Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Death is a Lonely Business: Ray Bradbury


In Venice, California, 1949, a struggling young author writes tales of fantasy and science fiction for the pulps. His girlfriend is away studying in Mexico, and he is alone and lonely. One night he takes a ride in a red trolley car to the Venice pier and eventually discovers a dead body. The writer is convinced by strange events around him that the death is murder and that the murderer has plans to continue, but has a hard time convincing anyone else, including the police. Eventually, he ends up pursuing the murderer with help from a police detective, Elmo Crumley, and Constance Rattigan, an older actress who had a brief moment of fame.

From the dust jacket copy:
In this, his first full-length work of fiction since Something Wicked This Way Comes was published more than twenty years ago, Ray Bradbury, master of the modern supernatural, works his magic in an entirely new way — giving us a novel that is at once a loving tribute to the hard-boiled detective genre of Hammett and Chandler and a gently nostalgic evocation of a time and place.
This book was published in 1985; I have had the book for eight years and finally got around to reading it. I was not sure how much I would like a mystery written by an author famous for his fantasy novels.  It is a mystery and there are clues, but it is also a very fantastical story, with bizarre happenings and strange characters. For me, it turned out well, but I gather from reviews that some readers have been disappointed. If they have read and loved his sci fi or fantasy books, it may not meet expectations. If they are primarily readers of mystery, the fantasy elements may be jarring.

There are so many things I liked about this book, and many of them had nothing to do with its being a mystery novel. The policeman that the protagonist drags into the hunt for the killer is an aspiring writer. The narrator has only sold a few stories, but he pushes Elmo Crumley into following his dream and actually writing a book instead of just dreaming about it. The unnamed narrator befriends many people in his neighborhood and they help each other out. Bradbury has created characters that I want to keep reading about.

The dedication for the book indicates his love for noir fiction:
With love to Don Congdon, who caused it to happen.
And to the memory of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald.
And to my friends and teachers Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, sorely missed.
Of course, Bradbury writes beautifully. I loved the descriptions of fogbound Venice. Santa Barbara sometimes has similar weather.
    Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad. It had fog almost every night and along the shore the moaning of the oil well machinery and the slap of dark water in the canals and the hiss of sand against the windows of your house when the wind came up and sang among the open places and along the empty walks.
    Those were the days when the Venice pier was falling apart and dying in the sea and you could find there the bones of a vast dinosaur, the rollercoaster, being covered by the shifting tides.
And later...
    For about 150 days a year in Venice, the sun doesn't show through the mist until noon.
    For some sixty days a year the sun doesn't come out of the fog until it's ready to go down in the west, around four or five o'clock.
    For some forty days it doesn't come out at all.
    The rest of the time, if you're lucky, the sun rises, as it does for the rest of Los Angeles and California, at five-thirty or six in the morning and stays all day.
    It's the forty- or sixty-day cycles that drip in the soul and make the riflemen clean their guns. Old ladies buy rat poison on the twelfth day of no sun. But on the thirteenth day, when they are about to arsenic their morning tea, the sun rises wondering what everyone is so upset about, and the old ladies feed the rats down by the canal, and lean back to their brandy.
    During the forty-day cycles, the foghorn lost somewhere out in the bay sounds over and over again, and never stops, until you feel the people in the local graveyard beginning to stir. 
Now, Santa Barbara has the same kind of weather, and this is what I love about the area I live in. I don’t miss the sun, and there are not enough foggy days for me. But I can understand the sentiments expressed here; that attitude toward gray days is prevalent with residents of Santa Barbara also.

I could endlessly quote from this novel… For me it was an enjoyable and compelling story; but I am not sure how much I would recommend it to others.

At www.raybradbury.com, there is a description of the book and a short excerpt from the beginning of the book that might help you decide if you would enjoy it.  But it gets much stranger than that at times.

Had I but known that the next book in this series is a Halloween mystery (A Graveyard for Lunatics, reviewed at Tipping My Fedora), I would have sped up my schedule and included it for the R.I.P. Challenge. Since I did not do that I will just point that fact out to readers. I would be willing to bet that you could enjoy that book without reading this one first. However, I am usually a stickler for reading in order, and there is always the possibility that reading book 2 first will spoil the first one. There was also a third book in the series, Let’s All Kill Constance, published in 2003. I will be reading the two other books in the series eventually.

Also see Sergio's review of this book at Tipping My Fedora.

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Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 1985 
Length:       277 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Elmo Crumley
Setting:       Venice, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.


22 comments:

  1. I think I read this a long long time again, before records began! I'm tempted to track this and the other two down, as I have enjoyed a fair few of Bradbury's books in an earlier reading life, when my tastes weren't so defined.

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    1. I am glad I finally got around this one, Col, and will someday read the other two. I would like to read more of Bradbury's sci fi / fantasy books, but too many books to read.

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  2. Like Col, I'm sure I read this years ago when I was a teenager. It sounds familiar. Glad you liked it.

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    1. It was fun, Sarah, and very different.

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  3. Hopping over from R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril...
    My tastes fall enough between genres that this book might work for me. I reviewed Doomsday Book by Connie Willis yesterday for RIP -- kind of a sci fi, historical, medical thriller. It worked for me but probably wouldn't for every one.

    Love those descriptive quotes. Perfect setting for an RIP book.

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    1. Joy, thanks for stopping by. I keep forgetting about your British Isles Friday posts. Too much going on lately and I just don't remember everything I want to. I did check out your review of Doomsday Book, and enjoyed the post. I tried commenting but had problems. I want to read some Connie Willis books soon.

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  4. Tracy - Thanks for sharing this. I agree with you about Bradbury's writing style - just fantastic! I'm not sure how I feel about the blend of sci-fi/mystery in this one, although I've certainly read stories where it worked very well. I'll have to think about this one...

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    1. Margot, for me this one worked because Bradbury writes so well, anything he says is interesting. Although you know I often do enjoy the blend of fantasy and mystery. It usually does come down to the author... and not too much supernatural stuff in the solution of the mystery.

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  5. Glad you liked this one too TracyK (and thanks for linkbacks too) - I love the way Bradbury writes (most fo the time, when he is not too strayed by whimsy or sentiment) and really enjoyed the first two of this series, but have yet to read the third one. Great choice for Halloween all the same!

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    1. I had entirely forgotten the 2nd book in the series, Sergio. Although after re-reading your review, I remembered it...

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  6. Great review, Tracy: I too read a whole lot of Bradbury when I was a teenager but haven't read his stuff in ages. And that is the cutest author photograph ever. Happy Halloween!

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca. I don't remember which Bradbury books I read. Too long ago. So, given the opportunity and time, I will read more of them. I loved that photo on the back of the book too.

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  7. This one's been on one of my (way too many) TBR shelves for longer than it's been on yours. In fact, I just looked at it the other day and almost pulled it down. Maybe I'll do that Real Soon Now.

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    1. I am glad I finally read it, Bill. I am sure you will enjoy it when you get to it.

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  8. Tracy, this was one of many novels that was a must-read in my youth. Bradbury wrote beautifully, I agree, and in a way you could understand easily. Even his sf and fantasy books are uncomplicated. Maybe, that's why he is also read by people who read in other genres. I intend to reread this book.

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    1. This does seem like your kind of book, Prashant. It took me a while to get used to, but I look forward to the next one.

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  9. Interesting - I'm obviously missing out by not reading Bradbury. But I really don't like that cover!

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    1. I do like the cover, Moira, although I don't know why. Keep of creepy, and except for the roller coaster, I am not quite sure how it fits in with the story.

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  10. I hadn't heard of this book or author until reading your post. Thanks for introducing me to both!

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    1. I am happy to have introduced you to this book, Harvest Moon. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  11. I didn't realise he wrote in this genre at all. Great review. I'll keep an eye out for this book.


    Ally :)

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    1. Thanks, Ally. I was surprised too when I first found out. It is interesting, not a typical mystery, but very entertaining.

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