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Sun, Feb 20, 2000
06:23:22 PM EST

Contents and Source
Material Copyright © 2000,
L.O.F. Communications
All Rights Reserved

 
Suspense: Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills
Written by Martin Grams, Jr.
Reviewed by Charlie Summers

I need to explain a little about my feelings toward Suspense. Way back when, when I started collecting Old-Time Radio, I collected and listened to a lot of Suspense, Escape, The Whistler, Inner Sanctum Mysteries...well, you get the idea. As my collection grew, I listened to them less and less (there are so many shows, so little time), and finally got to the point where the mystery anthologies are "passe," something a part of my collecting "childhood." So I approached Suspense - Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills with a good bit of reluctance, since it deals with programs I've long-since "passed by."

The book is a little intimidating at first, with 150 pages of narrative text comprising the first third of the book, and at least another 250-300 pages of broadcast logs.

Grams starts the book years before Suspense hit the airwaves, giving a brief look at why the Forecast program showed up on the airwaves at all; he follows Suspense from its premier broadcast straight through to the final episode in 1962, detailing anecdotes and stories about individual episodes and using copious quotes from people who were there, and then.

He then spends some pages on the television version of Suspense, using the same technique.

The rest of the book is the definitive reference work on the series; a humongous log of all broadcast episodes (radio and television), movies based on stories broadcast on Suspense, comics, and books. You probably won't be interested in reading this section front-to-back, but it is invaluable as a reference work when you want information on any particular episode. It's here the tremendous amounts of research shines through; the book is worth the cover price, and is indeed a "must have," for this huge section alone.

Yep, if you collect Old Radio, you really have to have this book. There is a tremendous amount of information here, not only about Suspense, but about the people and times that made Suspense one of the longest-running programs in radio history.

There's actually too much information, sometimes...it's easy to get lost in the barrage of facts and quotes, and lose track of where in the history of the series you are. I found myself having to stop reading occasionally, just to absorb the informational flood. Grams might have been a little more liberal with complete dates in the narrative section, too; for example, "'The Lodger' was performed again, for it's third and final time," requires bouncing up three paragraphs, each chock-filled with information (some dealing with 1944), to remember that we're in the 1947-48 season. If you need to put the book down while reading the narrative, make sure you pause on a season break.

I was also left with strange impression that Escape was the incubator for many of Suspense's better episodes, and wondered if that series might not be more deserving of a book on its history. Grams' references to the show are unavoidable, but the cumulative tone of the references seems to convey a sense of superiority.

The biggest flaw in this excellent book is the lack of an index; many times, people ask me questions which have answers within these pages, but without an index, can't be easily found. How many times, for example, did Vincent Price star in an episode of Suspense? The information is in there...somewhere.

The only other major quibble I have with the book is the way Grams handled the problem between Elliot Lewis and Mickey Rooney, allowing a direct quote from an anonymous source. Ignoring the fact that this was almost 50 years ago and doesn't really seem to be a "delicate" situation anymore, and even assuming the source requested anonymity, it was bad handling to use unattributed direct quotes. He would have been better off paraphrasing, since there's no way for an objective observer to validate the remembrance. "Background" information is important (indeed, vital) to any good work of non fiction, but direct quotes from an unnamed source are always a bad idea.

Given all of that, you need this book in your collection. The problems in no way detract from the amazing wealth of information not only about this particular series, but about all the people who spent a part of their lives making this series what it was.

And for whatever it's worth, I've been listening to, and enjoying all over again, the Suspense episodes in my collection thanks to having read this book.

Purchase this book at
Borders.com