FREDRIC BROWN – Murder Can Be Fun. Dutton, hardcover, 1948. Expanded from a short story, “The Santa Claus Murders” in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. Reprinted as A Plot for Murder (Bantam #735, paperback, 1949); and under its original title by Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1989.

   â€œWhy, Baldy, are mysteries so popular?”

   â€œBecause a lot of people read ’em?”

   Bill Tracy starts out the story as a Radio hack, grinding out scripts for a popular soaper called Millie’s Millions. But he has aspirations toward something higher; he’s working on a new series he hopes to call Murder Can Be Fun, where the radio audience will figure out the case from clues provided in the story, with the surprise solution given right after the last commercial break.

   Tracy has even worked out some clever ideas, kept in his desk at home till he can turn them into scripts: Murder done by a guy in a Santa suit; a janitor stabbed in the back and stuffed in a furnace; a man garroted with his own necktie….

   Then his boss is killed by a man in dressed as Santa.

   When the janitor in Tracy’s apartment building gets stabbed in the back and stuffed into a furnace, Tracy becomes genuinely alarmed. He gets even more alarmed when the cops find out about his stories, and finger him as Suspect #1. And when they begin closing the net around him, Bill Tracy reluctantly turns from writing detective stories to starring in one.

   Fredric Brown had the happy knack of writing as if the words flowed right from his head to the page. The prose never seems skimpy or overdone, the characters are fleshed out perfectly, with little touches that bring definition—and offer intriguing leads to secrets and dead ends. And in a well-judged bit of plotting, the events that bring about the solution also bring about a resolution in Tracy’s character that lifts him and this book well above the level of hack work.