The 87th Precinct series, after the intimate highlight of Blood Relatives, reaches back to its past for a much more expansive story centered around the wedding of Bert Kling, whose bad luck when it comes to love sadly continues. This novel was later adapted into No Time to Die, probably the most maligned episode of my favourite American detective show, Columbo.
I submit this review for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for review links, click here); Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Todd Mason’sTuesday’s Overlooked Film meme at Sweet Freedom.
So Long As You Both Shall Live (87th Precinct series #31)
First Published: 1976
Leading players: Bert Kling, Augusta Blair, Steve Carella, Arthur Brown, Peter Byrnes, Fat Ollie Weeks, Meyer Meyer, Hal Willis, Danny Gimp, Fats Donner, Teddy Carella
“When he came out ten minutes later, Augusta was gone”
Weddings are just bad news for the 87th, no question about it. In ’till Death it was the nuptials of Steve Carella’s sister that were interrupted by various criminous activities. Here it comes even closer to home as Bert Kling and Augusta Blair, who first met a few years earlier in Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man, are finally tying the knot. Kling has had a distressing time in matters of the heart – first a fiancée got gunned down, then he got unceremoniously dumped by another after several years together for not very good reasons – and now, on their wedding night on 9 November, Augusta gets kidnapped in a hotel filled to the brim with cops.
“And now you are here. With me. Now you are going to be mine,” he said, and she suddenly realized he was insane.
The reception at the hotel has some 200 guests, mainly cops and Augusta’s friends from the fashion business. The cops assume this is a ransom job after finding evidence of chloroform despite some pretty stupid suggestions from Captain Frick that this might have been a burglary gone wrong. While Kling waits by the phone, the rest of the squad goes through his old cases looking for people with grudges. This takes them up several blind alleys and it is lewd and crude ‘Fat’ Ollie Weeks from the 83rd, last heard from in Bread, who sensibly suggests that they go through the hundreds of wedding photos to look for anyone who shouldn’t have been there. Ultimately a psychopath is identified who has fixated on Augusta. Will she be rescued in time?
“The entire apartment was a shrine. Augusta was the wallpaper and Augusta was the floor covering and Augusta was the ceiling decoration and Augusta obliterated any light that ordinarily might have filtered through the windows because Augusta all the windows as well.”
This is every sense one of the weakest entries in the series, it pains me to say. The volume is not only really short (barely more than 130 pages in my Pan edition) but only substantial enough for a short story, let alone a short novel and is padded out with several entertaining (the author was always a complete pro) but ultimately completely irrelevant red herrings. The only thing that distinguishes it is Fat Ollie Weeks, who becomes the hero of the story. No matter how uncouth, vulgar and base he may be, it is because he is the outsider (as he keeps telling Carella) that he manages to really function effectively and solely as a policeman. The rest of the Squad is just too personally involved but Weeks is from the 83rd and it is he who cracks the case and it is he who ultimately saves Augusta’s life just in the nick of time – so by the end of the book, when he says he wants to move to the 87th, even though it makes Carella choke on his dinner, it really doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.
A great many of the novels written by Evan Hunter were turned into movies while most of the 87th Precinct stories published under the ‘Ed McBain’ pseudonym were adapted for television at one time or another, either in the US or in Japan. Many of course were used for the original 1960s 87th Precinct TV series. However one of the most unexpected adaptations came 15 years after the book was published when it provided the basis for a highly atypical 1992 episode of Columbo. Retitled No Time To Die, the script by Robert Van Scoyk maintains the bulk of the wedding and kidnapping parts of the plot but dispenses with all of McBain’s characters (presumably for contractual reasons), though it keeps the wedding photographer and Fats Donner, the corpulent informant who loves steam baths, though the character is here renamed ‘Tubby Comfort’.
Bert becomes Andy Parma (Thomas Calabro), here recast as Lieutenant Columbo’s nephew and Augusta becomes Melissa Alexandra Hayes (Joanna Going). Set across just a few hours (15 hours and 2 minutes to be exact), with updates typed out across the screen, this even has the Lieutenant brandishing a gun! There are a few nice touches, like teasing the audience with whether the woman sitting next to Columbo at the reception may actually be his wife, but ultimately this is just a straight race against the clock thriller of no special merit. I can’t imagine for a moment why this weak novel ever seemed like a good prospect, other than maybe Universal already had the rights and didn’t know what else to do with them. It is perfectly entertaining and very professionally put together and Falk is always good – but this deliberate change of pace (Columbo never even meets the villain) finds no viable substitute for the character and ingenuity of standard Columbo episodes and so just lies there, flat as a pancake, looking just like any other TV police procedural you might care to mention.
Why would you want that when you could watch Columbo instead? Certainly the finale in which all guns are blazing and Falk is left looking quizzically at the gun he is holding does little than emphasise the disconnect – this is certainly the least of the two McBain adaptations for the show (I reviewed the other one, Columbo: Undercover, right here) For the list of my favourite Columbo episodes (and no, this is not among them), see my post In praise of Columbo.
DVD Availability: Available everywhere in very nice DVD editions while a Blu-ray can currently only be had in Japan as part an astonishingly expensive complete box set that I would love to be able to afford …
No Time to Die / Columbo (1994)
Director: Alan J. Levi
Producer: Christopher N. Seiter
Screenplay: Robert Van Scoyk
Cinematography: George Koblasa
Art Direction: Bill Ross
Music: Patrick Williams
Cast: Peter Falk, Juliet Mills, Joanna Going, Daniel Davis, Donald Moffat
This review was submitted as part of Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in ‘Set in the US’ the category: