By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 171st in my series of Forgotten Books.
As I mentioned in the last Forgotten Book column, I recently discovered a cache of old Unicorn Mystery Book Club books at the local Half Price. I bought six volumes while I was there. The Memoirs of Solar Pons was in one of the volumes. But the one that really pushed me over the edge was Night of the Jabberwock by Fredric Brown — not that it took much of a push.
There was a time when I had a very nice collection of Fredric Brown’s work. I had hardback firsts of all his science fiction, including a nice, signed Space on My Hands and much of his mystery work. I believe I had all the mystery novels and most of the short stories. I did not have The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, but I did have the original pulp that the story had appeared in. And I had read most of his work. Somewhere along the way, I did an article about Ed and Am Hunter that appeared in a non-fiction work about 100 great detectives, and I had read all those novels.
At his worst, Brown was always worth reading. And at his best, he was fantastic. Here, in Night of the Jabberwock, he was at the top of his form.
It’s a novel with a lot of stuff going on. The hero is Doc Stoeger, the editor and publisher of a small town weekly newspaper. He has a PhD and his dissertation was on Lewis Carroll. He is nuts for Lewis Carroll. But no one in the town really cares. He has one or two friends he can play chess with, but no one to really discuss the things he loves most. And after 23 years running the paper, he is down. Just once, he would love something to happen on Thursday night so that when the paper came out on Friday morning it would have real news.
Well, Doc soon discovers you should be careful what you wish for. In the course of one night, he has many adventures. There’s a messy divorce case, the bank is broken into, several men are murdered, Doc and his friend Smiley are kidnapped by gangsters, there’s an explosion in the Roman candle department of the local fireworks factory, there’s an escapee from the local loony bin. Oh, and Doc is the prime suspect in two of the murders and is involved in a manhunt in his small town. Doc sees and witnesses all of these and yet, he cannot write about them.
The series of events begins with a man named Yehudi Smith who asks about the Vorpal Blades, a Lewis Carroll appreciation society. That society wants Doc to meet them at a nearby haunted house to discuss the possibility that Lewis Carroll was writing about real worlds in the Alice books.
This is fast paced like a Cornell Woolrich novel and, at times, just as unbelievable. But the prose is lean and clean, and the reader has the adventure of a lifetime.
I read this book many years ago and had forgotten most of it, so it was wonderful to sit back in my reading chair and renew my friendship. I ran across a passage that I loved on the original reading and again last night:
“Two walls of my living room are lined with them (books) and they overflow the bookcases in my bedroom and I even have a shelf of them in the bathroom. What do I mean, even? I think a bathroom without a bookshelf is as incomplete as would be one without a toilet.”
Can I get an “Amen”?
It’s a quick and wonderful read and, while it used to be impossible to find when I first started looking, there are plenty of editions and copies around online or in eBooks now. You have no excuse. Go forth and slay the jubjub bird and have some fun.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.
I wrote about this one on my blog back in 2007. It might be time for me to read it again.
Amen, brother. Amen.
You will enjoy it again, Bill
Hosting again this week and next, Scott.
As a major Fredric Brown fan, I always enjoy reading what people think about his work. This is certainly the funniest of Brown’s mystery novels.
My favorite of the mystery novels is Madball, with The Wench Is Dead and Jabberwock close behind. The Far Cry would be next.
One more observation: I think I have consumed less alcohol in my life than Doc Stoeger drinks in one night.
Fredric Brown was one of those versatile writers who could write successfully in two genres. I’m very fond of MADBALL. But I’m equally fond of Brown’s SF novel MARTIANS GO HOME. You scored Big Time at that Half-Price Books store.