Dead Men Kill by L. Ron Hubbard

Read & Listen Package: Dead Men Kill - L. Ron Hubbard

I received a copy of this book and audio book package free through a giveaway on Booklikes. I have no idea why this book was being given away now (or then, I should say, since I received it back in November), since it was originally published in the 1930s, and this particular edition is for 2008. So it’s not exactly an ARC. I also didn’t know there would be an audio book, plus a swell 30-page catalog of possibly every non-religious book L. Ron Hubbard ever wrote.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this. I know of Hubbard, of course, as the founder of the Church of Scientology, and was aware that he had written other books, but that was about it. Would it be weird and religious? I decided to find out, since the giveaway was for 50 copies, and I ended up being only one of 10 people who requested it. I tried to go into it with an open mind. Unfortunately I was already rolling my eyes at the foreword. Hubbard “could write on any subject, in any genre, from jungle explorers to deep-sea divers, from G-men and gangsters, cowboys and flying aces to mountain climbers, hard-boiled detectives and spies,” (ix). Naturally, I thought, anyone who tries to write in every popular genre is probably not great at any of them. Just listen to the categories his books are listed under in the catalog: Air Adventure, Far-Flung Adventure, Tales from the Orient, Sea Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Western.

This is a novel about the secretaries of rich men who die, and a few weeks later, return to murder their bosses by strangling them. Shortly before each rich man is killed, he receives a demand for a large sum of money. If he doesn’t pay up, he dies. Naturally, the police are baffled. How can dead men kill? From this point on there will probably be spoilers, as I will largely be quoting passages from the book and offering my comments on both the audio and physical books.

I never “read” audio books. The only experience I have with them was listening to Hamlet and Macbeth on tape in class when I read them in high school. My teacher would play a bit, then stop to explain parts as needed. This was over ten years ago and I don’t remember how they actually sounded. Being plays, they are nearly all dialog, so I think they sounded okay. I don’t think the stage directions were read.

The audio is read by “a multicast performance with music and sound effects featuring John Mariano,” it says on the back of the CD case. Mariano has won Emmys, it says, and it lists five other readers, none of whom I’ve heard of. I thought the whole thing was pretty cheesy, not that it could hardly be otherwise. My first observation, listening and reading along at the same time, was that most dialog tags are read, while a few are skipped. And I know I just quoted the part about sound effects, but I hadn’t read that before I started listening, and I didn’t expect them. Maybe someone with more audio book experience can tell me if they are common or not.

Page 7: we have our first dead body, and a very complicated bit of medical jargon from Coroner Reynolds. “ ‘I don’t need my stethoscope to tell that bird’s stone dead.’ He knelt quickly beside Gordon. ‘Deader’n hell. Strangled. The fellow that did that must have been a maniac.’ ” Thank you, doctor, for that brilliant analysis.

Page 10: Aaaaand I already guessed the identity of the killer, which turned out to be correct. Or, technically the zombie handler. Poor Detective Lane won’t figure it out until page 80 (out of only 95 pages).

Lane “walked quickly to the entrance of the room and then stopped as though he had been smashed in the face. His eyes opened wide and his jaw sagged. / There, on the inside of the door, where he could not have seen it before, was a note,” (11-12). I just don’t physically don’t understand what happened here. How can he see the note now? There was no mention of anyone closing the door.

“Terry Lane stood in the hushed night and rattled the padlock on the gates. With the key he had taken from Reynolds, he gained entrance,” (17). Why would the coroner have a key to the cemetery gates?

Page 23, 44: Loup-garou keeps trying to get the original of the Haitian pharmacy bill, a piece of evidence discovered in the room with Gordon’s dead body, from Lane. Chain of evidence 80 years ago certainly wasn’t what it is today, but why would Lane need to carry the bill around with him, especially to visit the cemetery and dig up a grave in the middle of the night. Stupid.

Page 32: What was the point of Loup-garou having Janey Lou (unfortunately for both of them, a criminal known to the police) pretend to be Cramer’s aunt? Just to frustrate Lane’s efforts to examine the body? As coroner, Reynolds is the one to do it, anyway.

Page 39: awkward writing makes Lane sound like he’s moving around like Sonic the Hedgehog. “Like a shot Lane was out of the car once more. He walked up to a policeman who hung on the outskirts of the crowd. [Several lines of dialog] The detective was again inside the gray sedan.” Apparently he moves, but his feet never seem to touch the ground.

Page 41, etc.: cars are referred to as machines probably at least half the time, a writing tic that got on my nerves. “The burly individual of past experience [srsly?] slipped in under the wheel. The car door swung open and a man with a black coat and hat stepped in from the machine which had come up beside them.”

Page 47: “Leroux grunted and placed the gum in his hip pocket. He stooped and gathered up Lane’s limp form. In an instant, the detective lay once more on the operating table.” Dr. Reynolds, for that’s who the villain of the piece really is, aka Leroux aka Loup-garou, sure is strong for an old guy, for the description of him, as well as his picture near the front of the book, made me think he was about 60 or 70. His voice on the audio sounds rather old, too.

Page 48 – 49: Hubbard tries to throw Reynolds-suspecting readers off the scent when Leroux tells Lane he’ll zombiefy him and have him kill Reynolds as well as his boss Leonard. This seems to be purely for the sake of the reader rather than the story, since if Lane seems to be incapable of escaping, Reynolds/Leroux/Loup-garou shouldn’t care if Lane knows who’s the real mastermind behind the zombie killings, and in fact should be gloating as all good criminals usually do before they get caught in detective novels.

Page 55: Every waiter in the Club Haitian seems to be in on the plot, unless the club is an illegal speakeasy and they’re told to shoot at anyone suspicious, and they all are armed. “A doorman in a welter of gold braid crouched and whipped out a revolver. Lane saw him and skipped to one side. The doorman’s weapon belched smoke. The detective cracked down, shooting from the hip. His automatic snapped back into his palm.” That whole paragraph is awkward, but especially the last sentence. How does his gun SNAP into his palm? It is attached to his hand with a rubber band, or a Slinky?

Page 58: Another one bites the dust. Morton asks Lane for police to watch his house, after he receives the death threat if he doesn’t pay up, so why wouldn’t he call the police when his security detail doesn’t show up by bedtime? He should be scared shitless by then. Dun, dun, DUN!

Page 64 – 65: more bad writing. Really, the whole book of so full of it, it’s hard to narrow down the best examples. “ ‘Look out!’ cried Dawn. / Lane was looking out. He made a flying tackle from where he stood. Before the guard’s weapon came up to firing position, the detective struck a paralyzing [obviously not] blow to the man’s face. With another bellow the guard sidestepped, and tried again to bring the shotgun into play. / The detective measured the distance to the guard’s chin [with what?]. He drew back his fist and sent a terrific blow to the man’s face. With a gasp, the man folded up like an accordion and lay still.”

Page 74: “Unable immediately to free himself, Lane took the next best course. He thrust his arm out and began to hitch his narrow prison off the road.” Do coffins come with wheels? How else can he move himself, locked inside a heavy box, with one arm sticking out the hold in the lid?

Page 77: “But he paid little attention to his own well-being. He didn’t notice that his head throbbed agonizingly, that the punctured palm of his hand left a red trail behind him.” A variation on the if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forrest-and-no-one-is-there-to-hear-it-does-it-make-a-sound question; if your head hurts, but you’re too busy to realize it, does it really hurt?

Page 85: Lane has finally figured out who the criminal is behind the murderous zombies, and he’s waiting for Reynolds to do something that he will be able to arrest him for. Let me repeat, he is waiting for a murderer to make his move, and what happens? “So silent had been the passage of the walking dead man that lane had not seen it until it was halfway across the room.” He’s too busy reading one of the doctor’s books about the Haitian penal code that he fails to observe a zombie walking into the room. Are you freaking kidding me?

Finally, it all turns out happily ever after, except for the millionaires who’ve already been killed, and there’s even a hint of romance at the end. Ack. This whole brilliant scheme was just a money-making scheme for Doctor Reynolds, so he can have a fancy apartment that takes up an entire floor of the Van Menton Apartments. Admittedly, this is the only time I’ve ever heard of zombies being used in an extortion scheme. However, the reason seems rather lame when we learn what it is. I guess the police never heard of back-up in those days; Lane should be kicked off the police force rather than promoted, for all the times he allows himself to be caught by Loup-garou, even if he does manage to get away, a little more beat up, each time. I give Hubbard an A for an interesting idea, and an F for execution. My curiosity has been more than satisfied, and now I’ll never have to read any of his stuff again.