Monday, February 3, 2014
DOAN & CARSTAIRS WEEK - Day 1: Holocaust House (1940)
This is the tale that introduced our intrepid duo to the world. Doan is a detective for the Severn Agency. He's chubby, mild-mannered and innocent-looking, but deadly as hell. Carstairs, the Great Dane he won in a crap game, is a snob. He's particular about what he eats, where he goes and who he associates with, and - because he's the size of a small Shetland pony - he does pretty much what he wants.
Davis introduces them thusly:
Argosy published the story in two parts, in the issues for November 16 and 23, 1940. As you'll see below, the mag was going through one of its ugly cover phases, but the contents were still good, and the first issue includes a great story about John Quincy Adams by Theodore Roscoe (the Foreign Legion guy).
Doan and Carstairs are cockeyed characters in a cockeyed world, and Norbert Davis proved himself a master at mixing comedy and murder. It's no wonder this series has developed a cult following that continues to grow.
"Holocaust House" begins when Doan finds a mysterious cigarette case in his pocket. Some instinct warns him it's dangerous, and the instinct is right. He soon discovers the thing is packed with explosives, and the explosives were meant for him. Then his boss assigns him a case: He's to head for the mountain country around Desolation Lake, where a young woman is about to come into fifty million dollars and needs protection. Reluctantly, Doan goes, but is forced to leave Carstairs behind. Why? Because Carstairs disapproves of mountains.
The real reason, of course, is that Davis chose to leave Carstairs behind, and I see no good explanation for it. Having established such great chemistry between this pair, it's a shame he didn't involve the dog in the rest of the case. Still, it's a good story, and Doan is still a great character, and - with hindsight - we know Carstairs will be much better employed in the novels (and novelette) to come.
For some reason, this story, like the three novels, seems to have fallen into the public domain, and is available in several different electronic and print editions. Cheapskates like me can download the whole thing free on Munseys.com, right HERE.
Here's the rest of the lineup for DOAN & CARSTAIRS Week:
TUESDAY: The Mouse in the Mountain (1943)
WEDNESDAY: Sally's in the Alley (1943)
THURSDAY: Oh, Murderer Mine (1946)
FRIDAY: The lost (or at least forgotten) novelette "Cry Murder!," presented in its entirety for the first time since 1944.
I posted "Never Say Die," a Norbert Davis story from Detective Fiction Weekly, HERE.