Being the 50th anniversary of Columbo’s first season airing, 2021 was a pleasingly big year for new books about our favourite Lieutenant.
Alas, with the exception of David Koenig’s Shooting Columbo, my daughter’s illness last year meant that the release of these tomes largely passed me by, and any attempts to promote them were severely curtailed – a series of wrongs I will right here and now. These aren’t reviews, more of an overview and an attempt to raise awareness of reading opportunities you may have missed. Needless to say, I doff my cap to the writers of these (and all) Columbo books, who show magnificent dedication to the cause of keeping the Lieutenant’s legacy alive.
NB – I always advocate buying at your local bookstore if possible, so ask there first! I have, however, included links to the books on Amazon where possible, to provide convenient options for a global readership.
Columbo: Paying Attention 24/7, by David Martin-Jones
Released in hardback in 2021 before a paperback launch in March 2022, David Martin-Jones (Professor of Film Studies at the University of Glasgow) considers how Columbo’s dedication to paying attention to the smallest things helps him solve ‘perfect murders’ onscreen. Through this lens, Martin-Jones also examines how societal attentions are channelled – including via TV and the internet – to influence all aspects of our lives.
Featuring commentary on how Columbo is able to remain fixated on his cases 24/7; how he is able to overcome unfamiliarity with cutting-edge gadgetry to “upgrade” his knowledge and pay attention even more effectively; and his role as an anti-establishment figure who is, atypically for the 70s’ era in particular, in tune with the social tensions of the day, the book even features a foreword by Columbo superfan Stephen Fry!
At time of writing, I’m only part-way through reading this. Its academic nature makes it occasionally hard going, but if the reader takes a leaf from the Lieutenant’s own book and pays full attention, there’s much to stimulate their thinking.
Published by: Edinburgh University Press
Available in: paperback and hardback from $24.95 /GBP 17.75
Columbo: A Rhetoric of Inquiry with Resistant Responders, by Christyne Berzsenyi
Much delayed by the COVID pandemic, Christyne Berzsenyi (an Associate Professor of English at Penn State Wilkes-Barr) saw her academic Columbo book finally published in mid-2021.
Covering such subjects as the literary influences behind the character (including some fascinating insight into the similarities between Columbo and Crime and Punishment’s Porfiry Petrovic); the enduring legacy of show and character; Columbo’s investigative style and methods of questioning used to achieve differing outcomes; his approach to dealing with women; and an examination of audience / villain relationships, there is a load of subject mater to sink your teeth into. Berzsenyi even questions whether we should consider some of the Lieutenant’s acts of “villainy” an aspect of his character that prevent him from truly being considered a heroic figure.
As an academic study, this book is necessarily less accessible than some to a casual fan. Nevertheless, there is plenty of food for thought for Columbo die-hards, although a few factual howlers, such as claiming Nora Chandler inadvertently killed her personal assistant Jean in Requiem for a Falling Star (Jean was the intended target all along); that gossip columnist Jerry Parks was Nora’s estranged husband (they were never married); and that Leon Lamarr had no children of his own in Death Hits the Jackpot (he has at least one son and one daughter) do rather leap off the page.
Publisher: Intellect Books
Available in: Kindle; paperback; hardback from $22.99 / $40 / $93
Columbo, Columbo, by Patrick Lohmeier
A German-language retrospective of the entire Columbo series, Patrick Lohmeier’s Columbo, Columbo initially came about via a crowdfunding campaign in 2020, with a black-and-white paperback version going on general release in 2021.
Not dissimilar to the Columbophile blog, Patrick’s approach was to pen a mix of critical analysis, and production trivia, while including specifics about the German dubbing and occasional censorship. He was good enough to send me a copy last year, and while my Deutsche isn’t nearly good enough to enjoy it to the max, I can tell you that it’s a very accessible read that will offer German-speaking fans of Columbo no shortage of material to enhance their understanding and appreciation of each episode.
As a lover of Columbo artwork, I’d also like to put it on record that the cover illustration by Kolja Senteur is a real gem!
Published by: Bahnhofskino
Available in: paperback from EUR 21.99 / $24.30
And the best of the rest…
These books were published at various times 1989 and 2021, but represent sensational reading for Columbo fans. If there are gaps on your shelf, do consider filling them with any and all of these wonderful works…
The Columbo Phile, by Mark Dawidziak
The granddaddy of all Columbo books, this masterpiece was originally released in 1989 – just after the show’s ABC comeback – and was a labour of love years in the making. Offering insight and analysis on all ‘classic era’ Columbo episodes, as well as interviews with cast and crew – including recollections from Peter Falk, Patrick McGoohan, William Link, Leonard Nimoy, Roddy McDowall and many more – Dawidziak’s book remains The Holy Grail for purists.
Although the original version is now out of print and can be expensive to lay your hands on, an affordable 30th anniversary reprint was published in 2019, complete with 10,000 words of new content. A must-read.
Shooting Columbo, by David Koenig
Released in 2021, this is the most important Columbo book to be published since The Columbo Phile. Koenig was permitted unprecedented access to the show’s archives, as well as interviews with directors, writers, actors and producers involved, to provide masses of behind-the-scenes intel on the production of all 69 episodes – much of which has never been published before. Ever wondered why Old Fashioned Murder is such a shambles? Puzzled by Tanya Baker’s absence in Double Exposure? Not sure whether Peter Falk really did the hill fall from Greenhouse Jungle himself? Then this book is definitely the one for you…
Columbo Under Glass, by Sheldon Catz
Although I’ve never actually read this book (don’t judge me!), I’ve heard it’s a quality read that pays particular emphasis on the “click” clues Columbo picks up on to first arouse his suspicions, and the “pop” clues that prove the villain’s guilt. The book also features essays on a range of subjects including his sympathetic relationships with villains, his moral code and the supporting cast. Incidentally, Sheldon Catz served as chief writer and editor of The Columbo Newsletter quarterly fanzine between 1992-2002, so is a highly qualified commentator on the subject. Features a foreword by Mark Dawidziak.
Cooking with Columbo, by Jenny Hammerton
Lovely idea and a really fun cook book featuring dozens of favourite recipes from stars of Columbo! As well as some darn tasty chilli recipes, there’s something here for every occasion from fine dining to light snacking. I was pleased to provide the foreword to this book and recommend it highly. Get amongst it!
Just One More Thing, by Peter Falk
Anecdotes from Peter Falk’s life (including plenty on Columbo) are presented here in bite-sized chapters giving readers a very easy chance to dip in and out of the life of the great man. The tone is so conversational, one can almost hear Peter’s voice narrating it.
That’s all for today, folks. If you’re the proud (or otherwise) owner of any of these publications, please share your opinions on them in the comments section below to guide would-be buyers towards sensible purchases.
The next post on the blog will be the highly anticipated review of No Time to Die – many a fans’ absolute least favourite episode. I’d expected to have published this already, but I slipped into a DISGUST-INDUCED COMA after watching it again a couple of weeks ago and am only just recovering my strength. Keep the faith! And I’ll see you all soon…