Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Great Fredric Brown Re-Read: Ed and Am Hunter Part 1: "Death Has Many Doors"

Mickey Spillane counted Fredric Brown as his favorite writer. There's even a clip 
on YouTube where him and a few other writers like, oh Ed McBain and Robert B. Parker are chatting with Dick Cavett where he name drops Brown and the first Ed Hunter book "The Fabulous Clipjoint." Spillane, besides being a fine writer had good taste (as I sip a Miller Lite) too. Being a teenager who had a strong affinity for mystery novels, I read Clipjoint at the perfect time in my life, around eighteen or nineteen. Same age as Ed Hunter as he solves his first mystery: the death of his father with the help of surrogate father his carny Uncle Am. It was one of the cornerstone books that I built a life-time of reading and writing on. I imagine I feel the way about "The Fabulous Clipjoint" the way other folks think of "Catcher in the Rye." I always thought Holden Caulfield was a dink, but that might have been the point.

Most the Fredric Brown's I have in my collection are pretty rough, all loose bindings and tattered covers. I get the feeling that most folks who read Brown are like me. They reread 'em. They live with 'em. Top that off, they're hard to come by. My local bookstore has a big warehouse sale every now and then. Last weekend I got to go to the first one I'd been too since that darn Covid. I got three big bag of books stuffed to the brims. The two scores of the day were a first-printing Nicolas(Len Levinson) Brady's "Shark Fighter" and the final piece of my Ed Hunter puzzle: "Death Has Many Doors." 

The Ed and Am Hunter series morphs as it goes on with the boys starting as amateur detectives and carnival workers, then as detectives working for Starlock Detective Agency before finally breaking off and setting up their own agency. After the fairly straight-forward coming-of-age/detective tale of the first novel the books can get kind of wild and quirky but always grounded in reality. 

In "Death Has Many Doors," the fifth book in the series the boys are business on their own when a mysterious woman comes through the door with a death threat looming over her head. A death threat from, get this, Martians. From Mars. Ed's a bit of a mush-heart and tries to help the women and for his trouble ends up sleeping in the next room as she dies in the night. He doesn't buy that her heart problem killed and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out what the hell happened. That is, after getting hired via the phone by a, get this, Martians, from mars. After that there's red herrings, more death, long and short drinks, skinny dipping, friends made through boxing, skip-tracing, ray-guns, and science experiments that produces a satisfying (if a bit far-fetched in a wonderful way) conclusion.

There's no other books like the Ed and Am Hunter books. They tell seemingly outlandish stories in a very well thought-out, matter of fact style. Parts are very close to the "procedural" style of Joe Gores and Ed McBain. Parts show Brown's love of science-fiction. Then there's parts that run along the same lines as a Mike Shayne or Johnny Liddell novel. It's a wonderful cocktail of a story. Am Hunter's a little more colorful then Ed but when it boils down to it, they are simply honest, blue-collar working stiffs trying get by. They are all of those things, but wholly Brown's own thing. The "motive" of the murder is pretty easy to figure out if you've knocked around detective novels before but the "how" is a little better buried. Not counting Clipjoint this maybe my new favorite of the series but "The Bloody Moonlight," where the guys tangle with a werewolf is another high-water mark. Hell, I'm going to have to reread 'em all again. Cause look, they're all wonderful books and now they are easily obtainable via eBook. The originals have sometimes (not fully) been reprinted and still command a pretty penny. But they're worth it.

Stay tuned for the Great Hunter Re-Read. 

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