FREDRIC BROWN – One for the Road.  Dutton, hardcover, 1958.  Bantam #1990, paperback, 1959. (Cover art by Barye Phillips.) A condensed version appeared earlier in The Saint Detective Magazine, February 1958, as “The Army Waggoner Murder.”

   Brown at his simple best, a short, evocative and well-paced mystery about murder in a small town and its effect on the local citizens.

   When I picked this off my shelf I didn’t remember reading it, but details of the background material (Very well evoked, by the way; Brown reconstructs the kind of crossroads-town that is no more, and makes it live again on the page.) struck a chord, so I assume I must have read it back when I was drunk, and only scraps and remnants adhered to the subconscious.

   The basic plot of a local hoyden murdered in a cheap motel, and subsequent investigation by the reporter on the weekly paper was all new to me, and it’s quite well handled: the local cops are portrayed as men of limited resources, not buffoons, the reporter is smart but not a Gifted Amateur, and the bit parts are all developed with Brown’s customary skill.

   I did, however, figure out who the killer was, and I don’t think it was because I remembered it from my previous life. Brown tips his hand late in the book, just a few pages from the end, in a scene where the reporter and another character are discussing the case, all alone, and suddenly the other character pulls a gun on him and tells him not to move.

   Now when you’ve read as many mysteries as I have, you just know a person like this will be revealed later on as the killer, and sure enough he was — in the very next paragraph. Can I pick’em or what?

   Despite this lapse though, Road offers the kind of top-notch, unforced, un-padded writing you don’t see much anymore, and reading it was a real pleasure.