Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pulp Review: The Whisperer "The Dead Who Talked"

Series: The Whisperer
Story Name: #1 - The Dead Who Talked
Original Publication Date: October, 1936
Available In: The Whisperer #1 "The Dead Who Talked" & "The Red Hatchets" (Sanctum Books, May 2009)

This is the first story of the Whisperer, a mysterious man who wears all gray, speaks in a haunting whisper, uses a gun that hisses rather than "bangs" and has an unusually ugly face. He is also a wanted criminal and a crime fighter which is why he features in a pulp magazine being reprinted by Sanctum. Laurence Donovan (under the name Clifford Goodrich) pens the story. Donovan may be familiar to some of you for the Doc Savage stories that he penned. I read his Doc novel "Murder Mirage" a few weeks back and found it full of fantastic ideas but dull in execution. "The Dead Who Talked" is rather the inverse, there's not much in the way of a plot but the story clips along at a nice pace.

The mystery set-up is this: various electrical engineers for the Black Mountain Power Company call one of their loved ones at times when they've been witnessed other places, use a pet name that no one else knows, and tells them that they are dead. These men soon are found dead. Who's responsible? The brand new to the officer Police Commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon wants to know!

Gordon, rather than the Whisperer, is the primary focus for this issue and he's a real jerk. He's the sort of guy who will punch out a co-worker for disagreeing with him. He demands loyalty but gives none. Really his only redeeming quality is that he appears to like animals. If you're a fan of the Hard Case crime novels, this sort of hard-boiled character will be more familiar and perhaps palatable to you. I wanted to punch Gordon myself a few times, but enjoyed reading about him all the same.

The Whisperer is more of an enigma in his own book. I won't let you know who he is in this review, though it's rather obvious. In future reviews, where the identity is revealed right away, I won't consider it a spoiler. Other regular cast members include Mayor Van Royston who cares greatly about formality, Henry Bolton the mayor's choice for commissioner, "Quick Trigger" a retired cop of some repute and his daughter Tiny. The mayor and Bolton are foils for Gordon whereas the other two are his friends.

There are, of course, numerous characters brought in for this story, including the owner of the Black Mountain Company, his chief engineer, his daughter and her no good boyfriend, a deaf-mute shoeshine boy and a whole lot of underworld types.

The story, as I mentioned, zips along at a fair pace and is filled with some quality action. The prose style is not as elegant as Maxwell Grant's but it is not as clumsy as Donovan's own prose in "Murder Mirage". The actual "Dead Who Talked" angle to the mystery isn't explored in much depth, which is a pity as it's a neat hook. In fact the whole story is sewn up rather quickly with a final exposition-heavy ending. Overall this pulp adventure offers decent hard-boiled entertainment but never soars to the heights of the Shadow or the best of the Hard Case novels. Personally, I'll decide after reading the second story whether or not I'll continue to buy the series.

3/5 Golden Masks

Another classic pulp cover suitable for framing! This one is by Tom Lovell.

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