Tuesday, April 12, 2011


This post deals with the most recent episode of 'The Mentalist' ("Every Rose Has Its Thorn") and by necessity I'll have to discuss the solution to the murder. If you have it stored on your DVR for later viewing, you'd be well off to take a hike to some other blog for the time being.

But first, let's talk about Lt. 'Columbo'. And by the way, I'll be giving away quite a few solutions to the murders on that series; if you haven't seen this classic already, there's no hope for you......

The rumpled detective gets mentioned a lot in other shows, usually as a pop culture reference nickname for another character. ("Nice going, Columbo!" - that sort of thing.) Most of these are evenly divided between treating Columbo as a real person and as a TV show.

For instance, while working under an assumed name at a car wash, Adrian Monk solved a crime; the local paper dubbed 'Monk as "The Car Wash Columbo".

No matter where they live in Toobworld, by now everybody should have heard of the LAPD detective.

How could they not? The Lieutenant must have received a lot of publicity after solving murders committed by such famous people as a symphony conductor, a wunderkind film director, the host for a cooking show and the host for a reality crime program, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, the star of a TV detective series, a couple of fading queens of the silver screen, a world chess champion, and a senatorial candidate (who may have actually won the election just as he was being arrested.) Columbo was involved in at least three international incidents - at the Surian consulate in Los Angeles, across the border in Mexico, and one homicide investigation in London that may brought even more notice since it involved two luminaries of the British theatre.

All of which would have thrust Lt. Columbo into the spotlight, first as part of the news cycle and then into the TV show which apparently was made about him and which also starred the actor Peter Falk.

Perhaps his exploits as a homicide detective would have interested a book publisher (except for Riley Greenleaf, of course!) It's pozz'ble, just pozz'ble, that since the Lieutenant must surely have retired since we saw him last on the small screen, that his story has been published as a biography going into great detail about his most prominent cases. (And I think Martin Ross would agree with me that "Just One More Thing" would be a good title for this book!)

If so, I think Erica Flynn, who operated a very profitable match-making service with her husband, not only read such a book, but also used it as a "Blueprint For Murder" (Tee to the Hee!) in the slaying of her husband in that aforementioned episode of 'The Mentalist'.
(Sure, she could also have picked up the idea from the TV show that apparently was made in Toobworld about 'Columbo' - mentioned in such shows as 'NCIS', 'Sanford & Son' and 'Are You Being Served?' But I prefer the literary route.....)

She would have found her inspiration in the chapter about Dr. Bart Kepple. (Perhaps that chapter title might be the same as the TV series episode - "Double Exposure".) Kepple made motivational films, often using subliminal cuts, and sometimes he resorted to blackmailing his clients. When one of those clients balked and threatened to ruin him, Kepple murdered him. (And also murdered a poor schlub of a film projectionist who had figured it out and threatened to blackmail him.)

But Kepple made it look like he was onstage narrating the latest film when the client got shot. If she had read about this case, Erica Flynn may have adapted this idea for her own purposes: While a match-making client thought that Erica was in the engineer's sound booth asking her questions for a profile video, it was actually Erica's besotted assistant in the booth, using a recorder with her pre-taped questions. Meanwhile, Erica went to the marina and gunned down her husband.

She would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids - er, if it wasn't for 'The Mentalist', Patrick Jane. The CBI consultant knew just from watching the cool, self-satisfied way in which Erica applied her lipstick, after being questioned by CBI agent Kimball Cho, that she was guilty of killing her husband. But despite his track record in solving cases by how he could "read" the guilty parties, that was never going to be allowed in court as evidence against her. Jane was going to need proof.
Now, the thing about this alleged book about Lt. Columbo is that Erica Flynn wouldn't be the only person to have read it. And an investigator like Columbo would probably be of interest to someone like Patrick Jane, because of the way the Lieutenant could "read" his suspects and then play them, string them along until he nailed them for the murder.

Now, sometimes, Columbo had to wait until the evidence led him to his prime suspect. (Two of the best examples of this would be the murder investigations cod-named "Identity Crisis" and "Mind Over Mayhem".) But there were times when it could only be chalked up to an intuitive sense of reading a person that allowed Columbo to zero in on somebody right away without worrying about evidence. (It's the only way to excuse sloppy script-writing for an episode like "Murder With Too Many Notes".)

So a detective like that would be of interest to Jane and he might have read this biography of Columbo at some point off-screen, away from our prying eyes - either up in the loft or right there on the couch in the office.
So if this book about Columbo existed, and if Patrick Jane read it, he may have remembered that "Double Exposure" case from which Erica Flynn cribbed the method of murder. And having done so, it may have put him in mind to remember some of the ways Columbo had to resort to tricking his suspects into either confessing to the crime, or in some way proving their own guilt.

Among those ways - threatening to arrest the child of the killer ("Mind Over Mayhem", "An Old-Fashioned Murder"), goading them into showing off ("The Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case" - one of the worst 'Columbo' episode titles ever!), goading them into revealing details only the killer would know or be responsible for ("Suitable For Framing", "A Deadly State Of Mind"), goading them into trying to kill him ("Murder Under Glass", "How To Dial A Murder"), and making the killer think he had found an important clue ("Short Fuse", "Double Exposure", "Requiem For A Falling Star", "Negative Reaction", "Death Lends A Hand", "Any Old Port In The Storm").

But it looks like Patrick Jane found his inspiration in what may have been the first case Columbo ever solved once he became a lieutenant - what came to be known as "Prescription: Murder".
(This case may have been fictionalized by the mystery writing team of Ken Franklin and Jim Ferris for their "Mrs. Melville" series of novels. As such, this could be the book in which Patrick Jane found his inspiration. Ironically, Columbo would come to have an even more personal connection to the writing team when Franklin murdered his partner Ferris.)

In the "Prescription: Murder" case, Dr. Ray Flemming murdered his wife and made it look like a burglary. His alibi was that he was on a trip to Mexico and it all hinged on a collaborator - a young actress who was not only his patient, but also his mistress.
This actress was fragile of mind and eventually Lt. Columbo had to break the news to Dr. Flemming that she had killed herself, probably because of the pressures brought on by the murder investigation. Feeling smug and secure by this unexpected turn of events, Dr. Flemming practically boasted that he never had feelings for her and that she was merely a useful tool.
And that's when this supposedly dead young woman stepped out from where she was hiding, now aware of the Truth and ready to testify against the good doctor.

So this is the trick that Jane pulled on Erica Flynn - making her think that her delusional assistant who was in love with her had taken his own life. And feeling superior to the CBI consultant, she also sneered that she never really loved the young man.

And abra cadabra, he's no longer a cadaver! (Paraphrasing a line from David Addison of the Moonlight Detective Agency.....)

There are no new plots in the world, just variations on what has come before. But if you're going to lift a plotline, make sure you take it from the very best. Levinson & Link, the creators of 'Columbo', knew this - so they stole from themselves! They took the best murder scenario ever on 'Burke's Law' (magician sealed in coffin at bottom of a pool is shot dead) and adapted it for 'Blacke's Magic' before it reappeared in an episode of the 'Burke's Law' sequel in the early 1990's. (The fact that he never remembered the original solution was the "proof" for my argument that Amos Burke was entering the early stages of Alzheimer's.)

So I tip my hat to the writer of this episode of 'The Mentalist' if he did knowingly lift those two plotlines from 'Columbo'. He O'Bviously appreciates the good stuff. And if it was just a coincidence, then great minds do think alike.
'The Mentalist'
'Burke's Law'
'Blacke's Magic'
'Are You Being Served?'
'Sanford & Son'


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