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By William Link

Norfolk, Virginia: Crippen & Landru,2010. $18.00

One of the most popular detectives of television history is the subject of 12 new short stories, written by his creator. William Link along with his childhood friend Richard Levinson, created Mannix, Columbo and Murder She Wrote, among other television classics. For this volume, Link has penned 12 original stories featuring the modestly off-putting, cigar-smoking, rumpled-raincoat-bedecked detective.

Before one even gets to the stories, The Columbo Collection is a pleasure. The Al Hirschfeld cover art features a portrait of the detective as portrayed by Peter Falk, thoughtfully holding a cigar as if to decide whether or not to puff. As is customary in Hirschfeld portraits, the name of the artist's daughter, Nina, is hidden in various places throughout.

Actor Peter Falk, while he was in better health, was an accomplished sketch artists himself. Inside the book-several pages after the author photo and before the table of contents-there is a reproduction of a sketch Falk did of Detective Columbo. Falk signed the picture to Bill Link, along with the words: "I added the raincoat but you created the guy. We-the world-we all owe you."

After the contents page and before the author's foreword is a photo of Peter Falk, flanked by creators Link and Levinson, holding  the Golden Globe award he received in l972. The back cover features a photo of Link and Peter Falk, both dressed in "Columbo" garb, standing against a brick wall, holding cigars in a uniquely Columbo- like pose.

In his foreword, Link describes his Hollywood career with Levinson and explains how the character of Columbo and the popular TV series developed. Link also points out that "Columbo" didn't begin life as a television series. He first appeared in a Link and Levinson short story published in a 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which the collaborators then adapted to a one-shot television mystery, and later into a stage play. Two other actors played Columbo prior to the Peter Falk series, which ran, off and on, from 1968 to 2003.

As with the TV series, most of the stories follow the inverted detective story format. In the opening scene, a murder is described. The reader knows from the start whodunit. Then Lieutenant Columbo arrives on the scene and begins interviewing subjects. The killer feels over-confident, dismissive of the detective with his rumpled appearance and clumsy, absent-minded demeanor. But often, just after thanking the killer for his or her helpfulness, he turns back with "just one more thing ..." surprising killer and reader alike with his clever observation.

Rather than finding out the identity of the killer, what makes these mystery stories tick is finding out why the murder was committed in the first place, and how Lieutenant Columbo unmasks the killer' Link has a natural ear for dialogue, in particular giving voice to the character of Columbo, fleshing him out as a detective hero who is genuinely gracious, awkwardly modest, and completely unforgettable.

In the opening story, something of a locked-room murder occurs when a vengeful attorney defends a mobster's son. Not only is Link a clever plotter, but he demonstrates his sensitivity in stories like "Grief" in which Columbo learns the misguided reason why someone would run down an elderly retired physician. "The Gun That Wasn't" opens with Columbo investigating the shooting of a cop amid the Santa Ana winds. The signed limited-edition includes a 13th story in a separate booklet: "Columbo's Mistake" introduced as "Just One More Thing ... A Bonus Story!"
Highly recommended.

---Steven Steinbock
Review copyright 2010 The Strand Magazine


Website copyright 2015 by William Link.
Photo of William Link and Peter Falk by Douglas Kirkland
Book cover illustration by Al Hirschfeld. Copyright Al Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld exclusive representative is Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York
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