The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown was blessed with the ability to make the mundane and everyday activities sound like either a great event or, at the least, somewhat otherworldly. The opening chapters of The Screaming Mimi are a good example of this. Each time we are introduced to a person or a situation, it turns out to be different to the first impressions that are created. Not only does it provide entertaining reading but it helps keep you on your toes.

Sweeney is the narrator of this story. He is an alcoholic and a newspaper reporter and is getting over his latest drinking jag when he witnesses the strange aftermath of what looks to be an attempted stabbing murder. The victim is a beautiful woman, a stripper in fact, who survives the attack, presumably thanks to the dog that sits guarding her.

In front of a crowd of astounded bystanders the dazed woman, affected by the shock of the incident goes into her performance routine. Although she is too traumatized to identify her attacker, she is able to furnish enough details to make it clear that she was close to being the latest victim of a killer known as The Ripper.

Sweeney makes it his business to discover the identity of The Ripper for two equally important reasons. The first is because it would make a sensational story and as a reporter, he can’t resist a good story.

The second is that by following up the story he would get to meet the stripper and as a man he can’t resist a beautiful dame!

So he snaps himself out of his drunken state and writes the newspaper of Yolanda Lang, the dancer who has instantly entranced him.

The pace is brisk the dialogue is amusing and direct and Sweeney conducts his own investigation with the hard slog of following up his hunches and suspicions. It’s a very entertaining investigation with an ending worth waiting for.

Along the way Sweeney encounters a mélange of unusual personalities such as Doc Greene, a former psychiatrist now acting as Yolanda’s agent, Raoul Reynarde a flamboyant gift-shop owner and an artist named Charlie Wilson who created the statue known as the Screaming Mimi. It’s this statue that Sweeney is convinced is the key to the Ripper murders.

As with many of Fredric Brown’s stories there is a fine edge between straightforward crime and the darkly bizarre. The use of a less than perfect character as the hero suits the tone of the story with a jaded inevitability about the events reflected in a guy who is making a supreme effort just to get by each day. For all that he is given a charming, likable personality that had you pulling for him the whole way, no matter how self-serving his motives.

Fredric Brown’s writing style is concise with a wry tone to it that hints at a sardonic take to every situation. If you can possibly get your hands on this - or any of Fredric Brown’s books for that matter - it’s worth the effort.

You can find and buy The Screaming Mimi and other works by visiting the store page of Fredric Brown.

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