It was the spring of 1979. Disco thankfully was on the decline, I was still having a bad hair day, and L.A.'s finest had quit publicizing his homicidal triumphs (I held the conviction that somewhere, in that parallel universe where TV cops continue to clear cases outside the public eye, the good lieutenant was still breaking perfect alibis and finding that one piece of irrefutable evidence).
I was studying the communicational sciences at Indiana State University under one Warren Pease (I assume his folks were Tolstoy fans), an obi-wan of the radiowave who remained fascinated by the so-called Theater of the Mind. Although the heyday of the radio drama was long past - with the exception of CBS Mystery Theater, which in coming years would divert me from arduous drives to basketball games throughout rural Indiana - Pease felt the magic of creating suspense and spinning characters without the benefit of a screen or TV tube. When Pease put to his collegiate charges the task of recreating that magic, what else could I do? Like an adolescent Dr. Frankenstein, I set out to revive the greatest detective of all TV times.
The job of portraying the cat-and-mouse tension of vintage Columbo actually proved easy: The murderer revealed his motivations and methods through simple narration, and the lieutenant was able to sneak up and unnerve both his prey and an audience unprepared for his entrance. Finding the right clue was a much tougher task, but a routine trip to the grocery tipped me off, and the rest is lost college radio history (I won't reveal details, because I used the clue in one of the tales proferred to the right). Who donned the imaginary raincoat of the rumpled sleuth for this live drama? Need you ask?
The point is, where Columbo is uniquely a creation of television - and indisputably its greatest and most influential detectival creation - the lieutenant lives on, in sitcom parodies, in bad office impersonations, and on the written page. From poor early novelistic attempts like Columbo and the Samurai to the late William Harrington's intriguing if misguided novels pitting Columbo against the mysteries of JFK's assassination, Charles Manson's continued mystique, and Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance, authors have tried to recapture the full-bodied, chili-tinged flavor of Columbo.
And that's the purpose of this fanfic anthology - to offer Columbo devotees just one more taste, one more tales of the greatest and most humbling cop to stumble onto a crime scene. I hope these stories, and those you may feel inspired to contribute yourself, will provide stimulating theater of the mind. If you find yourself casting the killer with your favorite thespian, or humming Henry Mancini's haunting Mystery Movie Theme as you read, then we've done the job. Enjoy.
Martin Ross, editorDisclaimer: Columbo is the property of Universal and ABC and the brilliant creation of Richard Levinson and William Link and Peter Falk. The works on this site are merely fictional homages or pastiches, and are not intended for any commercial application or profit.
Just as Sherlock Holmes is credited with inspiring nearly every Great Detective of the past century and Rockford, Spenser, Magnum can all trace their lineage to legendary private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, the Good Lieutenant has influenced a whole generation of dogged investigators including Law and Order:Criminal Intent's Robert Goren, obsessive-complusive savant Adrian Monk, and Patrick Jane, the former fake psychic-turned-deceptive detective known as the Mentalist.
There may never be another like Columbo. But the Columboesque "inverted" mystery, pitting schlogging sleuth against an adversary of (seemingly) equal mettle, is still a treat dished out regularly by a flock of televisic 'tecs.
Keep an eye out for these inverted eps on your favorite cable network:
“The Judge” – Matlock
Columbo surrogate: Ben Matlock
Villain of the Week: Judge Carter Addison, murderous magistrate
When Andy Griffith returned to the public spotlight as the folksy Southern lawyer, NBC played him as the successor to the Great Lieutenant. So who better to go up against in the first series ep than Columbo murderer extraordinaire Dick Van Dyke. Van Dyke plays haughty to the max as Judge Carter Addison, leveraging his bench seat to thwart our cornpone sleuth. The key clue smacks a bit too much of Etude in Black, but the story was a promising start to a show that soon would grow very, very old for me.
“Hungry” – X-Files
Columbo surrogate: Special Agent Fox Mulder
Villain of the Week: Rob Roberts, cannibalistic burger-flipper
This might be the only inverted mystery with a cannibalistic mutant hamburger-flipper/murderer. This was one of my favorite eps of this tasty trek into the supernatural and scientifically arcane, a black and witty and somehow touching satire of our American obsession with – and self-loathing over – food. There’s something vaguely Kafka-esque about Special Agent Fox Mulder’s ruthless pursuit of hapless shark/man Rob Roberts (Chad Donella of Final Destination), a beleaguered minimum-wager who resorts to appetite suppressants and a (screechingly hilarious) Overeaters Anonymous meeting to curb his taste for human flesh. Kudos to David Duchovny’s Mulder, whose mix of Falkish curiosity and Gorenesque menace almost have us rooting for the maneater. See also Season Six’s “Terms of Endearment,” a blend of inverted homicide and Rosemary’s Baby starring Burn Notice’s Bruce Campbell.
“Mr. Monk is on the Air” – Monk
Columbo surrogate: Adrian Monk
Villain of the Week: Max Hudson, 'roid-rageous radio rat
This was a tough one – Monk is the modern prince of the mano-a-mano deathmatch, and he’s scored on heavyweights like Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole, Andrew McCarthy, Lolita Davidovich, Howie Mandel, David Straithairn, Adam Arkin, and Jeff Donovan (Burn Notice star and one cold fish as a homicidal astronaut). What adds to the joy of a good Monk ep is the impossible crime element – great howdunit stuff. However, I’m going to give the prize to Steven Weber’s breathtakingly crass, cruel, and cold-blooded shock jock Max Hudson, who pulls a spousicide in How to Dial a Murder fashion, riffs relentlessly on Monk, and then goes on-air to taunt our OCD detective about his dead wife, to the disgust of even his crude crew of radio boothmates. This is one of the most despicably despisable SOBs to grace mystery TV since Robert Conrad or Leonard Nimoy. Bravo, you bastard.
“Major Case” – Law and Order: Criminal Intent
Columbo surrogate: Det. Zach Nichols
Villain of the Week: Dr. Henry Muller, pathological pathologist
While Detective Robert Goren (with Adrian Monk) remains the truest descendant of the Good Lieutenant, the cases he coaxes, prods, and finesses aren’t truly inverted – the killer usually isn’t exposed until 45 minutes of labyrinthine twists transpire. Newbie Det. Zach Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) actually was first to don the Rumpled Raincoat in this recent ep, which echoes A Trace of Murder. Henry Muller is a seriously bent forensic genius and celebrity true crime writer portrayed with sinister geeky goodness by Dylan Baker (Spiderman’s biology prof). We even get a little Seventh Season-style Imminent Detective Danger, as Baker tries to off the quirky Det. Nichols a la Louis Jourdan.
Columbo surrogate: Shawn Spencer
Villain of the Week: Pierre Despereaux, comedic cad
Columbo, slacker-style. Shawn Spencer, the underachieving, over-observant fake psychic/real detective and his erstwhile best bud Burton “Gus” Guster usually specialize in whodunits, but in this comic crimefest’s fourth season premiere, Shaen and Gus not only play cat-and-rat with an arch-criminal but offer us a rare inverted theft story. Cary Elwes is elegantly goofy as master art thief Pierre Despereaux, whom Shawn tracks to
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Eleanor Taylor Bland
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THE ESSENTIAL COLUMBO:
The Game is Over
A Matter of
Bilocated, Fly-By Murder Case
Evil That Men Do
With Three Ingredients
Win, Tails You Lose
'CIDE DISHES: COLUMBITES
Murder at Yule
Murder With A
NO LONGER POSTED - LOOK FOR IT IN DONALD'S UPCOMING STORY COLLECTION, DEADLINES, AT AMAZON.COM...
A Case of Deja Vu
(A Columbo novel)
By A.J. Avila
1967: A deceptively brilliant young cop named Columbo takes on the case of a dead Hollywood mom and a ruthless stage mother who scripts the "perfect" murder...
A Single Rose
(A Columbo novel)
By A.J. Avila
1984: A pioneering gamer makes himself a widow in a perfectly programmed murder. Will he outscore Columbo, or can our Good Lieutenant pull the plug on his ploy?
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