Poor, Poor Ophelia: 05/11/09
Sometimes acquiring a book to read is as much an odyssey as the act of reading. KOFY, my favorite local TV station prides itself on showing retro television. My current favorite of their retro series is The Streets of San Francisco which ran from 1972-7. I can remember watching it with my grandparents. I thought the detectives' car was funny because they had to stick the siren on their roof when they needed it.
In rewatching the show I kept noticing a "based on the novel by Carolyn Weston" in the credits. A quick trip to IMDB brought up the title I was looking for, Poor, Poor Ophelia by Carolyn Weston, published the same year that the pilot debuted. As the pilot was ninety minutes long, KOFY has never shown it and while it was fun to read the book that inspired the TV series, I was disappointed that I hadn't seen it (not in the first run since I'm a year too young) and certainly not in rerun. Netflix, though, took care of that problem but first, the book.
While the TV series takes place in the county and city of San Francisco, Weston's novel takes place in Santa Monica. She wrote what she knew, being raised in Hollywood during the Depression. When she started this new series featuring a rookie detective and his grizzled mentor she set it on familiar ground. Unfortunately the location opens up all sorts of complications of jurisdictions from all the tiny cities that exist in the Los Angeles basin. By moving the series north to San Francisco most of that added complexity disappears.
The main characters in Weston's series are Casey Kellog (the native rookie) and Al Krug (the mentor but non-native Californian). These two in series switch roles a bit and improve their names to Steve Keller (the rookie who is now an outsider) and Mike Stone (the San Francisco native and career cop). The mentor really needs those long term ties to the city to make his street smarts all the more concrete. That being said, much of Weston's characterization holds up in their way of dressing, their mannerisms, and basic outlooks on life.
Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia:
The title of course comes from Hamlet. This time though, the girl has not drowned herself of a broken heart but been murdered by a blow to the neck. The victim's name is Holly Jean Berry and her last few days alive are replayed through extensive flashbacks in both the book and the pilot. I love how the opening shots before the credits stage Holly's body to mimic the very groovy cover.
The book introduces a theme that replays many times in the series: the mentor's distrust of the younger generation. The main suspect is a young well groomed (by 1970s standards) lawyer named David Farr. He and the rookie are of the same generation and that adds tension to the investigation. That tension in turn allows them to be distracted by false leads and misguided gut feelings.
Like any good mystery, the clues are there. They are consistent and presented early on. They are there for observant eyes in both the book and the pilot. Not everything will come together until later but the process in entertaining and rewarding. The ending holds up and brings to mind shows like Numb3rs and Criminal Minds and any number of modern police procedural type mystery series.
Read another review at John's Book Reviews
books | mystery | Carolyn Weston | 1972