Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fiction: Carter Brown – None but the Lethal Heart & The Tigress

(Signet Books)
As an addicted purveyor of both thrift stores and secondhand bookshops, I have been in stores selling used books in numerous states throughout the U.S.A. as well as in various cities in such countries as Germany, Holland, Ireland, Denmark, Spain, Czech Republic, France, Uruguay and Peru. (Of them all, outside of the US, oddly enough, the best book purchases are to be made in Holland, the Czech Republic and Uruguay.) On all those bookshelves and in all those boxes full of books I have dug around in throughout the world, it has never failed that somewhere amongst the numerous volumes of cheap romances and yesterday's bad bestsellers, a slim volume suddenly sticks out, habitually featuring an unbelievably amazing—if not downright erotic—cover illustration of a fabulously beautiful babe and with the name of the author, Carter Brown, flagged prominently across the top. Again and again I have stumbled upon well-worn paperbacks featuring this name, the striking covers of which are often matched by the equally catchy titles. A reluctance to fill my own bookshelves with books that so many other people obviously see no reason to save long kept me from throwing down the few quarters generally required to purchase a secondhand Carter Brown book.
Eventually, however, much like the less readily found novels of the once ubiquitous Ted Mark, the magnetic attraction of the covers and the hilariously playful titles convinced me to spend my hard earned small change and I finally bought two novels. It was the attractive and busty babe in a bikini with a loose top and on her knees that graces the cover of None but the Lethal Heart (Signet Books, third printing, 1959) that finally got me to spend my fifty cents. True, I had in the past seen many another much more exciting cover, but in the box I was digging in at the moment, it was the most attractive cover I saw. Further down there was a second Carter Brown novel entitled The Tigress (Signet Books, first printing, 1961), and though the cover was cheap and boring in comparison to that of None but the Lethal Heart (consisting of little more than a badly painted close-up of some redhead's eyes), I decided to play Rockefeller and splurge for both. Thus I came to own my first two Carter Brown novels.
Having read them, I can truly say that in as much as what one can gather by reading only two of an estimated 223 novels, the best thing about Carter Brown novels—like those of Ted Mark—seems to be the cover art on the books. But then, if he did indeed write all the publications credited to him, the man was a prolific writer, and as one knows, quantity can directly affect quality.…
Carter Brown is actually just one of five known names under which the English born Australian writer Alan Geoffrey Yates published. Born in London on August 1st, 1923, Yates served in the Royal Navy from 1942 to 1946 and then migrated to Australia in 1948, where he became a citizen. A one-time salesman, sound recordist and PR rep for an Australian airline company, Yates took up writing full time in 1953 and, though he died on May 5th 1985, his last Carter Brown book seems to have been 1981's The Wicked Widow. He reportedly published only one novel as A. G. Yates, a science fiction book entitled Coriolanus, the Chariot! Otherwise, he generally used the names "Carter Brown" or the two variations "Peter Carter Brown" and "Peter Carter-Brown", although one source claims that he also wrote some 38 gothic novels starting in 1966 under the pen name of "Caroline Farr". (A problem here is that a different source claims that "Caroline Farr" is the pen name of another writer named Richard Wilkes-Hunter, who also wrote under the pseudonyms "Tod Conrad" and "Alex Crane". But in as much that even some of the Carter Brown books are bannered with the statement "The Carter Brown Mystery Series" rather than "by Carter Brown", it is imaginable that more people than simply Yates himself might be answerable for the huge production of novels as a whole.)
Amongst the regular main characters that he repeatedly spun his stories about, the most popular seem to be "New York's toughest private eye" DANNY BOYD; the Hollywood private eye and "savior of blackmailed film starlets" RICK LARRY HOLMAN; the hard drinking and womanizing homicide lieutenant named AL WHEELER; and MAVIS SEIDLITZ, an extraordinarily proportioned private eye who is definitely not even half as intelligent as she is good looking. Oddly enough, despite the fact that Yates/Brown was writing from Australia, seemingly all of his novels are set in the United States. Equally ironic, none of his novels ever achieved the same level of popularity there that they did in Europe or down under.
The Tigress is a Wheeler book, None but the Lethal Heart a Mavis tale. Both are quickly paced, have their share of action and more than enough corpses and occasionally prepubescent humor, but neither is a masterpiece. Of the two, The Tigress reads quicker, but None but the Lethal Heart is more fun once you get past the P.I. notion of a pulchritudinous blonde airhead detective. Still, for all its sexism and infantile humor, the novel never goes to the extremes of a Ted Mark or Terry Southern novel, though Mavis is indeed such a innocent amongst the wolves that one cannot help but occasionally think of Southern's famed main character of his novel Candy, despite the fact that Southern's novel appeared some decade or more after Mavis debut in Honey, Here's Your Hearse (1955). Actually, it seems odd that Mavis Seidlitz has never been discovered by Hollywood, for it is easy to picture her in some garish, pop art comic film of the sixties or in something similar to the Austin Powers films that have as of recent been so popular. Or a television show in the style of the original Batman TV show—that would be groovy!
The Tigress is for all intents and purposes a disappointing book. The cover blurb says "The wanton redhead was like a female tigress stalking her mate… and she made fair game for a killer:" But the back blurb turns the concept around and indicates that the "dedicated siren in search of love" is the guilty party of the novel. Inside, The Tigress turns out to be one Tania Stroud, a nympho hot for any man, and while she is a suspect she is neither the most important character nor main object of Wheeler's womanizing ways. The book, which is built around the murder of a psychologist's girlfriend and involves a private club that is best described as a Plato's Retreat for the sexually adventurous (called "perverts" back when the book was written), is not half as funny as the author tries to make it, nor is it really all that mysterious or thrilling. While some of the images are catchy—like the dead gal lying in a grave, a murdered old dead guy found laying in a coffin, a sexy babe in a maid's outfit and the Tigress herself—the story flounders forwards with no real highpoints. Hardly hardboiled, the psychological mumbo-jumbo is tiresome, the true murderer is easy to figure out, the action hardly exciting enough to wake the reader up from the state of sleep most of the book induces. Yawn. If Wheeler is indeed the most popular of Carter Brown's characters, then one can only assume that The Tigress is one of the lesser works. Indeed, in comparison to such other titles as Lament for a Lousy Lover (1960), Blonde on the Rocks (1963) and A Corpse for Christmas (1965), even the title seems second rate.
Rather unlike None but the Lethal Heart, the title of which reads much more literate than the novel itself does. This time around Mavis, "the torrid blonde private eye gets stuck with a cold corpse that's too hot to handle." The editors that wrote the cover texts must have had a lot fun writing stuff like: "Here is a sizzling scorcher, a red-hot tale of murder and mayhem, chills and spills, and the daffiest detective work this side of a dizzy blonde bombshell…named Mavis." Unlike with Wheeler, Mavis is a completely humorous figure and the novel, though featuring a lot of characters and plot twists and action, is less a detective story than a screwball comedy. Mavis, whose breasts and figure seem to be surpassed only by her self-defense abilities, is the type of person who seemingly forgets that she knows how to use her fists, for though she'll beat some guy senseless in one scene, in the next one she'll just flail her arms around idiotically as the gentlemen save the day. Still, she is such a Candide amongst the wolves, so off-the-mark that she normally only succeeds in spite of herself, that the fun eventually begins to be shared by the reader. The book is definitely fast-paced, though the whipping scene does come across ever so slightly misogynistic, even if she does manage to make a payback. By the end off the novel, not only is the body still there (augmented by a few more), but the new government of Mexico still stands, as do our heroes. You won't role around the floor laughing when you read None but the Lethal Heart, but you might smile a few times.
One could argue that it is hard to place the merit of the man's output from reading only two of his novels, but in the case of Carter Brown, the argument is probably moot. Like the works of the raunchier Ted Mark or more anti-establishment Terry Southern, the novels of Carter Brown are a product of their time. Hardly what one would call great literature, but rather much closer to assembly-line product. A painless way to survive subway rides but nothing to write a term paper about, the best advice in regards to purchasing a Carter Brown book is probably "Go by the cover." If nothing else then, even if the book is lousy, at least you have some great cover art to enjoy…

Small Images: All taken from the web, these are examples of typical Carter Brown covers – none of which I yet have.

7 comments:

deverowe said...

I;m going to have to read Carter Brown, real soon. My own hard-boiled private eye yarn THE FOREVER GIRL by Chris O'Grady ISBN # 1606939939 at: http://www.eloquentbooks.com/TheForeverGirl.html is definitely not even close to his work in sexiness, but we try our best.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I can say: If you read a few of his novels, you become addicted. I agree, they aren't what you would call "good literature" but mostly very entertaining and as a product of it's time it allows you to have a look back into times long ago.

Shuhaib Hameed said...

I have not read carter brown yet. I am through with Chase. What's carter like? Is he like Chase? If to start on him, which book shall I read to begin with.

Bryin Abraham said...

I'd say there's a big difference 'tween (James Hadley) Chase and Carter Brown... Brown isn't exactly a good writer, and his books are more fun for being trashy than for being good detective lit. If you want crime lit, go for some of the lesser-known masters – Thompson, Willeford – or known masters – Hammett, Chandler – or buy by publishing house. (The reprints of forgotten authors from No Exit Press and Black Lizard are particularly recommendable.)

krisalyx said...

i had a few of the carter brown books mostly found at k-mart and the book wearhouse, but i'd been trying to find his books again but i honestly couldn't remember his name, but thanks for jaring my memory now if i could just actually find the book i bought the only thing i actualy remember 'bout it was the cover had a bullseye on it and a insanly hot blonde i'd gotten it i think originaly between '81- '85

The world of Internet said...

it is really sad that I cant get second hand books of Carter brown Here........


Will try again.....

Anonymous said...

I love the Carter Brown stories.I discovered them at the age of 13 and at 60 I still re-visit them from time to time.
Thru Al Wheeler I found my love for Jazz Music.
They are a fun read,helped me get thru alot of long nights in the military.
Read them and don't try to over think the book just enjoy it for what they are....fun stories.

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