Friday, July 18, 2014

Forgotten Books: Death House Doll - Day Keene


Sergeant Mike Duval's brother Johnny dies in his arms during a battle in Korea, and his last request is that when Mike gets back home, he'll look after Johnny's new wife and baby daughter. Mike promises, of course, and due time he returns to Chicago to honor his pledge to his dead brother. But things aren't quite that simple. You see, Johnny's wife turns out to be on Death Row, awaiting execution for the robbery and murder of a wholesale diamond dealer she picked up while working as a prostitute. And the little girl, along with a fortune in stolen diamonds, is nowhere to be found...

This is another fast-paced, extremely hardboiled novel from veteran pulp and paperback author Day Keene, who has become one of my favorite authors over the years. This one was published as half of an Ace Double in 1953, and as usual, Keene really piles the troubles on his narrator/protagonist. Mike Duval is convinced that his sister-in-law isn't guilty of murder, and as he tries to get to the bottom of everything he runs afoul of brutal cops, ruthless gangsters, and assorted dames who are no better than they have to be. He's shot at, beaten up, and has to escape from police custody to find out the truth.

It all makes for an entertaining whirlwind of a book with a decent twist at the end and some welcome touches of humor, but overall the plot is a little thinner in this one than in most Day Keene novels I've read. That may explain why it was published by Ace rather than Gold Medal, where Keene was one of the stalwarts. It's probably a little short for a Gold Medal, too. Despite that, I enjoyed DEATH HOUSE DOLL quite a bit. It's got a great title, a good cover on the original edition, and it's available as an e-book from Prologue Books. This one's not in the top rank of Day Keene novels, but it's well worth reading.


6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I've had the Ace Double for over 30 years but never read it. Now might be the time.

Scott Parker said...

I'm still early days in reading Keene, but have enjoyed the ones I've read--the Hard Case Crime one and a western (title escapes me). Now, just discovered the link has a bunch of Keene books for ebooks. That is why ebooks are such a welcome introduction to the world even though it can eliminate the joy of finding an old copy in a used bookstore or antique shop.

Kurt Reichenbaugh said...

I have the Ace Double for this also. The other novel with it is Mourning After by Thomas B. Dewey, of which I know nothing about. That one promises "Highspeed Action With Tough and Glamorous Performers." which sounds more like a variety show than a novel. I should set aside some time one of these weekends and read both novels.

Scott said...

I highlighted this on Sunday on my blog with my week long Day of the Dolls. http://suspenseandmystery.blogspot.com/2014/07/day-of-dolls-1.html I might have to find a copy and read it.

Keith West said...

I love the cover. The only Keene I've read was Home is the Sailor that Hard Case put out a few years ago. I need to read more.

Marty McKee said...

This was the first Keene I read, and I thought it was terrific. I enjoy the hard-boiled Ace mysteries more than the gentler ones, for instance those by Charlotte Armstrong.

I liked the flip side too, Thomas Dewey's THE MOURNING AFTER (heh) with his Singer Batts character. Batts showed up in some other Dewey mysteries and is an interesting amateur sleuth. Sort of a more eccentric Ellery Queen. Have any of you read this or other Batts books?