Friday, October 12, 2012

Forgotten Books: Satan Hall in "Ready to Burn" by Carroll John Daly

Last month I reread and reviewed the first Satan Hall novel, The Mystery of the Smoking Gun (that's HERE), and enjoyed it so much I was anxious to revisit the second book, Ready to Burn.

Well, I have to admit, I liked the first book better. Not because it was a better novel, because none of Daly's books are truly novels, but because it was pulpier. The Mystery of the Smoking Gun was composed of five complete novelettes, while Ready to Burn was made from three not-quite-so-complete short novels. Simply put, Smoking Gun has more action, more intrigue and more shootouts.

Satan Hall, in case you haven't been introduced, is a New York police detective who just happens to look like Old Nick, and has a disposition to match. He solves crimes by shooting the bad guys dead. The hardest part of his job is tricking the villains into shooting first, so he can snuff them in self defense.

By the time the three connected stories that became Ready to Burn appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, Daly already had nine and half books under his belt (including six featuring Race Williams) and most, if not all, employed the same technique his Mask-mate Dashiell Hammett used to construct Red Harvest and The Dain Curse.

It seems clear that Daly intended these three tales, published in 1934 and 1935, to be recycled in book form, but it was a long time coming. The book Ready to Burn did not appear until 1951, and then only in England. This time out, Daly was trying harder to set up a plot that would not be resolved until the third story, but in doing so he took some of punch out of part two - originally published as "Satan Laughed."

Actually, Our man Satan didn't have much to laugh about in that one, because he promises the police commissioner he will not kill ruthless gunman Eddie Jerome. Instead, he'll bring the guy in alive, so the State can burn him in the electric chair. For Satan, that proves to be just about the toughest case of his career, because his normal solution is to put a bullet smack between the bad guy's eyes. Though it nearly kills him, Satan succeeds, and Eddie Jerome gets a reprieve until part three, "Ready to Burn."

The head villain of the piece is a blubbery mass of flesh named Hollis Daggett, who controls judges, politicians and an impressive criminal empire, but has the misfortune to fall for a clean, pure society gal named Nina Radcliffe. When Nina falls for Satan instead, Daggett turns to trickery and threats to win Nina's affections. And when she still won't come across, he resorts to a bullwhip. No kidding.

Anyway, here's the bottom line. Read The Mystery of the Smoking Gun first. A pdf version is available HERE from Vintage Library. If you like Satan Hall, you''ll want to read Ready to Burn too, which is also offered by Vintage Library. A third Satan novel, "Satan's Vengeance," appeared as an eight-part serial in 1936. That one remained unreprinted until just this year, when The Battered Silicon Express Box published The Compleat Satan Hall, a huge volume containing all three novels and all 21 other Satan Hall adventures (for more info on that collection, click HERE.)

Don't forget: More Forgotten Books at pattinase.


Deka Black said...

For some reason, i just imagined a mother scaring his kids saying "if you stole again a single apple from the yard of our neighbour, Satan Hall will come!"

shonokin said...

The original Dirty Harry!

Evan Lewis said...

Yep. Gotta wonder if those writers were aware of this guy.

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