The actual fighting of the Second World War rages far, far away from the snowbound country house of Dr. Duncan Chandler, in eastern Pennsylvania. Yet the fate of the American war effort may well hinge on what transpires there. Chandler, a cryptologist as well as a physician, is close to creating an undecipherable code system for the U.S. government, and he has lured a young math whiz, Rigby Webb, to help him complete the task. Also at the Chandler estate are a slew of guests, any one of whom might be an Axis agent. Marital troubles between the doctor and his wife, and a malpractice suit against him, further thicken the plot. Soon after a blizzard seals off the house from most outside contact, a man trudges through the snow to deliver a message—and gets shot to death from a second-floor window as he approaches the dwelling. Was he bringing news of an Axis spy’s identity? And what happened to the rifle used to kill him? The brash and brilliant Webb takes a turn as a detective, striving to crack the murder case even as he works to crack Chandler’s code to end all codes. Davis plants a few neat clues for Webb to follow, but the main emphasis here is on wartime atmospherics and on the suspense that arises when people are cooped up with an unknown killer who will surely strike again.
[ADDENDUM: The vastness of the Internet contains surprisingly little information about Davis, and nothing at all (as far as I can discern) about this novel. There’s a smattering of Web pages that treat his voluminous work for the detective and hero pulps of the 1930s. Otherwise, the digital pickings are slim. Davis was a skilled and versatile fictioneer who merits recognition as mystery writer in the classic American vein. At his blog Pretty Sinister, John recently posted a review of one of the many mainstream detective puzzles that Davis spun, “Coffins for Three” (1938). In a comment on that post, I said about “Deep Lies the Dead”: “It’s a straight country-house mystery, with a bit of wartime espionage thrown in to add a bit of contemporary spice, and from reading it I would never have guessed that Davis had been a pulp writer.”]