TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Reviews of All Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock
By Michael Avallone
Published by Popular Books, First Edition, 1968
It’s not every day you walk into your local pharmacy and someone hands you three books that you’d only heard about, but never actually expected to have. Now, these particular books wouldn’t be a big deal if you weren’t a detective fan, a follower of mystery/detective TV, and a big TV tie-in novel type person. In other words…me.
One of those treasured jewels was the first novel based on the 1960s-70s detective show, MANNIX. No, I don’t mean the numbered series that came out seven years or so after this one but the very first novel commissioned based on the television show. Written by Michael Avallone, this is Joe Mannix while he was still with Intertect, battling it out with Lew Wickersham and flirting his way through all the technology and the ladies in the office as he delivered a bit more of an old fashioned two fisted approach to the job of modern private investigation.
This novel, on that level, definitely doesn’t disappoint. It delivers as if it were a 124 page episode of the show. It opens with Mannix playing tough guy to a damsel who isn’t all she appears to be at first as he wraps one case while the next is being set up. A young, petulant heiress with kaboodles of bucks and a whole ton of boredom with life is approached by a man lowered from a helicopter about doing espionage work for her country. As she jumps at the chance, she later discovers that her new friend only has one interest in her country- harming it – and in her -using her to disgrace an American official. Blackmailed into it, the heiress stumbles along, desperate for a way out.
In the meantime, Intertect is put on the job and Wickersham puts his best agent as well as the one who frustrates him the most on the playgirl’s trail. Mannix must determine who she’s spying for and deal with her and the situation in a way where everyone wins and Intertect comes out smelling like a rose. Mannix’s first plan of action is to get into a costume party and get his tail end kicked by a number of costumed millionaires. And it gets fun from there.
This is, as I’ve already stated, definitely a first season Mannix book. It fits the tone of the series extremely well and Mannix has all the charm, irascibility, and toughness that fans loved about how Mike Connors played the character and that basically became his stock and trade after Mannix leaves Intertect to go on his own in the second season. Wherever Mannix is in this book shines and made me smile, ready to add a few seasons of DVDs to my collection.
Now…when Mannix isn’t in the action, then the book loses a bit of its sparkle. The other characters do not get the attention to character that the author gives to the lead. Even the heiress, who gets quite a bit of page time, is way too two dimensional by the end of the book to be believed. The bad guys don’t seem particularly bad and the threat level throughout the book isn’t one that makes you worried for anyone- except for Mannix, but most of the threats to him are caused by something he says or does.
This is a great book for fans of tv detectives and tie-ins. As a book all on its own, though, I’ve read better.
THREE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT-Enjoyable read, love the way Joe Mannix comes off the page. I just wish that there were real people populating the book around him, not cardboard cutouts.