Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mannix Meets Murder

In 1968, during MANNIX's first season on CBS, Popular Library released its first and only tie-in novel, imaginatively titled MANNIX. Author Michael Avallone probably wrote the dang thing, prolific as he was, during one cigarette- and coffee-fueled weekend without ever watching an episode. It's only 128 pages and bears little resemblance to the TV series, outside of its basic concept.

During Season 1, Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was an iconoclastic tough guy working for Intertect, a high-tech detective agency run by officious Lew Wickersham (Joe Campanella). Avallone got that right, but he strangely sets his novel in New York (the MANNIX series was L.A. through and through) and tosses in a couple of comely co-workers for Mannix to flirt with, Moneypenny-style.

Instead of a two-fisted private eye tale, Avallone delivers an espionage story, and a dull one at that. Rich bitch Iris Foley (the Paris Hilton of her day) is recruited by the Communists to engineer a plot to draw the U.S. Secretary of State into a compromising position to be used as blackmail material. The government hires Intertect and Joe Mannix to stop it.

The cover called MANNIX (the book) "bullet-fast," but it ain't. Very little happens in terms of action, and the big climax, which turns on a lame plot twist in a high-rise apartment, may have worked in a budget-conscious episode, but it's a real fizzler on the page.

Avallone does kind of get star Mike Connors' wise-guy attitude pretty well, and Wickersham, which could have been a thankless role in the hands of a worse actor than Campanella, plays okay too, so maybe Avallone did see a show or two. Beats me, though, why he failed to showcase any chases or fights. Or why he moved the setting to New York.

Seven years later, Belmont picked up the MANNIX franchise, and published four new novels by J.T. MacCargo.


Booksteve said...

Avallone was a hack...but he was an entertaining hack!

Jake Murdock said...

I have quite a few of these TV-tie in novels from various shows. Generally, the majority are not very good. I read one of the MacCargo MANNIX books many years ago and found it very entertaining. It was surprisingly good. (maybe it was one by Peter Rabe. I'll have to check)

There are a few good ones in the TV-tie novel category. Its just hit-or-miss when picking one up to read.

great blog.

James Reasoner said...

I don't recall when this book came out relative to the premiere of the TV show (although I bought it and read it when it was new), but it's possible Avallone write it from the series bible before any episodes ever aired. That could account for the differences. Back then, a lot of tie-in novels were timed so that they were published soon after the series' debut, which is why there were a number of tie-ins for shows that lasted only a year (or less).

James Reasoner said...

I meant Avallone wrote it, of course, not "write it".

David Spencer said...

Avallone had not seen an episode when he wrote the novel, only the pilot script. This I know because he told me so.

The J.T. MacCargo episode adaptations were written by Peter Rabe and another author whose name is lost to posterity, though "J.W. O'Dell" (whoever that is) has been suggested. And to call them chistawful is to give them too much praise. They're attenuated and padded and whoever wrote #4 obviously didn't know the show well, for he misidentified Toby as Peggy Fair's husband, which made for weird reading as she anticipated a romp in the hay with him (in the show she was a widow and Toby her young son). But it really isn't (just) the continuity lapses that are annoying; they're just horribly written. At least Avallone had a certain sense of flair and cadence.