Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Harry O by Lee Hays

Harry O by Lee Hays
Popular Library 445-00269-125
Copyright 1975

She smelled musty. Just as her clothes were different, so was her scent. Before she had been scrubbed, a little girl; now she was a woman of the world.

This paperback is the first of two tie-in novels that Lee Hays wrote for the popular 70s Private Detective TV show. For two seasons from 1974-1976, David Janssen portrayed the pensioned ex-cop living on the beaches of the West Coast. The series has been hailed as one of the best P.I. shows ever on television. No argument here, it's always been my favorite (especially the second season episodes) and when I had a chance to pickup these tie-ins, I had to have them.

The novel starts similar to the TV episodes, with Harry's telephone ring and him mulling over if it is worth picking up. We get a brief bio of Harry Orwell in the beginning; the painful bullet in the back which resulted in his early retirement from San Diego PD, why he became a P.I., working on The Answer -his boat that will never taste water, taking the bus because his heap is in the shop, and of course his views around the existence of telephones. A woman named Mary Alice Kimberly believes her husband is out to kill her because she won't give him a divorce. The way she tells it there is a rich land deal going down in Mexico and if she is divorced the husband gets all the profits. For Harry she becomes difficult to keep tabs on and comes off as an enigma. Harry discovers that besides her husband, there are others out there looking for Mrs. Kimberly. And they may not be honest citizen types. The following day he finds Mary Alice in her husband's office with a dead P.I. on the floor. Even though Harry lightly has fallen for her, he quickly realizes she's a bit eccentric. When the dead P.I.'s stripper wife is found shot in the head inside Harry's beach home, the police bring Orwell in for questioning. They can't get nothing to stick, but warn Orwell to stay clear of the investigation. But he can't, even being odd the girl concerns Harry and now that she can't be located, he sets out to find out what this is all about.

It's about the smuggling of heroin across the Mexican border. Everyone involved is dirty. Included in the cast is a Sydney Greenstreet type befittingly named Sydney Jerome, who has mannerisms right out of The Maltese Falcon. There is a pint-sized gunsel called Wylie who drops Harry a couple of times. And a Mexican connection named Ramirez who seems to be playing both sides of the street. (or is being used by both sides) Orwell is on the hook for all of the murders, there are three total. Mary Alice finally calls him and together they head back to Tijuana to meet Sydney Jerome for a "business" transaction. It's on the return trip that Harry figures the deal out and then knows who is the cold-blooded killer.

Thinking of Ramirez reminded me that he warned me to take a gun. I didn't tell him that I never carry one. I almost went to the closet and got the one I had when I was on the force, the one wrapped in a towel way in back on the shelf behind an old suitcase. But I didn't, I should have but I didn't.

This "Harry O" paperback is far from being a great crime novel, but as a huge fan of the series I did enjoy it. I would say that the characterization of Harry Orwell in the story is fairly close to the TV one. The spoken narrative on the show is definitely much better. And the book didn't capture that lonely, somber persona that David Janssen was able to deliver. I'll chalk that up as something that is difficult for a tie-in author to do. The writing is straightforward and the plot though interesting, wasn't too difficult to figure out. Even with the similarities of Hammett's Casper Gutman, I would of liked to have seen more of the Sydney Jerome character. He came off as the most colorful of all in the story. All-in-all, it still was a fun quick read for me. If you were a fan of the TV series, I'm sure you would get a kick out of this novel also.

In addition, the series character Lt. Manny Quinlan appears in the novel. He doesn't head up the murder investigations for the SDPD, but he does have a role in the story.

In 1976, Lee Hays wrote the second "Harry O" novel titled: The High Cost of Living. He wrote tie-ins for the TV shows Colombo and the Partridge Family. Lee Hays also authored the novelizations for the 1984 Sergio Leone film, Once Upon a Time in America and the 1974 horror movie, Black Christmas.


Steve Lewis said...

For some reason, completely unknown to me, I have the second of these, but not the first one. As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I'd never seen it before.

Why this is so surprising -- to me -- is that I agree with you, that HARRY O was one of the best TV PI shows ever on the air. I might say that THE OUTSIDER (with Darren McGavin) was the best, but it's been a long time since I've seen episodes of either one, I'd hate to have to rely on memory alone.

I'm not surprised that the book doesn't entirely capture David Janssen's on-screen persona. He was an actor made for television. So much could be seen in his eyes and face that I don't think any writer could say in only words.

Frank Loose said...

I enjoyed the show, too, but i still have to go with Rockford Files as best ever TV PI.

Winifred said...

Harry O was definitely the best US TV detective drama series. A much more rounded character than any of the others and portrayed to perfection by David Janssen. The scripts were brilliant too. Wonderful stuff that just isn't made any longer.

I've never seen the books here in the UK must see if I can get them. Can't understand why Warner Brothers won't release the DVDs. Much better than anything made since then.

Tony said...

I wasn't aware of these novels. I'm a big fan of the Harry O series. I was a big fan of Rockford Files too - brings back some great memories. I just checked on Amazon UK, and they have the second novel starting from £100 - obviously now a collectors item! :) Very nice review thanks.

Abe Lucas said...

I'd known about this short-lived series since 1997, when I read the extensive article in the sadly-defunct magazine, Television Chronicles. It wouldn't be until 2005 that I finally saw an episode, Lester, from the first season, and I enjoyed it a lot. I remember the empty room that Orwell set up a stake out in and the overall atmosphere of that mid '70s world.

The Warner Archive recently isued the second Harry-O pilot film, Smile Jenny, You're Dead on its DVD on Demand service; let's hope the series follows.

JIM HAYES said...

i got a 'columbo' novel (murder by the book) that is also by lee hays. i'm assuming he's a real person and not a pseudonym. great site btw