Friday, November 06, 2009

Forgotten Books: WE ALL KILLED GRANDMA -- Fredric Brown

As far as I know, this Fredric Brown novel hasn't been reprinted since the 1953 paperback release. There's a good reason for that. It's regarded as one of Brown's lesser efforts. I've had it on my shelves for nearly 40 years, and before this week I'd never read it.

It has a promising start. The narrator, Rod Britten, has amnesia. His grandmother's been murdered, and he thinks he might have killed her. Even when the cops prove he couldn't have been the killer, he worries about it. Nothing new there, but the back cover of the book promises "a hammering, hard-driving murder." It is to laugh. I wonder if it's too late to sue for false blurbage. I haven't read a book that plods like this one in a long time. It's almost all talk, with no action at all. It's less about the murder than about Britten's attempt to recover his memory and reconnect with his ex-wife, and nothing happens for page after page.

There's a pretty good twist near the end, but by that time, you might have lost interest. I almost did, but Brown's style, even in a book like this one, flows so well that I kept on reading. And the title almost makes sense (don't be thinking Orient Express, though). I found the morality of the ending questionable at best, but what the heck. I can't really recommend the book. It's another forgotten novel that might just as well remain that way.

Oh, and that's not grandma on the cover, in case you were wondering. It's not anybody in the book, as far as I can tell, but at least the cover makes up for some of the book's shortcomings.

Update: Here's a good article on Brown by Bud Webster. All his "Past Masters" columns are worth a read.

15 comments:

  1. Wow...considering how much other work Brown was bringing to the market in and around 1953, I wonder if this was a trunk novel, or just one of those things that just never quite gelled for him.

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  2. From what I've read, I think it was the latter.

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  3. Probably written on spec. I've read that Brown was fast, when he wanted to be, so he could knock out something like this in a few days.

    Your review makes it easy to understand why it wasn't reprinted and was truly "forgotten".

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  4. I read Brown's THE LATE LAMENTED earlier this year and had a similar reaction. A good short-story plot stretched out to 180 pages. But I thinkn Brown was having health problems at that time.

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  5. Every writer has to have a lesser book. Someone with so many great ones even.

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  6. Richard Heft1:44 PM

    This may be heresy, but i just think that Brown was a spectacularly gifted short story writer and a modestly gifted novelist. His novels after WE ALL KILLED GRANDMA aren't much better (THE LENIENT BEAST, THE MIND THING, and THE LIGHTS IN THE SKY ARE STARS are all duds, if I recall correctly). A lot of his earlier books are shaggy dog stories stretched out to novel length (NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK, MARTIANS GO HOME) and the Ed and Am series declines in quality immediately after THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT. I have read a TON of Brown (I think I own every paperback he published during his lifetime) and love his work and am a little bitter that I can't afford a complete run of the Dennis McMillan collection, but his novels decline precipitously in quality as the Fifties roll on.

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  7. Didn't GRANDMA come right after THE FAR CRY? A big drop-off between those two.

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  8. I've really liked most of the Brown novels I've read, including the excellent Night of the Jabberwock.

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  9. Yes, after THE FAR CRY, Bill, but I think you're being rather hard on THE MIND THING and THE LIGHTS IN THE SKIES ARE STARS, Richard. (Haven't read THE LENIENT BEAST yet.) But, not only is he growing more ill (rather a theme for my blog writing today, it seems), but as a guy doing his damnedest to get some work in while he can, the economics of writing the novels (better money upfront but then the slog...that was a Jim Thomspon title, wasn't it?) did perhaps tell too often, moreso than it did in the shorter work.

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  10. I've read most of Brown's novels. Of the mysteries, I agree that Grandma is pretty bad; I think Five-Day Nightmare is even worse. I agree with Richard Heft that Night of the Jabberwock is essentially a shaggy dog story, but I think it's a very good shaggy dog story. My other favorites are Madball and The Wench Is Dead.

    Has anybody read Brown's non-genre novel, The Office? I've heard good things about it but all the copies I've seen for sale have been very expensive.

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  11. I've never seen a copy of The Office. The Wench is Dead is probably my favorite of the ones I've read.

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  12. Jerry House7:18 AM

    I read The Office years ago and enjoyed it very much - a potboiler, but a good one. Too bad it never had a paperback edition. Although a dated mainstream novel, it did have a crime. Perhaps Hard Case might consider it sometime in the future. Meanwhile, you can probably read a copy through Interlibrary Loan.

    Grandma is minor Brown, but The Lights in Sky Are Stars is a major work - one that I'd rate just below The Far Cry.

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  13. I seem to remember liking THE LENIENT BEAST.

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  14. I've just read We All Killed Grandma myself. Certainly not his best, but when it comes to Brown, I think he can make a shopping list an interesting read.

    I should point out that my initial introduction to Brown was his science fiction works, especially the short stories. But those proved to be so good that when I learned he had a large mystery bibliography as well, I immediately sought those out as well.

    Thanks for the great review!

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  15. My intro to Brown was through the SF stories, too. And that was long, long ago. Great stories, though, then and now.

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