Carter Brown, real name Alan Yates, was an English-born Australian writer who authored over 300 short mysteries. His stirring, sultry formula starred three interchangeable investigators in Al Wheeler, Danny Boyd and Rick Holman. Occasionally his work would dabble in supernatural themes that were easily debunked and solved in the book's finale. “The Lady is Transparent”, published in 1962 by Signet, adheres to that consistently fun formula.
Lieutenant Al Wheeler becomes a ghostbusting investigator after receiving a call from the county sheriff. There's been a murder on an eerie locale called Old Canyon Road at the top of Bald Mountain. With a fiery crescendo of thunder and lightning, Wheeler arrives at the sweeping Gothic mansion in the forest. His welcoming host is Justine Harvey, a beautiful vixen adorned in a skimpy white gown. Wheeler's lust for the woman nearly supersedes his assignment.
Through a spacious network of halls and rooms, Justine leads Wheeler to an immensely large door that's locked from the inside. Justine explains that her family heard a scream from inside, and they feel that “The Gray Lady” killed Henry Slocombe behind the door. Wheeler, ignoring the folklore, shoots the lock out and indeed finds Slocombe dead in bed with wounds that appear to have been created by a wild animal.
Confined in the locked room mystery genre tropes, Wheeler interviews all of the home's residents. He learns that wealthy Ellis Harvey owns the home. Ellis has allowed his brother Ben to reside there along with Justine, her equally attractive sister Martha, and a planned groomsman for Martha in George Farrow. Wheeler concentrates his efforts on learning more about Martha's dead lover Slocombe and Ellis' arrangement for Martha to marry George.
The supernatural aspect of Carter Brown's novel is The Gray Lady, the ghost of a dead woman who haunts the room where Slocombe was murdered. Further, Slocombe was entranced by the folklore and kept a tape recorder running in the room. The audio results are surprisingly convincing – there was definitely a mysterious woman in the room. The questions abound – who is she, how did she get in and is she truly the dead woman's ghost?
At 120-pages, “The Lady is Transparent” delivers the patented Carter Brown experience. With Wheeler's obligatory scotch and skirt-chasing, he stumbles his way through a locked room/haunted house mystery permeated with scorned love, jealousy and greed. It's an atmospheric, entertaining quick read that delivered what the author intended – a sexy, whodunit romp.
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