Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

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.

A wily little novel that rattled me the first time I read it and rattles me still on rereading.


Cullen Gallagher said...

This sounds terrific. I will keep my eyes out for this. I also picked up HOUSE OF FLESH recently, looking forward to reading it.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading EVIL DAYS, Ed. Your review hits the mark in ways I hadn't thought about. ED is worth re-reading, and soon. Thanks.

Ed Lynskey

BV Lawson said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Ed! I've added it to the TBR list, although our local library doesn't have it. I'll check around the used book stores.

Michael S. Chong said...

I found this book in a now closed used book store. It was in the basement bargain section without a dustcover. Think I bought it for a dollar, having remembered it from your mention of it in The Big Book of Noir.

Great read and evocative of the time.