Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"The Missing Actor", by Fredric Brown

From: Before She Kills: Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 2. Dennis MacMillan, 1984.

Floyd Nielson's son is missing. Neilson is a Wisconsin farmer who has decided to sell is place and buy a smaller farm somewhere warm, Florida or California. Before he does, he's come down to Chicago to find out what happened to his son, Albee.

Albee was a clerk in a bookstore, lived in a "padded pad" (no furniture, just cushions and futons), dated a black girl (daring for 1963), and was variously described as a "hipster" or "beatnik". He also liked to gamble a bit, and ended up $800 in the hole to the local bookie. Nielson gave him the money, but instead of paying his debts he dropped out of site. His father think's he's used it as a stake to get out of town, but he'd really like to know for sure.

Fortunately private detectives Ed Hunter and his uncle Ambrose are there to help. Ed, being close to the young man's age and therefore able to move easily among his acquaintances, does most of the legwork. In short order he finds a few things that don't add up.

"The Missing Actor" is sort of a little brother to the Ed and Am Hunter story "Before She Kills", which has been widely anthologized, and both are unusual for Fredric Brown: they play it straight, no carnivals or madhouses, no sense of dread or whimsy. The result, unfortunately, is a little bland, notable mainly for Ed's narrative voice. Not a bad story at all, but not one that stands out compared to his better work.

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