Showing posts with label Carter Brown. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carter Brown. Show all posts

Monday, February 7, 2022

House of Dark Illusions

There are over 30 gothic novels authored by Caroline Farr between the mid-1960s and 1970s. Most of these books were originally published in Australia by Horwitz Publications and then reprinted in the US by Signet with vivid, traditional painted covers of beautiful women fleeing from gloomy mansions and castles. Depending on who you ask, the Caroline Farr name is a pseudonym for a revolving door of authors. The most consistent author associated with the Farr name is Richard Wilkes-Hunter, a New South Wales native that also authored books under pseudonyms like Alex Crane and Tod Conrad. 

Another name associated with the Caroline Farr novels is that of Allan Geoffrey Yates, the popular author that became a household name by writing crime-fiction as Carter Brown. My sources close to the Yates estate confirm that he did author some Farr novels, but the titles are unknown. There is also another Australian author closely associated with the Farr name, Lee Pattinson. According to papers held by the National Library of Australia, Pattinson was employed as a writer with Horwitz and authored romance novels under names like Teri Lester, Noni Arden, Kerry Mitchell, and Caroline Farr. 

The conclusion is that Caroline Farr was a house name used by at least three different authors that were published by Horwitz. Most recently, I gained a couple of these Signet reprints of Farr novels and I decided to try one out – House of Dark Illusions. It was originally published in 1973 and begins with a familiar gothic genre trope, a young woman learning of her inheritance. 

In the opening pages of House of Dark Illusions, young Megan has just experienced the loss of her father. She's a student at Boston College and lives in an apartment on Boston's North Shore. With her father's death, Megan fears she won't have enough financial support to remain in college. Thankfully, Megan receives a letter from her Aunt Lissi with a tantalizing offer. Lissi invites Megan to the family's coastal mansion in Nova Scotia, Canada. 

In the backstory, readers learn that Megan's mother is a descendant from a wealthy Canadian family. Unfortunately, she died when Megan was very young. The family never liked Megan's father so he left the family behind and raised Megan as a struggling single father in Boston. Megan debates returning to her childhood home, but feels that enough time has passed and it's important that she visit the only remaining family left, Aunt Lissie.

When Megan arrives at the spacious shoreline estate, she learns that her mother possessed telekinetic powers – the ability to move inanimate objects with her mind. Lissie feels that Megan has the same talents as well, but needs help discovering them. Lissie insists on having a séance so that Megan can harness her own hidden energy and possibly connect psychically with her dead mother. Additionally, the séance will include two distant cousins, a medium, and two doctors. But, when the séance begins, Megan begins seeing visions of an Indian prince being murdered in a palace. How does any of this connect to the story? 

At 140 pages of large font, House of Dark Illusions reads more like a short story. There isn't really enough time to delve too far into these characters to properly introduce them. I felt the narrative was missing huge chunks of importance or simply shortened to meet a publishing deadline. The entire story does play out, including answers to Megan's questions about her family and inheritance, but it feels like a rushed job. The book's finale left something to be desired, but possessed a fitting conclusion to the average plot. Whoever crafted the book used foggy roads, the misty coastline, and the cavernous house as atmospheric plot enhancers, but even the spook factor wasn't enough to save the book. I'd recommend passing on this unless you really love the artwork of these old books and must possess everything. Otherwise, just move on to much better books. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior - Episode 83

On Episode 83 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the evolution of sexual content in genre paperbacks. Also discussed: Carter Brown, Adult Westerns, Ardath Mayhar, John Kildeer, Frank Cannon, Sam Spade, Wade Miller, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Jonathan Craig and much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, at or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE


Listen to "Episode 83: Paperback Sex" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Lover

Using the pseudonym Carter Brown, Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923-1985) authored 215 novels and 75 novellas and counted U.S. President John F. Kennedy among his fans. His most enduring character was California-based police detective Al Wheeler, and Stark House Press has just released another three-pack of Wheeler mysteries anchored by The Lover from 1958.

In this case, Detective Wheeler is dispatched by the Sheriff to investigate a loony cult in the mountains run by a dude calling himself The Prophet. His followers allegedly engage in sun worship, group sex, drugs and fertility ceremonies. The Sheriff is concerned that this screwball religion may break bad in some unforeseen manner and orders Wheeler to investigate and provide his assessment.

Wheeler heads to the mountain to watch The Prophet in action. The cult leader is tanned and muscular wearing only a loin cloth and appears to worship the sun without metaphor or irony. The Prophet’s spiel is pretty pro-forma until he starts preaching that the Sun God demands a sacrifice.

This wouldn’t be much of a murder mystery if no one got killed. As such, after meeting a cadre of the Prophet’s devotees, we finally get a murder for Wheeler to solve. The author introduces a lot of characters (probably too many) who are all regarded as suspects. For his part, Wheeler is more full of wisecracks than I recall from other installments I’ve read. I’m betting that the upswing in Shell Scott’s popularity around 1958 influenced Yates to ratchet up an the pithy quips for Detective Wheeler to deliver.

Beyond that, this is a pretty standard whodunnit mystery with colorful characters and a logical, satisfying conclusion. Carter Brown mysteries have always served as pulp mystery comfort food - a palette cleanser between more substantial novels. You always know what you’re getting, and the thin paperbacks always deliver the goods. The Lover was no exception - you know exactly what you’re getting, and it’s always a good time. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Lady is Transparent

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 9, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 10

It's our 10th episode! On this show we'll discuss author Carter Brown's career and his novel "The Loving and the Dead". Eric reviews a 70's team-commando novel called "Killer Patrol" and Tom talks about his "wipe out" shopping spree in Chicago. Stream it below, listen on any popular streaming service or download directly LINK Listen to "Episode 10: Carter Brown" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

No Law Against Angels (aka The Body)

Beginning in 2017, Stark House Press began releasing the Al Wheeler series by author Alan Yates, better known as paperback extraordinaire Carter Brown. These 1950s mysteries are easy reads about a West Coast lieutenant who assists the commissioner on difficult whodunits. Stark House released the first volume in 2017, containing Wheeler entries 1-3. That followed in 2018 with the 4-6 installments. In March of 2019, books 7-9 were released. When choosing an affordable Stark House collection ($20 paper, $6 digital), pay no mind to series order because there isn't one. Al Wheeler is a cop. There's beautiful women. A crime needs to be solved. These aren't labor intensive. 

Wheeler is summoned by the commissioner to assist an arrogant homicide detective named Hammond. Wheeler, always holding Scotch, is to locate the murderer of two women found dead in San Francisco alleyways. The only clue is that each have a snake tattoo and they are from out of town. Never a strongman, our bumbling sleuth somehow backs himself into a call girl racket that involves mortuaries, hair salons and a hilltop mansion that might hold the answers.

The scenic coastline provides a beautiful backdrop for Wheeler's actions. The investigation eventually leads to fisticuffs, but not before both Wheeler and Hammond verbally spar on who's right and wrong. Of course Wheeler is attempting to get laid, but never settles to just pay for it (a prostitute practically wants to pay him!). It's when he meets the stunning goddess Jo Dexter that his sex-drive hits overdrive. But this is the tame paperback kingdom of the 1950s, so that sort of thing is more suggested than described. 

Carter Brown is firmly master of his domain and proves it with “No Law Against Hair-Dye”....I mean “Angels”. This was a gripping, short read that I read in nearly one sitting. Al Wheeler is hilarious with his endless sarcasm, never completely in control but somehow being three steps in front of the bad guys and the reader. This is absolutely entertaining and a must read.

Note - This U.K. book was released in the US in 1958 as "The Body".

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

No Harp for My Angel

Carter Brown (real name: Alan Yates) was a British author living in Australia who wrote mystery paperbacks about American detectives. His most popular character was police detective Al Wheeler, and the books in that series were a ton of fun.

It was quite a publishing coup when Stark House Books won the right to reprint early Al Wheeler books that were never published in the U.S. The second volume of Stark House’s Carter Brown collection contains a helpful introduction by Rick Ollerman followed by three Al Wheeler books originally published in Australia in 1956:

    “No Harp for My Angel”
    “Booty for a Babe”
    “Eve, It’s Extortion”

The story synopsis said that “No Harp for My Angel” takes place in Florida (home of Paperback Warrior Headquarters), so that was the one I chose to read and review this round.

As advertised, the short novel opens with California police detective Al Wheeler on holiday in Ocean Beach, Florida. Because he’s on vacation and because this is a Carter Brown book, he spends a fair amount of his vacation time trying to get laid. This quest leads Wheeler to hit on a hot chick in a bar whose date is Johnny Lynch, the mysterious new tough guy in Ocean Beach who owns a gambling joint. An altercation ensues putting Wheeler on the wrong side of Lynch’s ire - as well as Zero, Lynch’s right hand man, who looks and acts like an “overgrown gorilla.”

With the central conflict of the paperback firmly established, Wheeler is pressed into service to investigate the disappearances of several young women in Ocean Beach since Lynch and his goons blew into town. Because Wheeler has no legal authority in Florida, he assumes an undercover persona to conduct his investigation.

Thereafter, it’s a pretty standard mystery novel. The sex in 1950s Carter Brown is rather toned down compared to his work in later decades, but the story structure is about the same. His work has always been an easy - but satisfying - read. He wasn’t necessarily a master of the genre, but once he figured out his formula for success, he rode that pony for a long time and sold a lot of books in the process. No harm done there.

As time has gone by, Carter Brown paperbacks have become scarce on used bookstore shelves. As such, the Stark House revival of his work is coming at exactly the right time, and “No Harp For My Angel” is a fine entry-point into this iconic series. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Where Did Charity Go?

Some thugs visit Hollywood fix-it man Rick Holman and warn him to to decline his next engagement. Of course he doesn't, and Rick finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping plot involving a famous actor's daughter with the backdrop of a backstabbing family feud. Was it a real kidnapping? A publicity stunt? It's Rick's job to figure it all out in this short, sexy 126-page novel from 1970. The writing is good, the dialogue is crisp, the women are beautiful and the sex scenes are sexy (but not graphic). But the solution to the novel's ultimate question was a bit of a convoluted mess for serious mystery purists. Then again, mystery purists don't turn to Carter Brown as a top-shelf talent. For readers seeking a fast-moving, sexy Hollywood story that you can knock out in a few hours, this was a fun read. Recommended.