Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Murderers - Fredric Brown

Yesterday's post about The Beat Generation brought to mind this cool novel, The Murderers by Fredric Brown.

Fredric Brown was one of those writers who could spin a compelling story in just about any genre he chose. One of his most famous stories is "Arena" which appeared in Astounding Magazine back in 1944. I'm betting that anyone who has ever read "Arena" has never forgotten it. It was also the basis for a Star Trek episode. His science fiction novels include What Mad Universe and Martians, Go Home.  Brown is also well known for a series of mystery novels featuring carnival showmen Ed and Ambrose Hunter, beginning with The Fabulous Clipjoint.

I found The Murderers in a used bookstore and was instantly intrigued. Here was a novel by Brown I've never heard of, and needless to say, I snapped it up "toot sweet!" And boy, was it a good find!

Bantam, September 1963

The novel is told first person by a down-on-his-luck, or what I should just say, an unemployed "beat" actor making the rounds of kicks and highs in 1950's Hollywood.

"Honey, you got a stick or two?" she asked. "I can't look any more wine in the face, but I could sure use a blast." She came over and put her arms around me, wriggled against me. "I'm worth it when I'm on weed."

Okay, before anyone has a chuckle at the dialog, remember that this novel was first published in 1961 and Fredric Brown was not above using a tongue-in-cheek approach to building up his characters before wrecking their worlds.

Anyway, it's a little potheaded kitten like this one that tips our narrator, 27-year-old Wally Griff, down his little trip into trouble. But that's really just an excuse. Wally doesn't really need a reason for anything he does. He's one of those characters built for 50's noir. And there is a moment in the novel where Wally recalls the Kenneth Patchen poem, "The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves" just before he makes that left turn down the twisted path to Endsville. The poem makes a neat analogy for this ride of kicks and kills among the lowest rung of Hollywood's players, actors, musicians and beatniks. It's that cool, baby.

And if you're curious to hear the poem referred to above, here's a video I found of it on YouTube, for your pleasure.

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