The Mod Squad #4, Spy-In
By Richard Deming
First Published August 1969
Published by Pyramid Books
Given how much I enjoyed reading The Sock-It-To-Em Murders, the third of Richard Deming’s five tie-in novels based on ABC’s The Mod Squad, I was eager to read Spy-In, the fourth novel and the only other one in my collection. It wasn’t quite as compelling as The Sock-It-To-Em Murders and I found the conclusion and ultimate revelation of the bad guy to be underwhelming. But it was a quick and enjoyable read. I was surprised to discover in some of the earliest pages several paragraphs of description that appeared either word-for-word or nearly so in The Sock-It-To-Em Murders.
The story this time around involved athletes at Baldwin Hills College accepting bribes to fix games. They weren’t throwing the games, just making sure the point spread was such that professional gamblers would make a killing. The head of the athletics department, Mark Doyle, learns of the fixed games from a pretty coed named Eve Evans whose ex-boyfriend, Lloyd “Scooter” Miller, was one of the athletes taking the money. Doyle wonders if Eve is simply angry with Scooter and trying to get him in trouble, especially when she insists she’ll deny ever having spoken to him if he gives anyone her name. He talks to the college president and is told to bring the matter to the police. That’s where the Mod Squad comes in.
On pages 11 and 12, the Mod Squad are introduced in the following way:
The tallest of the three was a lean, well-muscled black youth about six feet tall and weighing around 165 pounds. He had a handsome, rather serious face, even white teeth–the front ones spaced slightly apart–and wore an Afro haircut. The white youth was about an inch shorter and five pounds lighter. He was also good-looking, with green eyes and light-brown, curling, unruly hair worn moderately long. The girl walking between them was a slim ash blonde with long straight hair that hung loose nearly to her waist. She was of average height, had brown eyes, delicate features and an exceptionally nice figure.
And here’s how they were described in The Sock-It-To-Em Murders on page 7:
Captain Greer introduced the girl as Julie Barnes, the black youth as Linc Hayes and the white youth as Pete Cochrane. Linc Hayes was a lean, muscular, handsome six-footer with exceptionally white teethâ€“the front ones spaced slightly apartâ€“and an African haircut. Pete Cochran was built along the same general lines as the black youth, but was an inch shorter and perhaps five pounds lighter. He too was good-looking, with light brown, curly, unruly hair and green eyes. Julie Barnes was a slim ash blonde with hair hanging loose to her shoulders and with brown eyes, delicate features and an exceptional figure. She had a habit of periodically pushing her long hair back from her forehead because it tended to get in her eyes.
There are some minor differences but otherwise the two paragraphs are identical. Following the introduction of the main characters in Spy-In, there is a description of how the Mod Squad was formed. These paragraphs are identical to those found in The Sock-It-To-Em Murders. If I hadn’t read The Sock-It-To-Em Murders last week I doubt I would have recognized the identical passages. And Deming did write both books, so he wasn’t plagiarizing anyone (unless you believe strongly in self-plagiarism).
Captain Greer assigns the Mod Squad to go undercover at Baldwin Hills, Pete and Linc as students and Julie as Doyle’s new secretary. As was the case in The Sock-It-To-Em Murders, Julie is told she’ll have to “dress a bit more conservatively” while on the job. Soon enough, all three have arrived on campus. Pete and Linc have been given a double room opposite Scooter and his roommate Larry Coons and quickly become friendly with the pair. They’re introduced to plenty of other guys, including Arnie Trotter, leader of the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, and Dewey Stockton, who went to high school with Linc (luckily, Linc is able to bluff his way out of any questions about where he has been since their days in Los Angeles).
Julie, meanwhile, has quickly learned the filing system that so confused Doyle. She meets Barney Kuehn, track coach and history teacher, and the two start dating. Pete makes a crack about professors being old men, leading Julie to have the following internal dialogue:
Julie examined him curiously. There had never been any suggestion of romantic interest on Pete’s part for her, yet he often exhibited mild jealousy over the men she became involved with in the line of duty. As fond as she was of Pete, Julie had no romantic feeling for him either, but she was too feminine not to feel secret delight instead of resentment at Pete’s occasional jealousies.
Pete and Linc are also soon dating: Linc a girl named Althea and Pete none other than Eve Evans (the two are roommates and both practice judo). Before long, Scooter has suggested that he can help Pete and Linc, who are said to be athletes, make some money. The Mod Squad is on the way to cracking the case. But then Professor Kuehn becomes suspicious of Pete and Linc, forcing Doyle to tell him about the suspected bribery and the Mod Squad. Unfortunately, Doyle had left his intercom in and Larry, waiting to speak with Julie, overheard enough of the conversation to go running to Scooter with the information about Pete and Linc.
And then Scooter winds up dead. At first, it is assumed he was killed by Eddie Kye, the man who pays the athletes to fix games. Or it could have been Johnny Merlin, a runner for booking operation. Or perhaps Dinny Cord, the bookie himself, was the killer. Suspicion even falls on Barbara Fenton, Scooter’s girlfriend, given that he had recently broken up with her. Things get even more confusing when Eddie Kye also turns up dead. While investigating Kye’s death, Pete, Linc and Julie are confronted by Johnny Merlin. He pulls a gun on them and brings them to Dinny Cord, who decides the three have to die. They’re tied up and put on a boat. The plan is to drown them.
Pete is able to nearly cut through the ropes binding his wrists and with a helpful kick from Linc knocks Johnny Merlin overboard. Pete gets his hands on Johnny’s gun and the tides have been turned. The Mod Squad bring Johnny and Dinny to the station. Later, during, questioning, they learn that the knife used to kill Scooter was apparently Eddie’s. Furthermore, Eddie was apparently mad at his niece. And his niece turns out to be Eve Evans. Eve killed Scooter for breaking up with her and for threatening to slice open her face. And she killed her uncle for blackmailing her.
In the end, although the gambling ring was broken up, none of the athletes involved could be punished because Dinny wouldn’t give any names. Julie and Barney have a date as well as Linc and Althea. But with Eve in jail, Pete has to find a new date in order to double with Linc and Althea. As I mentioned earlier, I found the revelation of Eve as the murderer to be disappointing. It seemingly came out of nowhere and her motivation — that she was angry with Scooter and her uncle was blackmailing her — was weak. But the dialogue worked well enough. There was also an unnecessary subplot involving the Afro-American Student Union trying to take over a building on campus and Linc being labeled an Uncle Tom.