FREDERICK C. DAVIS – Deep Lay the Dead. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942. Thriller Novel Classic #26, digest paperback, circa 1946.

   When he wrote for the hardcovers, Davis had two different sets of series characters: first, a psychology professor named Cyrus Hatch (eight books) and then the private eye team of Schyler Cole and Luke Speare (six books). The others (several dozen) were standalones (not counting those he wrote under other names). This is one of the latter.

   But before getting to Deep Lay the Dead, I should also mention that Davis was one of the more prolific of pulp writers, with his career for the detective pulps extending from 1921 all the way to 1956, publishing several hundred stories along the way. Among the series characters he came up with for the pulps were the never-to-be-forgotten Moon Man, who solved crimes wearing a fish bowl on his head (I may be exaggerating, or am I?), and Bill Brent, a newspaper reporter who’s forced to write an advice to the lovelorn column under a female alias.

   Deep Lay the Dead was his fifth hardcover mystery, and while its hero, a young math whiz named Rigby Webb might well have appeared up a second time, this seems to have been his only case. Forced under semi-duress to work for an expert in codes and ciphers in an isolated house in rural Pennsylvania, he discovers that the latter is trying to create an unbreakable code to help in the war effort; Webb’s job: see if it can be broken.

   The problem is, a courier is expected from Washington, but the house is completely snowed in. The power is out, and someone has cut the phone lines. The long-delayed agent finally makes his way in by foot, but as he is seen approaching the house, the same unknown someone shoots him with a rifle from inside. The house is filled with weekend guests. Which of them is the killer?

   Davis tells the story cleanly and smoothly, with no particular flourishes, but the tale can be read in long gulps at a time. And before writing the book, Davis obviously boned up on the basics of codes and how to break them, using info dumps of jargon used by those in the trade to make his story as authentic as possible. (It all sounded good to me.)

   The basic framework of the tale is that of a detective story, so I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which turns out to be more an action thriller than a mystery with clues, fair play and all that. There is also more than a soupçon of romance in the mix. Something for everyone, in other words, and none the worse for it. I liked this one.