Mystery Writers Depicted But Evidently Not Consulted
Houston is scheduled to give a speech at a mystery writers convention. Just before he goes Emily Armour, the most successful writer at the convention is murdered by her publisher Wayne Slocumb (Richard Anderson) who is aided by an unseen accomplice. Since we know the publisher did the actual killing from the opening scene onward the mystery here is why and who helped him.
Slocumb enlists Houston, his old friend to investigate thinking that Houston who was on the phone with him when three shots were fired will figure Slocumb could not have possibly done it. Houston protests saying the police should handle it which is the most intelligent bit of sleuthing we see him do in this episode.
As it turns out the victim was almost universally hated by her peers and any one of the ones present has a good motive for killing her. Houston has to sift through the red herrings and the ruse Slocumb has employed to find Slocumb's accomplice.
Again in keeping with much of the first season we have a whodunit with an ironic tone. In the spirit of the best murder mysteries the victim is an unpopular individual a lot of people wanted dead maximizing the suspense up until the climactic reveal.
They present Houston as this great famous detective at the convention and meanwhile back at the office Houston is mulling over this major business deal which would create a frozen food company around Mama Novelli's image. Yet again they are presenting this surreal duality of business tycoon/detective which is comically implausible.
A rich mystery enthusiast who solves mysteries? Sounds interesting. A cowboy private detective? I like it! But this improbable combination of McCloud & Thomas Crown is a lot to swallow even with an excellent cast. These are not a few dribs and drabs of insignificant details. They are tidal waves engulfing the credibility a character must have for audiences to get caught up in the narratives.
They also try to make Houston out to be a great detective by superficial means i.e. a big sign with his picture on it which says "Matt Houston: Noted Detective" which might as well read "TV audiences are full of dummies who believe whatever they read on a sign". It is not the attempt to trick me that I resent. How else I could I be drawn in to the diagesis? It is that they use things which suggest they think I'm a complete fool.
In great detective stories and TV shows a brilliant sleuth shows you his acumen by solving the crime with clever deductions, canny resourcefulness and a willingness to put himself in harm's way, not with a big real estate agent sign saying he is a great detective and scattered expositional dialogue alluding to his reputation. We also don't usually see a great detective land his private helicopter in a parking lot. No one does that for a number reasons not least of which is that it is illegal.
Here Houston does make brilliant deductions (When he isn't stating the obvious) showing canny resourcefulness and ultimately a willingness to put himself in harm's way. We don't need the big sign nor do we need the local sheriff deputizing Houston on the spot just going by name recognition.
So how do we get Houston to the mystery writers convention without this bogus sign and silly speech (Which he never even ends up giving) he is supposed to give? We know from past episodes like Season 1, Episode 14
"Whose Party Is It, Anyway?" that Houston reads mysteries why not
send him there solely as a friend of the publisher and an aficionado of mystery novels? Also let him drive there. He doesn't have to fly in when he has a motor pool of different cars in the garage of his building.
As for getting him into a mystery that cops should be investigating to help solve it, remember that Slocumb has already made Houston his alibi. Houston would have to interact with the police at some point giving him a realistic point of entry.
Having a sign say he is a brilliant detective and watching him land his helicopter in a parking lot drifts the narrative off into goofy fantasy again. Worse, impugning the integrity and effectiveness of law enforcement and doing it with tactics you might find in the first chapter of a book called "Crime Fighting For Dummies" not only is unrealistic but should logically make for friction between Houston and police instead of the chummy relationship depicted.
Murray Chase (portrayed by George Wyner) didn't make it out for this episode (or any of the remaining episodes of the first season after Season 1, Episode 16 - "The Visitors") and instead a similar character named Myron Chase (voice actor John Moschitta Jr.), dressed like Murray, with his mannerisms, accent and meeting his general description was trotted out. Moschitta played the character in two other episodes. The reasons for this are not readily apparent.
Wyner would reprise his role as Murray multiple times in future episodes up until the final season. My guess would be that the producers either didn't think the show would be picked up and didn't lock Wyner into a contractual agreement for the whole season and he had work lined up that he had already agreed to do or they were negotiating his contract for the second season and wanted to show him how replaceable he was.
The actor portraying Myron does a decent enough job in his brief time on screen where you would swear Murray was present in this episode.
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