Sunday, March 31, 2024

Carter Brown’s The Savage Salome

Carter Brown’s hardboiled PI thriller The Savage Salome was published in 1961.

Carter Brown was a hugely successful English-born Australian pulp crime writer. He wrote 215 novels and 75 novellas and sold around 120 million books. He’s probably best-known for the Lieutenant Al Wheeler hardboiled cop thrillers but he created a number of other series characters including private eye Danny Boyd. The Savage Salome was the tenth of his 33 Danny Boyd novels.

Danny Boyd is hired by opera singer Donna Alberta to find the man who murdered her beloved Niki. Niki was her dog. Danny thinks this sounds nuts but he gets more interested when he finds out that money is no object to this crazy soprano lady. He gets even more interested when he finds out that if he takes the case he’ll get tickets to see her in a new production of Richard Strauss’s Salome. Danny knows nothing of opera but apparently in this production Salome will do the Dance of the Seven Veils and she’ll remove all seven veils. The first thing Danny noticed about Donna Alberta is that she has everything a woman should have and it’s all in the right places and in the right quantities. Danny figures that he’ll find watching her shed that final veil very artistically satisfying.

Then a man rather than a dog gets murdered. The murderer has to be one of a small group of people connected with this opera. Soprano Donna Alberta, mezzo-soprano Margot Lynn, tenor Rex Tybolt and impresario Earl Harvey are all possible suspects. Donna Alberta’s manager Kasplin and her private secretary Helen Mills are equally plausible suspects. Not to mention Harvey’s weird sister Marge and his trigger-happy goon Benny.

There’s a whole complicated web of sexual jealousies. There are jilted lovers, and there are thwarted lovers. Helen Mills for example is hopelessly in love with Donna Alberta.

There’s also a blackmail angle.

Danny is fired from the case and then rehired by a different client. Danny is pretty sure he knows the identity of the murderer. Maybe he’s too sure. And he can’t find any solid evidence. The second murder is more puzzling.

Danny is a pretty cocky guy. He expects women to fall at his feet, and often they do. He’s tough enough wen he needs to be but he’s a guy who would prefer to talk his way out of trouble rather than use his fists. Danny’s one great passion in life is women. Especially if they’re well-developed in the bust department. It’s possible that Danny would be well advised to spend more time thinking about the case and less time thinking about dames.

Danny is also pretty hip. He’s the first person narrator and his slightly beat-influenced way of expressing himself is a bit jarring at first but after a while it starts to work.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly noir about this tale but it is hardboiled and there are plenty of wisecracks. The operatic setting is fun. Personally I’m inordinately fond of mysteries with show business, movie business or theatrical settings.

The plot is serviceable enough.

You can always rely on a Carter Brown story to be entertaining. It has to be admitted that his novels are rather trashy. He was an author with zero literary ambitions. He aimed to write books that people would buy, and they did buy them in huge quantities.

Personally I like trashy slightly sleazy PI thrillers and I enjoyed this one. The Savage Salome is highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed several of the Al Wheeler novels (all of which are fun) - Eve it's Extortion, Booty for a Babe, No Harp for My Angel and The Stripper.

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