Thursday, February 19, 2015

The end of the Rockford Files, 35 years later

I hated the idea of my Netflix account until I realized that I could watch every episode of The Rockford Files and Hawaii Five-O with it. The Rockford Files was only six seasons long, so I finished that while I'm still working toward the end of Hawaii Five-O (many thoughts to come on that).

Jim Rockford as played by James Garner was a world-weary, very cautious (you're forgiven for thinking that might mean "cowardly" on occasion) and mostly too-decent-for-his-own-good private detective. But give Rockford a break: he spent five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit until he received a pardon from the governor. Not that it mattered: once a con, always a con, according to many of the people he ran into. All he wanted to do was stay out of trouble and get his $200 a day, plus expenses for honest work. He had some clear boundaries: no domestic cases, and nothing that smelled of organized crime (smart guy). Of course, most episodes found him working a case that he had been dragged into for someone who had as little as he did, which meant that he was frequently short on cash even though he lived in a trailer.

The saying "with friends like that, who needs enemies" could have been something the writers had posted on their walls. Detective Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) begrudged him a phone call and if Rockford reported being shot at he wanted him to produce a witness before he'd file a report. He was also really quick to try and book him on something, and frequently let the even less friendly Lieutenant Doug Chapman (James Luisi) listen in on their conversations for something incriminating.

James Garner as the wry (and did I mention very good looking?) Jim Rockford
While Becker became more supportive after he was promoted to Lieutenant, Rockford's friend Evelyn "Angel" Martin (Stuart Margolin), an ever-hustling con artist, would sell Jim and anyone else out for a nickel. He had no such concept of honor among thieves, and Rockford frequently found himself with a gun in his face on Angel's account.

All of that drama was made up for by Rockford's father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery Jr.). He was very simple and could be known to nag Jim (they frequently butted heads about painting and fishing schedules), but he always had his son's back. If only Jim could be convinced to settle down with a nice girl...

In that regard, Rockford was as no-nonsense as he was in the rest of his life. He was highly unlikely to fall into the trap of rescuing the damsel-in-distress (although Kathryn Harrold as a blind stalking victim was irresistible), but he wasn't immune to the femme fatale (Susan Strasberg came thisclose to getting him good). For the most part, though, he was pretty no-nonsense when it came to romance; for the first four seasons, he was on-again, off-again with his attorney Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett). Her departure, coincidentally, signaled the demise of the quality of the show.

The Rockford Files had a much more comedic flair than other detective shows. Rockford certainly wasn't the first detective to throw around clever quips, but because he worked outside of the system he was as likely to roll his eyes and sigh about it as he did so. A lot of the storylines weren't necessarily funny- call me old-fashioned, but murder isn't funny- but Garner's grumbly, sarcastic delivery of his lines would mostly get a laugh. And while Rockford might not have been a felon, he was as much a clever con man as he was a detective. While he may have been more than happy to suss out information at the library (and away from anyone who might have a gun), when he needed to be suave Jim Taggart or Oklahoma oilman Jimmy Joe Meeker in order to triangulate a bad guy, he could do it in a snap. (And someone who has a portable business card printer isn't that reluctant to get in trouble, is he?)

That's a lot of what I liked, but it wasn't perfect. First of all, in most of the episodes there was a car chase; it was as predictable as William Shatner ending up on the roof of a car in T.J. Hooker. While I would still say that the writing was better than much of what's on television now, after a while whenever that came up I'd think, "Huh, that's what they used for filler back then." The rumor is that the damage to the car was one of the things that drove up the cost of the show, which led to some friction between Garner and the network, but I'm not close to anyone involved so I don't really know.

The other star of The Rockford Files
Worse than the car was the fact that the mysteries weren't always that well-conceived. Figuring out who the bad guy was and why they'd done it was usually easy enough, and when it wasn't it was frequently a throw away. The real point of the episode, many times, was to watch Rockford clever himself out of trouble and into catching the bad guy. For four seasons that was fine, but by season five the magic was gone. To the casual viewer (like me), it looked as if Garner wanted less screen time. Understandable, but then it wasn't really clear what the show was about.

Still in all, it was a very good show, just maybe not great. It could be argued that Rockford was a Seventies version of the Forties noir detective, but I don't think he was as bitter or nihilistic. Beneath all of the sarcastic jabs, he was just a guy who wanted to get paid for the work he did, and if he could help the little guy along the way, so much the better. All in all, decent and real, and popular culture is not hurt by such characters.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

That Old Black Magic (The Lizzie Hart Mysteries) by Caroline Fardig (Interview, Giveaway)

That Old Black Magic…will it put Lizzie under its spell?

Lizzie Hart hoped her first day back at work after nearly being killed would be uneventful.  No such luck.  Before she can finish her morning coffee, Lizzie and her co-workers find a dead body on the rooftop of their office.  Media vultures that they are, the Liberty Chronicle employees are psyched to have first-hand news to report.  Lizzie, however, is devastated when she realizes that the victim is her ex-boyfriend’s brother.

When evidence begins piling up against one of Lizzie’s friends, she reluctantly dons her detective hat once again, determined to find the real killer.  She’s not thrilled about chasing another psychopath around, but she’ll do anything for a friend.  Lizzie’s love life is rapidly becoming a hot mess, too.  Her latest attempt at sleuthing isn’t leaving much time for her budding romance with town hunk Blake Morgan.  Add that to the fact she’s hiding a secret so big it could rock the very core of their relationship, it’s no wonder that Lizzie’s in a tizzy. 

Poor Lizzie ends up juggling a murder investigation, a wacky Wiccan coven, and two men vying for her attention—all while nursing injuries left over from the last time she decided to play Nancy Drew.  It’s a good thing she always has a few tricks up her sleeve.

Caroline Fardig is one of my favorite authors, and believe me when I tell you that I hounded her for months to be able to read her latest release. (Spoiler alert: it's just as funny and clever as her first.) I loved it so much I subjected myself to her trademark snark to discuss it. Read the interview, read my review, and then read the book!

Is it fair to say that the intrepid Miss Hart is a little bit neurotic, maybe even controlling?

What? Neurotic? Controlling? Just because she has frequent outbursts, is always right, and feels the need to save people from themselves? I can’t believe you’d say such a thing.

I'm not going to give too much away, but Blake, the hottie Lizzie drooled over in It's Just A Little Crush, is wrapped around her finger in That Old Black Magic. Lizzie puts him through his paces in both books. Is Blake the kind of guy who likes them hard to get?

Before Lizzie, Blake didn’t have to try at all to get women to fall for him. Lizzie is a challenge, and he needs a bit of challenge in his life, since his job is total cake. Frankly, I think Blake was getting bored with the easy catch. Also, don’t forget they started out as friends, so Lizzie has one thing none of those other women had—Blake’s respect.

You went pretty hard on the occult angle! What made that something you wanted to explore, other than maybe your creepy obsession with Halloween?

Yes, I have a creepy obsession with Halloween. Guilty as charged. Honestly, I got the idea for this book when all of the vampire/fantasy novels were so ridiculously popular. I was so sick of sparkly, sexy bloodsuckers that I went the totally opposite route—how is the occult viewed in real life, small town America? It’s not accepted. The people involved are not considered sex symbols—they’re often shunned. I began playing up the funny angle of that, but as I got into researching and writing, my opinion changed. It’s not cool to make fun of someone because his or her beliefs aren’t accepted by society. I hope people will notice some real emotional transformations in certain characters as they learn that as well. Whew. That was rather deep for me, wasn’t it?

Yes, that was kind of deep and really wonderful, and at the risk of giving a spoiler, Lizzie has a great attitude about that too. When you first started writing and saw what was popular (vampires/zombies/bondage/YA/dystopian), did you ever think that you should try and tailor what you were writing to what was "hot"?

Not really. I try for my books to be as true-to-life as possible (at least in the sense that a series about a small-town copy editor getting tangled up in murder after murder isn’t too unbelievable), so none of those elements would have fit the genre. Sure, I’d love to write a smash hit, but I don’t know how to compete with sparkly vampires and billionaires with hairbrushes. 

Have you ever dabbled in the occult? (Anything from a Ouija board to joining a coven!)

I’m going to have to stop at Ouija Board. I had one as a kid, but it was just another game to me. I’m tolerant of other people’s beliefs, but I don’t personally believe in magic and ghosts and things of that sort. Different strokes.

We know Lizzie's hilarious, but I rolled over laughing when I got to the part about, ahem, crazy girls. Any real-life stories you'd like to share about that?

When I originally read this question, I was going to say “no”, because I’m pretty chill, as women go. I’m not one of those drama queens, and I generally don’t make it a habit of hanging out with them (except for my darling daughter). However, once I really started to think about it, my husband certainly dated a couple of crazy girls before he met me, and my poor little son is getting a taste of it with “dating” in middle school. My husband prefers the term “psycho hose beast”. I know several women that would fit the category, and their significant others can’t seem to get enough of them. So yeah, it’s a thing.

Let's say, roughly, Crush was about infidelity and Magic is about the occult; what is Book Three going to be about and when is it going to drop?

Wow. I have enough trouble paring down my books into a book jacket description, let alone ONE WORD! I’m going to go with phrases. Let’s say Bad Medicine a combo of “back in the saddle” and “fatal attraction”. And it’s going to drop this summer!

FATAL ATTRACTION?! More fatal than the villain in It's Just A Little Crush? Or is someone we already can't stand going to show her true psycho colors? 

Well, not that anything can be “more fatal”—it’s either fatal or it isn’t. ;) [As I was saying about the snark!] Rest assured, there’s plenty of killing and crazy going on in Bad Medicine. And I know you want more Bethany, so I’m giving it to you. You’ll see a new side of her in Bad Medicine.

Psycho coworkers going even more psycho and yet more murder? I'm sure it'll be hilarious and I can't wait!

IT’S JUST A LITTLE CRUSH:  Kindle     Nook
THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC:  Kindle     Nook
In honor of the release of THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC, IT’S JUST A LITTLE CRUSH will be on sale for $0.99 the first week of February!

About the Author:
CAROLINE FARDIG was born and raised in a small town in Indiana. Her working career has been rather eclectic thus far, with occupations including schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom. Finally realizing that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, Caroline is currently hard at work churning out more novels in the LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series. She still lives in that same small town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

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