The problem with any book which is essentially a catalogue reference book from a reviewer’s objectives is does it fulfil its objectives and is it accurate. I then added a third objective: Does it contain everything? Now that is a toughie.
Karen A. Romanko’s book, ‘Television’s Female Spies And Crimefighters’, pretty much lays its hands on the table with its sub-title, ‘600 Characters And Shows, 1950s To The Present’. In her introduction, Romanko repeats some of the material from the actual entries – a retro remark because you have to read on to discover that – but also indicates that they don’t necessarily belong to the security services or various police forces.
Her remit covers the USA, Canada and UK and it would be understandable if some series or characters are missed but in the age of Internet, it is a lot easier to go check and not miss anyone or series. More so, when you read further down, some serious omissions. I’m not entirely convinced that the series and characters should have been lumped together because occasionally you will have entries directly under each other. This also isn’t helped when so many characters have a one line entry which does little to embellish information about them from the series entry. It might have worked better to have gone one way or the other. Detailing a character’s importance in relation to a series would have also made sense. To locate characters alone would need a good memory as to what series they belong to. Any extra space, could also cover the various femme fatales and female nasties that were also out there as it would be more comprehensive. I don’t mean one appearance characters by this by the way. It isn’t like ‘The Americans’ wasn’t included, so even some of the other nationals are included anyway.
In some respects, this book is a geek dream. You can do with alone or with a group of fellow geeks and work out what are missing. This doesn’t mean Romanko’s book is totally remiss just that once you start reading, you do have a habit of looking and seeing if so-and-so was covered and my list started to grow. At the same time, I was also investigating some of the series she points out to see if they were available on DVD. A lot of them aren’t so this book does provide a lot of info you might not get elsewhere or at least guide you what to look up. Romanko points out in the finale that she is a fan of British as well as American series but not whether all these were available to be viewed in the USA where this book has its main audience.
Anyway, let’s go into geek mode. I can understand maybe the absence of Venus Smith (actress Julie Stevens) from ‘The Avengers’ but no Tara King (actress Linda Thorson) under the series and only a brief line under her own name. Totally absent was Dr. Angie March (actress Susannah Harker) from the TV series ‘Ultraviolet’ who was both good with a gun and forensics. It isn’t though a lot of short series aren’t included here. There is also no reference to ‘The Beiderbecke Affair’ with Jill Swinburne (actress Barbara Flynn) neither.
With the first run of ‘Mission: Impossible’, only Cinnamon Carter and Lisa Casey (she has an individual entry contrary to being put in bold to indicate that) but not Dana Lambert (actress Leslie Ann Warren) or Mimi Davis (whose actress, Barbara Anderson, did more here than in ‘Ironside’) or Tracy (actress Lee Meriwether). With the later Australian produced ‘Mission: Impossible’, Casey Randall (actress Terry Markwell) isn’t mentioned at all, despite being the only IMF operative to be killed.
Some are more questionable than others. Why include ‘Hill Street Blues’ because, for the life of me, I can’t recall any major case solved by Lucille Bates, who doesn’t even rate a note in the series main entry. Likewise, another pushing at straws is including Eve Whitfield and Fran Belding from ‘Ironside’ come to that. Neither of whom were great case solvers. The lady detectives and WPCs of ‘The Bill’ aren’t even mentioned.
Neither is ‘Spyder’s Web’ (1972) with Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Dean (actress Patricia Cutts) as the head of a British Intelligence execution section nor the two season series ‘South Of The Border’ (1988) with a female black private detective in Pearl Parker (actress Buki Armstrong). The same applies with ‘The Gentle Touch’ (1980-84) and ‘C.A.T.S. Eyes (1985-1987) – both series running on from each other led by Maggie Forbes (actress Jill Gascoine ). More recently, ‘Line Of Duty’ with DC Kate Fleming (actress Vicky Mcguire) was out before this book had to be released. ‘New Tricks’ is covered but not Pullman’s replacement, DCI Sasha Miller (actress Tamzin Outhwaite). I suspect, Romanko would have had a field day if she dug deeper because the UK has had an enormous record for female led TV cop/forensic shows from the likes and further examples include: ‘Juliet Bravo’ (surely one of the earliest to be based around a police woman inspector in the UK released in 1980), ‘Bulman’, ‘Silent Witness’, ‘Between The Lines’, ‘Ashes To Ashes’, ‘Blue Murder’, ‘The Ghost Squad’, ‘[Spooks]’ and ‘Happy Valley’. A near complete list can be found on IMdB and wikipedia, so it’s hardly rocket science to look these up and I expect its more to do with not knowing what they were or not shown in America that Romanko might have missed them, especially as she cites them as part of her sources.
Some absensees are still confusing. Don’t expect to see ‘Torchwood’ that Gwen Cooper (actress Eve Myles) or Sarah-Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) from her own ‘Sarah-Jane Adventures’ spin-off series from ‘Doctor Who’. It isn’t as though Nancy Drew isn’t here so no preclusion of young adult shows.
Likewise, although the new ‘V’ is covered, there is no mention of the original 1984 series and leader Judie Parrish (actress Faye Grant). Surely, ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ would have deserved a mention either for her or the Terminator Cameron Philips? ‘Seven Days’ is also missing so you would find a mention of Olga Vukavitch (actress Justina Vail).
Although all the characters get their own entry, the majority only get a couple lines and don’t even include the actress who played the part. For that, you need to look up the series entry. It isn’t as though there wasn’t space to include them.
As I said above, a big plus is that the number of series covered ended up me tagging a new series that I want to investigate further which is a good sign. You also get a lot of black and white photos which is always a bonus.
Don’t take my list of omitted series as the means to think that this wouldn’t be a useful book to own. There’s a lot of ground to cover and certainly pointed out some US shows I hadn’t heard of. The list above points out shows that I think should have been included but weren’t. If you don’t see them above, then you can bet that that they were included in the book. One thing I wouldn’t do for a revised volume is specify how many because you are forced to stick to that number.
If anything, I would classify this book as a starting point and would urge both Romanko and her publishers to work on a second edition. After all, ‘The Present’ is always expanding and there’s a fair better that if the book was split into two volumes, for spies and crime-fighters, more photos would undoubtedly add to the selling points indicated here.
(pub: McFarland. 246 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £32.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-9637-2)