A Must Read: Night of the Jabberwock (1950) by Fredric Brown

Very pleased I was able to squeeze this read in, as April draws to a close, because boy is this one heck of a novel! It is the sort of book which starts off interestingly enough and keeps on getting more and more interesting, startling and shocking. Surprise after surprise is unfurled, each bigger than the last. Fairly sure smoke was coming off the pages as I was reading them that fast to see how it was all going to end. Yet of course with such a book, there is only a minimal amount you can say about the plot to new readers. Too much information could be fatal or at the very least take some of the “wow” or impact out of the reading. So I am going to try my best to be brief as possible.

Doc Stoeger is the editor and owner of Carmel City Clarion, a local weekly newspaper. Another edition is ready for press, yet Stoeger bemoans the lack of interesting news, just once he wants a scoop for his paper, some big news no one else has got on to. Little does he know that tonight might be the night his wish comes true…

And that is all you’re going to get from me. Oh apart from the fact that the Alice in Wonderland stories do feature rather significantly in this story – not much of a spoiler after all, given the choice of title. There is so much in store for you, but you’ll just have to read it to find out what.

This is a hugely action packed story, with a quick pace, events piling up one on top of the other, with a strong dose of irony, possibly even irony on irony. Is there such a thing as double irony? If there isn’t then there should be. The first person narrative works really well in this increasingly screwball adventure mystery. Yet puzzle fans do not need to despair or avoid this book entirely, as it is the sort of adventure which has a lot of pieces to work and ponder over. Given the fast pace, characterisation very much comes from the dialogue and action but I’d say the story is all the better for it. Doc is a great protagonist to follow. His heavy drinking is not entirely sensible or admirable but he is a great lover of books, (so all is forgiven of course), and one of my favourite lines from him is: ‘I think a bathroom without a bookshelf is as incomplete as would be one without a toilet.’

This is the kind of book that makes you want to emit a high pitched excited noise on finishing it, desperate to find some other lucky soul who has read the book too so you can talk about it, spoiler free. I often say about so-so or average books that there is no need to rush out and buy a copy. Unsurprisingly I am now going to advocate doing the exact opposite, dropping all other activity in order to track a copy down and read it not quite this very instant but as soon as possible. Kindle owners will be pleased to know it is quite cheap to pick up a copy of this, but for people like me, non-kindle owners, paperback copies are available online, not dead cheap, but not requiring a bank loan either.

Rating: 5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Time/Date etc. in Title

21 comments

  1. It is one of my all-time favorite mysteries and I am glad that you love it too. One of my recurring complaints about contemporary crime novels is that they lack imagination. That’s not something you can fault Brown for, as he had it in spades, and only he could write such a book that while completely crazy on its surface manages to make complete sense in the end. This is, I think, all that mystery writing is about and rarely has it been done so well. Now since you seem to be in that kind of books I suggest you follow with the Ed & Am Hunter books and his short fiction which may be where he gave his colossal best. Also recommended (you know how I like to recommend things) are John Franklin Bardin’s very brownian The Deadly Percheron and The Last of Philip Banter. You can’t go wrong with these.

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  2. Good God, Kate! Pass me the smelling salts! We agree on a book!

    Actually, it’s so long since I’ve read this one that all I can remember is enjoying it as much as you obviously have. I really must try to lay hands on a copy for a reread.

    Oh, and I’d echo Xavier Lechard’s recommendation of John Franklin Bardin. There’s a Penguin omnibus of three of Bardin’s novels that you might find your best bet for finding reasonably priced.

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  3. I too would definitely recommend the wonderfully bizarre ‘The Deadly Percheron’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘The Last of Philip Banter’. If you like the kind of book where you’re presented with a really puzzling puzzle, you could do worse than to check out Japrisot’s ‘The Lady in the Car with the Glasses and a Gun’ and Gwendoline Butler’s ‘A Coffin for the Canary’ too – if you can fit them into your incredibly busy reading schedule.

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    • Night of the Jabberwock is often linked to The Red Right Hand, as they set trying to do the same thing, but Brown succeeded where Rogers failed. The Red Right Hand never convinced me of its classic status and Night of the Jabberwock showed how this type of game is played. Completely agree with Kate’s five-stars.

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      • His short-shorts (almost all with twist endings) are I think the best I’ve ever read. I first came across him in the form of his collection Nightmares & Geezenstacks, which has a lot of the short-shorts (although it’s quasi-title story is, oddly enough, fairly weak IMO); another good collection is Angels & Spaceships.

        I’m assuming the big fat collection you mention is the one published by NESFA a while back, Tracy? I have it somewhere.

        Kate: The short stories in these collections tend to be almost exclusively sf/fantasy. I know there are some crime ones around — in fact, though I may be misremembering (and have no time right now to check), I think there are some on Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.

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  4. The collection I have is called Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown, and is published by Bruin Books. Per an Amazon review, three of the stories in my book were expanded into novels: “The Jabberwocky Murders”, “The Pickled Punks”, and “Obit For Obie”. I would not mind read some of his sci fi / fantasy stories, however. I will look around and see what I can find.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Right, have downloaded it already! Fredric Brown wrote the most terrifying short story I have ever read, Don’t Look Behind You, a story that still gives me shivers 30 years after I first read it, and I have long intended to read more by him, so Jabberwock here we come!

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