Fredric Brown (1906-1972)


fredric_brownFredric Brown was born in Cincinnati in 1906, the son of a newspaperman. Brown’s parents died while he was in high school; he graduated in 1922 and afterwards found work in an office, an experience that would provide the basis for his 1958 novel The Office. He went on to attend Hanover College and the University of Cincinnati and married his first wife Helen in 1929; they would have two sons, James and Linn. During the early 1930s, times were tough and Brown took what jobs he could get, mostly office work, but also various jobs as a dishwasher, busboy and detective. Around this time, he joined the Milwaukee Allied Authors club and started writing, primarily humorous short stories. In 1937 he took a position as proofreader for the Milwaukee Journal, a post he would hold until 1945.

He sold his first short story “Monday’s Off Night” in 1937 but it wasn’t until the next year when his short story “The Moon For A Nickel” was published in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine that he took up writing full-time, and by the early 1940s he was selling hundreds of stories to the detective and science fiction pulp magazines. His first published novel was Mitkey Astromouse in 1941 but his second novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint was the story that launched his career. The Fabulous Clipjoint was published in 1947 by Dutton after being rejected by twelve other publishers; it was a substantial success, winning the Edgar Award for best first mystery novel in 1948. The book introduced Ed Hunter and his uncle Ambrose; the pair would feature in six further Brown novels. Their combination of youth and experience make a strong pairing with unique dynamics that has rarely been matched since. Several other successes followed: What Mad Universe (1949), a classic of science fiction, The Screaming Mimi (1949), which was adapted as a film starring Anita Ekberg, and Here Comes a Candle (1950), an experimental novel told in a variety of alternating media formats. Brown would continue to write prolifically throughout the 1950s, primarily in the mystery and science fiction genres.

By the early 1960s, Brown, who had never enjoyed robust health, found his health in serious decline, and his output slowed. Brown and his family had lived in Tucson, Arizona for some years at the advice of his doctors, but in 1961, he moved to Hollywood to write screenplays. However, he would return to Tucson in 1963; his last novel was published that year, and by that time he could hardly write because of illness. He died in 1972 at age 65 after suffering terribly from emphysema. (Source: Valancourt Books)

The subsequent novels in the Ed and Am Hunter series are The Dead Ringer (1948), The Bloody Moonlight (1949), Compliments Of A Fiend (1950), Death Has Many Doors (1951), The Late Lamented (1959) and Mrs Murphy’s Underpants (1963). Apart from the Ed and Am Hunter series, Fredric Brown went on to write 16 other crime novels, hardboiled and otherwise. Among the best of these were The Screaming Mimi (1949), Night of the Jabberwock (1950), Knock Three-One-Two (1959) and The Deep End (1952).

Brown works have been periodically reprinted and he has a worldwide fan base, most notably in the U.S. and Europe, and especially in France, where there have been several recent movie adaptations of his work. He also remains popular in Japan.

In 1984, Dennis McMillan began a 20 volume project in which all of Fredric Brown’s best detective short stories that had never before been reprinted were published. These books have since become extremely sought after by fans of Fredric Brown with values skyrocketing. The titles of some of these volumes are indicative of the wit in which Brown chose some of his story titles, to whit, Thirty Corpses Every Thursday, Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter, The Gibbering Night and Three Corpse Parlay.

There is enough of Fredric Brown’s mystery work out there to keep fans and collectors searching for many years. But the real pleasure is in the reading and Fredric Brown had an ability to surprise his readers completely with some of the most unexpected endings imaginable. (Several sources and The Mystery Genius of Fredric Brown by Damien Gay)

Further reading:

Chicago’s own Ed and Am Hunter are one of the best, and most endearing and beloved private eye teams in the genre, and Fredric Brown’s one of the best writers to ever grace the genre, so what’s not to like? Young, brash, ambitious, idealistic Ed Hunter and his uncle Am, a cheerful, chubby, streetwise ex-carny with a taste for poker, run the Hunter and Hunter Detective Agency in Chicago and it’s often Ed, wearing his heart on his sleeve, who ends up falling head over heels for some “skirt”, who leads them into some of the most entertaining, and offbeat, capers in detective fiction. The undisputed highlight of the series and a stone-cold classic of the P.I. genre is definitely the one that kicked off the series: The Fabulous Clipjoint, an alternately heart-warming and darkly grim meditation on obsession, coming-of-age and the ensuing weight of maturity. Bill Pronzin and Marcia Muller referred to it, in 1001 Midnights: The Aficiondo’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction (New York: Arbor House, 1986), as “unquestionably more than just another hard-boiled detective tale.” And he’s right. It won an Edgar for Best First Novel, but awards seem trivial compared to the emotional punch that this book packs. Not that Brown was some literary joykill — he also possessed one of the hinkiest senses of humour in the genre. He once wrote a book called Murder Can Be Fun, and in the Ed and Am series, he went about proving it. (Source: The New Thrilling Detective Web Site).

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. (USA), 1947)

From Wikipedia: The Fabulous Clipjoint, first published in book form in 1947 (originally published under the title Dead Man’s Indemnity in Mystery Book Magazine, April 1946), is the first full-length novel by writer Fredric Brown, who had honed his craft by publishing hundreds of short stories in the pulp magazines of the day. The Fabulous Clipjoint is also the first of seven detective novels featuring the nephew/uncle team of Ed and Am Hunter. The Fabulous Clipjoint, like most of Brown’s works, is notable for its solid craftsmanship, atmosphere, and suspense.

Book Description: Ed Hunter is eighteen, and he isn’t happy. He doesn’t want to end up like his father, a linotype operator and a drunk, married to a harridan, with a harridan-in-training stepdaughter. Ed wants out, he wants to live, he wants to see the world before it’s too late. Then his father doesn’t come home one night, and Ed finds out how good he had it. The bulk of the book has Ed teaming up with Uncle Ambrose, a former carny worker, and trying to find out who killed Ed’s dad. But the title is as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a pulp. (Source: Goodreads)

Vice and murder prowl Chicago–and one man hunts a killer through the glittering Gold Coast and seamy back alleys! Edgar Award Winner for Best First Novel (1948). (Source: The Black Cat Wildside Press LLC).

The Fabulous Clipjoint has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File.

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