Friday, February 10, 2012

Forgotten Books: Lazarus #7 by Richard Sale

After reading Richard Sale's sole uncollected novel, "The Rogue," (see last week's FFB, HERE) I was still in a Sale mood, and moved right along for a second look at his most famous mystery, Lazarus #7.

This one, from 1942, takes place in Hollywood, centering around a hotshot movie producer and the various bit players who consider him their meal ticket.

Our hero is an outsider, the distinguished Dr. Steven Mason, who finds the whole scene distasteful and is eager to get back to his job at the Rockefeller Institute. Trouble is, he falls for the producer's secretary, and gets embroiled in a murder cover-up.

Lurking around the edges of the plot is another doctor,  a creepy little gink who thinks he can raise the dead. His experiments have thus far been restricted to dogs, referred to as Lazarus #1 through #6. Little does the creepy gink know that he himself is slated to become Lazarus #7.

The writing here is consistently entertaining. While our narrator, Dr. Steve Mason, is a serious dude, the many denizens of Hollywood are not, and most employ some of the breezy lingo of Sale's most famous pulp character, Daffy Dill. (If you've yet to experience a Daffy Dill story, you can do so right HERE.)

Though Lazarus #7 was Sale's first mystery novel, I'm pretty sure he originally conceived it as a sequel to his 1940 mainstream novel, Cardinal Rock (see that review HERE). The hero of Cardinal Rock is a globetrotting expert on tropical diseases who stumbles upon a leper colony in the South Seas and meets a man who has made remarkable progress toward a cure. In the end, that hero, Dr. Nicholas Adams, agrees to present these findings to researchers back in the states.

Well. Lazarus #7 begins with globetrotting tropical disease expert Steven Mason arriving in Los Angeles after presenting researchers with the findings of a leprosy specialist he encountered in his travels. My guess is that either Sale or the Inner Sanctum editors thought it best to present readers with a seemingly new character rather than one recycled from an earlier - and quite obscure - book. It's also possible that someone thought the use of the name Nicholas Adams was stepping on the toes of a guy named Hemingway.

While leprosy was the main theme in Cardinal Rock, it plays a smaller role here, but becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds. (Never fear, though. No fingers, toes or noses fall off in this book.)

This is Steve Mason's one an only hurrah, but the book does introduce a minor series character, a shrewd, incorruptible homicide dick with the unlikely name of Daniel Webster. Webster returns later the same year in Sale's next Inner Sanctum mystery, Passing Strange, playing second fiddle to yet another medico narrator, Dr. Peter Merritt.

Regarding the cover art:

The hardcover dust jacket makes it appear the story is bursting right out of the pages of the Bible. Not so. The original Lazarus is mentioned, along with the guy said to have revitalized him, but the religious angle is pretty low key (especially compared to Sale's first novel, Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep, reviewed HERE).

The Harlequin paperback makes it look like Cigarette Man is gazing down at The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Don't know what they were thinking on that one.

The glitzy blonde on the pulp cover seems frightened of a creepy green hand in the upper right corner. There is a glitzy blonde in the story, but it is devoid of green hands.

The digest is the only one that comes close to the mark. There is indeed a birthday party in the book, where a bald guy does get killed. Best of all, if the dope on the copyright page is correct, the text was not abridged for the digest appearance.

Now I'm psyched to reread Passing Strange.

For the lowdown on all of this week's Forgotten Books, visit Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Next week: Richard Stark's Parker.


Unknown said...

This is the first Sale book I ever read, and it's still a favorite.

George said...

I actually had a copy of that DETECTIVE BOOKS pulp. But I sold it (and most of my pulps) at the first BOUCHERCON in Toronto. It was part of my plan to "downsize" my book collection. The next step was donating about 30,000 books to SUNY at Buffalo. My good intentions were defeated by the tendency of books to breed in the darkness of my basement. I'm up to 20,000+ books again.