Starsky and Hutch #6: The Psychic, adapted by Max Franklin
Spelling-Goldberg Productions, 1977
Price I paid: 50¢
HELP WANTED: A MENTALIST WITHOUT ANTS IN HIS TRANCE!
Two tough-as-nails jailbirds have snatched Joe Haymes’ beautiful daughter, and asked the football team owner for major-league bucks to get her back. He has signed up Starsky and Hutch to make an end run with the ransom—safely; one fumble and it could mean her life—unless the boys can find her first. Only a mind reader could solve this one, and the one they’ve got hasn’t a thought in his head!
Happy 2018! Can you believe that this will be my sixth year of reviewing stuff? I can’t.
We’ve got something special today! It’s a novelization of a Starsky and Hutch episode! “That seems kinda down-punchy,” I hear you say. And you have a point! I don’t have a good answer to that point. All I can say is that I saw this book and I wanted to read it. Adaptations of individual episodes of a television show seems like an interesting way to make an extra buck in merchandising. One of my earliest memories of Star Trek stuff outside of the show is of the first of James Blish’s volumes of episode adaptations. I didn’t know until much later that there were more of them, but I read that thing to tatters after my mom found it somewhere and gave it to me.
I feel like individual episode novelizations aren’t really a thing anymore? I’m way out of touch with a lot of TV, but I do work in a library. I see movie novelizations all the time, so that’s still big business. Gotta make sure Alan Dean Foster can get food on the table. That’s friendly ribbing; I’ve got infinite respect for Mr. Foster. And there are still tie-in novels to shows. But episode novelizations? Haven’t seen a new one of those in a long while.
It might have something to do with the fact that TV is more highly serialized now, so it’d be harder to adapt a single episode.
Anyway, this isn’t about television novelizations in general, it’s about this particular Starsky and Hutch one novelized by “Max Franklin.” Best I can tell, Max Franklin was actually Richard Deming, who wrote a lot of novelizations under several different names. He also wrote some original fiction in several genres, but I can’t find any indication of whether or not any of it is good. My assumption is that this is a fella who found a career in churning out pulp, and I respect the hell out of that. You gotta survive. Richard Deming found a way that didn’t involve much heavy lifting and made it to the age of 68, so there ya go.
One thing I’ve learned from this book, and by extension Mr. Richard Deming, is how to pad a novel’s word count so obviously that it’s both cringeworthy and laudable. I’ll get into that a little later.
My knowledge of Starsky and Hutch before reading this book could be broken down into a few simple things:
- Huggy Bear
- red car?
- 2004 film remake with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson that, holy crap, took four people to write?
I did check out a DVD copy of the show’s second season from the library to watch this episode after reading the book, but I ran out of time and never actually watched it. I’m pulling up the IMDB page right now and HOLY CRAP
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS WAS IN THIS EPISODE
ALSO THEY MISSPELLED HIS NAME IN THE CREDITS
THEY SAY “EDWARD JAMESL OLMOS”
The rest of this cast is a delightful look at character actors from the 70s. F’rinstance, one of the people we meet right off the bat is a Korean named Su Long, who in the episode was portrayed by James Hong, aka every Asian person in a television series or movie from 1954 to the present.
I’m not being racist. He’s seriously in a lot of stuff.
We open the book on a hispanic fellow named Julio who is having some financial trouble. He has gambling debts to the aforementioned Su Long. Su Long wants to collect. There’s a lot of back-and-forth that does some excellent word padding. Eventually, Julio meets up with two shady guys, Moo-Moo and Earl, who make him an offer. He helps them kidnap a girl for ransom, he gets part of the money so he can pay off his debts. He readily agrees.
Eventually we meet Starsky and Hutch. They’re first introduced to the book around chapter three, thirteen pages in. Here’s the master stroke of this novel. This is how our author managed to turn a 50-page television script into a 154-page novel. He has several mechanisms, and I hope I don’t miss any of them.
First: Introduce every character with as much exposition and description as possible. This includes the main protagonists of the book, after whom it is named, as is the rest of the series, of which this is the sixth novel. Furthermore, the market for this book is very likely to be people for whom the television series is familiar (this reviewer notwithstanding), so an intense physical and personal description of Starsky and Hutch and Huggy Bear and their cop boss from every episode is not necessarily warranted.
And then what you do is make those descriptions in the most roundabout, wordy way possible.
He was blond, however, and about two inches taller than Starsky’s five feet eleven. (16)
This book is really, really keen on giving us everybody’s exact height. I’m curious where our author got that information, for one thing. Is he citing all the actors’ heights? Is this information in the series bible? Did he make it up?
But the real gold here is the way that he took nine words to tell us somebody was 6’1″. This happens almost every time that we get somebody’s height, which, like I said, was anytime someone was introduced.
Height is actually an interesting preoccupation with this novelization, and I wonder if, besides inflating the word count, there was something else to this trend. One of the guys, I forget which, is on a blind date with a coworker as part of the b-plot. A series of hilarious hijinks leads him to believe that his future date is 6’4″, which is apparently bad. We meet another woman, a mechanic, of exactly that same height during the investigation. She is very flirtatious with the fellas, which makes them uncomfortable, despite the fact that she is otherwise described as gorgeous.
Every man in this book is described as tall with the exception of the villains. One of them is 5’4″, the other is just “short and pudgy.” The treatment of tall women offended me, yeah, but as a shorter man myself (5’6″), this book started to get personal.
Earl and Moo-Moo and Julio kidnap the daughter of a wealthy family in LA. Incidentally, this book takes place in LA. The kidnapped woman is Joanna Haymes, only daughter of Joe Haymes. Not Haynes. It took me half the book to realize that this family didn’t make its fortune publishing car manuals.
Part of the kidnapping plot involved our villains getting information from Joanna’s friend’s car. Joanna gets a ride to school from her friend Cylvia. The villains figure there’s information that can help them in her glove box once she gets to school. Cylvia drives a convertible, and this part of their job is very easy because she leaves the top down when she goes to school. I don’t know if that is one of those “more innocent times/we didn’t even lock our doors” kinds of things that the olds I know keep yammering about, or if she’s just a stupid high school kid, or if neither of those were believable even at the time and it was just a handy way for the author to keep the action moving. Whatever the case, it’s bothersome.
Joanna attends Our Lady of Victory High School, which is great for two reasons. For one, it means that whenever our author needs to mention the high school, he gets to do it in six words. The other reason is that it made me think of a local sports page headline reading “Our Lady of Victory Loses Again.”
“Thomas, what about the psychic?” I hear you asking. I’ll get to that…now.
We first meet the psychic, Joe Collandra (played by character actor Allan Miller, whom you will recognize as that guy in all the things), when Huggy Bear tries to introduce him to Starsky and/or Hutch. I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know which one’s which, and that’s actually pretty great, because that’s also a running joke all through the book (maybe the show too?). One of the guys believes that Collandra is a psychic, the other is skeptical. Collandra makes a vague prediction that later turns out to be where the boys find Julio, dead. It’s the kind of prediction that only makes sense in retrospect, so, you know, useless.
This is true of everything he does in the book. He interacts with the protagonists a total of three times. I kept forgetting that he was supposed to be part of the plot, according to the title.
Moo-Moo and Earl kill Julio as soon as they’re done with him, which is what gets Starsky and Hutch on the case. Nobody realizes that the kidnapping is part of the same case for a bit. Basically, Starsky and Hutch stumble around until clues turn up and then give chase. They also complain about woman troubles.
From my notes:
To be fair, that could be from my notes about any book I’ve reviewed.
The bad guys have no intention of giving Joanna back alive, even after they’ve gotten their money, so they leave her in a car in a junkyard where she’ll get crushed by the car crusher eventually. Starsky and Hutch find her juuuuust before she gets put into the car crusher.
That part actually comes after the bad guys give the good guys a long chase from phone booth to phone booth in a way very evocative of Dirty Harry and was probably a reference to it?
It ends with one of the good guys shooting the bad guys’ car with a very big gun, making it explode.
Actually, the very end is the psychic guy getting rewarded with a high-paying job from Joe Haymes. Did I mention that Haymes owns a football team? Apparently the psychic will get to be the team’s official psychic. This is because he did literally one prediction that the cops were able to work with. He reacted to a matchbook from the place where the car was with Joanna in it.
Also, it turns out that Starsky’s blind date ends up well because she’s not an…ugh…”amazon.”
There’s a lot about this book that’s really gross. You saw my notes. It’s worse because the book is really shitty to specific types of women. All women are sexualized. Joanna, age 18, is sexualized. The Korean guy at the beginning of the book has a 16-year-old employee who is sexualized. All the women who aren’t “beautiful” are “fat.” Without exception. Fat people are not allowed to be beautiful in the world of Starsky and Hutch. Short men are not allowed to be good. Tall women are not allowed to be approached, even if they’re not fat and are therefore beautiful.
Minorities aren’t treated well either, but generally they’re treated better than women. Most African-Americans are portrayed positively. Huggy Bear is a main part of the show, and he’s not a pimp or a drug dealer or anything. He’s a respectable business owner who is willing to help out friends. The Asian characters are running an illegal gambling den, sure, but they don’t talk with broken English or anything. In fact, I thought it was pretty funny that when Su Long was told that the cops were coming to talk to him about Julio, he deliberately entered Fu Manchu mode just to distract them.
Hispanics, however, are not treated well. Julio speaks in horribly broken English that doesn’t make any sense for a Hispanic to sound like. He comes across as an awful Asian stereotype instead of an awful Hispanic one. He’s still a decent enough guy, though. He gets roped into the scheme, sure, but he tries to back out of it and wants to ensure that Joanna doesn’t get hurt. He’s a kid, basically, who made some bad decisions while being decent at heart.
Still, every Hispanic in this book is immediately referred to as Mexican or worse. There’s one Hispanic cop who serves only to translate some Spanish for the boys. I was hoping, deep down in my heart, that when they just dropped some letters from Julio’s mom on his desk and asked for a translation that he’d respond something like “I’m fifth generation American, assholes. I took German in high school.”
The book was a quick read, though. It took me maybe two hours to finish, excepting distractions and a trip to the store. That means that over the course of two hours I got to see some of the crappiest parts of the 1970s distilled into one book. That’s including some things I didn’t mention yet. Page 26 has a rape joke and page 42 has Hutch call Starsky “retarded.” There’s just nothing good about this book, at all, and I’m a little scared to watch the episode later. I’m gonna do it, though. Believe me.
I don’t hold this book against the author. He needed the money and translated the script into a novel. He did it with aplomb and he did it with some skill. He certainly did it with the skill required to inflate that word count up to the required amount. Of course, I say that now. I wonder how much of the gross stuff was introduced between the script and the novel. I guess I’ll have to find out! I’ll report back whenever I get around to it.