Friday, 24 April 2020

Forgotten Book - The Wench is Dead

The title of today's Forgotten Book comes from Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta, which has been referenced several times in crime fiction. The author of this novel was Fredric Brown, and it was published in 1955. I'm intrigued by my copy, which he inscribed to his ex-wife Helen. Whether it was because their relationship was amicable, or he was wanting to make some kind of macabre joke, I don't know, but I suspect and hope it was the former.

I've heaped praise on Brown several times in this blog. He was a terrific writer, but one of those who - despite the admiration he received during his lifetime - seems to me never to have been appreciated quite as extensively deserved. Although he wrote a series of books about Ed and Am Hunter, most of his finest novels were stand-alones. And this one has received praise from various good judges.

I have to say, though, that it's not one of my favourites. This is partly because the plot is relatively straightforward, and lacks the brilliance of Brown's best work. Another reason is because it's a story in which Brown's interest in alcohol and alcoholics is very much to the fore. Much as I like a drink, I find reading about drunks rather tedious.

The protagonist is Howie Perry, who plans to take a degree in sociology, and is gearing up for this by posing as a wino and working as a dishwasher. His pose becomes something of a reality as he starts drinking to excess and gets involved with a gorgeous prostitute called Billie. But things get tricky when a woman he's called on is murdered. Soon, it seems, he is the number one suspect. I didn't find myself as involved with his fate as with the misadventures of other Brown protagonists. The Wench is Dead is a satisfactory quick read, but not one of his masterpieces.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Martin, I totally agree with your review on this one. I think I read somewhere that this was an expansion of one of his short stories.