Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: Fredric Brown, Here Comes a Candle (1950)

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+


  1. You can't go wrong with a book by Fredric Brown. And he wrote science fiction equally well.

  2. I will have to try this...I haven't ever seen this novel by him. There are certain things writers do, however, to help keep themselves well as to flex some underused muscles.

  3. This sounds really interesting, I must try it as I do like Brown's work

  4. Finished this yesterday. Excellent.

    What I don't understand is, why didn't Hollywood make a movie out of this, Yet ? :)