Usually, the moment the seemingly befuddled Lt. Columbo makes his subtle, unobtrusive entrance to a crime scene is a treat. In William Harrington's "The Glitter Murder", it's the moment the whole book goes downhill. The book opens in the tradition of the beloved TV series "Columbo", with the introduction of a soon-to-be-murderer. In this case, it's Ai-Ling Cooper-Svan, a respected magazine editor plotting against Gunnar Svan, an independent filmmaker and her louse of a husband, with the assistance of her psychologist and illicit lover. The murder plot and its execution are promising, but then Lt. Columbo is bluntly introduced into the plot, and Harrington's novel loses its entertainment value.
The problem is Harrington shows a very poor understanding of what made the Columbo series so popular. Firstly, the character of Columbo is all wrong. Part of what made Columbo so endearing on television was the sense that there was much more to him than there appeared. Harrington tries to understand what makes Columbo tick and fails. He gives readers a look inside Columbo's head, and it's disappointing to find out there's no more to his version of Columbo than we see on the surface. His Columbo wears the trench coat and smokes the cigars, but all of the traits that really made him entertaining are butchered here. Harrington even spoils the mystery of Mrs. Columbo's existence, one of the constant joys of the television series. The book seems truer to the series it was based on when Ai-Ling is present than whenever Columbo is.
Secondly, Harrington doesn't seem to grasp that Columbo is all about a cat-and-mouse game. He gives Columbo an intriguing opponent in the form of Ai-Ling Cooper-Svan, but then fails to bring them together more often than brief, periodic encounters throughout the novel, and when they are brought together, there's no chemistry between them. Instead, Harrington drags one unnecessary supporting character after another into the plot. Some contribute next to nothing to the plot, very few are intriguing, yet all have first and last names. The author also drags in worthless subplots involving molestation and prostitution. The emphasis should be on Columbo and the murderess.
Finally, Harrington's novel misses that one crucial, intangible element that made the series effective despite always revealing the killer in the beginning. Columbo always claimed to be overly thorough and methodical, but in actuality he was always perpetually hounding the one person he knew to be the guilty party. Harrington's Columbo prefers to spend most of his time discrediting red-herrings and false leads, something very frustrating when the reader already know the truth behind the mystery, something even more insufferable when Columbo reveals his suspicions early on in the novel but refuses to follow his instincts. Towards the end, Harrington even has the unflappable lieutenant second-guessing himself. Then, in what's meant to be the brilliant twist ending, Columbo catches his killer with a piece of evidence that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. As a final insult, Harrington tacks on an epilogue that belongs to an episode of "Dragnet", not "Columbo." Harrington has boiled the brilliant formula of the Columbo series into a dry police procedural less entertaining than the most sub par episodes of the "Columbo" TV series.