I respect Raymond Chandler and I admire Dashiell Hammett but as far as modern American mystery writers are concerned, I love Fredric Brown. He was offbeat and versatile. The guy could write sci-fi, humorous fantasy, and horror too. Chandler and Hammett are praised and name-dropped on a constant basis but Brown not so much. This is sad because I found him more entertaining than either one.

My personal favorite of his novels is still The Screaming Mimi where a drunken journalist finds himself investigating the attempted murder of a beautiful woman and finds himself the target of a serial killer. It was inspiration for Dario Argento's directorial debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Overall, a thrilling combo of horror and mystery.

Here Comes a Candle seems to be a straightforward crime story of a young man trying to shake off his troubled past. Taking the ending into account, it winds up as a magnificent horror/noir story. The same can be said for The Far Cry, a tale set in New Mexico in which the protagonist explores the sordid history of the house he is renting. This character is also a drunk. There's a joke out there about taking a drink every time a Brown character does and you'll see how plastered you'll be at the end of the book.

Knock 3-1-2 is a short novel about a strangler and a deadbeat gambler who points him to his wife to be the next victim. A nicely constructed novel and worth a try. It was adapted into an episode of Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. Less successful but worth a read is His Face Was Death about a counterfeiter who tirelessly works to cover his tracks killing anyone who gets in his way.

The Night of the Jabberwock
is another fun murder mystery with the events of the mystery peppered with elements of Lewis Carroll's Alice books. This story involves another journalist. Brown seemed to have an affinity for that too.

Brown also had an abiding fascination for carnival life and it shows up in several of his works, especially in his fan favorite The Fabulous Clipjoint. A coming-of-age tale of sorts, it is about a young man, Ed, who investigates his father's murder with the help with his savvy carny uncle Am. The characters were likeable, the solution was sound, overall a magnificently balanced mystery. There's a reason it won the Edgar Award in 1947.

I look forward to checking out more of Brown's works. There are more Ed and Am novels to try out. There is also another carny mystery called Madball, Brown's only novel to be printed by legendary paperback publisher Fawcett Gold Medal. It is currently in print thanks to Black Gat Books, an imprint of Stark House Books.

I'll make a report on my findings and will write more about him in the future, but be sure to give Brown's work a shot. Immensely rewarding.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry