by forcing Cameron to endure the same torture he did as a POW.

   Grover’s search for Cameron lead him to V.C.’s only surviving family, a niece.

   What made this episode worth watching were the talents of Burgess Meredith and Doug McClure.

   In my last post I looked at the ratings and how the audience rejected the series, so how did the critics feel? Here are some excerpts from reviews of the first episode (“Broadcasting” 9/25/72).

    “It’s a gimmick show and a series can go only so far on a gimmick. Last night it went about two inches.” (Howard Rosenberg, Louisville (KY) Times)

    “Unquestionably, there is a lot to say for SEARCH…like contrived, ludicrous, gimmick, and dull.” (Don Page, Los Angeles Times)

    “The plots demand more reality, the characters should be less cartoony…” (Morton Moss, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner)

   Leslie Stevens’ SEARCH, with the teaming of man and his sidekick technology, tried to recreate the charm of such series as THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE AVENGERS. If he had developed better characters popular enough to overcome the lack of plausibility in the plots and solutions he might have succeed.

   Anthony Spinner’s SEARCH stripped the charm from the series and turned it into just another MANNIX with corporate security inept and Probe Control reduced to a minor supporting role for the almighty individual agent. Yet Spinner’s SEARCH might have found an audience if NBC had moved it to a different time slot away from CANNON.

   As I remember, SEARCH was a great series, fun and entertaining, but memories are selective. My fondest memory was the character Gloria Harding (Angel Tompkins) who was in two of the twenty-three episodes, and I remembered nothing of Nick Bianco, C.R. Grover or any of the Spinner episodes.

   Returning to the past can be a slap of reality. I found SEARCH a watchable show, at times fun and entertaining and at times the opposite, just like much of television then and today.


TV Obscurities:

Rap Sheet:

Warner Bros Press Releases:

THUNDERHOOF. Columbia, 1948. Preston Foster, Mary Stuart, William Bishop, Thunderhoof. Director: Phil Karlson.

THUNDERHOOF Preston Foster

   Phil Karlson scored solid hits with films like Walking Tall and The Silencers, but he started out at Monogram with Charlie Chan and the Bowery Boys, and when he won his critical spurs, it was in the “B” unit at Columbia with a seldom-seen film called Thunderhoof (1948) — a minimalist Western about the hunt for a dream and what happens when you get it.

   This one is lean: Three actors, maybe one or two sets, and the rest filmed outdoors against a barren backdrop, as befits the allegorical story. The hunters are Preston Foster as an aspiring rancher, tough as a horseshoe, but possessed of a soft heart, which has led him to marry saloon gal Margarita (Mary Stuart, who achieved greatness of sorts on The Guiding Light) and befriend/adopt a young wastrel known as “The Kid” (William Bishop, whose career remained undistinguished despite his talent.)

THUNDERHOOF Preston Foster

   That’s the cast, and the story is equally pared-down; no sub-plots or complications as the three of them track down and capture a legendary stallion with which Foster hopes to start his ranch. But right from the start, it becomes apparent that his avuncular attitude to his wife and buddy is growing irksome to the two, who apparently have some kind of past. And when he breaks a leg, prolonging their return from the wilderness, the tension grows — among the characters and in the gut of the viewer, who feels something dark and disturbing looming above the sagebrush.

   What’s looming is emotional reality; the characters in Thunderhoof don’t talk like cowboys in a B Western, they talk like people in real life. They talk about frustration, jealousy and envy, and when they speak you can feel the weary pain of a heart seeking peace. Not that Thunderhoof is talky. There’s plenty of action to fill the brief hour-and-a-quarter of its running time, and the pace never lags. But by the time the plot resolved itself and left two survivors to carry on, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a Western or some incredibly draining tale of emotional violence. Whichever the case, it’s a film you won’t forget.

THUNDERHOOF Preston Foster

PETER N. WALKER – Missing from Home. Robert Hale, UK, hardcover, 1977.

PETER N. WALKER Missing from Home

   You’d have to live in the UK to have heard of Peter N. Walker, I suspect, even though he’s written tons of books (figuratively) under not only his own name, but that of Andrew Arncliffe, Christopher Coram, Tom Ferris and Nicholas Rhea too.

   He’s probably best known under the latter byline for his rather cozy “Constable” series, which was also the basis for a TV series called Heartbeat, which may be well known in England, but is far from that over here. (An understatement, I suspect.)

   Missing from Home, written under his own name, is a straightforward and standalone crime novel, but in his own words, Walker says this about one of the series characters whose adventures he also related:

    “Carnaby was a flamboyant and very unorthodox detective who had a private income in addition to his police salary. His wealth enabled him to enjoy the roving commission he used for his undercover CID work. There are eleven titles in the series which ran from 1967 to 1984…”

   If there is a detective of record in Missing from Home, it is a lowly (and very new to the job) Police Constable named Keith Bowman, in an even lowlier police outpost in a small village called Brocklesford. It is only Bowman who takes seriously the case of a missing woman, a wife and mother of two small children, a woman who simply would not take off on her own without warning.

   And once it turns out that the woman was kidnapped by an escaped prisoner with a grudge against the system that sent him there, it is also Bowman, in spite of all of the high ranking superiors who by then are on the job, who comes up with the location where the woman is being held prisoner.

   A straightforward crime novel, as I said up above, but down to earth and direct storytelling, and smooth sailing all the way. No depth, one would have to admit, but smooth.

VINCENT FULLER – The Long Green Gaze. B. W. Huebsch, hardcover, 1925.

   According to Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, the author of this book, one “Vincent Fuller,” is a pseudonym, and this is his only entry. And from the title alone, if you saw this book misfiled on a shelf in a used bookshop, spine out, I can’t see how you could tell this was a work of crime fiction, until and unless you somehow happened to open it up and see the subtitle inside: “A Cross Word Puzzle Mystery.”

   As such, this The Long Green Gaze very possibly makes the first mystery ever to have a crossword puzzle theme or background. (And if someone would like to send me a list of all crossword puzzle related mysteries, I’d be happy to post it.)

   But while the novel itself, a relative obscurity, may have something extra to make it worth seeking out, as a detective story, everything else aside, its obscurity is, by most other standards, well deserved.

   It begins at a Thanksgiving gathering of Aunt Emily’s various relatives, some of whom, like Ted Dunsheath, recently booted out of his latest university, are well-described. Others seem to flit in and out of the background as needed, although Janet Marsden, whom Ted is quite fond of, does make her presence known to Aunt Emily at the breakfast table. From page 21:

   At the table, Emily pushed her grapefruit aside with a murmur about acid stomach, called for an orange, and then turned to glare at Janet. “Young lady, you look altogether too much like a giddy flapper to suit my taste. I certainly got a poor penny’s worth when I paid for your education. In my day, any girl who came to breakfast with no more to hold her together than you have, would have been spanked and sent to her room.”

   Janet’s crime: She was not wearing a corset.

   The title of the book refers to a fabulous luminous emerald that glows in the dark. Aunt Emily owns it, but unfortunately she does not survive that very same breakfast, poisoned, but how, and by whom, completely unknown.

   No one could have known she would have eaten the unexpected orange, and she had nothing else to eat or drink, except for half a cup of coffee from the percolator, and the first cup was passed on to someone else.

   The mystery deepens when a second body is found, alone in a locked room, poisoned again with the same fast-acting toxin, but with nothing in the room to suggest where it may have come from.

   Which is certainly all to the good. Where do the crossword puzzles come in? After Emily’s death and the police have gone, one of the family takes the floor. From page 33:

    “…One of us is a murderer. Bear in mind the fact that one who has murdered once may do it again. I wouldn’t advise any of you to confide suspicions to another. You might be confiding them to the person we’re all after. I guess that’s all I have to say.”

   Which means that when someone finds a clue about someone else or starts to suspect someone of something guilty to hide, they formulate a message to be hidden in the words of a crossword puzzle, complete with clues, and when the puzzle — left in someone’s room or in a place easily found — is solved, a warning about someone is at length discerned.

   The puzzles, by the way, are included for the reader to solve on his or her own, with solutions in a sealed section that can be opened in the back of the book. And for a short while after the characters of the novel have solved the puzzle, their conversation goes something like this:

   Page 48:   “Burke … called Chalfonte into the deserted kitchen and insisted on an explanation of the object named in vertical 25 and horizontal 38.”

   Page 50:   “I’ll tell you in advance that I’m doing just that just to watch some of the people concerned, the individual named in vertical 9 particularly.”

   And on page 53, that same suspect is hustled off to jail, never named, not even on page 55, in which he is still referred to as “vertical 9.”

   A technique of story-telling more awkward (and challenging) than this is difficult to imagine, but without the artifice of the crossword puzzles, I’d have to admit that it’s also as fun to read as any other obscure mystery written in 1925, complete with the mysterious Hindu servant of the world-traveler Chalfonte mentioned above, and perhaps even more so.

PostScript:   The puzzles are tough, and I confess. I looked in the back of the book. Just what I tell all of my (math) students not to do.

— February 2004 (slightly revised)

[UPDATE] 03-12-13.   Not only is this mystery novel all but unknown, it’s also scarce, but for some reason, not pricey. There are two copies presently offered for sale on ABE, for example, one for $4.00, the other $20.00. Neither has a dust jacket, nor does mine.


SEARCH. NBC, 1972-73; Leslie Stevens Productions in association with Warner Brothers. Creator and Executive Producer: Leslie Stevens. Cast: Tony Franciosa as Nick Bianco, Burgess Meredith as V.C.R. Cameron.

SEARCH Tony Franciosa

   This is the third in a series of four posts examining the TV series SEARCH and its pilot TV Movie PROBE. For earlier posts:

         Probe [Pilot/TV Movie]:

         Search [The Hugh O’Brian episodes]:

   World Securities Corporation divided Probe up into units such as the Omega Division that existed to deal with organized crime. Its top agent was Nick Bianco, a hardboiled ex-cop who was quick with his fists. An expert on organized crime Bianco had served on the famous “Crime Commission.” After being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, he left the Commission and cleared his name, after which he joined World Securities Probe’s Omega Division.

   Tony Franciosa made a TV career out of playing one character and Nick Bianco was no different. Franciosa’s Bianco even used a notebook as his character Jeff Dillon did in NAME OF THE GAME.

   Bianco’s relationship with Probe Control and Cameron had its differences from Lockwood (Hugh O’Brian) and Grover (Doug McClure). Bianco was the most likely to abandon Probe Control while on the case and continue on his own.

   Women play a different role in the Bianco episodes. Bianco was always more interested in solving the crime than romance. He was fast with the ladies, but they had to wait until after the case was solved.


Produced by Robert H. Justman. Probe Control Cast (recurring) Ron Castro as Carlos, Ginny Golden as Keach, Byron Chung as Kuroda, Albert Popwell as Griffin, Amy Farrell as Murdock, Tony DeCosta as Ramos, and Cheryl Stoppelmoor (Cheryl Ladd) as Amy Love.

“One of Our Probes is Missing” (9/20/72) Written by Leslie Stevens Directed Paul Leacock Guest Cast: Stephanie Powers, Allen Garfield, and Milton Selzer *** A Probe agent disappears while investigating a counterfeiting case with $100 bills so perfect the US Mint can only tell them apart by their duplicate serial numbers.

   The episode was a good one if you can accept the TV simplistic plot.

SEARCH Tony Franciosa

“Live Men Tell Tales” (10/11/72) Written by Irving Pearlberg Directed by Marc Daniels Guest Cast: Louise Sorel, Leslie Charleson and Torrin Thataher *** An old friend of Bianco from the Crime Commission, now Probe agent is murdered by a mysterious villain out to take over the entire World of organized crime.

   This one is probably my favorite episode of the series. A wannabe Bond villain runs a worldwide organization complete with gadgets, agents, and an evil lair with a mad scientist. Add a witty charming femme fatale who has her hands full with the agent’s widow, a twist that is expected but sets the fun going, and the result is a clever escapist episode with the ladies, Louise Sorel as the femme fatale and Leslie Charleson as the middle class widow, stealing the show.

“Operation Iceman” (10/25/72) Written by S.S. Schweitzer Directed by Robert Friend Guest Cast: Edward Mulhare, James Gregory and Mary Frann *** Nick leads a team of Probe agents, that includes his mentor, who are assigned to stop organized crime’s top assassin, the Iceman from killing an American Ambassador.

   Slow moving, weak dialog, and insipid characters did not help this predictable mystery. Nick is not thrilled having to work with others but behaves as long as he is boss. Of course, Nick goes rogue and saves the Ambassador all by himself.

“Let Us Prey” (1/3/73) Written by Don Balluck Directed by Russ Mayberry Guest Cast: Diana Hyland and Albert Paulsen *** A multi-billionaire’s fiancee is missing. He demands Nick Bianco, her old boyfriend, be assigned the case.

   Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game” gets ripped off again for this poor excuse to ditch Probe Control. Bianco is trapped on an island with an insane rich man, a hired killer and Diana Hyland giving an embarrassing shrill performance.

SEARCH Tony Franciosa

   In week 14 there is a visually noticeable production change. Fifteen episodes had been filmed and produced by Robert H. Justman for showrunner Leslie Stevens (two would air at the end of the season). While the final eight episodes filmed were produced by replacement showrunner and current executive story consultant Anthony Spinner (MAN FROM UNCLE, DAN AUGUST).

Produced by Anthony Spinner. Probe Control Cast: Pamela James as Miss James and Tom Hallick as Harris (the character did not appear in “The Matteson Papers”).

“The 24 Carat Hit” (1/24/73) Written by Jack Turley Directed by Barry Shear Guest Cast: Dane Clark, William Smith and Nehemiah Persoff *** Probe agent Ed Bain search for missing gold leads him to an exiled mobster illegally back in the States. After the mobster’s thug kills Ed’s wife and kidnaps his daughter, a wounded Bain goes after them, refusing the help of old friend Nick Bianco and Probe Control.

   If you can stomach the over the top macho stupidity, and ignore the irony of Bianco telling Bain he can’t do it alone, the story is good in a Quinn Martin kind of way. Nice action, well directed. The action takes place mainly at night giving it that TV wannabe noir look.

“The Clayton Lewis Document” (2/14/73) Written by Norman Hudis Directed by William Wiard Guest Cast: Craig Stevens, Julie Adams and Rhonda Fleming *** Clayton Lewis is heading up an important World Disarmament conference and is being blackmailed to reveal America’s position. Lewis’s wife comes to Nick Bianco, an old friend from the Crime Commission days, for help.

   Probe Control played a small but helpful role. Typical Bianco refuses to listen when Cameron and the clients demand he stop. No surprises but the story’s pace keeps the action moving.

“The Mattson Papers” (2/28/73) Teleplay by S.S. Schwartzer and Don Balluck Story by Don Balluck Directed by Willaim Wiard Guest Cast: Cameron Mitchell, Tim O’Connor and Nancy Wilson *** US Senator hires Probe to find a missing witness who has information about organized crime in a Texas small town.

   Again your average TV plot with most of what made SEARCH different removed. Little humor, no style, just the same old TV cop show.

“Ends of the Earth” (3/21/73) Written by Robert C. Dennis Directed by Ralph Senensky Guest Cast: Sebastian Cabot, Jay Robinson and Diana Muldaur ***Bianco goes undercover as a killer in need of the services of Ends of the Earth travel agency. The travel agency offers a service similar to Witness Protection only for criminals.

   The plot is so delightfully twisted it brings back memories of 60s shows such as MAN FROM UNCLE and THE AVENGERS and doesn’t let us down.

   The ratings stayed much the same no matter whom the star of the week was. CBS’s CANNON won the time slot from the start, but both ABC’s JULIE ANDREWS SHOW and NBC’s SEARCH were sampled in the beginning by many.

   Week One had Hugh O’Brian in “The Murrow Disappearance” finishing 39th out of 65. CANNON finished 21st and JULIE ANDREWS finished 34th.

   Week Two had Tony Franciosa in “One of Our Probe’s Is Missing” finishing 31st out of 65. CANNON finished 11th and JULIE ANDREWS dropped to 61st.

   Week Three had Doug McClure in “Short Circuit” finishing 36th out of 65. CANNON finished 19th and JULIE ANDREWS finished 45th.

   The audience had seen enough. Week Four of the season had Hugh O’Brian in the episode “Moonrock” finishing 53rd out of 64. CANNON finished in 10th and JULIE ANDREWS in 57th.

   From then on the pattern was set. CANNON remained in the Top 20 while SEARCH stayed in the bottom 20.

   January 17, 1973 ABC replaced JULIE ANDREWS SHOW with OWEN MARSHALL, COUNSELOR AT LAW. A week later, the first Spinner episode appeared. It did not improve the ratings.

   Not surprisingly, Spinner reduced the science fiction aspects of SEARCH for more typical TV detective. While unlikely, the change might have worked, but not in the time slot opposite of the all ready popular CANNON. A few years later Anthony Spinner would be producing CANNON.

   One can understand the thought about Quinn Martin-izing the series. It was 1972 and QM Production was one of the most successful independent TV production companies doing TV detectives. The gadgets, computers, and science fiction were still unwelcomed by mainstream television viewers. But the other changes made less sense.

   It is odd that the studio or network made the last ditch effort to save the series. Why spend the money to redesign the set for the group you hope to reduce to a limited role? My guess is the change of Probe Control red décor to a blue one was blue offered a better match for the hard-boiled TV detective look they wanted.

   With production budget almost certainly dropping with the bad ratings, I can understand the reduction in Probe Control staff. There was no need for half a dozen techs working the computers when two would do, but why hire two new actors instead of using the original group? And why change actors playing Dr. Barnett from Ford Rainey to Keith Andes?

   The change from Leslie Stevens’ science fiction detective/spy to Anthony Spinner’s more typical TV detective was abrupt but affected ex-cop Nick Bianco in a positive way. However, the same can’t be said for the third Probe agent, young C.R. Grover played by Doug McClure, but more on that next time.


Ratings from “Broadcasting” magazine:

   Recommended reading:

TV Obscurities:

Rap Sheet:

Warner Bros. Press Releases:

William F. Deeck

MAUREEN SARSFIELD – A Party for Lawty. Coward-McCann, US, hardcover, 1948. Nicholson, UK, 1948, as Dinner for None. Reprinted in the US as Murder at Beechlands, softcover, Rue Morgue Press, 2003.


   Driving back from a week of duck shooting, Inspector Lane Parry of Scotland Yard becomes stranded in a Sussex blizzard. Seeking shelter is a big mistake, as he ends up at the Beechlands Hotel, which isn’t, as he first concludes, a lunatic asylum. It does, however, run that institution a close second.

   A party was to be held for Lawrence “Lawty” Lawton, World War II hero and ladies’ man. Since someone has done him in at the hotel, the festivities don’t take place. Several people have motives, with jealousy and money being foremost among them. And why do so many people want to remove something from the hotel’s safe?

   Parry, who would dearly love to avoid an investigation among the peculiar inhabitants and employees of the hotel, finds himself operating alone against a determined murderer who strikes again. A frenetic investigation and not a fair-play type, I would conclude, but then I got lost amid all the excitement and may have missed the clues.

   Fine reading here.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1991.

Bibliographic Notes:   Maureen Sarsfield, the working byline of Maureen Pretyman (or vice-versa?), was the author of one other crime novel, that being Green December Fills the Graveyard (Pilot, UK, 1945), reprinted in the US as Murder at Shots Hall by Rue Morgue Press in 2003. As usual for Rue Morgue, there is a very informative article discussing all that is known about Maureen Sarsfield. (If one were to wish to read A Party for Lawty, in all likelihood it will have to be the Rue Morgue edition. Only one other copy was found just now on the Internet, and that one was in French.)

by Marv Lachman.


   Rereading portions of the Sir Henry Merrivale series recently made me realize again how humor in the mystery has deteriorated since the days of Carr-Dickson, Craig Rice, and Alan Green. Nowadays the closest we come to humor is the first-person narrator emulating a stand-up comedian with wisecracks. Spenser, Claire Malloy, and Kinky Friedman are examples.

   In the Merrivale series almost every book had a slapstick sequence that was the mystery equivalent of the Marx Brothers. Take the riot Sir Henry causes on the New York subways in A Graveyard to Let (1949).


   The humor in the series is not entirely visual — e.g., the delicious confusion between the words “kleptomania” and “nymphomania” in Fatal Descent. Sure, John Rhode is listed as co-author of that 1939 book, but does anyone really think Rhode could have written those lines, even if his life depended on it?

   In the same book, the unimaginative Inspector Hornbeam says regarding a corpse discovered in a double-locked “room” (a sealed elevator car within a sealed elevator shaft): “There’s a flaw somewhere. There’s got to be. Otherwise the thing’s impossible. And it’s impossible for a thing to be impossible.”

   Pure Carr.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1991.

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