When I began reading Fredric Brown's Here Comes a Candle, I didn't realize exactly what I was getting myself into. The novel's hero is Joe Bailey, a small-time numbers runner who is haunted by a nursery rhyme ("Here comes a candle / To light you to bed, / And here comes a chopper / To chop off your head") and by his belief that he was responsible for his father's death. The book's table of contents looks like this:
Given this, I imagined a straightforward narrative ("The Story") combined with a pastiche of documents that would relate in tangential ways to the main narrative. As it turned out, I was more or less wrong: "The Radio" and "The Screen" are actually flashback continuations of "The Story" given in the form indicated: a radio script, a screenplay. For most of the novel, Brown has no apparent reason for making these narrative shifts, other than the fact that he can. Maybe readers will be amused by Brown's shifting modes, or maybe they will be annoyed, but they will likely not find the story enriched. The third and fourth of these sections are the most likely to amuse or to annoy: in "The Sportscast," a play-by-play man rides along to narrate our hero's first robbery, and in "The Video," scientists use virtual-reality-style technology to broadcast one of our hero's dreams. It is only in the last two of these sections, "The Stage" and "The Newspaper," that Brown seems to be doing more than just showing how clever he is. Say what you want about Here Comes a Candle, you cannot blame Fredric Brown for not trying hard enough. Grade: B+
When you're afraid of a man, he doesn't have to be a better fighter than you. You beat yourself. I've seen men in the ring who could take the other guy twice a week without getting up a sweat, but for some reason they'd be scared of the other fellow and they'd get beat up bad. It seemed as though fear made them forget everything they'd ever known about fighting.
As part of my ongoing project of dividing noir into as many subcategories as possible, I am proclaiming Scorpion Reef to be an example noir gonade, that special brand of noir in which a woman seizes control of a male protagonist's brain via his testicles and thereby leads him to believe things and to do things that no sane man would otherwise believe or do. Scorpion Reef is a frame narrative: The Joseph H. Hallock, an American tanker, finds a small, abandoned boat drifting in the Gulf of Mexico. On the boat, a coffee pot is still warm. Clearly, the boat has not been abandoned for long. But what has happened to its occupants? The answer lies in a log book in which our protagonist, Bill Manning, has written his story. Reading over the shoulder of the Hallock's master, we learn how Bill had his gonades seized by a tall blonde he calls "Swede" . . . and we learn how they ended up on that small boat with some bad guys . . . but enough about the plot. Bill Manning's story is somewhat interesting, and the novel's frame makes it even more so. The danger of spoilage prevents me from saying more than that. Grade: B
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.