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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy prompted many commemorative books and television specials. COLUMBO: THE GRASSY KNOLL may very well turn out to be both. William Harrington’s novel is the first hardcover book to feature Lieutenant Columbo, the famous television detective character. The novel could well be the basis for a Columbo film.

COLUMBO: THE GRASSY KNOLL uses devices and props familiar from the TV series. Readers first witness the murder of television talk-show host Paul Drury, who is obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and plans to broadcast his fiftieth show about that crime near its thirtieth anniversary. He states that he has evidence that will solve the mystery of the assassination. Although readers see who murders Drury, the motive is not revealed.

Columbo enters the story in typical fashion, arriving at the scene of the crime driving his battered Peugeot and wearing his infamous trenchcoat. He soon impresses the principal suspects as an idiot, but as he bumbles through initial interviews, he discovers that Drury’s murder was not tied to a burglary, as the murderers had intended it to appear. They learn too late that Columbo is far smarter than he looks.

Columbo’s investigation of Drury’s murder leads him to Drury’s evidence concerning the Kennedy assassination. In the denouement, he presents a new theory of the assassination as well as identifying Drury’s murderers. The subplot of the Kennedy assassination fits into the plot comfortably, using known facts and accepted theories but mixing in the novel’s characters. Columbo fans will appreciate this novel, as it faithfully re-creates the feeling of the television series, mixing humor with occasionally brilliant and always fascinating detective work.