Sunday, April 19, 2020

Carnival of Death

Beginning in 1949, Day Keene (real name Gunard Hjertstedt) wrote over 50 novels. Just four years before his 1969 death, his heist novel Carnival of Death was published by Macfadden-Bartell. It was reprinted in 2012 by Simon and Schuster imprint Prologue Crime as an affordable ebook. Despite my preference for his 1950s work, I found I owned a copy of this book and decided to sample Keene's late career output. Was it a good decision?

A Los Angeles man named Laredo once fought side by side with Cuban rebels in the Bay of Pigs. Losing a leg in the fight, now Laredo dresses like a clown and runs a trio of children's rides in a shopping plaza's parking lot. After appearing on a radio show hosted by Tom Daly, Laredo's tiny carnival finds itself besieged by bank robbing clowns. Let me explain...

An armored car parks in the shopping plaza to run change into a store. While there, one of the guards decides to grab a quick cup of pink lemonade from Laredo's wife. Within minutes he drops dead from an apparent poisoning. While the guard's co-worker is distracted with the spontaneous death, clowns descend out of nowhere and create a confusing spectacle. One clown shoots Laredo's maintenance man, another shoots a woman while holding a baby. Another hops in the car, retrieves all of the clowns and begins throwing thousands of dollars in cash out of the back door to the money-grabbing hordes. The end result leaves two people fatally shot, one man poisoned and Laredo and his wife accused of murder. And a bunch of carnival attendees rich from surviving this macabre Shooting Gallery.

After the police name Laredo as the chief suspect in the murders and bank heist, Tom Daly emerges as the novel's main character. After Laredo's appearance on Daly's show, the radio host feels that Laredo is too genuine to pull off a caper. He truly feels the man is innocent and teams up with his editor to solve the crime. The book's narrative finds the duo in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Big Bear Ski Resort chasing clues and suspects.

I don't think anyone would declare Carnival of Death a good representation of Day Keene's writing. The storyline was a bit flimsy in spots and really disregards the police and their roles in the investigation. I can't imagine that a crime of this size (with press and people swarming) would rely on two radio professionals to do all of the heavy lifting. The narrative was simply unconvincing in that regard. Like his 1952 novel Wake Up to Murder, Carnival of Death still possesses two of Keene's strongest genre tropes – repressed desires and sexual frustration. Aside from those strong points, the author is fairly complacent in drawing up the standard whodunit and inserting rather anonymous protagonists as heroes. You can do so much better than this late career entry from Day Keene.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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