Thursday, December 03, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

Bruno Fischer had one of those careers you can't have any more. There's no market for any of it. He started out as editor and writer for a Socialist newspaper, shifted to terror pulps when the newspaper started failing, became a successful and respected hardcover mystery novelist in the Forties and early Fifties, and finally turned to Gold Medal originals when the pb boom began. His GMs sold in the millions. His House of Flesh is for me in the top ten of all GMs.

Then for reasons only God and Gary Lovisi understand, Fischer gave up writing and became an editor for Colliers books. But he had one more book in him and it turned out to be the finest of his long career.

Fischer shared with Howard Fast (Fast when he was writing mysteries under his pen names) a grim interest in the way unfulfilling jobs grind us down, leave us soulless. Maybe this was a reflection of his years on the Socialist newspaper. The soullessness features prominently in The Evil Days because it is narrated by a suburban husband who trains to work each day to labor as an editor in a publishing company where he is considered expendable. Worse, his wife constantly reminds him (and not unfairly) that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or find any of the pleasures they knew in the early years of their marriage. Fischer makes you feel the husband's helplessness and the wife's anger and despair.

The A plot concerns the wife finding jewels and refusing to turn them in. A familiar trope, yes, but Fischer makes it work because of the anger and dismay the husband feels when he sees how his wife has turned into a thief. But ultimately he goes along with her. Just when you think you can scope out the rest of the story yourself, Fischer goes all Guy de Maupassant on us. Is the wife having an affair? Did she murder her lover? Is any of this connected to the jewels? What the hell is really going on here?

Sometimes we forget how well the traditional mystery can deal with the social problems of an era and the real lives of real people. The hopelessness and despair of these characters was right for their time of the inflation-dazed Seventies. But it's just as compelling now as it was then when you look at the unemployment numbers and the calm reassurances by those who claim to know that the worst is yet to come.

All this wrapped in one hell of a good tale by a wily old master.


Frank Loose said...

Ed ... It is great to see some ink on Fischer. I have been saving The Evil Days and Charles Williams' The Hot Spot, for a special reading time, having read all their other books. Your review makes me think the time is now.

I'm with you on rating Fischer's House of Flesh as "top ten" material. The Lady Kills and The Bleeding Scissors are also quite enjoyable, if not as tight as House. But I have a soft spot for So Wicked My Love. Cherry Drew is quite a creation.

Thanks for writing about this terrific author and this, his last book.

Anonymous said...

I found this when I googled "The Evil Days." The paperback cover is a knockout.

J.D. Powell

Martin Edwards said...

Your penultimate paragraph is absolutely right. I haven't read this book, but a very different novel which also sheds light on the problems of an era and desperate financial times is Payment Deferred by C.S. Forester - the first and arguably the best of the British ironic crime novels.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, Ed. I liked this book and should re-read it.

Ed Lynskey

The Recalcitrant Scrivener said...

Sounds like a damn good book, Ed, and all too appropriate, given how most of us earn a living. I just discovered your blog this evening, and will have to investigate more.

In the meantime, you and your readers might enjoy The Recalcitrant Scrivener, a blog that offers a distinctly jaundiced (or perhaps bloodshot) view of writing and publishing.

Right now, tonight in New York, it's very film noir outside...

Todd Mason said...

From my frequent exposure to excellend Fischer short fiction as a kid, I'm always surprised to find how few have read him these days.