COLUMBO: THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS by William Hartigan
One of the more bizarre pieces of Manson related literature published, this fictional novel sets up the premise that Columbo (the scruffy, bumbling detective played on television in the 1970s by Peter Falk) was one of the first cops on the scene at the Tate murder at 10050 Cielo Drive, and had been in personal contact with Manson during his initial interrogation (where Charlie gave Columbo the nickname Crisco). The story then cuts to the present, where wealthy department store owner Joe Khoury and his mistress murder his wife and lover, planting clues at the scene which will hopefully lead police to believe that it is a Manson copycat killing (a tactic planned after Khoury learns that one of his secretaries is a still loyal Manson girl named Cathy Murphy – or Puss Dogood, as Charlie has dubbed her).
The Manson connection in Columbo: The Helter Skelter Murders is almost superfluous, since Columbo decides to immediately start concentrating on Khoury and his mistress Kimberly Dana (a beautiful but talent starved aspiring actress). Naturally, in order to rule out the Manson girl, he does talk to her several times, as well as interviewing another – and younger – Manson girl named Melissa ‘Boobs’ Mead, who is revealed to have also spent some time as a Khoury employee. Columbo also travels out to Folsom Prison to pay Charlie a visit, but the subsequent (and very brief) face-to-face between the fictional detective and the real convicted killers is hardly riveting or disturbing material:
“Remember me, Charlie?” Columbo asked.
“Lieutenant Crisco,” said Manson, grinning. “I don’t forget anybody. I remember everybody. Everything….It’s gonna make a difference to you someday whether I remember you as friend or enemy. The day comes, you know. It comes. For sure.”
Columbo: The Helter Skelter Murders is written in a style that successfully reflects the characters and style of the television series - like the TV show, we know from the start who the killers are, so the interest in generated not by the mystery but the way the seemingly incompetent and bumbling detective pieces together the clues. Author William Harrington, a former criminal layer, also penned Columbo: The Grassy Knoll, which had the detective cracking the JKF assassination conspiracy!
(285 Pages/Hardcover/ISBN 0-312-85537-0)
Review Copyright John Harrison 2011