This time, I'm looking at Vega$, by Max Franklin, adapted from the US TV series.
Las Vegas private detective Dan Tanna is hired by a Merle & Loretta Ochs to find their runaway teenaged daughter, Marilyn Nedloe - it's not the first time she's made a break for the lights. Tanna quickly locates her, only to find she's working as a prostitute for Larry Larry Johnson and when he breaks her free, discovers she doesn't want to go home. It appears that her stepfather, Merle, has been coming on strong and Tanna doesn't like it. But Marilyn has made a mistake and turned over a trick who is connected with the mob and soon Tanna is trying to discover who murdered her and Larry Larry. In the meantime, he's trying to stop a conman fleecing the casino, act as bodyguard to a nightclub entertainer and buy a birthday gift for his secretary's daughter.
Dan Tanna is “a hard guy for hire in a hard-hearted town” according to the cover blurb and for the most part, that’s true. Although the book maintains that Vegas is trying to keep itself clean (there’s no Mafia here), it doesn’t shy away from the sleazier side of things. Marilyn Nedloe has turned to prostitution and although she’s of age looks younger and uses that to her advantage, which is uncomfortable (though never graphically explored) while some of the violence is harsh indeed. Franklin has a snappy style, the story fairly rocks along but it does come unstuck in places, where you can see the need for a commercial break slotted into the flow of action. The main story - Marilyn and Larry Larry and why they’re killed - is well handled, even if the ending is a bit brisk, but the sub-plots (the man trying to fleece the casino and the birthday business) aren’t much more than fillers. I liked Tanna (and detected a sense of Spenser about him - and the Parker books were certainly around when this was written - especially with the gallantry but that might be because of the Urich connection), though everyone seems to know him and he seems to rely on the grace of various friends in police forces across the country to get information to crack the case. The locations are well used, Vegas seems grubby in the daylight (and this was before the glitz explosion) but I thought the book let itself down in how it treats the female characters (you could argue it was the times but Franklin also wrote for “Charlies Angels”). As it is, apart from Tanna’s main secretary Beatrice - who is well realised - the rest of the women are poorly sketched, especially Angie, Beatrice’s deputy, who is essentially an attractive bit of set dressing. That aside, this is a prime novelisation, it’s brisk and no-nonsense, does what it says on the tin and is generally quite enjoyable.
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|Judy Landers, Robert Urich, Phyllis Davis and Tony Curtis|
The name “Dan Tanna” came from Aaron Spelling’s favourite restaurant (though it was called Dan Tana’s), on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California.
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Max Franklin was a pen name for the prolific pulp fiction writer Richard Deming. Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1915, he gained degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and the State University of Iowa, before being drafted into the army nine months before Pearl Harbour. When he left service five years later, he sold a short story called The Juarez Knife to Popular Detective magazine. It featured a tough, disabled private eye named Manville “Manny Moon” (he’d lost his leg in World War 2) who went on to appear in more stories across a range of detective pulp magazines. In 1950, though his timing coincided with the collapse of the pulp market, Deming became a full-time writer and ended the 50s writing stand-alone novels as well as paperback originals featuring characters from Dragnet. He created another series, featuring vice cop Matt Rudd, during the 60s and also wrote non-fiction.
In the early 70s, he became a key player in the tie-in market for popular TV shows, writing more than twenty paperback original novels for the likes of Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels and Starsky & Hutch, as well as the novelisation for the 1974 film 99 44/100% Dead.
In additional to his output as Richard Deming, he also wrote as Emily Moor, Nick Morino, Ellery Queen (ten novels under the house name during the 60s), Max Franklin (for his novelisation work), Richard Hale Curtis and Halsey Clark.
Richard Deming died in 1983.
for further bibliographical details, Fantastic Fiction has a thorough section on him.
a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay. I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film. I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.
To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.