Carter Brown’s Until Temptation Do Us Part: The Culture of Hypermasculinity

Carter Brown

Carter Brown

As is the case with most Carter Brown novels, Until Temptation Do Us Part serves as a guilty pleasure that indulges in a hyper-heterosexual fantasy realm where misamatorist and misogynists epitaphs are thrown around to insult men and violence against women is employed by the protagonist and antagonist alike.  There are, however, underlining themes throughout the novel, and the work should be read as a descriptive narrative, not a prescriptive one, or at least that is what I tell myself in order to enjoy it.  Ultimately, the source of the conflict in this novel is avarice within a capitalist structure, so there’s that if you want to dig into a Marxist singing reading.

 

 

CarterBrownTemptationThe narrative tells the story of a middle-aged man, Nicholas Kutter, who gets murdered; his trophy wife, Miriam; his brother George; and business competitor, Burt Evans.   All of them, as well as the maid Toni and an heiress named Lisa, are suspects, and Brown’s infamous womanizing lieutenant, Al Wheeler, must solve the case!  In an unorthodox fashion.  And by unorthodox, I mean he has to have sex with at least two suspects.  Or was it just one this time?  It is important to note that though the women are ill-treated and the men display behaviour which, at best, can be called chauvinistic, they are not seen as morally superior.  One police officer, Polnik, beams with pride as he confirms to Wheeler that, yes, the ‘library’ is the room with all the books in it, unaware of Wheeler’s sarcastic tone and all too proud to offer a vocabulary lesson to his superior.  Later in the novel, when Wheeler gives him instructions to ensure Toni, maid to the widowed Mrs. Kutter, follows his instructions, even if force is required, Polnik replies: “‘Chee lieutenant…. I never busted a dame’s arm before.’”  Polnik seems brutally unaware that the threat of force is all Wheeler wanted to communicate, and that the threat was all that was needed.  He is like the naïve participant in Milgram’s experiment, completely obvious to the fact that he is about to learn about the banality of evil.

 

Carter Brown's work was apparently translated into other languages.

Carter Brown’s work was apparently translated into other languages.

The violence against women is a thread that runs throughout the novel.  Wheeler, for example, says that when “Toni’s eyes started to roll”, he “slapped her face hard enough to hurt, but no harder.”  This reminds me of the infamously classic (?) Sean Connery video where he articulates that when a woman is being unreasonable, it is alright to hit her so long as you use an open palm and do not use the back hand.  So gentlemanly.  Wheeler, though, is out to get a murderer, and by this point in the narrative it has come up that Toni was formerly a sex trade worker and we all know how little respect is offered to such lose women.  At any rate, the ends justifies the means.  In context, though, Wheeler is not quite so bad as the antagonist who lays a brutal beating on Lisa, his former lover, and then does some mansplaining: “Dames like [Lisa], once they bend, you can keep right on bending them and they never snap.  The dames you’ve got to watch out for are the ones with the brains.”  Yes, don’t be too smart ladies, or you may not be able to get that misogynist wife beater to marry you!  And of course, after Wheeler rescues both Lisa and himself, Lisa gets all dolled up.  She had just been beaten and was about to be raped, so naturally her first inclination is to get dressed in a provocative outfit, put on some make up and then come on to the nearest man in a position of authority.  He rejects her, at which point she catalogs all of his moral shortcomings.  He responds by telling her that her “left breast is about an inch lower than [her] right”.  Reminds me of a Churchill story I heard once.

 

Carter Brown's book covers were perhaps more famous than his books!

Carter Brown’s book covers were perhaps more famous than his books!

Lisa, who, spoiler alert, turns out to be in on the murder, at least to a degree, initially comes onto Wheeler.  When he doesn’t indulge, she asks: “What are you Wheeler?  A homosexual or something?”  She sounds like the narcissistic male who assumes a woman must be a lesbian if she turns him down.  The term ‘homosexual’, though used to assault Wheeler’s masculinity, is a little better than the pejorative term ‘fag’, which another ‘dame’ from the novel employs when Toni tells Wheeler that her friend “‘Doris’ male friends are all fags because she had this thing about sex being bad for her figure.’”  Don’t worry, I had to read that sentence twice as well.  This is the kind of sentence I would have assumed was punched up by one of an infinite number of monkeys sitting an infinite number of typewriters.  Doris is willing to forgo he figure when a photographer is interested in featuring her in a shoot for a high-fashion magazine, so long as she provides some relief to his penile tensions.

 

 

carterbrownburdenofguiltAnd of course, whenever Wheeler meets a woman, he is sure to catalogue ever feature he deems noteworthy, and in some instances he can be quite harsh.  He describes one woman as “charitably thirty-five” (aka 40+) and states that she had “a figure that was well on its way from full to formidable”.  And if objectifying women wasn’t enough, he is sure to indulge in stereotypes.  When Toni, for example, comes down stairs no less than 15 minutes late, she says “‘I wasn’t even five minutes, was I?’” to which Wheeler replies  “‘Right,’” because he “wasn’t about to be suckered into that kind of losing argument with any female.”  Oh, I get it, because women are always running late.  This stereotype is simply not true.  They are only late 90% of the time.  Like my last ex-girlfriend.  I called to her from down stairs a few times to ask if she was going to be ready soon, and she said: “Why do you keep calling up her every 15 minutes?  I said I’d be down in five minutes!” No?  Not funny?  Right.  Because sexist jokes aren’t funny.

 

I'm not sure that Brown is on the level of Shaw, but they share common ground in their perception of panderers.

I’m not sure that Brown is on the level of Shaw, but they share common ground in their perception of panderers.

Though not as well plotted out as some of his other novels, and though the social issues are not as easy to identify as a stylistic lampoons, as is the case with many of Brown’s other novels, the book still has some bright spots.  The treatment of sex-trade workers could have been explored a little more, though Wheeler does seem to encourage acceptance of such women regardless of social expectation, whilst the other characters are hypocritically judgemental of them.  Lisa, the madam to two former escorts, is even chastised by Wheeler for blackmailing her former protégés in a conversation that is somewhat reminiscent of conversation between Vivie and Kitty Warren in George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Wheeler suggests that he despises Lisa more than the two murders even!  Pandering > Murder?  I’m sure the American justice system would agree.  The capitalist themes could have been a little more engaging.  Money is the inspiration for the conflict, and that could have been explored a little more, but this is crime fiction, not Upton Sinclair, so I can’t fairly expect too much of a socialist agenda here.  If you like novels from the pulp era and detective novels in general, and don’t mind the hetero-androcentric view point, it is a fun read.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, I’d stay away from this one.

 

If you like Carter Brown novels, feel free to read my reviews of The Sometimes Wife, The Phantom Lady, The Corpse, The Body and The Bombshell, and if you enjoyed this post and would like updates on my latest ramblings, be sure to follow me on Twitter @LiteraryRambler, on Facebook, and add me to your RSS feed.

Rambler About Rambler

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.

Speak Your Mind

*

css.php