Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Made His Blood Boil

David Toma was a real undercover police detective who wore outlandish disguises to capture drug dealers in Newark, New Jersey. Like Frank Serpico and "supercops" Greenberg and Hantz in New York City, Toma became something of a folk hero for his unorthodox style and incredibly successful arrest and conviction rates. Virulently opposed to any type of drug, even alcohol, Toma's exploits became so well known that ABC created a primetime crime drama for him.

TOMA starred Tony Musante as Toma, and even though it was a hit, Musante became disillusioned with the series and left after just one season. Not to be deterred, ABC cast Robert Blake to replace Musante and continued the show as BARETTA. For all intents and purposes, TOMA and BARETTA are the same show.

Toma also spawned a trio of men's adventure novels that don't exactly seem to be TV tie-ins. In fact, TOMA was long gone from the public airwaves by the time Dell published the third and last Toma novel, THE AFFAIR OF THE UNHAPPY HOOKER. Credited to David Toma and Jack Pearl, I suspect Toma had little to do with the book's creation, and Jack Pearl seems to be a nom de plume for Donald Bain, who is still cranking out TV-based mystery novels at the age of 75 with another MURDER, SHE WROTE book coming this fall.

Strangely, AFFAIR has next to nothing to do with any unhappy hooker, though one does appear late in the story as a peripheral character. It's a well-written tale featuring Toma undercover as a Mafioso named Augie Mara who infiltrates the Newark mob to nail some bigshots running dope and prostitutes. His partner is a sexy FBI agent named Nancy Stroud who poses as his moll.

Written in first person, as though this actually happened to Toma, the book is entertaining, though Toma's rants against drinking and drugging occasionally veer off into self-righteousness that's hard to take. I'm sure Toma had a healthy ego--in fact, it was probably necessary for him to pull off his many guises--but the fact that his fellow cops gush over him and his new partner is dying to seduce the happily married hero is a bit much. It's common for men's adventure heroes to be supermen, but Toma is an actual person, and as such, his piousness can be hard to take.

Still, I liked THE AFFAIR OF THE UNHAPPY HOOKER, and it's interesting to note that the face painted on the Dell cover is not that of actor Musante, but of Dave Toma himself.

2 comments:

Martin O'Hearn said...

Jack Pearl (Jacques Bain Pearl) and Donald Bain would be different people -- Pearl born in 1923, according to Donald J. Hubin's Crime Fiction bibliography, and Bain in 1935.

James Reasoner said...

I believe Jack Pearl and Donald Bain are cousins.