Sunday, December 11, 2022

Carter Brown's Eve it's Extortion

Eve it's Extortion is a 1956 Al Wheeler crime thriller by Carter Brown.

Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923-1985) was an English-born Australian writer who wrote well over 200 novels (some source claim more than 300) under a variety of pseudonyms. He is best remembered for the crime novels he wrote as Carter Brown. He is believed to have sold around 120 million books.

The Carter Brown novels are set in the United States but since the author lived in Australia the novels are set in the America of pulp fiction and Hollywood movies rather than the real America. In some ways that makes them more fun.

Al Wheeler (who narrates the tale) is a Homicide cop but he’s on special duty, working directly under the Police Commissioner. It’s not that the Commissioner has a high opinion of him. In fact he has a very low opinion of Al. He just wants to keep him close so he can keep an eye on him. Al has a reputation of being an unorthodox cop who takes very little notice of orders. He keeps his job as a Detective Lieutenant because he keeps solving difficult cases.

This time the case is very routine. It’s a special favour for a friend of the Commissioner’s, an insurance investigator named Moss. Moss is worried about a life insurance claim. It seems straightforward on the surface. The guy who was insured, Farnham, was killed by a hit-run driver. But it just doesn’t smell quite right to Moss.

Al talks to Farnham’s widow Eve. She’s very glamorous, maybe too glamorous to have been married to a loser and a lush like Farnham. Farnham was such a loser that Eve had to walk as a waitress in a crummy joint and she didn’t like that at all. Al figures she’s the kind of woman who might well murder a loser husband whose life was insured for a vast amount of money but she has a rock-solid alibi.

Eve happens to mention that a couple of days before her husband died a locater from a debt collection agency called on her and told her that her husband owed a lot of money.

The locater was a woman named Edna Bright and she looks like just as much of a potential femme fatale as Eve Farnham.

In the course of his investigation Al meets the head of the debt collection agency, a guy named Cole. He also meets Cole’s wife Natalie. Natalie is femme fatale number three. Natalie tells Al how much she despises her husband. She proves it by sleeping with Al. Al has a pretty relaxed attitude towards such things. If a cute dame like Natalie is willing then Al is willing as well. Besides, he might get more information out of her this way.

Just about every character in this book is a plausible suspect. These are not particularly honest people and that life insurance policy was worth a huge amount of money. Al just has to figure out how many of them might have stood to gain, legally or illegally, by Farnham’s demise. There’s also been a good deal of bed-hopping going on, which offers even further motives.

It’s a pretty decent plot and Al does at least some real detecting.

The Carter Brown novels are not to be taken too seriously. They’re fun, lightweight and fast-paced with plenty of mayhem (none of it graphic) and plenty of sex (also not graphic). There’s a good deal of humour and the humour works pretty well.

There are lots of dames and they’re not the types of dames who defend their virtue all that strenuously. Apart from the three femmes fatales there’s Annabelle, Al’s boss’s secretary, a glamorous southern belle with a yearning for a rich husband. Al has made various attempts to seduce her and he certainly hasn’t given up hope.

Al Wheeler doesn’t take life too seriously. He likes being a cop but he always makes time for recreation, especially with glamorous dames. He also always finds time to have a drink or six. He’s a bit of a rogue but a likeable one and despite being undisciplined and irresponsible he’s a pretty good cop. He’s not especially hardboiled although he’s no pushover when the going gets tough. He’s somewhat cynical but he isn’t bitter and he’s no thug.

The Carter Brown novels are pure entertainment but they’re well-crafted and clever and Eve it's Extortion is a fine entry in the Al Wheeler series. Highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed three other Carter Brown novels featuring Al Wheeler - Booty for a BabeNo Harp for My Angel and The Stripper.

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