No Law Against Angels, Doll for a Big House, and Chorine Makes a Killing by Carter Brown - book review: Heavy on action and playful repartee, and chock-full of trigger-happy gangsters and ‘well-stacked’ dames
This triple dose of Carter Brown mysteries from 1957 finds homicide detective Al Wheeler investigating the deaths of two call girls, tracing a missing girl, and taking a job as a private investigator to clear a lawyer of a murder rap.
No Law Against Angels, Doll for a Big House, and Chorine Makes a Killing are three light and lively entries in British-born Australian pulp writer Alan Geoffrey Yates’ phenomenally successful mystery series which spawned 300 books.
Yates, who emigrated to Australia in his mid-twenties, penned 215 novels and approximately 75 novella-length stories between 1954 to 1984, using the house name Carter Brown. The international appeal of these tongue-in-cheek mysteries was such that they rapidly became Australia’s biggest literary export.
The opening story in this newly released collection, No Law Against Angels, was the first Carter Brown to be published in the United States. The revised US version, with slightly tighter writing and an extra polish, was titled The Body.
This original Australian version sees the wise-cracking Al Wheeler, an ‘unorthodox’ police lieutenant in the fictional Pine City, California, assigned by his boss, Commissioner Lavers, the task of working with Lieutenant Hammond on two murder cases. Both involve young and beautiful women, with identical snake symbols tattooed on their shoulders, who were knifed in the back in an alley in San Francisco.
Ditching the conceited Hammond at the first opportunity, Wheeler, in his ‘crazy, illogical Marx Brothers way,’ manages to get a lead from an employee at the morgue and discover that the victims worked as part-time call-girls for the shadowy, big-time gangster Snake Lannigan, whom no one has actually met.
Continually plagued by Hammond, a blunderer whose involvement in the case does more harm than good, Wheeler must work faster than usual to stay one step ahead of his bothersome colleague and unmask the almost mythical Lannigan who, it seems, is running ‘the biggest call-girl organization on the West Coast.’
The second yarn, Doll for a Big House, published under the title The Bombshell in the US, has Wheeler on the back foot, trying to get back into the good graces of his sullen boss.
Out of favour with Lavers, who claims he has had enough of Wheeler’s tardiness and insolent, ‘nauseating’ behaviour, the facetious homicide detective is transferred to Captain Bligh of the Eighth Precinct, ‘a strict disciplinarian,’ and assigned a routine Missing Persons Case in the hope that he might become a bit more obedient.
In fact, the case is far from routine, and Lavers has an ulterior motive in getting Wheeler involved. He wants to bring down the politically corrupt tycoon Absolem Kirch, and he hopes the unorthodox Wheeler will discover the connection between the puppet master tycoon and the missing girl.
Alas, Kirch’s power and influence are such that Wheeler soon finds himself charged with first-degree homicide and facing a testimony sufficient to send him to the gas chamber.
Dogged detective work, persistence, and a heavy dose of luck help Wheeler out of his perilous predicament and back onto the explosive, corpse-strewn trail of the missing salesgirl, and battling to get the evidence against Kirch into the hands of the District Attorney.
There’s a quirky twist to the final story, Chorine Makes a Killing, previously unpublished in the US, as the lure of money makes Wheeler quit the police force and become a private investigator for a law firm, attempting to prove the innocence of murder suspect Walter Byrne, president of United Steel.
The victim, a chorus-girl with whom Byrne was having ‘an illicit liaison,’ was murdered in the apartment he rented for her, and Byrne was found at the scene of the crime with his prints on the murder weapon.
As he vainly searches for a new angle in the seemingly open-and-shut case, Wheeler begins to suspect that Byrne may be shielding someone and that blackmail may be involved and more people’s lives may be at risk.
Heavy on action and playful repartee, and chock-full of trigger-happy gangsters and ‘well-stacked’ dames, these three entertaining tales of murder and mayhem from the pen of Down Under’s prince of pulp are interesting relics from Australia’s publishing boom time.
(Stark House Press, paperback, £15.95)