Fredric Brown had a lot going for him as a crime writer. He had a flair for plotting, was strong on psychological insight, and although he wrote a successful series, he was especially good with stand-alone novels, when one can never be sure what the protagonist's fate will be. His writing was often witty, his story structures innovative, and he had a gift for the short story. What more could any crime fan wish for?
The Deep End was published in 1952, not too long after the admirable The Far Cry, but it's very, very different - and almost equally as good as that fine novel. The setting is this time a small, unnamed city rather than a remote outpost of New Mexico, and the lead character is a young journalist, Sam Evans. One thing he has in common with George Weaver in the earlier book is that his marriage is on the rocks. At the start of the story, his wife Millie has departed on a sort of trial separation.
The story has a low-key beginning, but the tension gradually rises as Sam begins to suspect a connection between a series of apparent accidents that resulted in fatalities. One of the ways that Brown builds suspense is by splitting the book into ten sections, representing the successive days over which the events of the story unfold. As with The Far Cry, the end of the story echoes the opening paragraphs, but the effect is quite different. He really was a clever writer.
Jack Seabrook's excellent biography of Brown, Martians and Misplaced Clues (a recommended read) explains that Brown based the story on an earlier novelette rejoicing in the title of "Obit for Obie". Like many writers of his era, including Chandler and Cornell Woolrich, he was a great one for reworking material that had originally appeared in the pulp magazines. In the case of lesser writers, this can be a sign of laziness or lack of imagination, but the better writers, such as Brown, often showed considerable skill in reworking ideas, and exploiting their potential more fully. Certainly, The Deep End is one of the best books of a very good crime novelist.