Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Fredric Brown Lost Stories - Part One: "Compliments of a Fiend"
by Jack Seabrook
In the May 1945 issue of Thrilling Detective, the first story by Fredric Brown entitled "Compliments of a Fiend" was published. This story was reworked and expanded into the novel, The Bloody Moonlight, published in 1949. The Bloody Moonlight was the third novel to feature Brown's nephew and uncle detective team of Ed and Am Hunter.
The serial rights to The Bloody Moonlight were sold, and a condensed version of the novel was published in the November 1949 issue of Two Detective Mystery Novels magazine.
Meanwhile, Brown liked the title "Compliments of a Fiend" so much that he used it again for an entirely different story, the fourth novel in the Ed and Am Hunter series, Compliments of a Fiend, published in 1950. The story follows young detective Ed Hunter, now living in Chicago and working with the Starlock Detective Agency, as he races against time to find out what happened to his missing uncle.
None of this information is new, and the stories and novels have been included in bibliographies of Brown's work and discussed in my book on Brown, Martians and Misplaced Clues.
What is new is the discovery of a previously-unknown magazine version of the novel Compliments of a Fiend, published in Two Complete Detective Books (March 1951). This magazine was discovered by Philip Stephensen-Payne in the course of research for his upcoming reference work, The Crime Fiction Index .
Two Complete Detective Books is a very tame example of a pulp detective magazine. The cover, while featuring gaudy colors, shows a scene that has a tenuous relationship to the book-length story contained in the magazine. There is an illustration on the table of contents page, but the long story itself features no illustrations at all. Even the advertisements are tame—they are mostly house ads or public service announcements.
The condensed version of Compliments of a Fiend does not follow the 17-chapter format of the novel. Instead, it is divided into seven sections, each of which combines two or three chapters from the book. About three pages are cut from chapter one, while cuts from chapters two and three are each less than a page.
Important cuts begin in chapter four, where the last two pages are cut; they contain a conversation between Ed and his landlady about Estelle, a beautiful girl with feelings for Ed. There is a big, jarring cut in chapter seven, where the last three pages are removed. This section includes a scene where Ed goes to a bar and sees Estelle sitting with Augie Grane, who runs a numbers racket. Another cut involving Estelle comes in chapter ten, where more than two pages are missing. Here, Ed visits Estelle while she works as a cigarette girl.
Ed dances with Estelle in chapter 11, but readers of the magazine wouldn't know it, since another two pages have been cut. This scene is as close as anything in the story comes to the painting on the magazine's cover, though the man and woman there do not look much like my mental portraits of Ed and Estelle. And speaking of the cover, what are we to make of the green hand with orange fingernails pointing a gun at the happy couple? There are no green-skinned characters in "Compliments of a Fiend."
Another page involving Estelle is cut from chapter 14, and in chapter 17—the book's last—the magazine version cuts the last 2 ½ pages of the book! This results in a very abrupt ending, leaving out several important details. In the book, Ed and Am decide to open their own detective agency, Ed learns that Estelle has decided to marry Augie Grane, and Ed recalls reading a science fiction story called "Pi in the Sky," which he forgets to mention was written by Fredric Brown!
The novel ends with a lyrical passage, as Ed thinks: "I left the streets and walked across the building tops, and then across the sky." Overall, the condensed version of Compliments of a Fiend cuts 10% to 15% from the novel. The main cuts involve Ed's relationship with Estelle and the conclusion, which sets up the next book.
"Compliments of a Fiend" is not very different than the novel version, since the cuts don't affect the plot very much. The book is not one of Brown's best, so cutting pages here and there does not affect the story quite as badly as it does in the short versions of The Screaming Mimi or Knock Three-One-Two.
Brown, Fredric. "Compliments of a Fiend." Two Complete Detective Books Mar. 1951: 67-144.
Brown, Fredric. Hunter and Hunted: the Ed and Am Hunter Novels. Hermitage, PA: Stewart Masters Pub., 2002.
Seabrook, Jack. Martians and Misplaced Clues: the Life and Work of Fredric Brown. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular, 1993.