"And grizzly ghouls from every tomb,are closing in to seal your doom."- Vincent Price (Thriller)
Lou Cameron (1924-2010) illustrated comic books before ditching the drawing table for a typewriter and, from the 1960s onward, became a fictioneer who banged out war stories, science-fiction, westerns and tie-in novels, but, from what I gathered, he achieved ever lasting fame among pulp-fiction devotees for creating Longarm – a U.S. Deputy Marshall from the 1880s who appeared in more than 400 novels!
What put me on Cameron's trail, was an entry for Behind the Scarlet Door (1971) in my well thumbed-through enchiridion of impossible crime stories and the summations of the problems in this book appeared almost identical to those in Hake Talbot's The Hangman's Handyman (1942). Corpses decompose with supernatural speed and an assault is carried out in a locked room, but these resemblances are merely superficial and I would associate the book with Theodore Roscoe's Murder on the Way! (1935). It's written in the same pulpy style, cloaked in shades of noir, and the plot involves a coven of witches, druids, Welsh legends, zombies, an invisible cat-like creature, body parts, zombie witches and an immortal. I'm sure I forgot to list one or two more ingredients of this witches' brew.
Sgt. Morgan Price originally hauled from Wales, but came to America to live with his uncle and aunt, after his parents passed away, and because he speaks the language he's dispatched to the City Morgue to join Lt. Brewster and Sgt. Curstis. They are watching as the docters are cutting up the body of a young woman, Cynthia Powell, who came to them a few days ago with a story as unlikely as her own death. Cynthia also came from Wales and was making a living here chirping folk songs and got an offer to come along to a Black Mass orgy in a blue-bricked house with a red door. She witnessed how a man whipped out a gun and shot one of the hooded attendants, but when the police began to checkout her story they were unable to locate the house. She turns up dead a few days later. Well, days later...
The coroner is pretty sure that the girl had been dead for week, or more, before turning up at the police station with her unlikely story and they speak with others who turn out to have been dead all along – and it's not just the zombies dead weighting their investigation. They also meet an old Welsh man, deeply involved with the coven, who claims to have been around for five-hundred years and the lie-detector backs him all the way. Price is attacked when he wants to enter his darkened apartment, after a cat-like creature is heard inside, but nothing, alive or dead, is hiding there and still this only described a fraction of the entire story.
I became a bit of a skeptic, halfway through the book, as to how Cameron was going to explain away this pile-up of apparently supernatural occurrences and outrageous plot twits, without consulting the occult for an answer, but I have to say, he delivered the goods.
It's what you would more or less expect from a story as pulpy as this, but not a letdown at all, and I admire Cameron for keeping in control when the plot seemed to be running all over the place. The clueing is a bit flimsy though, but then again, that's a charge that can be laid against a lot of crime novels published after the Golden Era and you can still come pretty far in this one.
I initially bought Behind the Scarlet Door as comparison material, not expecting too much from it, but the book turned out to be a pleasant surprise that stands on its own merit and comes especially recommended now that All Hallows' Eve is approaching.