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Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown

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MISS DARKNESS collects the finest short crime fiction of Fredric Brown. Included in this generous collection are some hard to find gems, such as The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The Jabberwocky Murders and The Pickled Punks. Brown’s reputation has not diminished over the years; in fact, his following has grown since his death in 1972. First editions of his books fetch h MISS DARKNESS collects the finest short crime fiction of Fredric Brown. Included in this generous collection are some hard to find gems, such as The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The Jabberwocky Murders and The Pickled Punks. Brown’s reputation has not diminished over the years; in fact, his following has grown since his death in 1972. First editions of his books fetch hundreds of dollars, and even the vintage paperbacks go for handsome sums. This is because his strong narrative voice and character driven stories read as fresh today as the time they were written. Better known for his crime novels (his first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint, garnered an Edgar award) his short stories and novellas were in many ways superior. It is only that they are so difficult to track down that they are underappreciated. Time will eventually place Brown in the pantheon of revered American crime writers shared by Chandler, Hammett, Goodis and Cain. The publication of MISS DARKNESS marks the 40th year of Fredric Brown’s passing and at last pays ample tribute to his treasured short fiction.


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MISS DARKNESS collects the finest short crime fiction of Fredric Brown. Included in this generous collection are some hard to find gems, such as The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The Jabberwocky Murders and The Pickled Punks. Brown’s reputation has not diminished over the years; in fact, his following has grown since his death in 1972. First editions of his books fetch h MISS DARKNESS collects the finest short crime fiction of Fredric Brown. Included in this generous collection are some hard to find gems, such as The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The Jabberwocky Murders and The Pickled Punks. Brown’s reputation has not diminished over the years; in fact, his following has grown since his death in 1972. First editions of his books fetch hundreds of dollars, and even the vintage paperbacks go for handsome sums. This is because his strong narrative voice and character driven stories read as fresh today as the time they were written. Better known for his crime novels (his first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint, garnered an Edgar award) his short stories and novellas were in many ways superior. It is only that they are so difficult to track down that they are underappreciated. Time will eventually place Brown in the pantheon of revered American crime writers shared by Chandler, Hammett, Goodis and Cain. The publication of MISS DARKNESS marks the 40th year of Fredric Brown’s passing and at last pays ample tribute to his treasured short fiction.

42 review for Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown

  1. 5 out of 5

    A.J. Howells

    Read the full review, including more information about Brown, at The Books in My Life! Brown is best known for his crime fiction, winning the Edgar for his first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), and penning 23 more crime fiction novels. This was his bread-and-butter. He stayed out of office work through his writing, supported his family, and fueled his overzealous consumption of spirits. While science fiction was his toy-box, crime fiction was his tool-box. According to the Jonathan Eeds, edi Read the full review, including more information about Brown, at The Books in My Life! Brown is best known for his crime fiction, winning the Edgar for his first novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), and penning 23 more crime fiction novels. This was his bread-and-butter. He stayed out of office work through his writing, supported his family, and fueled his overzealous consumption of spirits. While science fiction was his toy-box, crime fiction was his tool-box. According to the Jonathan Eeds, editor of Miss Darkness: The Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown (2015), Brown is not as well known as he should be because he wrote so much (iv). While he only wrote for a couple decades, his output was constant, starting strong with The Fabulous Clipjoint, and getting even stronger as he continued his career. Certainly there were duds, indicative of Brown phoning it in for a paycheck (see “Murder Set to Music” [1957] in this collection), but all competently-crafted. According to his second wife, Brown hated writing, and his output was infinitesimally slow (Paradox Lost [1973], 6). While her assessment is clearly hyperbolic, Brown did have a tendency to revisit his well and expand his lengthier short fiction into short novels. This is the value of Miss Darkness, as it contains quite a few works in their original format as published in various pulp magazines throughout the forties and fifties. Included is “The Jabberwocky Murders” (expanded to Night of the Jabberwock in 1950), “The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches” (expanded to a novel of the same name in 1951),” “Obit for Obie” (expanded to The Deep End in 1952),”The Pickled Punks” (expanded to Madball in 1953), and “The Wench is Dead” (expanded to a novel of the same name in 1955). I have not read any of the novel expansions, but in trying to locate them, I have read several reviews. Most contain similar complaints. While the plots can be ambitious, they are stretched and forgettable. Additionally, the characters are flat and lackluster. The originals lack these qualms, for the most part. These are the stories in the purest form of their originality. While Brown might have hated writing, his wife adds that he loved having written and liked plotting (Paradox Lost [1973], 6). Perhaps this explains the brevity of most of his novels, and if this is the case, you’re getting the plots as they should be, not as they were re-written for additional sales. You’re also getting stories with fairly unlikable protagonists, which is always of interest to me. This type of characterization is subversive and, since it was written for a pulp-fiction industry filled with copycat writing, is refreshing. “The Pickled Punks” doesn’t even have a protagonist, unless you count the intellectually disabled Sammy, whose actions are still lecherous and murderous, though to be fair he follows the examples of others quite frequently. Here is a cast of characters desperate for sex and cash set against the backdrop of a traveling circus’ freakshow. There is no one to root for here, but the plot is expertly woven. The twists don’t seem forced. The characters get what is coming to them. No one but the reader wins. “The Wench is Dead” represents the story with the most interesting protagonist, one who voices the story. Howard Perry is a wealthy college-graduate who has run away to LA’s skid row to live as a drunken drifter with a hooker girlfriend. The novel expansion turns him into a sociology professor immersing himself in the streets for research purposes, which is boring. I prefer the derelict who rejects privilege for the underbelly. Perry knows what his girlfriend Billie does, yet he doesn’t care. He loves her and cares only to exist and drink. Unlike many of the first-person narrators of Brown’s fiction, Perry sounds like an actual person, probably channeling the cynical, alcoholic author who penned him. Through Perry, we learn more about Brown, a man who wrote so much fiction, but very little about himself. Sure, this novella includes forced lines to demonstrate edginess (from Perry: “Whoa, Billie. I didn’t kill Mame. I didn’t even rape her.”), but the writing only occasionally veers into imperfect. The voice is realistic, the twists aren’t gimmicky, and the characters are multi-faceted. Locating Brown’s books can be a exercise in frustration, especially if you want a physical copy. The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches runs for a minimum of $50 in mass market paperback form at major online retailers as it has been out of print for decades. Locating the original versions of these stories prior to the publication of Miss Darkness would have required a dip into your savings account. Miss Darkness is everything a casual reader and an obsessive one would want from this short selection of crime works–some short shorts (“Nightmare in Yellow” and “The Joke” are of note), some novellas, and an introduction with scant, but interesting biographical information. Also included is a beautiful back and front cover, the back of which includes a full-color reprint of the summer 1944 issue of Thrilling Mystery, which features an illustration of “The Jabberwocky Murders.” It’s a jarring blend of a typical pulp-noir cover and John Tenniel’s horrific Jabberwocky from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1865). Above this reprint is a photo of Brown’s profile, his head opened up and a scroll reading “Extraordinary Crime Fiction from the eminent Mr. Brown” escaping. The tome is clearly the loving work of a fan. That being said, the editorial typos get out of hand, particularly in the second half of the book. I’m certain much of the contents were typed by hand from the original pulps and while typos are bound to occur, many of them frequently break the narrative. Commas abound where they shouldn’t, as do periods and capital letters. In one particularly large oversight, almost an entire paragraph is repeated. A second edition would nicely fix these, but with Brown, second editions, even of his posthumous collections, are rare. The first four Ed and Am Hunter (Uncle and Nephew protagonists of The Fabulous Clipjoint) novels were anthologized in 2002 with a second volume promised, but the publisher of the small press that released the anthology died. No reprint, and certainly no follow-up, are going to happen. While I’ve seen Brown’s books in non-specialty bookstores since discovering him in my public library, they nearly always represent his science fiction. Miss Darkness was produced by Bruin Crimeworks, a small family-owned publisher in Delaware. You’re not likely to find it while casually browsing. Yes, you’ll have to go out of your way (though not far out of your way as it is on Amazon) and you’ll have to drop some change, but you’ll support a publisher resurrecting long out-of-print crime stories for both collectors and new fans. Additionally, Fred Brown’s charm might hook you, and if it does, you’ve found an author with a bibliography you’re never going to get through in its entirety. What more could you ask for?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Boris Cesnik

    There is not one single weak short story in this collection. Unputdownable, entertaining and refreshing - FULL STOP!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gregg

    It is not a misnomer when they call it "The Great Short Fiction of Fredric Brown. Having only read a couple of his short stories, I read the first 4 "Hunter" novels, which I enjoyed. But it was in the short story form he excelled. There's not a clunker in the bunch. Unfortunately, the short story format is mostly gone now. With a few notable exceptions like EQMM and stalwarts like Ben Solomon, aka, "The Hard Boiled Detective" series, there is a not a lot of good short stories being written. Ther It is not a misnomer when they call it "The Great Short Fiction of Fredric Brown. Having only read a couple of his short stories, I read the first 4 "Hunter" novels, which I enjoyed. But it was in the short story form he excelled. There's not a clunker in the bunch. Unfortunately, the short story format is mostly gone now. With a few notable exceptions like EQMM and stalwarts like Ben Solomon, aka, "The Hard Boiled Detective" series, there is a not a lot of good short stories being written. There are several typos and editorial errors in this edition, but it's a minor inconvenience to have all of Mr. Brown's crime stories in one volume. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys the format.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Mann

    One of my favorite books of mystery stories. Fredric Brown was a master of off-beat mystery stories, and is one of my favorite authors. This book is full of some of the best of his mystery work for the pulps. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Riju Ganguly

    A very good collection of stories involving crime, criminals and hapless people trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I found them to be rather bleak, and quite distant from the general concept of mystery/detective stories, but perhaps that's my problem, not of the stories. A very good collection of stories involving crime, criminals and hapless people trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I found them to be rather bleak, and quite distant from the general concept of mystery/detective stories, but perhaps that's my problem, not of the stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    Terrific! Frederic Brown was one hell of a good writer. Prior to this I had only known of him as a writer of Sci Fi short stories and in that capacity I loved his stories even though they were in a genre that I tend to avoid. When I found out about a volume of short crime fiction I bought it asap. It was not disappointing. His work in both genres originally appeared in the pulp magazines of the day, in this case Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Mask, etc. Brown shows himself a master of Terrific! Frederic Brown was one hell of a good writer. Prior to this I had only known of him as a writer of Sci Fi short stories and in that capacity I loved his stories even though they were in a genre that I tend to avoid. When I found out about a volume of short crime fiction I bought it asap. It was not disappointing. His work in both genres originally appeared in the pulp magazines of the day, in this case Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Mask, etc. Brown shows himself a master of the short story. He is concise, to the point and creative in every instance. I found myself admiring the short story genre to the extent that I want more of it. Jorge Luis Borges, also a master of short story, although very different stylistically, liked the form because he felt when you read a novel by the time you get to the end you've forgotten the beginning. That's a valid point. A short story can be read in one sitting. While reading this I found myself thinking at times that although I loved it, how well would they work for someone younger who grew up not knowing the world of no tv and no cellphones and no pulp magazines?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Johann

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cassio Queiros

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dee Cawley

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ingo Weigold

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Tester

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pedro Arizpe

  14. 5 out of 5

    John G Risberg

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  16. 4 out of 5

    George Sr.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Newton

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward Jones

  19. 5 out of 5

    Graham Powell

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  21. 4 out of 5

    andyさん

  22. 5 out of 5

    Allan Maurer

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Donaldson Barrass

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chas

  25. 5 out of 5

    Harkonen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Carlson

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cambria

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Ostrander

  31. 5 out of 5

    Steve Chanin

  32. 5 out of 5

    Richard Fohrenbach

  33. 4 out of 5

    Dan Sauer

  34. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

  35. 4 out of 5

    Paul Brazill

  36. 5 out of 5

    Tia Vincent-clark

  37. 5 out of 5

    David Noone

  38. 5 out of 5

    Cary Morton

  39. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Byrd

  40. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  41. 4 out of 5

    Michael Lewis

  42. 5 out of 5

    Paul Watson-Weavind

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