Created by Warren Murphy
“It’s a bubble that’s gonna break, it’s Murphy’s law…”
–theme song lyrics, sung by Al Jarreau
I‘m sorry, but there’s just no sense listing these guys separately. Warren Murphy wrote them all, and they’re all basically the same guy, especially the first two, JULIAN “DIGGER” BURROUGHS and DEVLIN “TRACE” TRACY.
“Digger” was a bumbling, drunken, divorced, often politically/socially/culturally incorrect–but lovable–lout of a freelance investigator on contract to a large insurance company who manages to continually solve cases, much to the chagrin of his immediate supervisor. Not that he was any sort of genius–most of his success was due to his very smart Japanese/Italian blackjack dealer/part-time hooker roommate and his very good friend who just happens to own the insurance company. The Digger series ran for four books, all paperback originals, out of Pocket Books. All great fun.
And when that series petered out (or whatever the hell happened), author Warren Murphy simply tweaked it a little, changed some names (most notably from “Digger” to “Trace”) and a few minor details, and continued the series for Signet for another seven books (and change). “Trace” was still bumbling, still a drunk, still a divorced dad, still hilariously incorrect.
By the time the character got to television, he’d acquired yet another monicker — this time he was PATRICK DAEDULUS MURPHY. He was been cleaned up a tad, and dusted off, ready for prime time, played by the always affable George Segal. They also saddled him with a cute, precocious daughter, in an attempt to turn him into a loving father (in his previous incarnations, he generally referred to his two children, who lived with their mother, as “What’s His Name” and “The girl”).
But even then, he’s not so much a different guy, but an older, and hopefully wiser guy. Don’t believe me? Compare, if you dare!
See? Told ya! Not exactly high-falutin’ literature, maybe, but good, solid, entertaining, humourous reads. And the short-lived television show, MURPHY’S LAW, was no slouch, either. It should’ve been a hit. Light-hearted, warm, with a great cast, especially Segal and Maggie Hahn. Sure, Digger/Trace was sanitized for the viewing public’s protection, but I always imagined Murphy as an older, repentant Trace or Digger, trying to clean up the mess he’s made of his life. He’s still an alcoholic insurance investigator, but now he’s on the wagon, and he’s trying like hell to rebuild his life, and gain visiting right to see his daughter who he abandoned years ago, when his marriage broke up. His Japanese/Italian girlfriend, now called Kimmie, and his bumbling, inept but kind supervisor at work, Wes Harden, are willing to stand by him. All in all, a class act. They even managed to have a heart-warming conclusion of sorts, before the network pulled the plug. The last episode featured Murphy actually gaining visitation right to his daughter.
After ABC pulled the plug on the show after twelve episodes, the author did likewise, except for a couple of short stories. Unfortunately, Digger’s last appearance, in “Digger Redux,” a short story in a 2015 PWA anthology, Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora, published the same year he died, was a disappointment. It was just plain mean; a sad, cruel, bitter story dripping with misogyny. A surprisingly hateful note to go out on. I’m not even sure what a story about rape is doing in a collection allegedly dedicated to eroticism.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
That final story was sad final go-round to a character who, while never afraid to push buttons, was quite often hilarious, and always good-natured. Sure, Digger and Trace were buffoonish assholes, but they usually got their comeuppance, and they were never themselves mean. And if someone as all-round wonderful as Tamiko, Michiko or Kimiko could love them, how bad could they really be?
Which, I guess, is the same way I choose to remember the author. The only time I met him, he was in a large, empty hotel room in the Royal York in downtown Toronto in the early nineties, at Bouchercon, wearing a cowboy hat and defiantly smoking under a “No Smoking” sign. “They put me in here by myself,” he explained, “so I could smoke.”
He blew out a puff of smoke. “Canada,” he muttered.
In his lifetime, Murphy worked on a pig farm, and as a movie usher, a sequin polisher, a public relations man for a brothel, a newspaper editor and a Democratic politician in Jersey City, New Jersey. “And then I went bad,” he said, “and became a novelist.” He’s best known, of course, as the co-creator with Richard Sapir, of the gazillion-selling Men’s Adventure series The Destroyer.
But my favourite bio is one I stumbled across in the back pages of a 1981 paperback (a Charlie Chan novel, in fact, by Michael Avallone), flogging The Destroyer series:
“OK, so who is Warren Murphy? Murphy is an ex-newsman and press agent for politicians. He studies politics and sociology (in New Jersey)… when not testing a new wife or besting the tables at Vegas. Very regular guy…”
- “Detectives carry guns and get in fistfights and have a philosophy of life, a moral code. (Mine is) …don’t get involved.”
— Trace: Pigs Get Fat
- “You seem to think I’m some kind of real who can find things out…I’m a bumbler. I fumble around. I just annoy people. I never catch anybody. I’m not a detective, I’m an annoyance clerk. I should work in a department store.”
— Trace: Pigs Get Fat
- Digger #1: Smoked Out (1982) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Digger #2: Fool’s Flight (1982) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Digger #3: Dead Letter (1982) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Digger #4: Lucifer’s Weekend (1982) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace (1983) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace and 47 Miles of Rope (1984) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace: When Elephants Forget (1984) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace: Pigs Get Fat (1985) | Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace: Once a Mutt (1985) …Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace: Too Old a Cat (1986) …Buy this book | Kindle it
- Trace: Getting Up With Fleas (1987) …Buy this book | Kindle it
- Caribbean Blues (1988; co-written with Molly Cochran, Max Allan Collins, Gregory Mcdonald, Richard Meyers, Warren Murphy, and Robert Randisi ) | Buy this book
Trace & Chico appear (anachronistically) in a mystery set in 1938.
- “Highly Irregular on Baker Street” (2001, Mystery Street; Trace)
- “Digger Redux” (2015, Fifty Shades of Grey Fedora; Digger)
- MURPHY’S LAW
Created by Lee David Zlotoff
Based on characters created by Warren Murphy
Writers: Lee Goldberg, William Rabkin, Ernie Wallengren, Michael Gleason, Bill Schmidt
Executive Producer: Zev Braun
Co-Executive Producers: Leonard Stern, Michael Gleason
Theme song sung by Al Jarreau
Filmed in Vancouver
Starring George Segal as DAEDULUS PATRICK MURPHY
Maggie Hahn as Kimiko “Kimmy” Fanucci
and Josh Mostel as Wes Harden
- “The Room Above the Indian Grocery” (November 2, 1988)
- “Where are My Socks and Other Mysteries of Love” (December 3, 1988)
- “Do Someone a Favor and It Becomes Your Job” (December 10, 1988)
- “If You Can’t Win, Shoot for a Tie” (December 17, 1988)
- “Never Play Leapfrog with a Unicorn” (January 14, 1989)
- “Never Try to Teach a Pig to Sing” (January 21, 1989)
- “Two Wrongs are Only the Beginning” (January 28, 1989)
- “Never Wear Earmuffs in a Bed of Rattlesnakes” (Febuary 4, 1989)
- “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Won’t” (Febuary 11, 1989)
- “When You’re Over the Hill, You Pick Up Speed” (Febuary 18, 1989)
- “Experience is Something You Don’t Get Until Just After You Need It” (March 11, 1989)
- “Doing It the Hard Way is Always Easier” (March 18, 1989)
- “If Anything Can Go Wrong It Will” (March 22, 1989)