Friday, March 19, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Screaming Mimi -- Fredric Brown

Well, you guessed it. This is another free download from Munsey's. I can't seem to resist those things, even though I already own the books. This was my St. Patrick's Day book, and let me quote the fifth paragraph:

His name really was Sweeney, but he was only five-eighths Irish and he was only three-quarters drunk. But that's about as near as truth ever approximates a pattern, and if you won't settle for that, you'd better quit reading. If you don't, maybe you'll be sorry, for it isn't a nice story. It's got murder in it, and woman and liquor and gambling and even prevarication. There's murder before the story proper starts, and murder after it ends; the actual story begins with a naked woman and ends with one, which is a good opening and a good ending, but everything between isn't nice. Don't say I didn't warn you. But if you're still with me, let's get back to Sweeney.

So how long has it been since you read a novel who's omniscient narrator addressed the reader directly like that? A long time, I'm sure, and Brown doesn't do it just at the beginning. He breaks into the narrative every now and then like that. And you know what? It works just fine.

Sweeney is a reporter who's been on a long bender, but when he sees a naked woman whose stomach's been slashed, he sobers up almost instantly. He manages to write a story about her, and then he begins his own investigation of the ripper killer who's on the loose in Chicago. If you read the excerpt above, you know pretty much what the book has in it, and how can you resist wanting to read it? The book must have been shocking and surprising in its time (1949), but today's readers won't find it so. Doesn't matter. It's still a great read.

And then there's the totally loopy movie version with Anita Ekberg (!), which is not to be missed. Supposedly the famous film Bird with the Crystal Plumage was also based on this book, though Brown's not credited.


  1. Anonymous7:20 AM

    So how long has it been since you read a novel who's omniscient narrator addressed the reader directly like that? A long time, I'm sure, and Brown doesn't do it just at the beginning.

    Last year - BEAT THE REAPER.


  2. Many thanks for this one, Bill. ...MIMI has been on my wants list for a while, but a little pricey at the various outlets. Free I can handle.

  3. It's available in plenty of formats, too.

  4. This looks like a wonderful resource I was totally unaware of. Who said reading blogs was a waste of time? THANKS!

  5. I'll have to give this one a go. The fabulous clipjoint is a favorite.

  6. This isn't forgotten to those who love Fred Brown, but I'm sure glad to see it here in the FFB lists, and you did a great review, as always.

    Bar the door, Katie, cover the children's eyes and put out the dog! This book has prevarication in it!

    It sure would be nice if someone would publish a nice bug fat collection of all the mystery novels and stories th way NESFA has done with the SF-F.

  7. Bill Gault told me a story about Brown. Brown married a woman--his second wife--whom the Gaults couldn't abide. One day they were home and saw Brown and the wife pull up out front. Bill and Virgie hid as Brown rang the bell over and over. The ringing stopped and the Gaults thought they were safe. Then then heard Brown and the missus knocking on the glass sliding door at the rear of the house, and the Gaults were in plain view. Busted.

  8. The great thing about MIMI is that though the mystery is solved a few pages from the end,the real surprise of the book is only revealed in the last paragraph.

  9. Unlike the loopy movie version, as I recall. But my recall these days is fairly dim.