Mon 23 Feb 2009
HERBERT BREAN – The Clock Strikes Thirteen.
William Morrow, hardcover, 1952. Paperback reprint: Dell 758, . A shorter version first appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, June 1952.
I’ll tell you this, I’ve never read a mystery quite like this one. It takes place on a desolate island, off the coast of Maine. There’s no animal life and no vegetation. It’s completely dead and abandoned, all except for a small group of dedicated research biologists, busily working away on more, even more deadly concoctions for the Defense Department.
But soon after journalist-photographer Reynold Frame arrives, summoned by a soon-to-be announced discovery, the scientist in charge (not quite mad) is clubbed to death, and several trays of germ culture are overturned. With all contact with the mainland cut off, and with the threat of sudden death constantly in the air, the murder investigation perforce goes on.
In spite of the bizarre, even grotesque setting, Frame does a more than passable job of detection. However, after recently reading any number of newspaper articles of sheep, nerve gas and the like; and considering what we know now about how easily science can be used to kill effectively and indiscriminately, reading Brean today, he’s not half as frightening as he could have been.
I’m sure he used all the information about bacteriological warfare that he was allowed access to, but looking back, I think that 25 years ago we were all probably quite naive.
PostScript: This was the last of the four mystery novels that Reynold Frame appeared in. He seems to have walked from the rescue boat onto the Maine shoreline, and into oblivion.
[UPDATE] 02-23-09. I can’t remember reading this book at all, so I can’t expand on what I said back then. Nor do I know very much about Herbert Brean, I’m sorry to say, only the list of seven titles that are listed under his name in the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.
He was well enough regarded as a mystery writer, though, using Google as a guide, that at one time “he was a director and executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America, a group for which he also taught a class in mystery writing.” (Wikipedia)
A series detective named William Deacon (described in several places as a “crack magazine writer”) appears in his last two mysteries, both published in the 1960s. But taken from CFIV, here’s the list of all four in which Reynold Frame did the detecting.
FRAME, REYNOLD [Herbert Brean]
Wilders Walk Away (n.) Morrow 1948. [An impossible crime mystery.]
The Darker the Night (n.) Morrow 1949.
Hardly a Man Is Now Alive (n.) Morrow 1950.
The Clock Strikes Thirteen (n.) Morrow 1952.