RARA-AVIS: THE BODY, Carter Brown 1958

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 07 Apr 2003

Thanks to everybody that responded to my questions about Australian hardboiled. Carter Brown's THE BODY is my first.

Carter Brown is a pseudonym for the prolific Australian crime writer Alan Yates, who wrote more than 150 novels between 1953 and 1968. Five years after he started writing, over 25 million Carter Brown books were in print. Born in 1923, he worked in sales and public relation in Australia until he turned to writing full-time in 1953. From the very beginning he was incredibly productive. Starting with VENUS UNARMED (1953), he published an astonishing 8 novels in his first year. He employed a number of series protagonists. Al Wheeler, a homicide detective for a small southern California town, is his most popular hero. He appears for the first time in THE WENCH IS WICKED (1955). Mavis Seidliz, a private detective, was his most popular female protagonist. In 1959 Gallimard published him in the famous French Serie Noire series. Yates was married to Denise Mackellar and they had one daughter and three sons. In 1966 he began writing under the name Caroline Farr. He wrote an autobiography in 1983 and died on May 5, 1985.

In THE BODY (1958) Al Wheeler is on loan to the sheriff's department. An investigation into the murder of two women with identical snake tatoos on their arms leads to a prostitution ring led by a mysterious Snake Lannigan, and Al endures an unhappy boss and an unwilling assistant in his effort to uncover the truth. The book follows a typical Brown formula set in the States, involving humorous quips, a host of gorgeous women, several murders, and a lightheated atmosphere that glosses over violence. Although sex is often alluded to in THE BODY, all the action in that arena occurs off-stage. Explicit sex did not creep into his works until the 1970s.

Plot has always been king in hardboiled literature. The crime and the clues are intricately woven together, with the truth slowly revealed through the eyes of a brilliant sleuth. A bibliography of selected works reveals that Yates produced at least twenty other novels in 1958, and the obviously commercial pace is adversely reflected in THE BODY. The book's plot is weak, unconvincing, and disjointed. The reasoning Wheeler uses for his solution of the crime is arbitrary and questionable, and Wheeler's personality jumps from a lighthearted Nick and Nora approach, gleaned from Hammett's THE THIN MAN, to the cold-blooded vengeance of Spillane's Mike Hammer.

In spite of these faults, Carter Brown's writing has an unmistakable charm, and I found myself to be a willing audience. I think that if Brown had slowed his pace and put more effort into quality instead of quantity, he could have written on par with J.D. MacDonald.


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