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Death is a Lonely Business (1985)

by Ray Bradbury

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Crumley Mysteries (1)

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1,3052014,585 (3.67)34
Ray Bradbury, the undisputed Dean of American storytelling, dips his accomplished pen into the cryptic inkwell of noir and creates a stylish and slightly fantastical tale of mayhem and murder set among the shadows and the murky canals of Venice, California, in the early 1950s. Toiling away amid the looming palm trees and decaying bungalows, a struggling young writer (who bears a resemblance to the author) spins fantastic stories from his fertile imagination upon his clacking typewriter. Trying not to miss his girlfriend (away studying in Mexico), the nameless writer steadily crafts his literary effort--until strange things begin happening around him. Starting with a series of peculiar phone calls, the writer then finds clumps of seaweed on his doorstep. But as the incidents escalate, his friends fall victim to a series of mysterious "accidents"--some of them fatal. Aided by Elmo Crumley, a savvy, street-smart detective, and a reclusive actress of yesteryear with an intense hunger for life, the wordsmith sets out to find the connection between the bizarre events, and in doing so, uncovers the truth about his own creative abilities.… (more)
  1. 00
    Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (fugitive)
    fugitive: Death, canals, poetic writing.
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» See also 34 mentions

English (17)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
A young writer rides the trolleybus late one night in Venice, California, only to have a sinister whisper in his ear that 'Death is a lonely business.' By the time he plucks up the courage to turn round, the person has got off the trolley car. But this is only the prelude to a series of displacements and possible murders as various people that the writer knows are targeted, starting with his discovery when walking home of an old man's body dumped in the canal. Soon he is fully engaged in trying to track down and stop the killer with the help of a cast of eccentric characters including washed-up film stars, a cop who is a secret novelist, a blind man, and a retired opera singer. Even the minor characters are memorable, such as the barber who can't cut hair but lives on the past glory of once having had a piano lesson from Scott Joplin.

Another main character is the setting which brilliantly evokes the rundown former glamour of an area now starting to be demolished. Being Bradbury, the writing is colourful, vivid, slightly sentimental but not overdone. I realised after finishing the book that the protagonist is probably based on his youthful self.

The only thing that held this book back from a full five stars is that the ending is not quite satisfying enough. There were a few candidates for the (what would now be termed serial) killer and I thought it would have been a great twist if it had turned out to be a less obvious one. But other than that I can't fault the book and so it has a well-deserved 4 stars.

( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Every time I re-read this, I get a different impression, but there's always the sea behind and through it all. A favorite in many ways, but none of those ways include being particularly comfortable with it. ( )
  wetdryvac | Mar 2, 2021 |
I love the way he does that, like this view of a demolished old pier - "It was the elephants' graveyard, the pier at night, all dark bones and a lid of a fog over it, and the sea rushing in to bury, reveal, and bury again".
Great book! ( )
  rainscience | Jan 12, 2021 |
Deeply invested in style and setting, the story doesn't have much else going for it. The language and grotesque characters will probably stick with me for a while, though. ( )
  amydross | Jun 30, 2018 |
I didn't plan it this way, but for me the turning of the year was bookended by two Ray Bradbury titles. I started Death Is a Lonely Business (1985) near the end of December because it was available on my Kindle and I was stuck lying down, nursing a sore back. It ended up being my final book of 2017.

I hadn't read a Bradbury novel in decades and had him pretty much lodged in my mind as a writer of pulp sci-fi short stories--a more than competent one, to be sure, but for me not the stuff of a steady diet.

So I was taken by surprise by the depth and complexity of the novel, from its predominant theme of death and its agents to the delicate, wavering balance between illusion and consensual reality accomplished by locating the imaginative flights in the mind of the first-person narrator, whose name we never learn. Thematic elements, lush evocation of time and place, and quirky characters that stop short of grotesquerie by virtue of their humanity round out the quasi-detective story with its backdrop of Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Bradbury was 65 when he wrote it, and that's not too young to be pondering the transitory nature of things.

From LibraryThing I learned that this book is the first of three so-called Crumley Mysteries. Detective Lieutenant Crumley does have a role to play, but he is present more as a catalyst than as a major actor. It is not first of all a detective story but rather an almost mystical meditation on death and life and how people's lives intertwine.

And so when I ran out of pages in Death Is a Lonely Business, I downloaded the second, A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities (1990), which became my first completed work of 2018.

Discovering this dimension of Bradbury after so long is a refreshing surprise and a bright spot at the start of a perilous year. ( )
4 vote Meredy | Jan 4, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ray Bradburyprimary authorall editionscalculated
豊樹, 小笠原Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marcellino, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marsh, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
SciaccaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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With love to Don Congdon, who caused it to happen.

And to the memory of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald.

And to my friends and teachers Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, sorely missed.
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Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad.
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Ray Bradbury, the undisputed Dean of American storytelling, dips his accomplished pen into the cryptic inkwell of noir and creates a stylish and slightly fantastical tale of mayhem and murder set among the shadows and the murky canals of Venice, California, in the early 1950s. Toiling away amid the looming palm trees and decaying bungalows, a struggling young writer (who bears a resemblance to the author) spins fantastic stories from his fertile imagination upon his clacking typewriter. Trying not to miss his girlfriend (away studying in Mexico), the nameless writer steadily crafts his literary effort--until strange things begin happening around him. Starting with a series of peculiar phone calls, the writer then finds clumps of seaweed on his doorstep. But as the incidents escalate, his friends fall victim to a series of mysterious "accidents"--some of them fatal. Aided by Elmo Crumley, a savvy, street-smart detective, and a reclusive actress of yesteryear with an intense hunger for life, the wordsmith sets out to find the connection between the bizarre events, and in doing so, uncovers the truth about his own creative abilities.

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