Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. Second Printing. Stated. Hardcover. 277 pages ; 22 cm. $15.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Foxing to top pages edge. Pages are unmarked. Binding is firm.
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.
The time is 1949. In Venice, California, they are tearing down the great amusement pier. Already the roller coaster has fallen to its knees under the wrecking ball and lies scattered on the ground like dinosaur bones. And the theater that once enchanted with its flickering images of Chaney and Fairbanks now has only one word, two feet high, on its marquee: GOODBYE. Death is everywhere.
In one of the lion cages that lie submerged in the canal, a body is found; down the block, in a cheerful flophouse, another. Across town an aged lady who once sold canaries is dead too, and so is the three-hundred-pound diva Fannie Floriana. All four could be accidental or natural deaths, but at least two people are not quite sure. One is a detective named Elmo Crumley. The other is a young man who sits all day at his typewriter pounding out stories that he sells to Black Mask, True Detective, and Weird Tales (stories of green-winged creatures and homicidal babies that will sound hauntingly familiar). The young writer and Detective Crumley believe these deaths were murders. And suddenly the killer is stalking them.
This charming novel can be read as a classic mystery—it has clues and a solution—but that is only one of its pleasures. It is also a love story (with a happy ending), a Bildungsroman, and a fond reconstruction of Venice, California, as it once was, filled with bohemian energy and peopled with the sort of appealing eccentrics that are a Bradbury hallmark. And always, under the surface, a ripple of playful improvisation on a genre the author so obviously loves, as well as teasing references to the identity of the book's unnamed hero—itself a clue.
Here is a novel that will delight the thousands who have been confirmed fans since The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, and a wonderful introduction for readers who have yet to discover the storytelling sorcery that could only be Ray Bradbury.
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