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Carstairs A Hero - More Dead Ends (and Dead Bodies) Than A Labyrinth
on June 21, 2010
This is my favorite of the four Doan and Carstairs stories now available in Kindle format. It was published in 1943, and fully develops the partnership of Doan and Carstairs, the Great dane as large as a Shetland pony. it is a wonderful example of early pulp fiction. Unfortunately, Norbert Davis, the author of SALLY'S IN THE ALLEY, is not as well known as other pulp fiction writers of the 1940's for three reasons. First, his stories encompassed a wide array of genres, so he never built a reputation as a practitioner of a specific type (e.g. detective, SF, etc.) . Second, his detective stories included a strain of humor which was highly unusual for the period, a hard boiled detective story was not supposed to be funny. Third, he committed suicide at age 40, supposedly after he had been diagnosed with cancer. Thus, his potential literary legacy was truncated. However, among his peers he was regarded as in a class with the best writers of the era, including Hammett and McDonald. He graduated from Stanford with a law degree, but never took the bar exam - choosing instead to pursue a career which he had already established by being published while still in college, usually being paid at the going rate of a penny a word. Hopefully, the advent of ebooks and specialized small presses will allow many more potential fans to enjoy his works and dog lovers will be irresistably drawn Carstairs' collaborations with Doan.
Doan, who is employed by two G-men to serve his government by locating Dust-Mouth Haggerty, an eccentric individual who claims to have discovered a large ore deposit which the U.S. government believes being sought by the Japs. (Remember, it is WWII and there is no political correctness here.) His undercover identity is H. Pocus (yes, it really is), and he and Carstairs head for the Mojave desert and the town of Heliotrope, which neither California or Nevada want to claim as part of their state. On the way, he picks up a hitchhiker named Harriet Hathaway who is traveling to join the war effort by enlisting in the WACC. In combination with Mr. Blue, who she attempting to educate and reform, she adds comic relief and social commentary to the story.
Among the several other individuals who populate the story are Free-Look Jones, Doc Gravelmayer (also the ME) and of course the captivating actress Susan Sally and her manager Mr. McAdoo. McAdoo has seen some defense training films in which Carstairs participates and tries to convince Doan to allow him to sign carstairs to a film contract based on his talent. And the local sheriff belongs to the SEC, no not the agency to discourage financial crime but rather The Society to Encourage Crime, in order to keep all law enforcement officials employed. (Gee, maybe that's why they let Bernie Madoff keep operating for so long, lots of work for everyone to clean up the mess.)
As the "plot thickens", Doan decides to become I. Doanwashi, believing that this identity will help convince Haggerty that he is really an agent of the Japanese government. And, all this in a story that barely reaches the length of a novella. Short scenes and constant action, perhaps a precursor of the James Patterson style but with much more humor, a lovable aristocratic dog, and incredibly convoluted plotting. (Be sure to track of all the characters as they wander in and out of the story.)
As my review title indicates, Carstairs saves the day and he and Doan return a few years later in what was unfortunately to be the final installment of the series - OH, MURDERER MINE. Totally enjoyable and great fun!
Tucker Andersen 6/21/2010