Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Hang-Up Kid -- Carter Brown

Carter Brown probably doesn’t fall into the category of forgotten authors yet (Bruce Grossman over at Bookgasm occasionally reviews one of the novels), but you don’t see nearly as many of them around as you did back in the Sixties and Seventies. In this part of the country, at least, Carter Brown books usually took up a whole shelf in the used bookstores. Not now.

Of course, they didn’t get much respect even back then. They just sold and sold and sold some more, and there was a reason for that -- sex. McGinnis covers. Provocative plots. Racy dialogue. The fact that they were often pretty funny, sometimes had surprisingly complex mysteries, and read extremely fast probably had something to do with it, too.

Carter Brown was really Englishman Alan G. Yates, who lived in Australia for most of his writing career. His books were published in the U.S. by Signet at first and Leisure later on in his career. One of his editors at Signet was a guy named Ed Doctorow . . . better known now as the novelist E.L. Doctorow. Yates had a number of series characters in his books, such as police detective Al Wheeler, private eyes Danny Boyd and Mavis Seidlitz, and screenwriter Larry Baker. I read many, many Carter Brown books during the Sixties and Seventies (those McGinnis covers, you know), and while I never liked Yates’s work as much as that of Richard S. Prather and Robert Leslie Bellem, which it resembled, I still found the books to be reliably entertaining, even if they were lightweight enough to float away if you weren’t keeping an eye on them.

I hadn’t read any in a long time, though, which brings us to THE HANG-UP KID. I found a few that I didn’t have at Half Price Books not long ago, including this one. I decided to go ahead and read it. It’s one of the books featuring Rick Holman, an unofficial private eye in Hollywood who works for the movie studios, keeping their stars out of trouble (much like Bellem’s Dan Turner and W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox). In this one, Holman is hired to prevent a murder. Young actor Evan Curran is convinced that he’s going to be killed -- because his astrological chart says so. Of course, there are a number of suspects who actually do want to see him dead, so Rick goes to work figuring out which of them is most likely to commit murder. His investigation leads him back to a fatal car crash in England some time earlier, when Curran was there making a movie on location.

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the better Carter Brown novels. The plot has fewer twists than usual and the writing isn’t as fast-paced and funny as it is in some of the earlier novels. Also, by the time this book was published (1970), the sex scenes had become more graphic, to the point that they almost seem out of place with the rest of the book. In this type of novel, I really prefer the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, fade-to-black sex scenes in the Shell Scott books, which have a sort of charming innocence about them when you read them now. Still, THE HANG-UP KID read fast and I laughed a few times, so I think it’s likely that I’ll read some more Carter Brown books before too much longer.


Anonymous said...

Well first thanks for the plug. Now it seems like a Carter Brown resurgence in the blog world. With this post and the few that have been popping up over at Groovy Age Of Horror.

Yeah finding Carter Brown books is becoming harder and harder at used book stores. I grab whatever I can find.

Anonymous said...

James, I was and am a big Carter Brown fan, always preferring the novels featuring Al wheeler or Danny Boyd, but also liking Rick Holman. Hated te Mavis Seidlitz books, but I did enjoy the cross-over book that paired Wheeler with Mavis. And yes, I read most of them in my youth.


James Reasoner said...

Al Wheeler was always my favorite of Carter Brown's series characters, too, but I liked Rick Holman and Danny Boyd almost as well. They all had pretty much the same voice anyway. If I've ever read any of the Mavis books, I don't remember them.

DGB said...

I just finished a CB called AND THE UNDEAD SANG, a pretty unbelievable Mavis Seidlitz story. I review new movies for the OK City alternative paper, and older movies and various books for my blog site (The Long Saturday of the Soul at
if anyone's interested) but I decided to pass on the Brown as it wasn't an exceptional one. But I, too, still read him when I can find him.

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