Monday, April 16, 2018

The Evil Days

During the 1950s, Bruno Fischer was one of the mainstays of crime fiction. His bestselling novel, “House of Flesh,” sold 1.8 million copies following its 1950 release. After 21 years of writing, followed by a 14-year hiatus from new releases, Fischer’s “The Evil Days” (1974) was his last published book at the age of 62. Stark House Mystery Classics has repackaged the novel for modern audiences as a double along with Fischer’s “The Bleeding Scissors” (1948).

“The Evil Days” was marketed as a “novel of crime and suspense in the suburbs.” The plot setup is one we’ve seen before: Caleb Dawson’s wife finds a bag of jewels that she wants to keep to supplement the family’s meager income. Caleb thinks it’s a bad idea, but acquiesces to his money-hungry wife’s ill-conceived scheme. As you may have guessed, there are unsavory people who aren’t excited to just walk away from a lost fortune and want the jewels recovered. Meanwhile, there’s a violent murder in the same suburb that serves as the basis for a satisfying mystery. Could the two events be connected?

Fischer spent much of the 1960s working as an editor for two large publishing houses, and he puts his industry knowledge to good use in “The Evil Days.” Caleb works for a respected publisher that has been acquired by a large corporation. The inside baseball treatment of the publishing world is an interesting aspect to this novel for avid readers with an interest in the way a book is brought to market, and the way that editors speak about writers when they’re not around. The snappy dialogue feels authentic because Fischer has been there.

Another interesting way to read this novel is with the knowledge that Fischer was an honest-to-goodness Socialist. His early career was spent editing leftist publications, and he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1938 as the Socialist Party Candidate (spoiler: he lost). The ideas that workers are exploited by their bosses and that lust for money invites unhappiness are recurring ideas in his books and stories. “The Evil Days” has elements of both themes.

But even if you don’t read this paperback as a Marxist allegory, it remains a helluva mystery filled with moral dilemmas, poetic intrigue, sex, and murder. His politics aside, Fischer was an outstanding writer who honed his craft writing short-stories for the pulps, and that fat-free approach to storytelling carried forward for decades to this fine tale. It’s not filled with action or violence, but the Hitchcock-style mystery is plenty tense. Fischer was a pro at this game, and this final novel was a fitting close to a remarkable body of work. Highly recommended.

Bonus Tip:

The best work by Bruno Fischer that I’ve ever read was a 40-page novella called “We Are All Dead.” It’s about a fouled-up getaway after a heist. It’s only $1.49 on your Kindle, and it’s a damn masterpiece. Thank me later.

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