Before seeing Dead Men Kill (and other similar books) on the shelf, I had no idea that L. Ron Hubbard had written pulp fiction. I honestly only knew about him peripherally as the writer of Dianetics and founder of the Church of Scientology. Since I never really had any interest in either of those, I never bothered to learn more. So I was surprised to find that he had a number of pulp adventure stories like Dead Men Kill.
Based on the cover and the blurb, I was anticipating something akin to the action/detective thrillers of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The main story arc of Dead Men Kill follows a young police Detective, Terry Lane, as he tries to solve a series of murders. This story takes a turn for the supernatural in that the murders are being committed by dead men, as the title suggests. Detective Lane sees a fairly obvious pattern to the murders and can logically link them together. Each man killed was a wealthy and/or prominent citizen in the community who has received death threats demanding money. Someone close to the victim dies of a fever or illness of some sort and then shortly after that funeral, the corpse turns up at the wealthy associate's house and kills them.
The supernatural twist made the whole thing feel very "Scooby Doo" to me. The writing certainly isn't as gritty as Hammett's work so it could potentially be accessible by Scooby fans. There is violence in the terms of shootouts and car chases but no harsh descriptions. The writing is also fairly simple and doesn't feel as tight or as elegant as hard boiled detective thrillers. With the other books, even though there were sequences of intense action and adventure, the writing still had a flow and tone that made it feel solid. Hubbard's writing got the job done but it wasn't anything overly impressive. If anything, it was written very simply and straightforward which once again makes it accessible to the young Scooby crowd.
As the story went on I was impressed by the degree of tension, twists and turns integrated into the plot. Rather than a simple shoot-em-up adventure mystery there was a fair amount of good detective work to be done. There were some pretty good character interactions and tension between Detective Lane and his superiors as well as some of the suspects and informants. As the story goes on, Lane finds himself the object of threats and attempts on his life. While some of the situations felt a little laughable (very "Scooby Doo" style - capture or just threaten the hero rather than kill him), they did create some good tension and left me wondering just how Lane was going to escape from one predicament after another.
When the final solution to the mystery was revealed, I found it to be actually fairly satisfying. I really liked the way the supernatural elements were dealt with, especially considering this was written in the 1930s without our 21st century sophistication. *grin* Some of the accomplices and motives were a little thin, but this is pulp fiction after all. It's never meant to be high drama with amazingly realistic and fully-fleshed-out characters.
Overall this wasn't a "great" read but it was a "fun" read. I haven't decided yet whether I'll seek out any more Hubbard in the near future. More likely I'll probably turn to Hammett or Chandler. But this was a fun way to broaden my horizons and find a new author I otherwise never would have turned to.
3 out of 5 stars
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