Saturday, December 29, 2007
Norbert Davis, The Doan & Carstairs Series
If there ever were books written to resemble a mad rollercoaster ride it is Norbert Davis's Doan & Carstairs series. Not only is one of the protagonists a really big Great Dane, but the cast of characters of each story resembles a bunch of lunatics and, moreover, the novels don't follow any sort of narrative conventions. As a result you can never be sure what's going to happen next, and villains are revealed in the manner of white rabbits drawn out of black hats. Reading those novels leaves you somewhat breathless -- but also wheezing with mirth. They're all wonderfully whacky and fiendishly funny!
The first book in the series, THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN, published in 1943, is set in Mexico: the book opens with the arrival of a bus in front of a hotel and a group of tourists that board the bus to travel to the small, picturesque village Los Altos for some sightseeing. Yet the private detective Doan -- "He was short and a little on the plump side, and he had a chubby, pink face and a smile as innocent and appealing as a baby's. He looked like a very nice, pleasant sort of person, and on rare occasions he was." -- and his dog Carstairs, a fawn-coloured Great Dane -- "Carstairs was so big he could hardly be called a dog. He was a sort of new species." -- aren't the only unusual passengers on that bus: there are also the Henshaw family with their horrid son Mortimer, the rich heiress Patricia Van Osdel and her entourage (consisting of a starchy maid and a Greek loverboy), and school teacher Janet Martin, who has studied the diaries of one of Cortez's lieutenants and has come to Mexico to explore the places he described. Last but not least, there's their driver Bartolome, "accent on the last syllable, if you please -- chauffeur licensed and guide most qualified, with English guaranteed by the advanced correspondence school, conversational and classic."
Much to poor Bartolome's dismay, the magnificent sightseeing-tour (with comments!) soon deteriorates into a nightmare when they arrive in Los Altos: not only is a minor rebellion going on, and a murder as well as the army on the loose, but to make matters worse, an earthquake cuts the village off from the rest of the world, and nobody can tell any longer who is friend or foe. Strange new characters turn up in the streets of Los Altos, and Janet even meets a descendant of her lieutenant, while Mortimer plunders the crumbled stores in the village. Soon more and more bodies are discovered, forcing Doan and Carstairs to play cat and mouse with the murderer -- and the army!
Norbert Davis's Doan and Carstairs books make for great reads. THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN was followed by SALLY'S IN THE ALLEY (1943) and OH, MURDERER MINE! (1946). They're all available for free download from Many Books, or you can buy print versions from the Rue Morgue Press (also available on amazon).