by Allen J. Hubin

DIPLOMAT – Murder in the State Department. Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, US, hardcover, 1930.

DIPLOMAT Murder in the State Department

   John Franklin Carter wrote books on a variety of subjects under several pen names, including Unofficial Observer and Jay Franklin. But when in 1930 he began a series of detective novels about a diplomat-detective, Dennis Tyler, he chose his pen name, Diplomat, with malice aforethought.

   Many of the titles of his books about Tyler suggest a political setting — for example, in addition to the above, Carter wrote Murder in the Embassy, The Corpse on the White House Lawn, Death in the Senate, and Slow Death at Geneva.

   Carter’s interest in politics and diplomacy is also apparent in his nonfiction books under the Jay Franklin pseudonym — for example, he wrote a biography of La Guardia.

   A recent reading of Murder in the State Department suggested that Carter’s detective fiction might be worthy of rediscovery. Undersecretary Harrison Howard is found with a steel filing spike in his chest, and Dennis Tyler, Chief of the Bureau of Current Political Intelligence, jauntily arrives on the scene. Tyler, who affects a Harvard accent and abundant sassy repartee (for which I must confess a weakness), puts his career on the line in his effort to solve the crime.

DIPLOMAT Slow Death at Geneva

   The case involves, among other things, an undersecretary seen flying down the nocturnal halls of the State Department with no visible means of support, the latest discovery by the Chemical Warfare Service, and finally a sinister plot by a national pacifist leader to take over the country (shades of Fu Manchu!).

   The book is weakened by an unsatisfying ending, but the author’s style is brisk and the action incessant.

   As long as credibility is not required, Murder in the State Department makes very entertaining reading and I look forward to investigating other Diplomat books in my library.

– From The Armchair Detective, Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1967.

[UPDATE] 08-12-09.   From the second issue of TAD [January 1968] is the following News Note, signed by AJH  [Al Hubin] —

    In the first issue of The Armchair Detective a novel by John Franklin Carter was reviewed, and it was suggested that Carter’s detective fiction, written in the 1930′ s under the pseudonym Diplomat, was worthy of rediscovery. Mr. Carter died November 27 at the age of 70, and thanks to Charles Shibuk I am in possession of obituary notices from the New York Times and the New York Post.

   Mr. Carter was born in 1897, one of a family of 7 children of Rev. John Franklin Carter, an Episcopal clergyman, and his wite. Weakened health due to a serious childhood infection caused him to learn to write “in self-defense against a world which is, among children at least, thoroughly contemptuous of weaklings.”

   He was occupied in various phases of newspaper work during his twenties, and then, beginning in 1928 when he moved to Washington, concerned himself with politics and government service for the rest of his lite. He held posts in the Departments of State and Agriculture, and commented on political life on radio programs and in newspaper columns for many years. Most of his more than 30 books dealt with politics, but it is interesting to note that although considerable space was devoted in the newspapers (especially the Times, on whose staff Carter served for some 5 years) and in Time Magazine to his obituary none of these publications said one word about his detective fiction.