Friday, 4 March 2011

Forgotten Book - The Lenient Beast

I mentioned recently an interesting and enterprising print on demand publishing venture called Langtail Press and I have now read one of their books. This was The Lenient Beast by Fredric Brown, first published in 1956.

I may not have said very much about Fredric Brown in this blog over the years, but I'm a huge fan of his work. I've read half a dozen of his novels, as well as some of his first-class short stories, and none have disappointed. And The Lenient Beast certainly lived up to my expectations, high as they were.

The first chapter gets the book off to an excellent start. John Medley, apparently a respectable bachelor with a taste for classical music, discovers a man's body in his backyard one morning and called the police. The dead man has been shot and a murder hunt is launched.

The story is short, crisp and fascinating and a clever feature is the way Brown uses multiple viewpoints, so that we see the same events from different perspectives. The characterisation, especially of a cop of Mexican origin, is excellent and the setting in Tucson, Arizona is vividly conveyed. I also thought that the depiction of racial prejudice was very well done. What is more, the murder motive is memorable – my only quibble is that I had a rather similar idea some time ago and am dismayed to discover that it is not as unique as I thought!

I can recommend this book, as well as Fredric Brown's crime writing in general (he also wrote science-fiction, but I have never read any of that.) Langtail Press have done modern readers a real service by making this book available.


Cullen Gallagher said...

I read this a few years back and really enjoyed it. It's rare that anything by Fredric Brown is at all disappointing -- he was remarkably consistent with his output.

Jerry House said...

Brown was a master. My favorite of his books is The Far Cry, with most of his other books coming in a strong second.

I hope you are able to read some of Brown's SF in the future. His The Lights in the Sky Are Stars is a somewhat dated but brilliant SF/crime hybrid dealing with the destructive power of aspirations. The Mind Thing is a quick chiller and Martians, Go Home is just plain funny.

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for such a perceptive review, Martin. He's best known for The Fabulous Clipjoint and The Screaming Mimi, both of which I admire greatly, but my favorite is the almost-hallucinatory The Far Cry. I reread it once a year and it gets richer every time. He depicts a descent into madness as well as Julian Symons did in The 31st of February, the highest praise I can give it.

SteveHL said...

Brown keeps (very deservedly) showing up in Friday's Forgotten Books and I keep agreeing about how good his writing is but touting some of his other books. Either nobody else has read these or I have really anomalous tastes.

I have read almost all of Brown's mystery novels. (I haven't read Mrs. Murphy's Underpants and the novel-length version of The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, which never seem to be available at a price I can afford.) The ones I think are the best are Madball and The Wench Is Dead, both a shade ahead of The Far Cry and the very light, funny Night of the Jabberwock. I recommend them highly.

There is a very comprehensive book about Brown, Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, by Jack Seabrook.

And one more note - if you look on eBay under Frederic or Frederick Brown, you will often find Brown's books available at somewhat lower prices, because nobody is bidding against you.

J said...

<< And one more note - if you look on eBay under Frederic or Frederick Brown, you will often find Brown's books available at somewhat lower prices, because nobody is bidding against you. >>

LOL: I have occasionally scored titles by Dennis Wheatley or John Creasey by leaving out the second "e" in my search!

Martin Edwards said...

Great comments, and we have a consensus - Brown is shockingly under-rated! I want to read more of him.

Bill Carlin said...

I love the Fredric Brown "Ed and Am Hunter " series and think that he's a superb crime writer. It was his SF that led me to his mysteries. Always the master of the short, short story I can remember Brian Aldisss, the great SF writer, citing "Answer" as the one science fiction story that non-genre readers tend to remember. At about 300 words it really is a small masterpiece.
I don't know the ins and outs of copyright law, Martin (you're the lawyer) but it's available on this link:

Anonymous said...

I own this book and have read it numerous times. I love "The Lenient Beast" and have recommended it to people for years. Now I'm off to see what other books of his my library has.