A QUESTION OF BLOOD by IAN RANKIN (2003, Orion, 440pp) ****
Blurb: Two seventeen-year-olds are killed by an ex-Army loner who has gone off the rails. The mystery takes Rebus into the heart of a shattered community. Ex-Army himself, Rebus becomes fascinated by the killer, and finds he is not alone. Army investigators are on the scene, and won’t be shaken off. The killer had friends and enemies to spare and left behind a legacy of secrets and lies. Rebus has more than his share of personal problems, too. He’s fresh out of hospital, but won’t say how it happened. Could there be a connection with a house-fire and the unfortunate death of a petty criminal who had been harassing Rebus’s colleague Siobhan Clarke?
This was the fourteenth book in Ian Rankin’s perpetually popular Inspector Rebus series. The subject matter resonates strongly in light of recent instances of campus shootings in the US. Rankin uses the plot to tackle a number of themes including some of his favourites – single-minded politicians, government cover-ups, changes in modern society, families. He also explores the trust in the relationship between Rebus and his DS Siobhan Clarke by having Rebus suspected of killing a low-life who had been stalking Clarke. The main plot is presented as a “why-dunnit” as Rebus is called in by a colleague due to his military background to help with the investigation of a multiple shooting at a public school. The various plot strands and themes unfold and ultimately begin to intermingle and connect. Rankin’s skill as a writer ensures these progressions feel natural connections rather than contrivances. Only in the finale does the plot seem forced.
By now, Rankin is totally at home with his characters and Rebus remains a fascinating creation – a loner, yes, but one who’s affection for Clarke is seen as a surrogate for the daughter he no longer sees. Whilst there would be just three more books in the series’ initial run which ended in 2007, that Rankin returned to the character five years later and restarted the series is testament to the affection he holds for Rebus.
The Rebus series rated:
- Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
- Hide and Seek (1991) ***
- Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
- Strip Jack (1992)
- The Black Book (1993) ***
- Mortal Causes (1994) ***
- Let it Bleed (1996)
- Black and Blue (1997)
- The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
- Dead Souls (1999)
- Set in Darkness (2000) ****
- The Falls (2001)
- Resurrection Men (2002) ****
- A Question of Blood (2003) ****
- Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
- The Naming of the Dead (2006) ****½
- Exit Music (2007) ****
- Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ∗∗∗½
- Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
- Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
- Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
Kojak: Fatal Flaw (TV) (1989; USA; Technicolor; 94m) **½ d. Richard Compton; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Geoffrey Erb; m. Cameron Allan. Cast: Telly Savalas, Andre Braugher, Angie Dickinson, Steven Weber, George Morfogen, Charles Cioffi, Richard Jenkins, Paul Guilfoyle, Kario Salem, David Ciminello, Sally Jessy Raphael, Don King. Popular book writer is murdered. Kojak finds out that shortly before his death he was working on a book about the mafia, so the mob is automatically his number one suspect. Dickinson adds glamour to this okay mystery. Savalas seems more engaged with the material and the whole thing is competently directed by Compton. [PG]
Kojak: Ariana (TV) (1989; USA; Technicolor; 96m) ** d. Paul Krasny; w. Maurice Hurley; ph. Geoffrey Erb; m. Cameron Allan. Cast: Telly Savalas, Andre Braugher, Shari Headley, Caroline Wilde, Hector Elizondo, Joe Grifasi, Kario Salem, Jean De Baer, David Margulies, Liliana Komorowska, Mike Starr, James Rebhorn. One of Kojak’s old enemies uses Ariana, a young Greek girl, as bait to trap the legendary New York detective. Meanwhile, Kojak finds himself a brash young associate. After a promising start this first episode of a revived series of Kojak TV Movies descends into sentimentality and some weak comic moments. Braugher is introduced to handle the action sequences, whilst Savalas seems a little tired in his iconic role. [PG]
Price of Justice, The (TV) (1987; USA; Technicolor; 95m) **½ d. Alan Metzger; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Victor J. Kemper; m. Patrick Williams. Cast: Telly Savalas, Kate Nelligan, Pat Hingle, Jack Thompson, Brian Murray, John Bedford Lloyd, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tony DiBenedetto, Ron Frazier, Stephen Joyce. When the bodies of two young boys are discovered in a Harlem river, their mother is the obvious suspect, particularly with her scandalous past. But Kojak believes that she is innocent. This did she/didn’t she mystery never really catches fire and is little more than a routine addition to the Kojak series. Savalas, here lacking his support cast from the series, gives a subdued performance but Nelligan conveys effectively the confused emotional state of the mother. Hingle and Thompson are good in support, but the script is unconvincing. Based on the novel “The Investigation” by Dorothy Uhnak. 
Belarus File, The (TV) (1985; USA; Colour; 95m) **½ d. Robert Markowitz; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Alan Metzger; m. Joseph Conlan, Barry De Vorzon. Cast: Telly Savalas, Suzanne Pleshette, Max von Sydow, Herbert Berghof, Dan Frazer, Betsy Aidem, Alan Rosenberg, Charles Brown, George Savalas, David Leary, Harry Davis, Rita Karin, Mark Russell, Vince Conti. The murders of several elderly Russian men lead Kojak to a group of Nazi war criminals who are living in America with the full knowledge and approval of the U.S. Government. Savalas’ Kojak character is shoe-horned into an adaptation of John Loftus’ novel with middling results. There is no real mystery to sustain the story and the heavy-handed handling of the material flattens the intended emotional impact. On the plus side, Savalas remains charismatic, Von Sydow essays a dignified performance and there are occasional and welcome nods to the glory days of the TV series. [PG]
Kojak: The Summer of ’69 (TV) (1977; USA; Technicolor; 96m) *** d. Gene R. Kearney; w. Gene R. Kearney; ph. John McPherson; m. John Cacavas. Cast: Telly Savalas, Stephen McHattie, Alex Dreier, Harrison Page, Pepe Serna, Phillip R. Allen, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Woodrow Parfrey, Thalmus Rasulala, Catlin Adams, Diane Baker. A man is released from prison, and a woman who rides with him to New York is found murdered in his abandoned car (with the MO of a dead serial killer). Interesting premise helped by strong portrayal of psychotic killer by McHattie. Flashback elements are distracting and the sub-plot involving a mob fixer is never fully realised. Good use of NYC locations add authenticity. Compiled from two-part episode from fifth season of Kojak TV series. 
Kojak: Kojak’s Days (TV) (1977; USA; Technicolor; 96m) *** d. Charles S. Dubin; w. Chester Krumholz, Matthew Rapf; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas; ed. Eric Albertson, Jim Benson. Cast: Telly Savalas, Maud Adams, William Hurt, Ken Kercheval, Louise Sorel, Michael Tolan, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas. An unidentified corpse in a stolen Rolls-Royce is found the same morning a wife kills her husband and abandons her child, leaving a trail that could lead to her suicide. Dramatic impetus is undermined by having four separate cases for the detectives to solve. Whilst this adds authenticity it makes the viewing hard-going at times. Extensive use of NYC locations, good performances by a strong cast and Savalas’ presence are main strengths. Adams is wasted in a what amounts to little more than a cameo. Compiled from two-part episode from fourth season of Kojak TV series. [PG]
Kojak: A Shield for Murder (TV) (1976; USA; Technicolor; 96m) ***½ d. Jeannot Szwarc; w. William P. McGivern, Robert Malcolm Young; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas. Cast: Telly Savalas, Geraldine Page, Charles Kimbrough, Michael Lombard, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Kenneth McMillan, Thom Christopher, Janet Ward, Frederick Coffin, Mary Beth Hurt, Lester Rawlins. A young man is killed by police after he attempts to kill an assistant district attorney at a courthouse. Kojak learns that the young man was a boyfriend of an ice skater who is in prison for the murder of her mother two years before. But when he tries to look further into the case, he gets pressured to drop it, with the orders ultimately coming from a powerful political operative. Highly effective feature-length episode in the Kojak series plays of themes of political greed, corruption and psychological torment. The performances are first-rate – notably Hurt as the tortured victim of the cover-up and Page as the orchestrator. Savalas is a commanding presence in his signature role. From the fourth season of the series. [PG]
Kojak: A Question of Answers (TV) (1975; USA; Technicolor; 97m) ***½ d. Jerry London; w. Albert Ruben; ph. Sol Negrin; m. John Cacavas. Cast: Telly Savalas, Eli Wallach, Michael V. Gazzo, Jennifer Warren, Jerry Orbach, Dan Frazer, Kevin Dobson, George Savalas, Allan Rich, F. Murray Abraham. A man tries to clear his name by helping Kojak trap a loan shark. Strong feature-length entry in the series makes extensive use of New York locations adding authenticity and bite to this deft and downbeat story. Savalas and Wallach excel and are strongly supported by Warren and Orbach. Third season opener for Kojak TV series. [PG]
McCLOUD #3: THE KILLING by DAVID WILSON (1974, Award, 156pp) ***
Blurb: The killing started with a heist. Five men, masked as marauders from the past, knocked off an armoured car. They left no trace, save for a single silver spur. The plot was fiendishly clever, conceived by a money-hungry genius, executed by a brutal gang of desperate thieves. McCloud tracked down the band of robbers. But to stop them he had to keep them from committing another murder – his own!
Having re-watched many of the McCloud TV movies from the 1970s I bought the six paperback novelisations that were published between 1973 and 1975 by Award books. Having seen four of the six stories on screen, I picked this novelisation of Glen A. Larson’s script for “Butch Cassidy Rides Again” as the start point. This is one of four of the six to be attributed to author “David Wilson” – reported to be a pseudonym for at least one writer – maybe more judging by the stylistic differences between the books.
Reading the blurb you would think this was a dark, tense and violent thriller. It is not. What we have is a fairly straight-forward adaptation of Larson’s light script full of his trademark ironic humour. Larson (who worked as producer on the series) knows his main characters well, so all Wilson has to do is to let their witty dialogue tell the story and it flows through the book with little need for long descriptive passages. As such the book is a fast easy read and enjoyable, if more than a little far-fetched.