Thursday, September 19, 2019


Currently airing in America on many PBS channels, Professor T is a Sherlock Holmes/Monk mash-up. I was skeptical at first, but Professor T has rapidly become my favorite foreign language series alongside HBO Asia’s Miss Sherlock.

The version of Professor T being shown in America is the original series made in Belgium, which has so far run for 39 episodes over three seasons beginning in 2015. This original proved so popular with viewers it has spawned versions in France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. There are also rumors of an American version coming soon.

While the character of a brilliant, eccentric, germaphobic, police consultant with no social skills has become a well-worn cliché, there is something inherent in the setup that continues to appeal to us through its many and various incarnations. Professor T is but one more notch on the Sherlockian calabash, however, after two episodes it does become addictive, binge worthy viewing.

If you watch the series in any of its manifestations be aware it takes a while to get used to the scenes where Professor T's imaginations flow briefly into reality before returning to the here and now.

In the original series, eccentric professor and criminologist Jasper Teerlinck (Koen De Bouw) known to his students and colleagues as Professor T, has a brilliant mind and more than a few neurological disorders. Rude and insulting, he appears to delight in targeting an individual’s weak spots. Often, he gives the impression he doesn’t understand how or why people get upset with him, nor does he care. But there are other instances when he consciously uses his anti-social traits to his advantage. In his role as a police consultant, he is—of course—always right, which frustrates those individuals who would much prefer to see him banished from the squad room.

Working with Professor T are Inspectors Annelies Donckers (Ella Leyers) and Daan De Winter (Bart Hollanders). She is the explosive one. He is the quiet behind-the-scenes operator. Having once been Professor T’s students at the university, they know how to ignore his shortcomings and how best to handle him. 
Commissioner Paul Rabe (Herwig Ilegems) disapproves of Professor T and feels left out. Head of the criminal investigation department, Christina Flamant (Tanja Oostvogels) considers Professor T's collaboration with mixed feelings because they were once a couple.

Known as Prof T, the French remake of the original Belgium series curiously didn’t air in France until a year after it premiered in Belgium. Despite the slight name change, Prof T (Mathieu Bisson) is the same brilliant neurological mess. 

Inspectors Lise Doumère (Fleur Geffrier) and Dan Levasseur (Amir El Kacem) work with Prof T, trying to keep his anti-social tendencies from getting completely out of hand. Commissioner Paul Rabet (Pierre Berriau) still disapproves, and Commissaire Flamand (Zoé Félix) still alternately aches for the professor while despising his treatment of those around him. While the first of the remakes, the French version of Professor T has only aired six episodes.

For the German remake, Professor T became Jasper Thalheim (Matthias Matschkean), an eccentric professor of psychological criminology at Cologne University. His expertise leads him to become an advisor to the police. Like the original Professor T, his German alter ego suffers from an assortment of neurological fetishes, which cause him to were blue medical gloves most of the time. 

His former student Anneliese Deckert (Lucie Heinze) and her colleague Daniel Winter (Andreas Helgi Schmid) work for the criminal investigation department in Cologne. Together the trio seek to solve almost irresolvable crimes. The German version of Professor T began airing in February 2017. It has currently run for three season, each consisting of four episodes, with a fourth season filmed and ready to debut.

The success of Professor T continued with a third remake set in Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires, known for its historical atmosphere and unique charm. Despite the many sights and tourist attractions, major crimes still require solving. 

Professor T is now Jáchym Tauber (Pavel Reznícek). Inspectors Amálie Drápalová (Sarah Havácová) and Dan Winter (Aleš Petráš) dog his steps and catch his flack as they chase murderers and other assorted felons. 
The newest version of Professor T, the Czech version has run for eight episodes over two seasons. 

With the continuing success of the franchise, there is no doubt some version of Professor T will soon be available on a streaming service near you. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


If I could only choose one Western novel to recommend, it would be The Cowboy and the Cossack. The traditional cattle drive formula is given a refreshing twist when fifteen Montana cowboys sail into Vladivostok, Russia, with a herd of five hundred longhorns. 

The experienced wranglers are fired up to drive their herd across a thousand miles of Siberian wilderness, but are startled to find a band of Cossacks—Russia's elite horsemen and warriors—waiting to act as an unwanted escort. Very quickly, the culture clash between American six-shooters and Russian sabers detonates the action. The sequence in which the cattle are herded off the ship to the shore is one of the greatest of all novel openings.

Against the sweeping majesty of a cruel winter in the Russian wilderness, two men, Shad the leader of the Montana cowboys, and Rostov the Cossack commander come into tight focus. Respect and trust are forged in the molten fire of nature fueled by a ruthless Apache-like Tartar army and powerful men whose only motive is profit. The cowboy code and the Cossack credo measure men differently, but honor and courage rises when the Wild West rides the plains of the Russian Tsars.

Author Clair Huffaker was a legendary Western novelist and screenwriter. His screenplays include The Comancheros, Hellfighters, and The War Wagon, which starred John Wayne. 

His first novel, Flaming Lance, became the basis for the Elvis Presley film Flaming Star. Huffaker also wrote for TV Westerns such as Bonanza, The Rifleman, The Virginian, Rawhide and Lawman. He served in the Navy in World War II and was an experienced cowboy, a champion boxer and a part-time smuggler. His home in Los Angeles was a gathering place for actors, stuntmen, directors and writers, all of whom could regularly be found there shooting pool, playing poker and exchanging tall tales.

Huffaker's wife, Norma Lee Fink, was the first female prosecutor in Texas. Later, as a private practitioner, her clients included Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero, Henry Farrell, Christopher Lee, Inger Stevens, Norman Baer, Ed Linn, Slim Pickens, and her husband, Clair Huffaker.

The words of Clair Huffaker's daughter, Samantha Kirkeby, perhaps explain the emotional impact of The Cowboy and the Cossack best: “As I stumbled into middle age, my fathers ability to touch people was opened up to me in a dramatic and unexpected way. I found myself reading reviews from readers all over the world. Families in Russia who considered their page worn copy of The Cowboy and the Cossack a family treasure. A wife who read the book aloud to her husband when he was ill and bedridden. An American soldier who brought me to tears when I read how The Cowboy and the Cossack was his favorite novel, and the very first thing he put into his backpack each time he left for duty. For over a decade, he carried the ragged paperback copy of The Cowboy and the Cossack he bought in a used book store to dozens of countries, reading and rereading it, passing it among his fellow soldiers to give them strength and inspiration, until the pages were frayed and worn.” 

With Huffaker's ability to get his novels not only bought by Hollywood, but to also get them produced and released, it is a mystery why The Cowboy and the Cossack (arguably his best and most popular novel) has never made it to the screen. At one time producer Lance Hool held the movie rights. He famously attempted to get the film made with Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson in the title roles, which would have been epic casting. Later, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-producer of the James Bond films, acquired the rights, but his efforts also stalled in development hell. 

Since then, the film rights to The Cowboy and the Cossack have been twisted into a Gordian knot nobody has yet found a way to unravel. This is a travesty as The Cowboy and the Cossack, in the hands of the right director and with spot on casting, is a guaranteed summer blockbuster just waiting to happen. 



Taggart is a Scottish detective TV show shown on Britain’s ITV network. It made its first appearance as a mini-series entitled Killer in 1983. Eventually a full series was commissioned, which ran from July 1985 to November 2010. The actor’s Scottish accents were so thick they were rendered virtually indecipherable, making close captioning essential when viewing.

The series revolved around a group of detectives assigned to the Maryhill Criminal Investigation Division, part of the Strathclyde Police. The team operated out of the fictional John Street police station, but many cases took them to many parts of Greater Glasgow and beyond.

The main character was Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart (Mark McManus), a tough and experienced detective who had worked his way up through the ranks. Taggart’s sidekick was Detective Sergeant Peter Livingstone (Neil Duncan), who represented the new breed of more enlightened cops, which frequently led to clashes with Taggart.

Longtime journeyman scribe, Peter Cave (The New Avengers, etc.) contributed five Taggart tie-in books. I’m fairly certain the last four were novelizations of the show’s scripts, but the first may have been an original. I have no doubt David Spenser will know for sure.

Glamorous opera singer, Eleanor Samson, returns to sing with Scottish Opera. While in Glasgow, she hopes to bring about a reconciliation with her estranged husband, John. She is furious to discover that there is a new woman in John's life, blonde ex-secretary, Kirsty King. When Kirsty's body is found in the burnt-out shell of John's boat, Eleanor Samson is the prime suspect...Jim Taggart, tough Glasgow detective, and his smooth young assistant, Peter Livingstone, fall out over the case. Livingstone believes Eleanor is guilty, Taggart cannot believe that a woman like Eleanor could be a murderess. Is Taggart allowing his judgement to be clouded by Eleanor's fame and beauty?

When two skulls are discovered on the site of a new bypass, Jim Taggart is called in to investigate. Could one be that of a girl who disappeared without trace four years earlier? The case takes a deadly turn after poisonous snakes stolen from a pharmaceutical laboratory are used in a series of macabre murders. Taggart needs all his detective skills as he puzzles over the link between the missing girl and a tangle of corporate intrigue involving the lab's owners.

When 12-year-old Simon witnesses the murder of his father by a caped intruder, Jim Taggart is plunged into another mystery. Simon is convinced his father's death is connected to the mysterious cottage in the woods and decides to investigate. His journey moves from fairytale to nightmare.

When Cathy and Martin Adams decide to have a baby by donor insemination, Cathy's mother, Joan, blames her son-in-law for the 'unnatural' act. Bitter recriminations follow and Joan's subsequent murder would appear to be a clear-cut case. But all is not as it seems: Taggart discovers that Dr Miller of the fertility clinic has been donating his own sperm and that about 60 couples who attended the clinic are now bringing up a 'Miller' child. More creepy discoveries lead the Taggart team on a terrifying hunt for the killer before he strikes again.

When Dr Janet Napier, owner of the Napier Health Farm, on trial for murdering her husband's mistress, is given a 'not-proven' verdict, Taggart is ordered to take a rest. Being Taggart, he promptly books in at the Napier Health Farm. Dr Napier cannot be tried again – but there may be more to discover. Taggart is right. Within days of his arrival, members of Dr Napier's family begin to be murdered by a killer who seems to have a deadly grudge. Does the clue lie in her past, when she destroyed the lives of a family by giving a young girl an accidental overdose of insulin? Taggart's enforced rest at the health farm puts him in just the right place to unearth the killer.