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Mr. Blog, P.I.

28 Feb

February 28, 2021

Longtime readers of this blog who have not yet unsubscribed know that Mr. Blog has at various times been employed as a teacher, part-time pickle salesman, agent of a Company I Am not allowed to name, and now as a private investigator.

I handle insurance cases for corporate clients, mostly, but also do work for New York City and State. In my years as a PI I have read autopsy reports, submitted Freedom of Information Requests, and watched surveillance footage of a mechanic getting mooned. (It was even funnier than you think.)

Confidentiality requires that I do not name names or keep personal video, or trust me, that mooned mechanic would have been all over the internet.  

About a year and a half ago I handled a construction claim where the claimant alleged injury while hauling debris down a ramp. Typical construction WC claim (Workers Compensation). As DoF (Director of Field Operations for my company) I had my investigators interview the insured owner, take witness statements, obtain photos and measurements of the ramp and equipment in question, obtain surveillance footage of the accident (in this case, no video cameras were on site) and get all pertinent documents- leases, COI (certificate of insurance), accident reports, etc.

It sounds simple and it should be, but factor in lack of cooperation since no company owner ever seems to think they need to speak to us despite our being there to defend them, and this can drag on for months. This case was completed in about 6 weeks. I filed two reports and it was over, on my end. On the insurance company’s end, cases like this drag on for (on average) two to six years. If the claimant has no identification or documentation, or the insured company has kept no records, both being common in construction, it can go on and on.

So that was 2019. Last week, I was forwarded an anonymous tip in this matter. It alleged (I will use generalities, no specifics) that the injured party in that old accident case was a major drug dealer who flew on a certain airline to certain cities to get drugs and bring them to New York. The email listed specific cities and months of travel and detailed the way this person funneled money though various accounts to buy the drugs. The anonymous tipster said that the claimant was lying about getting hurt and had faked injuries before to get money to buy “huge” amounts of drugs. It suggested that we subpoena his travel records and bank accounts.

OK.

(FYI, I cannot subpoena anything. Common misconceptions are that a PI can subpoena anything- we can serve subpoenas and write them on behalf of others, but not for ourselves- and that we can obtain ambulance records, 911 calls and medical records. We cannot. Those require HIPPA authorizations from the patient.)

I spoke with the insurance carrier who asked me if I could verify the facts of the email. I told her no, not the specifics, but we would delve into his background and see what we can find. (Background searches are fairly common in accident cases, but we had not done one in this case as it wasn’t necessary.)

It took awhile to pinpoint the correct person since it isn’t as easy as searching a name. You need pedigree info and we had very little but once we found the correct individual, here’s what we found:

The subject was the subject of a Federal sting operation and he was caught bringing very, very large amounts of cocaine to New York from other states. He had a long record of violent drug offenses and spent a lot of time in prison. He was also very litigious, suing the NYPD and the Police Commissioner for false arrest. One news article quoted him as complaining about the food in prison. So no, I reported, we can’t verify the specific facts of the email but generally, yes, this was (and I quote from my verbal report) “one bad dude.”

After careful consideration, the lawyer I consulted with from the insurance company asked me if I could set up a fake drug buy.

No, I replied. No

I wrote up my report and billed it out, as any good private investigator would.

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My Philo Vance Mystery Review, Part 1

24 Feb

February 24, 2019

I’ve been reading mystery novels from the 1930’s and 40’s lately, Most of them were popular in their day, written by best-selling authors, but time has passed most of them by. However, that does not demean the quality of the books at all.

Philo Vance, created by S.S. Van Dine, appeared in 12 novels between 1926 and 1939, and 15 films between 1929 and 1947. In between there was a radio show and, in Italy, a television miniseries in 1974.

I decided to start with one that piqued my interest, The Gracie Allen Murder Case. Normally, I’d start with the first book of a series, but these are not in a serial order so it’s OK to jump in anywhere. This book is at an intersection of two of my interests, old murder mysteries and old time radio, which Gracie Allen was a star of with her husband, George Burns.

This review will focus on only that book, with the second part looking at the series as a whole and my reactions overall.

Many reviews say that Vance is “annoying.” He certainly is. He is exactly the kind of too educated, too wealthy, too witty dilettante detective that is better off in the literary dust heap. It’s no wonder that Raymond Chandler took a cheap shot or two at the character. (He called Vance “the most asinine character in detective fiction.”) Vance appears bored at most aspects of life, only seeming to enjoy poking at the police. He’s the epitome of the bored idle rich. Yet, from a reader’s point of view, his biggest flaw is that he is unlikable. He’s boring. There is nothing to hold on to, no interesting part of his personality to make you want to follow him on the page.

Even worse are the one-note supporting characters, especially District Attorney Markham. He is too close-minded to be believable. He’s not a typical literary crusty policeman, not a dullard like Inspectors Lestrad or Cramer are typically portrayed. His flaw is only that he is unimaginative. Vance will often pick up a small point, one obvious to the reader, yet Markham will still not understand what Vance is going for. That’s part of the secret of Vance’s success. He isn’t particularity brilliant, he’s just smarter than the unimaginative people he surrounds himself with. 

However, I do need to compliment the author. Van Dine has pulled off the difficult task of getting Gracie Allen just right. I hear her voice as I read her lines and she is spot on. But she’s also a major problem in this book. When performing on the radio as half of Burns and Allen, her odd ramblings and strange connections either poke a hole in Burn’s stuffy facade, or act as goofy punchlines. She’s funny. She’s illogical. She has a skewed view of the world that works in it’s own, odd way. Her stories are met by others with some confusion. Either her stories are funny or the reaction they create in others is funny. She was a great comedienne and even George Burns called her the star of the duo. He was just her straight man.

 

But here every character finds her bizarre logic charming and endearing. Everything she says is met with a sort of envious geniality. No matter how ridiculous she is, no one calls her on it. In effect, there is no straight man. She’s only giving half of the joke and no one is completing it. So instead of coming off as funny, like she would in her radio show, she’s both unfunny and unwelcome in her parts. She’s just another annoying character in a book full of them. 

What makes this book even odder is the fact that Gracie (and George, in a small supporting role), is not playing herself. This novel was written with an eye to being adapted to a movie, so the Gracie Allen character works in a perfume factory. This is the part Gracie would play in the proposed film, rather than being written for the real Gracie. 

I’d comment on the plot but it never really gets going. It involves an implausible cigarette tossed from a moving car, over a wall, in a field. 

I understand that this is not considered a shining star in the Philo Vance series. I read it simply for Gracie Allen. It turns out that this is considered one of the worst Philo Vance novels. In general, the consensus is that the first half dozen novels are the best, with the quality generally falling as they go along. 

When I originally finished this book, I vowed to never read another Philo Vance novel again. However, I soon realized that I wasn’t giving the series a fair shot by judging it on the worst book in the canon. My next review, The Canary Murder Case, will look at the second book in the series, considered one of the best. I’ll also delve more generally into the Philo Vance character and series as a whole.

 

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