THE WENCH IS WICKED / BLONDE VERDICT / DELILAH WAS DEADLY by Carter Brown

This omnibus by ultra-prolific paperback writer ‘Carter Brown’ (in private life Alan Geoffrey Yates) – courtesy of those very nice people at Stark House Press – features the first three cases of Al Wheeler, the unorthodox and wise-cracking Lieutenant working in the California police department of (the fictional) Pine County, not far from L.A.

“Wipe the lipstick off, Lieutenant. It looks sort of silly on a cop.”

I submit this review for Bev’s 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt; and Friday’s Forgotten Booksmeme run by Patti Abbott at her fab Pattinase blog.

We are in the mid 1950s, a time when in paperback fictionland young hero cops were either irresistible and allowed to break every rule on the book or thoroughly  corrupt and the tools of unscrupulous gangsters and their usually thoroughly deadly but very gorgeous molls. This trio of Brown adventures features both!

The Wench is Wicked (1955)

“A guy who knows Deirdre Damour that well,” he said, “is just wasting time being dead.”

This was the first in the series that would ultimately run to some 50 or so volumes. In this one Al investigates the murder of a screenwriter of a western currently shooting nearby who made enemies of the cast and crew by writing a series of kiss and tell articles for a gossip magazine. Al right away knows that the cop who found the body is hiding something and soon there are dead bodies aplenty while our hero falls for the leading lady and pretty much every other dame in town.

Blonde Verdict (1956, aka The Brazen [1960])

“I was just sitting there minding m own business, when this guy dropped dead at my feet.”

Blonde Verdict first appeared in Australia in 1956 and eventually made its way to the US when Signet released it as The Brazen in 1960  but with a modified version of the text. This edition from Stark House uses the original version, though the saucy cover of the Stark House Press volume is taken the 1960 edition of The Brazen. In it Al investigates the murder of a lawyer after the man is scratched with curare. Before long his mistress and her lover are also bumped off in the same manner! Is the killer the lawyer’s merry widow, a Chicago mobster who recently arrived in town, or someone else? And what of the woman Al ends up proposing to?

Delilah was Deadly (1956)

“Someone’s throwing corpses around so fast I’d call a cop only I’d look sort of silly if I did.”

Al has just been promoted to the head of Homicide Bureau following his success cracking his previous case. This time round, he is called in when one morning the ‘social editor’ of a fashion magazine is discovered dead inside a safe, strangled with a pink nylon girdle, wearing his silk pyjamas with a rose inside his breast pocket! It looks like this might be the work of Satanists but before long the bodies really start to pile up when one of Al’s cops gets killed while on the case.

“I sat at home with Louis blowing his trumpet sweet and hot on the hi-fi and me hardly hearing it”

When I first got into crime fiction in the 80s I used to hunt hungrily for treasure in second-hand bookshops – and at the time would regularly fall over a seemingly endless supply of Carter Brown paperbacks. But I never picked them up because in those days I was a bit of a snob. Like the piles of books by the likes of John Creasey (and his two dozen pseudonyms) and ‘Hank Janson’, et al, my reasoning seemed pretty sensible – with such a gigantic output, how could the books could really be any good? But I’m here to tell you that after this omnibus, I am a ‘Carter Brown’ convert! Sure, they may lack the hardness of Hammett, the poetic profundity of Chandler and the existential angst of Ross MacDonald, but this not what they aspire to.

“Who killed him?” Hanlon asked. I shrugged my shoulders. “One of the three of them. Two of them are dead, so I say it’s the third who killed him.”

These are fast-paced and very humorous mysteries that succeed completely on their own terms. Sure, the sexual politics are pretty creaky – every woman a beautiful-looking doll seemingly just sitting around waiting to fall into Wheeler’s arms (even the femme fatales) – but because of the high level of humour it is really hard not to enjoy them as the vintage pieces that they undoubtedly are. And while Al is a bit of a babe magnet, he is often left by his lady friends to fend for himself and listen to his jazz collection alone when he stands them up for the millionth time.

If kisses can burn, Janice was a forest fire.

The stories admittedly do tend to be a bit repetitive, with Al’s unorthodox methods in all three of the novels getting him suspended from the force (in Delilah was Deadly he even whines about it: “Did you or did you not,” I said as evenly as I could, “fire me the other day?”) so he can crack the case on his, usually finding a femme fatale and a crooked cop along the way. However, the sheer brio of the storytelling makes you not give a damn about that. Probably not good for your liver (or your cholesterol), but these highly amusing mysteries, which were only ever meant to read at top speed and not taken even remotely seriously, are really great fun, especially as and at this point in the series the language was mild, the violence restrained and the sex off-stage.

The Wench is Wicked / Blonde Verdict / Delilah was Deadly
By Carter Brown
ISBN: 978-1944520335 (paperback), 300 pages, $19.99
http://www.starkhousepress.com/

To find out more about the author and his books, you should visit: http://starkhousepress.com/brown.php

For more info about Brown, visit http://suspenseandmystery.blogspot.co.uk

George Kelley provided a nice overview of these books over at his blog here, though please note that the omnibus was originally going to include The Blonde (1956), which will now appear in a later volume and has been substituted with Delilah was Deadly, which may be the most fun of all three actually just for its depiction of the fashion industry.

I submit these three reviews for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt in these categories: ‘jewellery of any sort’ (Wench); ‘a door’ (Delilah); and ‘a redhead’ (Stark House omnibus).

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2017 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt, California, Carter Brown, Friday's Forgotten Book, Stark House Press. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to THE WENCH IS WICKED / BLONDE VERDICT / DELILAH WAS DEADLY by Carter Brown

  1. Some of those stories really are fun in their own way, Sergio, even if they wouldn’t be confused with ‘highbrow.’ And I do like the occasional wisecrack. I’m glad you found things to like about this omnibus. It reminds me, too, that I’ve yet to spotlight any of his work. I ought to rectify that.

  2. realthog says:

    ultra-prolific paperback writer ‘Curtis Brown’

    Er, Carter, Sergio: Carter. Curtis is the lit agency.

    Thanks for the reminder that I really, really must get round to reading some Carter Brown. Like you I was too snobby to read them when they were everywhere, and nowadays curse that snobbery. Guess I’d better head me over to the Stark House site sometime soon . . .

  3. tracybham says:

    I saw this yesterday at Scott’s Nick Carter and Carter Brown blog and was very interested. Glad that you have reviewed them here. I can’t afford all the Stark reprints I would like, but this one will got to the top of the list. Sounds like fun.

  4. Colin says:

    I picked up a CB title (not one of these) in a second hand store a few years ago but still haven’t read it, and I’m not even entirely sure where I “filed” it at the moment.
    Anyway, these books sound like good entertainments, which is never a quality to underestimate.

    • Fun, easy and breezy reads – I get the impression that the later books catered more to market demands for sex and violence so I’m probably going to stick to the early funny ones – and hey, there are literally hundreds of them to chose from 🙂

      • Colin says:

        I haven’t a clue right now if my acquisition was an earlier or later era title – I seem to remember I just liked the cover and picked it up among a bunch of other books. I think I too subconsciously avoided the author due to the dizzying number of books, which isn’t a great basis for making choices when you get right down to it.
        I also had a similar reaction to Creasey for ages, although I recently picked up a copy of Strike for Death. It may be a poor books for all I know but the cover caught my eye, so…

        • Those Pan covers are always bloody marvellous (and they are channelling Robert Taylor there, surely?)

          • Colin says:

            Certainly looks a lot like Taylor and I can never be sure if there was any deliberate thought behind such resemblances, or just something more mundane like the artist having seen a movie around that time and getting an image accidentally stuck in their head.

          • Which is fair enough though when it’s that obvious so that even a plea like me can spot it 60 years later … 😀

  5. I thad a lot of fun reading this STARK HOUSE omnibus! I grew up reading “carter brown” paperbacks with those wonderful Bob McGinnis covers. These early books demonstrate a lot of energy and wit. I’m hoping STARK HOUSE reprints more!

  6. Barry Ergang says:

    My father bought and read loads of Carter Brown novels. I’ve read only one in the Al Wheeler series, a couple of Rick Holmans, maybe a Danny Boyd, and at least one featuring a couple of guys connected to the movie business (if I’m remembering correctly–it was decades ago). But my absolute favorite Carter Brown character was Mavis Seidlitz.

  7. Mathew Paust says:

    How could anyone resist those titles?

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