by Michael Shonk

   I have a fondness for the unusual in fiction. Mainstream popular fiction bores me. Take me somewhere I didn’t expect to be or have never been, and I will forgive the creative talent for a lot. Below are four crime-fighters that may not be the greatest radio detectives but are worth listening for their attempt to be different.

JOHNNY FLETCHER MYSTERY – “Navy Colt.” NBC, March 28, 1946. Written by Frank Gruber, based on the Frank Gruber novel of the same title. Cast: Albert Dekker as Johnny Fletcher, Mike Mazurki as Sam Cragg. *** Johnny and Sam are working a book scam when a beautiful young woman hires them to punch a man in the nose. Soon Johnny and Sam find themselves wanted by the police for murder.

   The script in this complex mystery is filled with wisecracks and an occasional clue, making for a fun listen.

   Pulp, mystery and western fans most likely recognize the name Frank Gruber, and maybe have read one or more of the fourteen comedy-crime books in the Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg series.

   The books not only led to this radio audition episode but also a Republic studio film in 1946 with the same cast. While this episode mentions a second episode for this proposed NBC radio series there is no evidence it was ever made.

   There was a radio series with Johnny and Sam on ABC (1948) with Bill Goodman as Johnny and Sheldon Leonard as Sam.

TALES OF FATIMA. – “A Time to Kill.” CBS, May 28, 1949. Written by Gail Ingram. Cast: Basil Rathbone as himself, Francis DeSales as Police Lieutenant Farrell. Basil’s plans for a weekend break from his role in a Broadway play are spoiled when someone tries to kill him.

   The story is full of twists including Basil hearing a murder over the phone as well as a radio announcement that Basil was dead. It makes the plot confusing, but the series’ appeal is its humor.

   It is also one of two radio detectives to have a voice from beyond help solve the mystery. Here the ancient spirit of Fatima gives Basil and the audience a clue (the other was Rogues Gallery where Eugor talks to Rogue as the PI recovers from being knocked out).

   Basil Rathbone shows his sense of humor in this series that smashes the fourth wall to tiny tiny little bits. Not only is Fatima an ancient Spirit who helps the audience and Basil solve the case, but Fatima is also the name of a cigarette and the series sponsor.

   This recording is from the podcast Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and worth a visit for any radio fans.

THE WHISPERER -“Policeman In Danger” NBC, July 29. 1951) Written by Jonathan Price. Cast: Carleton G. Young as Philip “The Whisperer” Gault, Betty Moran as Ellen Norris, and Paul Frees as Lt. Denvers. *** The Whisperer relays “The Syndicate” orders to local gang member to kill the bothersome Police Lt. Denvers. Gault and Ellen know and like the detective rush to save him.

   The Whisperer was a summer replacement series based on the characters and stories by Dr. Stetson Humphrey and his wife Irene.

   While playing college football Philip Gault was injured, leaving his voice a gruesome whisper. Gault decided to go undercover in the local Central City syndicate and destroy it. Then Doctor Lee with his nurse Ellen was able to restore Gault’s original voice. Gault decided to stay The Whisperer and use the information he learns to continue his fight against organized crime.

   Each week The Whisperer would relay “The Syndicate” orders to the local Central City gang then Gault with Ellen at his side would prevent the Mob’s plans from succeeding.

   The show played its strange premise straight with dialog that could be witty or awkwardly out of date. Uneven but fun, The Whisperer remains an odd crime-fighter worth a listen.

A VOICE IN THE NIGHT – “Case of the Worried Detective” Mutual, August 8, 1946. Written by Bob Arthur and David Kogan. Cast: Carl Brisson as himself. *** Carl’s weakness for beautiful women and a need to find a place to stay lands him in the hands of a Mob boss who demands Carl solve the murder of one of the Boss’s gang members.

   Only two episodes are known to exist and both are terrible. Little is known about A Voice in the Night beyond that it is one of radio’s strangest PI’s.

   International star Carl Brisson plays himself as the Golden Oriole nightclub owner and singer. The series’ focus is on Carl singing for the nightclub audience. Eventually Carl takes a break to share one of his crime-solving cases.

   Nothing really works in this series that mashes together the music series and the mystery. The acting and writing is awful and seems unsure whether to take Brisson tales of crime solving seriously.

   One of the appeals of mystery and crime fiction is the range of the protagonist, from brilliant to lucky, from serious to comedic. I will always have a weakness for the odd and different.