Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2019 September 04 • Wednesday

About four years have passed since I read a Fredric Brown book. Too long, I think! I'd forgotten how much fun he is to read, and how much there is to admire in his writing.

So I had a wonderful time with this book of his from 1948, Murder Can Be Fun (a.k.a., though I don't know why anybody would bother, A Plot for Murder).

There are lots of better covers for this book out there, but that's what the actual book I read looks like.

Normally I stick to just quoting the first line of something, but the first few lines are worth noting here. They demonstrate one of Brown's strengths, to stretch a little further and add an interesting thought or profound observation to his meticulously and superbly crafted entertainment.

Here's the first paragraph:

There are few streets in America down which a man wearing a mask can walk without attracting undue attention. Broadway, Manhattan, is one of those streets. Broadway has carried sophistication to the point of naiveté.

The idea of carrying sophistication to the point of naiveté stopped me short. It's something to think about, especially these days.

The rest of the book is a delight, breezy and perfect. The revelation of the murderer isn't a cheat. The clues are there for you to figure it out, but I myself was completely flummoxed by red herrings and Brown's considerable legerdemain.

Our hero is a writer who, like many of Brown's heroes, drinks way too much. He used to be a journalist but sold out to make a lot of money writing the scripts for a daytime radio soap opera that he himself can't stand.

(A running gag has him meeting various people who love the show and all of them are better than he is at coming up with story ideas for it.)

He's been playing around with an idea for another show to be called Murder Can Be Fun. A murder will be presented and the listeners will be given all the necessary information to solve the crime. A pause while they work it out, and then the show will provide the correct solution.

He hasn't shared this with anybody, yet somebody in real life is following his notes and killing people, all people with connections to him: his boss, his superintendent, etc.

In typical Brown deftness and cleverness, the book itself is the idea for the show. The reader has all the information necessary to figure out who done it. And the book itself is proof of its title.

Also of interest here is an Alice in Wonderland motif, as well as recurring appearances of chess games. Sometimes the two patterns are combined.

One of Brown's best known books is Night of the Jabberwock and Donald E. Westlake remarked that this particular absurdist fantasy surreal element was important to Brown's fiction.

So for the Brown scholar, Murder Can Be Fun is more than just another perfect construction from this very particular writer.

And CinemaSins fans will note that Brown anticipates their complaints about the Pronoun Game:

"Look—" he said.
"Yeah?" Barney looked toward him but didn't come back.
"It's none of their goddam business."
Barney just grunted.
Barney must think he was drunk, talking like that. Maybe Barney was right. He shouldn't use a pronoun without an antecedent.

Night of the Jabberwock is still on the list of Brown titles I've never read. I had this idea that I should read the Alice books first. But I might just go straight to Brown. Whatever happens, it won't be another four years before we meet again.