FREDRIC BROWN – The Murderers. Dutton, hardcover, 1961. Bantam J2587, paperback, 1963.
       — Knock Three-One-Two. Dutton, hardcover, 1959.Bantam A2135, paperback, 1960.

   I’ve had a couple Fredric Brown’s on my shelf since Hubin-knows-when, but when I glanced at the covers the other day I couldn’t for the life of me remember reading them.

   The Murderers is pleasantly amoral right up to the cop-out ending. Two unemployed actors find their careers stymied by different adverse circumstances and decide to solve their problems by swapping murders. Everything goes along smoothy and even enjoyably until … well, as I aid, the ending’s a disappointment, but it doesn’t come until late in the book, which is mostly slick and much fun.

   Knock Three-One-Two is just as contrived and just as enjoyable. Ray Fleck, the hero of the piece is a two-bit, two-timing, half-smart chiseler and gambling addict (though the term was unknown back then) looking to score the Big One that will wipe out his debts and get him back in the Game.


   Knock is the account of his night-long unlucky odyssey to that elusive home, set against the backdrop of a city plagued by an elusive serial killer.

   It’s something to the credit of Brown’s writing that the extraordinary contrivances of this thing don’t seem all that apparent until you set it down and start thinking about it.


   Every bet that Ray makes he loses, every ploy he tries backfires, every turn he takes is wrong one, right up to the end, when he gets the chance to score several thousand dollars of insurance money — by steering the Serial Killer to his wife.

                END OF WARNING.

   The resolution is unsurprising, but Brown delivers the package neatly enough that it’s a pleasure reading it.