Killer, Come Back to Me–New Ray Bradbury collection digs into his pulp crime stories

Review by C.J. Bunce

For the 100th centenary of the celebrated writer Ray Bradbury, his short stories were read, indexed, and partitioned to shake loose those tales that fall entirely (or even slightly) inside the crime story genre for a new collection, Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury, being released for the first time tomorrow by Hard Case Crime in a deluxe hardcover edition.  Not your typical crime noir writer (and who would want that anyway?), Bradbury didn’t hesitate to mix in science fiction and fantasy elements in his attempts to arrive at something in the vein of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain’s writings.  His works verged on the edge of the stuff of The Twilight Zone, with the darkest entries even creepier yet.  Some of the selected stories were adapted into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Bradbury’s own series, The Ray Bradbury Theater.

His story “A Touch of Petulance” could have been written by Cain or Williford, and yet it couldn’t–here a man finds his way back from the future after murdering his wife to prevent his younger self from going down the dark path.  In “The Screaming Woman” Bradbury borrows from Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart” and gets into the head of a ten-year-old girl who is convinced someone buried a dead woman in her yard.  The Brewsters of Arsenic and Old Lace meet Prodigal Son in “The Trunk Lady.”  And the title story plays out like a twist on the trickery in Vertigo.

Readers will find some of Bradbury’s more absurd experiments here, including the tale of a conjoined twin who is stabbed in the dark at a carnival, leaving his remaining twin to sleuth out the murderer.  Another story is set along an abandoned, submerged carnival train.  One story features a man’s love for a beautiful ventriloquist doll, another for an actress from the Hollywood’s golden age.  Most of the works collected in Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury, were originally published in pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s, including Detective Tales, Dime Mystery, Startling Stories, Ellery Queen, and Weird Tales.

Readers will be surprised by stories connected with common themes (like unhappy spouses), common props (like a glass of lemonade), common circumstance (like murder in ways only Bradbury could concoct).  One of a few pairs of back-to-back stories carries a warning for being out after dark.  Several entries amount to unmade episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Or Night Gallery.  The pairs of stories with mirrored themes are dark tales of death, duplicity, and murderers lurking in shadows.  The selections of Bradbury stories in this volume hit a high point with the Bradbury classic story of a pair of bored men in a twist on The Stepford Wives, called “Marionettes, Inc.”  It, too, has a continuation story.

Artist Paul Mann is back with his striking blue tones in the shadows for the cover painting, joined this time with black and white interior artwork created by Robert Gale and Deena So’Oteh.  A preface by Professor Jonathan R. Eller provides context for the stories with an afterword by Bradbury himself, reprinted from an introduction in an earlier selection of his works.  In that writing he credits Leigh Brackett for much of his inspiration for this niche of his short story writing.

Pre-order Ray Bradbury’s Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury, today here at Amazon, Hard Case Crime’s hand-picked selection of the master storyteller’s crime stories, available for pre-order one more day only and at a discount off cover price, available everywhere online and in bookstores beginning tomorrow, August 18.



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