Forgotten Books: A Memory of Murder
Ray Bradbury's first collection, published in 1947 by Arkham House, contained so many memorable and lasting stories it has become legendary. A single book by a young writer including true masterpieces such as "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "The Homecoming," "Uncle Einar" and many, many more--just about unthinkable. A fair share of these stories were later included in The October Country, a collection that is for me the equal of The Martian Chronicles.
There's another collection that in the scheme of Bradbury's career is far less important but equally interesting. When Dell published A Memory of Murder we were given our first look at the crime and suspense stories Bradbury wrote for such pulps as Dime Mystery Magazine and New Detective Magazine. Most of the stories appeared between 1944 and 1946.
I've probably read this book four or five times over the years. It has the energy and inventiveness of all good pulp with the bonus of watching a young writer struggle to find the voice that is really his. In several of the stories we hear the voice that Bradbury will later perfect. He's often proclaimed his admiration of Cornell Woolrich and here we see the dark Woolrich influence, especially in the excellent "The Candy Skull" (Mexico has long fascinated Bradbury; here it's nightmare Mexico), "The Trunk Lady" and (what a title) "Corpse Carnival." One of Bradbury's most famous stories is here also, "The Small Assassin," written for a penny a word for Dime Mystery Magazine in 1946.
The most interesting story is "The Long Night." I remember the editor who bought it writing a piece years later about what a find it was. And it is. A story set in the Hispanic area of Los Angeles during the war, it deals with race and race riots, with the juvenile delinquency that was a major problem for this country in the war years (remember The Amboy Dukes?) and the the paternal bonds that teenage boys need and reject at the same time. A haunting, powerful story that hints at the greatness that was only a few years away from Bradbury.
What can I tell you? I love this book. At its least it's a pure pulp romp and at its best it's the master about to change science fiction forever. And making a memorable pass at making his mark on crime fiction as well.