Book Review – THE ROCKFORD FILES: DEVIL ON MY DOORSTEP (1998) by Stuart M. Kaminsky

THE ROCKFORD FILES: DEVIL ON MY DOORSTEP (1998) ***
by Stuart M. Kaminsky
This paperback edition published by Forge, May 2001, 304pp
First published in March 1998
© MCA Publishing Rights, 1998
Based on the Universal Television series The Rockford Files created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell
ISBN: 0-812-57106-1
book cover of Devil on My Doorstep      Blurb: Jim Rockford is in one hell of a mess–the credit companies are after his stuff, his buddy Angel has cooked up another scheme that is a sure thing (sure enough to get them both killed), and he’s way behind on everything. When a beautiful young girl shows up at his door claiming to be the daughter of an old flame, he’s dubious. When she claims that she’s his daughter, all the bells go off. She’s on the run, scared, and tells Jim that she thinks someone has killed her mother…and that someone is her stepfather. Whatever the outcome, Jim will do what it takes to find the truth, no matter how painful it may be. And he’ll even try not to get killed in the process.
      Comment: Kaminsky delivers a thoroughly competent novel based on the popular ’70s TV show The Rockford Files, or more accurately the ’90s revival TV movies – the period in which this story is set. This is the second of two novels Kaminsky wrote featuring private eye Jim Rockford, the first being The Green Bottle in 1996. The author is obviously a connoisseur of the series and gets the characterisations of the regulars spot on. Whilst relaying the story in the first person is par for the genre, it is an interesting approach given the series was not geared that way. It gives us the opportunity to see everything that happens in this convoluted tale through Rockford’s eyes. The approach works very well in keeping the reader hooked on the mystery elements as Rockford plays off the gangsters and the Feds as he tries to discover the truth about the disappearance of an old flame and the girl who claims to be his daughter. Whilst the plot feels a little overplayed at times the writing is good and the dialogue entertaining – notably the banter between Rockford and con-man Angel. Kaminsky also introduces an eccentric assassin who quotes classic poetry. The rest of the gangster plot is standard stuff. It’s a shame Kaminsky’s series stalled after just two books – for whatever reason – as Rockford is one of the most engaging modern private eyes and the charisma of James Garner from the TV series bleeds through onto the written page.

James Garner (1928 – 2014)

James Garner

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of James Garner (on 19 July 2014 aged 86). I grew up watching Garner’s charismatic and charming performance as private eye Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (1974-80). Garner was one of those actors who got by on the mere presence of his personality – although he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in 1985’s Murphy’s Romance. He had been a regular on the big screen through the 1950s and 1960s with his best known credits including Darby’s Rangers (1958),The Great Escape (1963), Grand Prix (1966), Hour of the Gun (1967) and Marlowe (1969).

Despite this he will be best remembered for his small screen starring roles in Maverick(1957-62) and the aforementioned The Rockford Files. During the 1970s he would have increasing problems with his knees, requiring surgery on a number of occasions. Finally he had to quit The Rockford Files when the demands of filming became too much.

His later career saw him resurrect his signature roles of Bret Maverick in the TV seriesBret Maverick (1981-2) and the film Maverick (1994) as well as Jim Rockford in a series of eight TV movies between 1994 and 1999. He also starred in the TV mini-series Streets of Laredo (1995) taking on the role of Woodrow Call from Tommy Lee Jones who portrayed Call in 1989’s Lonesome Dove. In 2000 he appeared with Jones alongside Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland in Space Cowboys.

Garner’s self-deprecating humour is summed up in this quote about his performance as Bret Maverick: “I’m playing me. Bret Maverick is lazy: I’m lazy. And I like being lazy.”

An actor from an increasingly distant generation, the likeable Garner will be sadly missed, but his legacy lives on through his work, which is widely available on DVD.

Biography: The Garner Files: A Memoir by James Garner and Jon Winokur (2011, Simon & Schuster)
Web: The Official James Garner Fan Page