Carter Brown Double Feature: The Body and The Aseptic Murders

 

Alan Yates, aka Carter Brown.

Alan Yates, aka Carter Brown.

Alan Geoffrey Yates, better known by is pen name Carter Brown, at one point had more books in print than any other author.  His total print count was second only to the Bible.  Though he wrote pulp novels in many genres (each genre required a different pen name: Todd Conway for westerns; romances under Caroline Farr and science fiction under Paul Valdez, his most famous was his Carter Brown pseudonym under which he wrote crime fiction.  Yates wrote of several detectives, among the most famous were Danny Boyd, a private detective working out of New York, and Al Wheeler, a police lieutenant working out of California.

 

CarterBrownTheAsepticMurdersThe Aseptic Murders is a prime example of Yates work in the detective genre.  While the work admittedly does not overtly encourage much of a critical reading, there are observations to be made in reading the work.  The protagonist, Al Wheeler, is an unorthodox detective who prefers to work on his own: a prime example of American independence.  He is of course a hard-drinking, smoking, hyper-heterosexual man who is a genius detective.  The crimes, as they often are in Yates novels, and inspired by capitalism.  A chemist and a secretary are stretched out naked on hotel-room bed with a knife in each of their respective backs.  Wheeler must unravel the mystery which sees a host of characters, many of the chemists, who are all hoping to become independently wealthy off of a discovery made at a pharmaceutical research lab.  Part of what makes this novel so interesting is the way in which Yates situates the ‘elitist’ chemists with the uncouth detective.  The characters with the doctorates believe they can easily outsmart an uneducated detective, but soon discover that academia does not have an monopoly on intelligence.

 

 

Douche-bag extraordinaire: Scott DesJarlais

Douche-bag extraordinaire: Scott DesJarlais

It is interesting to note that every woman in the novel is beautiful, and when Wheeler meets each of them he is sure to describe in detail how each of them looks, noting their curves and hair colour, and how their outfits accentuate their bodies.  They are hyper-sexualized, but at the same time they must maintain a reputation for purity.  It is a great example of the American duality of puritan values and hyper-sexuality.  The man at the top of the pharmaceutical hierarchy demands sexual purity, claiming that had he known one of his employees was a ‘nympho’, that he would have fired her.  It later turns out that he was using his authority to obtain sexual favours from a female employee, noting the hypocrisy that is present in many American politicians (I am reminded of ‘Tea Party’ member Scott DesJarlais who not only had an affair, but was a doctor who had an affair with a patient and then, upon hearing that she was pregnant, pressured her to get an abortion despite his public pro-life stance; clearly DesJarlais, as is the case with MANY Republicans, did not hold the values he presented to the public).  This public presentation and how it stands in sharp contrast to the personal, is strewn throughout The Aseptic Murders, most notably among the female characters.  Each woman is sexually active in the novel, but feels the need to present themselves as abstaining women while attacking other women for sexual practices which they themselves embrace in private.

 

Al Wheeler shares a kinship with other hard-drinking, smoke, womanizing icons like Don Draper.

Al Wheeler shares a kinship with other hard-drinking, smoke, womanizing icons like Don Draper.

For all its sexism, the novel is a fun read, and the male figures are not infallible, not even the protagonist.  Quid-pro-quo sex is presented in an extremely negative light in the novel.  The supervisor who blackmails a female subordinate into having sex is demonized by the narrator and the narrator himself refuses to engage in a sex at which he very much desires because he understands that the woman offering it is offering it, not because she wants to have sex, but because she believes that in doing so her story regarding the murder will be believed.  She is, as it turns out, innocent, so such an exchange would not have sat well morally with the protagonist. He is, of course, harshly chastised by the woman for refusing sex.

 

If I were casting a Carter Brown film, Christina Hendricks would be a prime candidate for a starring role as one of the super vixens the people Crater's narrative.

If I were casting a Carter Brown film, Christina Hendricks would be a prime candidate for a starring role as one of the super vixens the people Crater’s narrative.

Critical readings aside, the novel is just fun to read.  Al Wheeler comes across as the Don Draper of detective work.  There are some aspects that are frankly unbelievable (no detective in his right mind would put himself in as many dangerous situations as Wheeler when he could have very easily done things the right way and made arrests without having to shoot anybody).  Still, Wheeler acting alone is part of that ideal of American individualism and Yates manages to present it in such a way that the reader can suspend his/her disbelief, in part because they want to.

 

 

The Body, another Al Wheeler novel from Yates, works in many of the same ways.  Like the other works, there is little back story for the Wheeler character.  We get a sense of the relationships he has with the people he works with, but at the same time we get no sense as to his motivations.  He has a moral code that the reader does not have direct access to: only through his actions do we see his morals play out.  There is no back story showing us how he developed this moral code and directing us as to his motivations.  We know that he has opportunities to work at a high level in the military, but such references are vague and only serve to add to Wheeler enigmatic persona.

 

CarterBrownTheBodyMoney is, of course, the source of all problems in this novel as well.  There is a call-girl racket run by a man known as ‘Snake’, and when a couple of his escorts wind up dead, Wheeler must investigate.  The manner in which these women are treated as commodities reinforces the nature of their murder and how they are perceived by the male, and even female, antagonists in the novel.  Because the victims are seen as a commodity, when they pose a threat to the organization, that threat is seen as being greater than the value you they add and so they are eliminated.  For the perpetrator it is simple math equation which requires their death, but it demonstrates how the sexualisation and objectification of women leads to a mentality that allows them to be marginalized and easily discarded.  One might rationalize that they were simply ‘call girls’, but once you allow for one person to be marginalized in such a way, it allows the mind to marginalize others as well, and so both Wheeler and the romantic interest he picks up to keep him company for the duration of this narrative, are both put in a position where their lives are thrown into the equation.

 

CarterBrownTheBody2As far as the sex trade workers go, there is a degree of empathy, or perhaps it is only sympathy, for the women involved in the industry.  Wheeler, when he deduces that one woman is part of the racket, is sure to discuss his suspicions with her in private so that she might retain her reputation.  The concern is that, should her employer find out about her other work, she would love her job, and thereby force her to work fulltime in the sex trade.  This is something that is a contemporary concern.  Adult actress Gauge, discovered upon leaving the adult film industry, that her ability to retain a job was impeded by her former career, an struggle many women who leave the adult film industry must endure.  Suzy Favor-Hamilton recently had her name removed from an award named after her because she worked as an escort.  There is still a stigma for sex workers that makes it difficult for them to do work outside of the sex trade industry when they leave, and the Wheeler character seems sensitive to this.  When he speaks to the sex trade worker, he also reassures her that he does not judge her and is, on the contrary, very open to seeing her again.

 

Monica Bellucci would be high on my list of ideal candidates for a Carter Brown vixen as well.

Monica Bellucci would be high on my list of ideal candidates for a Carter Brown vixen as well.

The women, though all physically beautiful, are not all morally pristine.  One wife indulges in blackmail, another woman facilitates the murders of other women, and others are equally problematic for other reasons, though one vice at least serves as a major plot point that rescues the protagonist later in the novel.  Critical readings aside, the book is a joy to read with a fast pace narrative, interesting and entertaining characters and, yes, beautiful women.  There is, perhaps unfortunately, no erotica present in the novel, but there is a sexuality that is ever present in the text, which helps move the detective narrative along quite nicely.

 

The Body and The Aseptic Murders are not what I would call the best works in crime fiction, or detective novels, but they do everything a great pulp novel should do, and that is tell a great story that entertains and has enough in it beside to give a critical reader something to think about if she/he should decide to look beyond the surface of the narrative.  For fans of pulp novels or crime fiction, these works should serve to satiate any cravings you might have, and if you like these, there are apparently over 300 more crime novels from Yates you can follow up with.  Yates was under contract to produce almost a novel a week, which makes these works even more impressive considering they were both likely written from start to finish in less than a fortnight.

 

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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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