A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
In the fourth paragraph of The Screaming Mimi Fredric Brown gives us a pretty solid review of his own book:
It isn’t a nice story. It’s got murder in it, and women 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.
I can’t pretend to top that for brevity or accuracy, but I’ll try to give you a little more detail. It’s about a drunk named Sweeney, a former newspaper reporter now living on the streets of Chicago and scrounging change to buy drinks. Maybe there is something fundamentally nice about the story, despite the author’s caveat, because Sweeney quickly starts turning his life around after he catches a glimpse of Yolanda Lang, the girl of his dreams. Granted, he catches that glimpse right after a maniac tries to kill her. Also, it turns out she’s a burlesque dancer in a seedy club and she’s jealously protected by her oily “theatrical agent” Doc Greene. I should probably mention the giant snarling devil dog that follows her everywhere too. Oh OK, so there’s a long list of not nice obstacles between Sweeney and his dream girl, like being a suspect in her attempted murder, having a very uncomfortable interview with a dangerous kingpin, or having an even more uncomfortable interview with his old boss. There’s a boxer that beats him up and a bipolar sculptor that beats him up even worse, not to mention the mad doctor that seems to be lurking behind the whole plot, nor the second maniac killer. Oh yeah, and to top that all off there’s a weekend trip to Wisconsin he has to endure. But this new straight life has to be good for Sweeney, right? I mean it couldn’t possibly be worse than sleeping on park benches and hitting up old friends for liquor, could it?.
The Screaming Mimi was Fredric Brown’s fifth novel, but it was published just two years after another Chicago set noir, The Fabulous Clipjoint, won him an Edgar award for best first novel. Brown would eventually become one of the most well respected of pulp fiction writers, prolifically dabbling in everything from mystery to sci-fi to melodrama and earning the praises of authors as diverse as Ayn Rand, Philip K. Dick, and Mickey Spillane. Despite it’s seediness, it’s easy to see that kind of universal appeal in this book. The plot alone is imaginative enough to pull it out of the doldrums, and Brown’s ironic sense of humor helps keep things pretty light. Brown was known for having more psychological insight than your average pulp writer, and Sweeney is relatively complex and definitely among the more appealing hardboiled protagonists in crime fiction. So anyway, I think you should just read it. It’s exciting, it’s different, and, since neither Brown nor his family ever renewed the copyright, it’s also free. Now isn’t that nice?
Available for Kindle, Nook (ePub), and just about every other eBook format from Munseys.
Review by Matthew