Sunday, November 28, 2010

THE ROCKFORD FILES: THE GREEN BOTTLE by Stuart M. Kaminsky

The Rockford Files is one of the better, if not the best, television private detective television shows. It was produced in the mid- to late-1970s, but it has lost little with age. It is still vibrant, funny and interesting. It was revived for a short-time in the mid-1990s with eight made for television movies, which I enjoyed, but are a step or two below the original series, which also spawned two tie-in novels by the late Stuart M. Kaminsky titled Devil on My Doorstep (1998) and The Green Bottle (1999).Both are good, but The Green Bottle is something special. It is the best tie-in novel I have read. It captures the vibrant humor and action of the original series while accurately aging Jim. These books are available in both hardcover and mass-market, but they are becoming harder and harder to find and you will really enjoy revisiting Jim Rockford as he was in the 1990s.

I was first introduced to Jim Rockford in the late-1980s—the original Rockford Files was ran in syndication on a local television station—but I really didn’t “get” it until the mid-1990s (I was older and presumably wiser, although that is arguable) when several television movies were aired on network television. James Garner portrayed an older Rockford who had lost his father Rocky, and while the movies didn’t have the same freshness and forward momentum as the series, they were still pretty damn good. They focused on the favorites of the series: Beth and Angel and Dennis Becker were all there, as was Rockford: older and wiser with knees that barely allowed him to walk let alone
run.

I recently read a Rockford novel written by Stuart M. Kaminsky that was released about the same time as the television movies—1996—titled The Rockford Files: The Green Bottle. It was a real treat. It is pure Rockford, but it also has the benefit of delving into the psyche and humanity of Rockford. In short, it is a novel that anyone who likes the old television series should take the time to find and read. It isn’t a hastily put together tie-in novel, but rather it is a novel that just happens to feature Jim Rockford in the same world he inhabited in both the series and the movies.

The novel opens with Rockford staking out a boat in Santa Monica. He was hired to retrieve a Chinese bottle th
at was stolen from a collector. It is raining and Rockford feels less than excited about his position—
“I was definitely soaked down to my underwear. I was definitely seasick. I was definitely not in a good mood.”
He makes the recovery in short order, but the job leads him to another job that is more serious and strangely linked to the little green Chinese bottle. He is hired by a surgeon to find his niece, a teenage girl who came out from Arkansas to find fame in Hollywood. She has been gone for several days; she left a note that a producer was taking her under his wing, but while she is a beautiful girl, she is an abysmal actress. The uncle asks Rockford to find her, and in exchange, he will perform surgery on Rockford’s knees at no charge.

The job turns out to be more complicated than it seems. It leads Rockford down a dangerous path that finds him accused of murder, and into th
e strange world of Chinese glass bottle collectors—in short, it is vintage Rockford.

The Rockford Files: The Green Bottle is a brilliant translation of the television series into novel format. It envelopes the character with precision—Rockford is stubborn, humorous and always put-upon. He ends up in trouble at every turn, and also never seems to get paid. A problem he seemingly deals with a lot. Angel has a large role in the novel, and he adds the needed oddity and humor to the story. Becker is also there, as is Captain Diehl and Beth Davenport. As well as Rocky, not as an on-stage character, but his memory and style lingers in Rockford’s life like a shadow.

The story is sha
rp and unique. It stands well as part of the series, but it also plays well on its own. It is a private detective story with style and punch. It will satisfy the most ardent Rockford fan as well as the passing fan and the reader who doesn’t know Jim Rockford from Miss Marple. In short, The Green Bottle is one terrific read that captures the spirit and nature of the series while expanding it into something that is totally original. It is exactly what a quality tie-in should be—familiar yet new and exciting.

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