Late one night, journalist William Deacon is surprised in his office by an old school friend with an unusual request. Seemingly everywhere Archie Sinclair goes, people are talking about the singer-songwriter Brill Brillhart — the places they met with him, the dinners they’ve had with him, the appearances he’ll be making later that week — which wouldn’t be so weird if Sinclair didn’t have it on such good authority that Brillhart has been dead for the last two months. So, would Deacon be willing to look into it? And Deacon, with misgivings aplenty, agrees, and soon finds that Brillhart is indeed both dead and seemingly everywhere. How can this be possible?
I really don’t know quite what to make of this book. The mystery of Brillhart’s resurrection isn’t exactly baffling, and is in fact cleared up by the halfway stage, and a lot of what unfolds from there feels rather rote for all the surprise it apparently engenders in the characters. When a murder is eventually uncovered in the final stretch, and a guilty party tracked down with some moderate peril and a lucky guess or two along the way, it’s hardly a surprise to find that person guilty, and yet there’s a pleasing inevitability about it even as it underwhelms (and the ‘critical moment’ that — shall we say — leads to the murder is complete horseshit). Where Brean’s Wilders Walk Away (1948) had a sense of structure behind its scheme, this one seems to flail at a series of predictable ideas in the hope they’ll make a plot, and it feels decidedly thin for all that results.
And yet…I didn’t not enjoy it, not least because Brean is a very talented author with a gloriously light and readable style. Take the New York socialite Kim Winter, who…
…had taken the Central Park South apartment when she had decided she wanted to be a popular singer instead of a poetess, which she has tried while still in finishing school of a ceramist, which she had tried after the poetry, or a zither player, which she had tried after the ceramics. Everything considered, she was a rather intelligent girl and pleasant, lacking only one thing to be good at something — the economic or social necessity for working hard at it.
8 thoughts on “#466: The Traces of Brillhart (1960) by Herbert Brean”
“Did he write any short fiction?” – FictionMags credits Brean with 17 short stories and novelettes – 2 with EQMM, 1 with AHMM, 1 with THE SAINT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and several with the slickzines, ARGOSY, COSMOPOLITAN, ESQUIRE, and THE AMERICAN MAGAZINE. I’m uncertain, however, as to whether or not the stories in the slicks have criminous content.
Aah, thanks, Mike, this is hugely appreciated — not least because I’ve never heard of FictionMags. I shall investigate further!
Glad to be of help, JJ. The start page for FictionMags is:
It’s a great resource, one I frequently consult.
I remember the plot being better than you described it here, but you certainly won’t regret getting Hardly a Man is Now Alive.
Brean tried to be Carr-like in Wilders Walks Away, but succeeded in doing that with Hardly a Man is Now Alive. I think it helped that he toned down the impossible crime aspects in that one, because he wasn’t really good at them and that’s what made Wilders Walks Away such a disappointment.
My own personal Brean favourite is “The Clock Strikes Thirteen”. It helps that it’s set on a secluded island with scientists who have created a deadly virus (or maybe it was a toxin, I don’t remember now), because there can be no bad book with such a setting. 🙂
I’ve got Hardly a Man is Now Alive on my TBR, but deady island scientists never fail — and it sounds like a great time:
Reynold Frame was assigned to cover the most terrifying story of our times .. experiments in germ warfare conducted on an isolated island. The devastating secret was about to be revealed when murder struck — and Frame was the only logical suspect. To call for help meant to expose himself to the charge of murder. Not to call for help meant risking the death of all — for the killer had loosed a virulent germ against which there seemed to be no defense whatever!
Thanks for the pointer, I may look there next…
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