Friday, 8 November 2019

Forgotten Book - The Far Cry

Fredric Brown was not only a first-rate crime writer, he was also remarkably versatile. In fact, I suppose you could argue that most of the best crime writers had the flexibility of approach and imagination to write a wide range of types of story. That was certainly true of Brown, who mastered both the short story and the novel, and wrote private eye fiction as well as stunning stand-alones. I'm surprised his work is not better known. He really was a wonderful entertainer.

The Far Cry, published in 1951, is one of his finest novels. It benefits from a vividly evoked setting, the town of Taos in New Mexico, where Brown had recently made his home, with his second wife. It seems to me that there are strong autobiographical echoes in the novel, and the protagonist, George Weaver, is someone who seems in some respects to have a touch of Brown about him.

Weaver is a real estate agent from Kansas City who is getting over a breakdown. He moves to Taos to recuperate, and rents a house in which, eight years earlier, a murder occurred. A young woman called Jenny Ames was killed by a man called Nelson, who met her through a Lonely Hearts club, but Nelson was never brought to justice. George becomes obsessed by the case, and tries to solve the mystery of the crime and find Nelson. Meanwhile, he is joined in Taos by his wife Vi, but their marriage is on the rocks, and he now finds her repellent.

Brown was very good at atmospherics, and he conjures up people and place with rare skill. Weaver is on a downward spiral, motivated only by an obsession with Jenny reminiscent of Mark McPherson's obsession with the eponymous Laura in Vera Caspary's novel - although the two books are very different. The final twist struck me as clever but debatable - to say why would be a spoiler. But this is a very good book and I'd be glad to discuss it with anyone else who has read it.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my top 20 favorite mystery novels. I thought the ending was perfectly logical; in fact this was one of my successes. I thought Brown was still very well known in both the mystery and science fiction fields. Haffner Press has commenced a reprint project of Brown's pulp detective fiction, and so far two large (700 pages each) volumes have been published.

Jerry House said...

It's hard to pick a favorite book by Fredric Brown, but THE FAR CRY is certainly one of his most accomplished. It has stayed with me since I first read it (far too) many years ago.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Anon. I think it's fair to say that in the UK at least Brown is neglected as a crime writer, and has been for many years. Glad to hear about the reprints. I really like his work.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jerry. I agree it's hard. One of my favourites is THE SCREAMING MIMI.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this novel! I think it's great. I cannot forget the image of that man exploring the ground outside his house in ever widening circles until he finds the suitcase. Vivid!