Friday, September 1, 2017

Dead as a Dummy: Review

Dead as a Dummy (1943; APA The Hill of the Terrified Monk) by Geoffrey Homes (aka Daniel Mainwaring) features Ben Logan, a trouble-shooter and publicist for a chain of Western movie houses. He comes to the Empire Theater in Tucson, Arizona to try and drum up enthusiasm for a real stinker of a film entitled The Invisible Zombie. He rigs up the lobby with a skeleton, a vampire, and a dummy corpse in a coffin just to provide the right atmosphere. He expects the locals to get a bit of a thrill out of his theatrical display, but he doesn't expect a murderer to take advantage of the coffin as a place to dump a real, live corpse. And that's not the only corpse on offer in this mystery tale that features disappearing and appearing bodies, questionable mining deals, fascist plots, and conspiracies.

During his stay in Tucson, Logan meets Tony Bradley, a beautiful girl with a big cattle ranch and soft spot for a man with a limp; Eric Prentiss, a tall young reporter who suspects that the appearance of his distant relative, Juan Manual Madero, means that something nefarious is afoot; Sally Crossland, a copper haired beauty who holds a torch for Erik; Kelly Prentiss, Eric's rich, lovely mother who may have spurned the love of a good man for rotter; Godfrey Smythe, Kelly's fiance--very British, very interested in Kelly's money, and very phony; Hilary Innes, the local rector and a thoroughly nice guy who has been shoved aside by Smythe; George Popol, manager of the Empire, & his father Spyros; and Jose Manual Madero, a respected detective.  

The excitement starts when Logan meets Erik who takes him along to the airport where the reporter fully expects something to happen. He's even surer when he finds Madero lounging about on a bench. Then they spot a couple of men who Erik identifies as G-men who seem incredibly interested in a passenger descending from the most recent flight.  When the man spots Madero, he runs back onto the runway in an effort to escape, but runs right into the path of another plane. Exit one mystery man. 

The day after a pool party (where Logan meets most everybody who's anybody--especially where murders are concerned), our hero is gearing up to ask Madero to lead a parade in honor of the Empire's grand opening with Zombies when the local police come for the great detective to ask him for a little help with a murder. George Popol has been killed and it looks like Gordon Smythe may be responsible. At least Smythe was last seen in his company and now Smythe is nowhere to be found....Until his body appears in the coffin. But before Logan can report the real corpse in his fake death scene, Smythe's body disappears again only to be found miles away in a canyon. And now Erik is the suspect of choice as far as the cops are concerned. Logan has no real interest in the case--other than he doesn't believe that Erik is guilty--but he's soon up to his ears in plots and counterplots and helps Madero work his way to right solution.

This was loads of fun--lots of action, lots of sleight-of-hand with the appearing and disappearing corpses, and plenty of red herrings to distract the reader. Not quite fair-play--I don't see how a reader's supposed to know the real motive behind the murders, though one might be able to spot the villain of the piece without understanding the whys and wherefores. Ben Logan is a likeable protagonist--it's a shame there aren't more novels featuring him and there is only one other mystery with Madero as the detective. ★★ and a half

~One point: the original title is The Hill of the Terrified Monk. I have to say I quite prefer Dead as a Dummy, which has the benefit of a clear relation to the story with the substitution of a real corpse for the dummy in the casket. There are references to the legend of the terrified monk--but it's never really explained and there really isn't a good connection to the events of the story. 

[Finished on 8/26/17]

With the miniscule rooster of the Bantam logo, the counts for the "Bird" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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