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.