Saturday, April 17, 2021

What Are Some Literary “Jumping the Shark” Moments?


Scott D. Parker

Sometimes old things trigger new questions.

For the longest time, our front living room was television-less. That’s where the library is, it’s where we set up our Christmas tree, and it serves as the guest bedroom. We didn’t mind not having a TV in the front room, but during last year’s NFL season, I pulled out an old TV we had and one of those digital antennas and converter box and set up the TV. I’m the only one in the house who enjoys football and I didn’t want to hog up one of the good TVs just to watch a game.

It’s been kind of fun having that old TV available. I plugged one of our VCRs (yes, really) and a portable DVD player so I could watch the occasional show on it. In terms of live television, however, when it’s not being used for football, it’s on MeTV.

Imagine my surprise, a couple of weeks ago, when suddenly MeTV was not where it usually was. The network recently purchased a station here in Houston and started broadcasting from that new channel. A channel my old converter box/antenna combo did not receive. Cue a drive to Target to purchase a new combo setup. Viola! They work perfectly and I now can get MeTV.

But this new converter box also has a recording feature. It’s like a DVR but only for over-the-air channels. No problem for me. So one afternoon I pulled out the instruction manual to figure out how to record things.

And I received a happy surprise.

“Happy Days” was airing at that time and wouldn’t you know it, the episode in question was “Hollywood, Part 3.” What? You don’t know that episode by title? Well, it’s the exact fifth episode where Fonzie jumps the shark.

Naturally, I ended up watching the rest of the episode.* Yeah, it’s as cheesy as you remember it to be, but I reckon my nine-year-old self was glued to the TV in suspense, just like the Cunninghams were.

The term “jumping the shark” has been used to define when a TV show went off the rails. That is, when it stopped being the original thing it was and became something else, usually a shell of its former self. Just me writing this brings to mind many a show to your minds. That time when Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd got together in “Moonlighting.” That time when Victoria Principal discovered Patrick Duffy’s Bobby Ewing in the shower and they told you the entire season you had just watched…was a dream. That time when David Duchovny left “The X-Files.” Those are just off the top of my head.

Then I got to thinking: Are there literary “jumping the shark” moments? Are there books in long-running series that jump the shark? I know there must be, but I’m not coming up with any. Granted, I’ve not read many long-running series. There are 52 In Death books by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). John Sandford has written 31 in the Prey series. Twenty-five Jack Reacher books exist and I don’t even want to start counting the number of series James Patterson has written. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote 80 Perry Mason novels (and 30 Cool and Lam novels). The old pulp writers Lester Dent (Doc Savage) and Walter Gibson (The Shadow) wrote a novel a month for years.

The point is, there are many a long-running series in the book world. Have (or did) any of them jump the shark?

Follow-up Question

By the way, Happy Days went on for another six years, eleven seasons in total. Were all those post-shark episodes bad? Probably not. The TV show Dallas recovered from the Bobby-in-the-Shower moment, but The X-Files and Moonlight didn’t.

So if there is a book series that jumped the shark, did that series recover?

*Side note: The other plot for this episode (and probably parts 1 and 2) was Richie mulling over a choice of whether or not to attend college or head out to Hollywood and sign a film contract. I had completely forgotten this since I probably saw the episode on the date of its airing and then never again since. But there’s a nice scene between Richie and his dad. Howard Cunningham gives his son a nice pep talk, ending with a reminder: no matter what Richie choose, his father will support him and be proud of him. Now that I’m a dad myself, this scene got to me in a way my nine-year-old self couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Snakes on a post


This week, Beau takes a look at Rattlesnake Rodeo from Nick Kolakowski.

Jake and Frankie managed to escape that terrible game, but their problems are just beginning. They’re broke, on the run, and hunted by every cop between Oregon and Montana. If they’re going to make it through, they may need to strike a devil’s bargain—and carry out a seemingly impossible crime.

Rattlesnake Rodeo is a neo-Western noir filled with incredible twists. If you want true justice against the greedy and powerful, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the worst people… More>>

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Writers' Room Wednesday: Better Call Saul


From Adam Harper at

I saw this in twitter land and thought that fellow Stage 32 people may find it interesting/useful.

If you don't want to ruin the Better Call Saul season 4 finale for yourself, don't open this image and squint at it!

Does anyone else do similar? My home is too small for an outlining wall :-( I was using an excel spread sheet but, a writer friend introduced me to Trello this week and I'm hooked on it!  More >>

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Lending the Key to the Locked Room

Since last year, when I rediscovered the pleasure of reading locked room mysteries, a favorite of mine from when I first began reading mysteries as a teenager, I've used Locked Room International, the small publishing house started by John Pugmire, as a resource.  Over the last several years, he's published an impressive, and growing, catalog, of novels centered around a locked-room or impossible crime.  You can check out the LRI list of books here if you're interested:  

What I especially like is that many of the books published by LRI are books written since 1980, whether by Frenchman Paul Halter or by one of the Japanese practitioners of modern honkaku (authentic or orthodox mysteries).  The locked-room mystery novel is alive and well, and I enjoy reading these kinds of stories set in the more contemporary world than the Golden Age Mystery world, wonderful as those classics often are.  Browsing through the list of LRI books recently, I decided on one that sounded like fun, and it turns out I was not disappointed.  Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, originally published in 2002 and translated last year, kept me both suitably puzzled until its solution and quite amused.   

In brief: Ryuhei is an aspiring filmmaker who just been dumped by his girlfriend.  When she gets murdered, drunken threats he made to kill her turn him into the main suspect.  He has an alibi, but it's shaky.  He claims he was watching a film with his friend at his friend's home movie theater.  The two avid cinephiles made a night of it, watching a crime film, drinking, eating.  But his alibi is shaken because on the same night as the screening, his friend is stabbed to death in his bathroom, with the door to the apartment locked with a door chain.  Nobody but Ryuhei was in the locked apartment at the time of the killing, and Ryuhei had been passed out during the actual murder.  He wakes in the morning to find his friend's dead body.  With all the evidence against him, Ryuhei panics and flees the scene, which doesn't make him any less suspicious to the police.  

Lending the Key to the Locked Room has a tongue in cheek tone and an amusing eccentric detective who gets involved in the case.  But the mystery itself is genuinely tricky and plays fair with the reader in all the ways a "fair play mystery" should do that.  It's also something of a treat for film lovers, since a lot of the plot revolves around discussions of genre films and different cuts of certain films.  For escapism and the exact type of mental workout I love from these books (not that I ever figure them out), it delivered.  I'm really getting into these Japanese locked room mysteries, with their air-tight and baffling plots and their emphasis on the puzzle itself.  So far the ones I've read have not taken themselves too seriously, and that's all for the better.  Thanks to Locked Room International for making a bunch of them available in English translations.