Episode 1 - Murder by the Book

Episode 1 – Murder by the Book

Murder by the Book was the first installment of Columbo’s inaugural season and (if we set the pilots aside for now) introduced audiences to Peter Falk in what was to become an iconic role. In this episode Gerry and Iain take a look at not only the plot, but also the characters, actors and others involved in the creation of Murder by the Book.



Besides Falk’s Columbo there were four more key characters in this story: Jack Cassidy as the scheming Ken Franklin; Martin Milner as Franklin’s former partner and first victim Jim Ferris; the tragic Barbara Colby as Lily La Sanka, a shopkeeper and admirer of Franklin; and Rosemary Forsyth as Joanna Ferris, the wife and ultimately widow of Jim.


This episode is notable for a number of reasons, not least because it was directed by a young Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Bochco, two men who went on to have great success in their fields, the former having won multiple Oscars and the latter ten Emmy Awards.


In this episode Gerry and Iain posed a challenge to listeners – can anyone identify the two Columbo murderers portrayed by actors born in Hamilton, Scotland. If you think you can then please use the comments below, or contact us on twitter where we’re @columbopodcast.


Murder by the Book was released in 1971. It is 76 minutes long and originally aired on the NBC network. It can be viewed on Netflix in the United States and is available on DVD in other countries, including a comprehensive box set of all eleven seasons released by Universal.


The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast team develops, produces and promotes The Columbo Podcast.

  • digger01

    Great job on the podcast! I think I can name the two murderers from Hamilton, Scotland… Nicol Williamson in “How To Dial A Murder”, and Ian Buchanan in “Columbo Cries Wolf”.

    Looking forward to listening to future episodes!

    • Good work, digger. Would love to hear your feedback on the other episodes as well!

  • Richard

    Just thought I’d throw in – We, absolutely, DID get ‘The Partridge Family’ in the UK. My sister was a huge fan of David Cassidy and I have to admit, enjoyed The Partridge Family (quite fancied Susan Dey … I was around 12 years old) … Right, that said, on with the episode.

  • Harveyadam

    In the middle of the first podcast after chancing upon a comment you made on IMDb – enjoying it very much so far. I’ve enjoyed the show since I was a kid and don’t tire of re-watching them every few years or so. The shows featuring Patrick McGoohan are some of my favourites as you can see the sheer fun both actors are having and I look forward to hearing your analysis when you get to them.

    All in all – good work!

  • Largo

    Greetings from the Midwest, USA!

    I found a link to your podcast while perusing the Columbo message board at the IMDB. I’ve been revisiting this series via my DVD collection of the original run of the Columbo mystery movie series on NBC. But I still need to purchase the first few Columbo DVD sets for the second movie series that aired on ABC.

    I can remember very clearly watching this first episode of Columbo on the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie. I watched this entire first season with my mother and a few other siblings here and there. Our family only had one TV in the house at this time and so all of us kids didn’t have the final say on what to watch on any given night. But we had a little more sway outside of the weekends since our father was out of town and on the road almost every weekday. Fortunately, most of my clan was interested in two of the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie series: Columbo and McMillan & Wife (no one in my family ever watched McCloud).

    This first episode of Columbo made quite an impression on me. I enjoyed the “cat and mouse” structure of the show with the brilliant detective pitted against the murderer. I enjoyed the subtle clues involving Franklin’s behavior that Columbo focused on immediately: driving instead of flying back during an emergency like this and opening the mail (mostly bills) when contacting the police about Ferris’ corpse being found sprawled on the front lawn.

    Whenever I’ve introduced the Columbo series to various folks, I always show them “Murder By the Book.” It’s not the very best episode, but it is a great way to familiarize the uninitiated to the basic Columbo premise: the arrogant rich murderer versus the humble, disheveled and disarming detective.

    Thank you so much for a great podcast! Be seeing you!

    • For shame! They didn’t watched McCloud???!!!! Why? That show was awesome! I thought it was better than McMillan & Wife. 😛

      In any case, I too watched first run Columbo episodes growing up, but I was a kid so I didn’t fully understand it. I mean, I was 4 when the series started and have no recollection of the early episodes, but my first TV memories are of Columbo. Such fun.

      • Largo

        I’ve never seen McCloud in whole or in part …. and I am not ashamed!

        But seriously, I don’t have anything against McCloud or Dennis Weaver — it’s just that none of us in my family had any interest in watching this series. Also: McCloud didn’t have Susan Saint James — so there ya go, eh! 😉

  • This may come up in future episodes but you both were talking about two things in the 70s here. One was mention of a call he made. I don’t remember now what it was and though I’ve seen the episode dozens of times, I can’t remember the type of call he made. In any case, any long distance call (which back then was frequent as local was only a few miles in some places) was a recorded toll call and any call to information (known as 411) that is to have an operator look up someone’s phone number or address for you, was also a recorded toll call.

    As for his handling of the evidence, I understand what Iain was saying about how unbelievably incorrect it was, but again, in the 70s it was not unusual to handle evidence in ways that would make us gasp today. That is to say handling only. I don’t know how common it was to show evidence to others outside of law enforcement, but it would not surprise me to find that they did do this.

    Finally… back then all cases, except for direct eye witnesses and fingerprints were circumstantial. We didn’t have DNA or anything. We had blood typing but that was next to useless. Today there is no way these cases would win in court, but back then it was easier to convict. Sadly. I imagine a lot of folks were wrongly convicted, but…

    I don’t know if y’all have heard of Kelly Siegler or not, but she’s a well known Texas prosecutor (she has a TV show on TNT now with a girl who inspired the Marg Helgenburger character, Catherine, on CSI). She says that she loves circumstantial cases and has gotten convictions on them many times. Her analogy is picking up a highlighter marker, one at a time. She says you start with only one, but you keep adding to it and adding to it until you have a whole bunch of them and then it all adds up. lol! She’s fun to watch, if you’re interested. I love that show!

    Anyway, thank you so much. I just really have enjoyed these podcasts. I’m just now getting around to posting the comment I wanted to make.

    • Thanks Magnolia, those are some great observations. We appreciate the support!

  • You’ve definitely captured the air of mystery, I think!

  • Thanks. I’m seriously thinking of doing an alternate version of this called ‘The Moreno Brothers remix’…. haha.

  • I listened to the very first podcast this morning and was intrigued by the mention of Marcia Wallace. I believe she was the maid. Have a look around the 43 minute mark. She has the same facial structure as Marcia…

    Something that also struck me was how unusual it is to have two writers authoring the same book. I’ve never heard of that before. Has anyone else?

    • That’s a possibility. Will need to look again!

      I don’t think that’s so uncommon – a relatively recent example would by Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

  • Ian Baxter

    Looking back at the episode I suppose we’re looking for some of the early indicators and clues that would make Columbo unique and stand out from the crowd of other TV/fictional detectives.

    For example, you can see that he is immediately set apart from the crowd of cops in his first scene, literally in a different space. The emphasis is on his being a lone worker, not an entourage of side kicks.

    His opening scene also demonstrates a compassionate side; if you’re looking for a man of tough action then you’re going to be disappointed as it doesn’t get much more than the beating of eggs in an attempt to cook some supper.

    We do see some authority, but it is largely held back to the gotcha moment. The cat and mouse games with the killer is far more subtle. Columbo is all about psychological games, allowing himself to be underestimated.

    For this to work there is clearly going to be a lot riding on the choice of guest star killer. It works here and this is a fantastic opening episode. A great concept, and I recon they succeed in giving us something and someone head and shoulders above the rest.

    A great concept for a Podcast too, well done.

  • Dan Mosier

    Great job, guys! I’m a long time Columbo fan, and just discovered your podcast while doing some online Columbo research, after watching a couple of episodes last weekend. My wife and I own the entire run on DVD, and Columbo is always a top choice when we want the video equivalent of “comfort food.” Choose an episode at random, then sit back and enjoy the familiar comfort–it’s like shrugging into a favorite sweater on a lazy rainy day. I chose to start listening to the casts from the beginning, so will be “catching up” for a bit before I reach the more current ones. keep up the good work.

  • Bhammer100

    Holy crap! A Columbo podcast! I am definitely going to check this out soon.

  • Mike B.

    Love how Columbo dumbs himself down, and it really shows in this early episode. “I saw all those ‘cops’ cars down there.”

  • Margaret

    I’m a bit late to the party, but I thought I’d say: what a great podcast! I’m brand new to Columbo (I’ve only watched the first two episodes) but love it already. And I’m already looking forward to listening to more of these podcasts. Cheers!

    • Thanks Margaret. Glad you found us and hope you keep enjoying the podcasts – and Columbo!

  • dtrieber

    Hi from AB, Canada, or as some would say, the new colonies. I spend a lot of time in GB on google maps (too poor to travel), the history and all is fascinating. I’ve met a lot of Newfies and Nova Scotians, with a bit of the accent. Of course, being from the west, we make fun of them eg. In the USA, they worry about an earthquake event and California slipping off into the ocean. Up here, we worry about Newfoundland getting closer. Anyway, I’m in awe when I hear real Scottish, it’s the accent, the words, and the cadence of the sentences. You are my ‘go to’ site when I turn The light off to go to sleep, it takes me away from the stress of the day. Plus I’m a huge Columbo fan and your takes are spot on, as Mel B would say. I’ve never watched Sledgehammer!, but I’m sure it’s fraught with plot fails and humorous situations. I enjoy the banter between you two, and I’m looking forward to it. Cheers

  • Taxman

    Just discovered this podcast in Jan 2017. As a huge Columbo fan, and being from Glasgow, where Gerry and Iain broadcast from, I think it is terrific. Now working my way through the podcasts and thoroughly enjoying them. Great work guys!

    • Cheers Taxman. Hope you continue to enjoy the show!

    • Ultima Thule

      Now I understand why I cannot understand their language …

  • numpty

    Hi, fellow Hamiltonian and Columbo addict here… only just discovered your podcast after you got a shout out on the “other” Columbo podcast, in their review of this episode. Looking forward to catching up and re-watching a few of my favourites from the box set!

    • Hi Numpty, always good to speak with someone from Scotland’s murder capital who remains alive. Congrats.