Columbo: Season 1, Episode 1

Murder by the Book (15 Sep. 1971)

TV Episode  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 2,139 users  
Reviews: 29 user | 8 critic

When one member of a mystery writing team wants to break from his less talented partner, he becomes the victim in a real-life murder mystery.



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Episode complete credited cast:
Ken Franklin
Joanna Ferris
Jim Ferris
Barbara Colby ...
Lilly La Sanka
Lynette Mettey ...
Gloria Jr. (as Lynnette Mettey)
Bernie Kuby ...
Mike Tucker
Woman (credit only)
Haven Earle Haley ...
2nd Reporter


Ken Franklin is a rich socialite living in a luxurious coastal mansion bought from his years in connection to a series of popular crime and mystery books written entirely by his business partner. He turns his one and only original idea for fiction into reality as he murders his exiting partner to maintain his lifestyle and then desperately tries to cover up his crime due to a blackmailing witness. Columbo arrives on the scene to begin pestering his suspect with questions about the murder. Mr. Franklin soon realizes that no murder is perfect, and his own clever plot may return to haunt him. Written by Scott Dawson <> / revised by statmanjeff

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

15 September 1971 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Filmed after Columbo: Death Lends a Hand (1971), but aired first. "Murder by the Book" was the first televised episode of both the "Columbo" series and the NBC Mystery Movie of which it was one of three rotating shows. See more »


Lilly La Sanka dips strawberries in sugar and eats them, while talking to Ken Franklin. In a shot looking toward Franklin, we see that Lilly is holding an entire strawberry, still coated with sugar at the tip. A moment later (and also in the previous shot), before she can take a bite, we see that Lilly's strawberry is half-devoured. See more »


[first lines]
[Jim works in his office]
Jim Ferris: [knock on the door] Who is it?
[another knock on the door]
Jim Ferris: [He opens the door - Ken is aiming a gun at his face. Jim laughs]
Ken Franklin: Oh, you're not intimidated.
Jim Ferris: Oh, come on, Ken. You're forgetting that I'm one-half of the world's greatest mystery-writing team? You, ah, don't have gloves on, your finger's not on the trigger, and there are no bullets in the cylinder.
Ken Franklin: [smiling] You're right. I'm a lousy practical joker.
See more »


Love Theme from 'Red Sky At Morning'
Composed by Billy Goldenberg
Heard during the bar scene
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User Reviews

Not a well planned murder
29 July 2012 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Interesting that the very first Columbo episode with Jack Cassidy as the murderer was one of the less successful dramatically in my humble opinion. Because of that it convinces me more than ever that the series and the character were sold brilliantly to the television audience by Peter Falk.

Cassidy plays half of the mystery writing team of Cassidy and Martin Milner and does this guy have one hell of a racket. Milner is the creative one and Cassidy gets half the royalties by just doing the public relations with the newspapers, the TV and Radio talk shows, all that stuff with all the fringe benefits coming with it.

Well the gravy train has now come to an end because Milner wants to go out on his own. You would think that Cassidy would want the last thing to be Milner's demise because he would still hope for reconciliation. What he does do though is take out a hefty insurance policy on Milner and proceed with an elaborate murder plot.

If anything this Columbo episode proved Milner really was the creative one because he is the obvious suspect. The insurance policy and his deliberate deception with phone calls placed are traced easily enough and don't ring true. And above all he gets himself blackmailed by the owner of a general store played by Barbara Colby and has to do another and less planned murder. For a guy so arrogant as Cassidy was and he set a pattern for Columbo villains he really botched this one.

The late Barbara Colby whose career and life came so tragically to an end only a few years later, she plays an interesting if spaced out character. Her scenes with Cassidy are the best part of this episode.

Still though Columbo would face far more deceptive villains in the future.

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