Friday 17 August 2018

Forgotten Book - His Name Was Death

Fredric Brown was a highly distinctive American writer, as well known for his science fiction as for his work in the mystery field. He wrote superb short stories, including one of my all-time favourites, "Don't Look Behind You", which illustrates his inventiveness of thought as well as his flair for plotting. I first came across his novels when the excellent Zomba Books imprint published an omnibus of four of them, with an intro by Harry Keating, and I've admired his work ever since.

His Name Was Death is a characteristically clever story with one of the arresting openings that Brown favoured: "Her name was Joyce Dugan, and at four o'clock on this February afternoon she had no remote thought that within the hour before closing time she was about to commit an act that would instigate a chain of murders". She's working in a print shop, and a young man whom she knew a few years ago comes in to collect some money that her boss owes. It all seems very straightforward, and they even make a date...

Brown makes good use in this novel of multiple viewpoints. Some of them belong to the same person, who adopts a number of different identities; don't worry, this isn't a spoiler! Events move quickly and disastrously as one crime leads inexorably to another. There is also a fascinating portrayal of a person whose determination to commit the perfect crime is hampered by a sequence of unfortunate events.

First published in 1954, this is a gripping and highly readable book. Wisely, Brown kept it short, but it's definitely not an expanded short story: it's a nicely plotted novel with sharp characterisation and a highly satisfactory finale. I'm a Fredric Brown fan, and I can recommend not only this book but other titles such as The Screaming Mimi and Night of the Jabberwock. And how can you not love an author who once wrote a story titled "Paradox Lost"?


Jack Seabrook said...

Hi, Martin. I'm sure it's a typo in your excellent post, but His Name Was Death was published in 1954. It was later condensed as "Who Was That Blonde I Saw You Kill Last Night?" and published in Swank, a men's magazine, in 1958. I hope you'll read more Fred Brown books and post about them!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jack. That's a great alternative title! I'm keen to read more of FB's work, that's for sure.