OH, MURDERER MINE (1946) by Norbert Davis
reprinted in 2003 by The Rue Morgue Press
reviewed by Barry Ergang
In the course of an arduous trek through Mignon G. Eberhart's Next of Kin, I took a break and tore through this little gem, the third and—alas!—final novel about the unlikely team of Doan and Carstairs (the other two are The Mouse in the Mountain and Sally's in the Alley). Doan is a chubby, pleasant-faced private detective; Carstairs is the regal, haughty Great Dane he won in a crap game and who disapproves of him.
Doan is hired by 54-year-old cosmetics magnate Heloise of Hollywood to bodyguard her husband, 26-year-old meteorologist Eric Trent—a.k.a. "Handsome Lover Boy" in Heloise's magazine ads. Heloise, though still quite attractive herself, is afraid younger women will hit on Eric and wants Doan to supply the necessary discouragement.
Things get going when Melissa Gregory, an anthropology instructor at Breckenbridge University, is incensed by Trent's usurpation of her office, as sanctioned by T. Ballard Bestwyck, the university president. She confronts Trent about it, but her impetrations have no effect. Trent is arrogant and stubborn. Melissa learns he might even be taking over the apartment she maintains on campus.
That night, Melissa returns home after a date with assistant English professor Frank Ames to find an intruder in her apartment. The intruder knocks her out and flees, but not before Melissa has had time to scream. Hearing her, Doan and Carstairs investigate, and in the course of their pursuit, Doan is shot at and barely missed by the assailant. He subsequently discovers Frank Ames's body in a trash can. Ames's throat has been sliced open.
It's only the beginning. More bodies remain to be discovered before Doan wraps things up. I won't to go on—the book is only 128 pages long—except to say that the chapter in which Carstairs runs amuck in Heloise's salon is worth the price of the book. I recommend this one and its predecessors, along with the out-of-print The Adventures of Max Latin from The Mysterious Press (five novelettes originally published in Dime Detective), as wonderful examples of the screwball comedy school of mystery a la Jonathan Latimer and Craig Rice. Forget about realism, thematic explorations, or character depth—although some of Davis's characters are memorably wacky. This is storytelling as pure entertainment. Davis could and did write stories as hardboiled as those of Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and Raymond Chandler, but his best work features an off-the-wall comic perspective on the tough detective story. I'm looking forward to the forthcoming Crippen & Landru collection.
For more on Norbert Davis, see http://www.blackmaskmagazine.com/norbertdavis.html
For more information on the Golden Age of Detection and on this book in particular follow the link http://gadetection.pbwiki.com/Oh,+Murderer+Mine
Barry Ergang © 2007
Currently the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, see Barry’s webpages
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