Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Loving and the Dead


Beginning in the 1950s, Australia-based author Carter Brown (real name: Alan Yates) wrote over 300 short, sexy, formulaic, mystery novels starring largely-interchangeable American investigators including Al Wheeler, Danny Boyd, and Rick Holman. The books are great fun as long as the reader understands that these 120-page quickies are basically literary snack food. 

Between 1955 and 1974, Brown authored a dozen novels starring a sexy - but ditzy -female private eye named Mavis Seidlitz. These novels add a bit more humor to the mysterious mix, and they are often fan-favorites among Brown’s massive body of work. “The Loving and the Dead” (1959) was Brown’s fifth entry into the Mavis series, but these easy-reading novels can be enjoyed in any order. Unlike the books starring Brown’s male protagonists, the Mavis books are often laugh-out-loud funny with the patter clearly influenced by George Burns-Gracie Allen routines. Everyone that Mavis encounters quickly becomes the straight-man for her one-liners and double-ententes. 

In this one, the setup is simple and inspired by Agatha Christie. At the request of her partner, Johnny Rio, Mavis must go undercover for a long weekend as the wife of an heir to a great fortune. If the client and his “wife” can survive the family weekend, he stands to inherit millions. Participants and servants at the family retreat are occasionally murdered, and the killer is among them for Mavis to catch. If this doesn’t make much sense to you, please understand that this is a Carter Brown novel and the plot is a just pretext for sexy, madcap detective work among eccentric suspects. 

It’s no spoiler to reveal that Mavis gets laid, but this was written before Brown’s editors added graphic sex to his novels for U.S. consumption. She also has the opportunity to kick some ass and do some actual investigating in her push-up bra and short skirts. It’s hard not to feel real affection for Mavis who displays a likable combination of sweetness, naïveté, and toughness.

If there’s anything to criticize in this novel, it’s that things get a little too implausibly wacky at times. For example, there’s a character who walks around the whole time with a ventriloquist dummy, and the dummy does most of the talking for him. At it’s best, “The Loving and the Dead” feels like a comedic Donald Westlake crime novel, but there are times where the silliness descends into sheer farce. 

If you’re looking for a light, enjoyable, crime novel with some laughs, this one is a fine introduction to a lovable character with plenty to enjoy. Just don’t expect anything with more depth than an average episode of Scooby-Doo. Recommended if you want something light and insubstantial.