Sam Mitchell is a mining engineer in Gilson City, Colorado. He’s hired to do an appraisal on the supposedly worthless Belle Creole Mine, but he soon clashes with shady mining promoter Felix Rambeau and realizes that not all is as it seems. The owner of the Belle Creole, a stranger who inherited the mine from his late brother, arrives in town and complicates things by trying to steal the girl who Sam likes and intends to marry. Then there’s an attempted bushwhacking, more intrigue and double-crosses, and finally a showdown deep underground.
DEATH LIES DEEP, published in 1955 by Gold Medal and never reprinted, seems to be the only piece of fiction that William Guinn ever published. I can’t find anything else by him. Maybe it was a pseudonym, maybe that was his real name. But whoever he was, I suspect he might have been a mining engineer, because this book is just packed full of technical details and mining jargon, sometimes to its detriment. I got confused enough at times that I started skipping some of that stuff because I knew I wasn’t going to understand it.
There’s confusion in the time period as well. When I started reading the book, I thought it was set in the Fifties, when it was published. But then everybody was driving buckboards and wagons and riding horses. Was it a Western? It really didn’t read like one. Later, a mention of President McKinley’s assassination pins down the time as the early Twentieth Century. But the author certainly could have done a better job of making that clear.
My other concern is that there’s no femme fatale in this book, like you find so often in Gold Medals. In fact, Sam Mitchell’s girlfriend is the only woman who plays any part in the plot, and it’s a small part, at that, basically just something for Sam and his new rival to clash over. Mostly, this is a book about manly men doing manly things, like mining for gold and fighting over gold.
Now, with all those flaws acknowledged, I still have to say that I enjoyed DEATH LIES DEEP quite a bit. Guinn does a good job of moving things along at a brisk pace, and Sam Mitchell is a very likable narrator/protagonist. There are some gritty, well-done action scenes, and I admit, I learned a few things about mining despite myself. The book has a nice cover by Lu Kimmel, too. This is a very minor example of a Gold Medal, but a Gold Medal that’s not in the top rank is still better than a lot of books from other publishers. Don’t rush out to find a copy, but if you ever run across one, I think DEATH LIES DEEP is worth reading. (That’s my beat-up copy in the scan, by the way.)