Ambitious Summer Reading List: The Death-Bringers By Dell Shannon (1964)

Well, I’m at it again. I’ve done more than a few of these Ambitious Reading List posts in the past and only gotten a few deep each time. So, this time around I decided to give myself even more books to read through! Worse yet, when I decided to start this little project I was already about halfway through Stephen King’s Desperation which is a very big book! Yesterday my son was sick with a stomach bug and I felt like switching gears in between making sure he had everything he needed, so I grabbed Dell Shannon’s The Death-Bringer‘s off the pile and actually read the whole thing in one day (possibly a first for this slow reader). Boy, that felt good!

Here’s the deal, this is one in a series of books about an L.A. Lieutenant named Luis Mendoza who works in homicide. Written in the mid 60s, it’s a pretty interesting time because Las Angeles has been growing and growing to the point where it would become what it is today, but still in its infancy at the time. As you might expect, plenty of crime happened, with this book focusing on the murder of a gas station attendant, a college student in her own home and a series of bank robberies that lead to the death of one of their own.

At a lean 191 pages, Shannon keeps the pace going at a relatively good clip, doling out answers to the crimes nicely in the last 30-40 pages. However, I will say that WAY too many of the characters have this tendency to over-tell their stories to the point where I skipped huge chunks of pages just to get to the important part. This happens SO many times that it would have probably made me put it down if I wasn’t moving at such a solid clip.

Essentially playing out like an episode or two of your favorite procedural, The Death-Bringers keeps the hits coming as much as it does the philosophical tones and bonkers killers. We’ve all seen enough of these shows/movies to know how it works, but it’s cool seeing a period-specific version revolving around teletypes and driving around the greater L.A. area instead of calling people. I was particularly impressed with the repeated assertion that death is random and there’s no explaining it. It might seem like a downer message, but Luis and his detectives still strive to find the truth in face of that (though not all of them believe in such things).

Here’s the major problem with the book though and this is super SPOILER territory, so be warned. A major mystery revolves around the dying cops last word “Two.” Since it’s a mystery we know that’s probably not all he meant to say, but dying tends to interrupt these things. Now, look at the cover and what do you see? A skull…over a gun…wearing a toupee. Oof. Also, the bank robber is the third character mentioned in the first paragraph of the book. I didn’t like the sound of that guy from jump and suspected him even before I knew what the crime was! I wasn’t impressed by that kind of set up, but, hey it only took me a day to read, so I’m okay with it.

I’ll probably read another Luis Mendoza book if I stumble across one — there are a lot of them, it turns out. Also, it turns out that Dell Shannon is a pen name for a woman named Elizabeth Linington who was one of the first women to get into the police procedural novel game! I think I’m actually more interested in her than Mendoza at this point, so maybe I can find a book about her instead.

Oh, also, one more weird thing. I know these old detective stories were printed off with a quickness, but check out this little batch of weirdness that happened a few times throughout the book. The actual lines of type are inverted in some places. Start with “They” in this section and try to make sense of it. There’s a hyphenated word (cleaning) the starts a line below its ending picks up!

With Death-Bringers off the pile, I think I’ll focus on finally finishing Desperation and then moving on to something completely different like Stranded.

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