Friday, September 14, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Dance of Death - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

The Carter Brown books aren't held in very high esteem, but it occurred to me the other day that I've been reading and enjoying them for close to fifty years now. That has to say something about either them or me, take your pick.

THE DANCE OF DEATH was published in 1964 and features Lt. Al Wheeler, a sheriff's department investigator in California who was the most popular series character for Alan G. Yates, the author who created the Carter Brown pseudonym and wrote most of the books under that name, if not all. (Rumors have floated around for years that some of the books were ghosted, one possibly by Robert Silverberg, but I don't know if that's ever been confirmed.) Like all of Yates's first-person narrators, Wheeler is prone to wisecracks and has a very healthy libido.

In this case, he's summoned to a rich man's isolated mountain hideaway where a suicide has taken place, but it doesn't take Wheeler long to determine that the alleged suicide is really murder. On hand are several members of a ballet company rehearsing for a new show, and the victim is one of the male dancers. There's also a mysterious prowler lurking around, and that, along with the isolated location, allows Yates to work some spooky stuff into the plot. He liked to throw some apparently supernatural elements into his books, although everything had a reasonable explanation in the end, of course, once whichever detective was in that book had solved the case.

The plot twists in this one seem painfully obvious, but Yates manages to work in some nice reverses in the late going. As always, the writing is fast-paced and breezy, Wheeler is a likable character, and there are several beautiful babes on hand. Everything wraps up in a dandy shootout and a few last wisecracks. THE DANCE OF DEATH is hardly a classic of mystery fiction, but I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.


Jerry House said...

James, it's my understanding that Silverberg wrote four novels for the Carter Brown series and that Silverberg himself has no idea whether they were actually published. Any records and manuscripts are now presumably lost. The Yates estate (I believe) has insisted that all books published under the Carter Brown name were written by him.

In any case, the Brown books are fast and fun. I used to read a couple a day as a de-stressor when I was in college.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved them once upon a time.

beb said...

It says typpe the two words but the second "word" looks like a spot of dirt!

I often thought the key to the success of the Carter Brown books were those sexy McGinnis covers.

James Reasoner said...

The McGinnis covers were the first things I ever noticed about the books, that's for sure.

RJR said...

I really enjoyed the Carter Brown books, especially the Danny Boyd series. Also m enjoyed the McGinnis covers, and am still buying them on abebooks for the covers.


George said...

Art Scott owns a complete set of the CARTER BROWN series with Robert McGinnis covers. Of course, there were non-McGinnis CARTER BROWNs published in the 1950s.

James Reasoner said...

I probably like the Rick Holman books the best, but really the only ones I didn't care for that much were the ones with Mavis and the later ones that had more graphic sex shoehorned into them.

Scott said...

I have in one form or another of the US titles. I am currently getting the very early UK and Australian pre 1958 and the ones he published before his death.

Anonymous said...

I love Carter Brown. I've sought out and read a bunch of the non-US Australian-only titles before he signed with Signet and they're really sparse and primitive. According to research unearthed from the NAL files by the Australian researcher, Dr. Toni Johnson-Woods, NAL hired Frank Kane to Americanize the first half dozen or so. By the 1960s Alan Yates had moved to the US and for several years was good friends with Michael Avallone. One of the prize items in my signed first edition collection is a copy of the Carter Brown novel, The Exotic, signed to Avallone on the occasion of Avo's 37th birthday: ""Happy Birthday, Mike. This makes you nearly as old as I am!"--Carter Brown.

Yates and Richard S. Prather and Avallone really kept alive that breezy, lighthearted style of hardboiled PIs first developed by Robert Leslie Bellem. Loved 'em all and still do.

Stephen Mertz