Story: Freelance insurance investigator (a “ten percenter”) Thomas Banacek tackles one of his most intriguing cases, as a high-profile professional football player disappears from under a tackle pile-up in front of a sell-out crowd and millions of television viewers.
Review: Banacek was a part of NBC’s popular “Mystery Movie” series that followed in the footsteps of Columbo and the other series that pioneered the genre. It proved to be quite popular and lasted two seasons, only being cancelled when star George Peppard decided to back out rather than earn more money that would count towards his then-impending divorce from actress Elizabeth Ashley. While never reaching the success level of Columbo (due to its short lifespan), Banacek nonetheless is a well-remembered series, but one that totally escaped my notice until a DVD release was announced in 2007. So when a copy of the series’ only novel, “Banacek” turned up at a local thrift store, I was intrigued enough to pick it up.
Based on the episode “Let’s Hear It for A Living Legend”, the book is a light, breezy read with just enough character and cleverness to make it worthwhile. The story does little to differentiate itself from the television landscape that produced it, but is still engaging. In 1973, the world of professional football was still relatively uncharted waters, as it was only beginning to eclipse baseball as the sport in which American audiences were most interested.
Not having seen the original episode, I can’t say how accurately author Deane Romano captures the feel of the series, although there are a few instances where the use of certain four-letter-words make it clear that this is not a simple word-for-word retelling. Bancek comes off as a bit unsympathetic, having made a tidy sum and certainly not desperate for money. A bit of humanizing might have helped. Still, he’s a strong character, with his straightforward attitude and strong pride in his Polish ancestry. I can practically visualize Peppard’s performance from the text. The supporting cast are more generic, from the promotion-minded team owner, to the various stock player-types (jealous second-stringer, has-been quarterback, etc.), but still fulfill their function.
The conclusion is…serviceable. It’s not the most thrilling or the most clever, but (as so much with this book) it does the job. Again, Banacek’s slightly unsavory character comes into question as his stroll-off-with-the-girl doesn’t feel entirely earned, more like it’s what’s expected.
These kinds of tie-in novels were quite common back in the day. Nowadays, they are more likely to greenlight an original novel than an adaptation, so it really is something of a lost art form. Banacek is not a great novel, but it’s a decent, solid read. Mystery fans should enjoy it for the time it takes to read, but they won’t be remembering it for years to come. Still, there are worse ways to kill some time than reading a book like Banacek.
Author: Deane Romano; from a teleplay by Del Reisman