Memento Review of Here Comes a Candle (Fredric Brown)
The title is derived from the “Oranges and Lemons” nursery rhyme (and the basis for a phobia suffered by the protagonist). I’ve thought this was spooky since I first encountered it in the film version of 1984 and that’s honestly the primary reason I picked this up. (Random finds like this are one of the reasons Half Price Books is so awesome.)
Set in late ’40s Milwaukee, the story centers around Joe Bailey, a 19-year-old who has been trying on a life of crime by running numbers for a local racketeer, Mitch. Mitch is starting a more serious criminal enterprise, offering Joe an opportunity to join him and graduate to full-on crook.
Joe has to decide between the life of crime — with girls and money and robin’s egg blue (?) convertibles — and going to work every day and scraping by like any other sucker. Mitch gives him time to think about it, saying he can’t change his mind after he decides. The women Joe develops relationships with during this time represent the two paths before him. Elle, a plain looking waitress living in his apartment represents one path. Francy, Mitch’s young, voluptuous girlfriend who Joe first sees sunbathing naked on the beach represents the other. Guess which is which….
Written in the ’50s, it’s interesting for the perspective visible in the writing — seeing Francy naked is a big deal, Joe’s thinks his landlady might toss him out of his room because he can’t explain to her where he gets his money, it’s scandalous that one of his pals is a communist, there’s a lot of talk about the inevitable nuclear war with the Russians. But it doesn’t read like something with six decades behind it — it reminds me a lot of Bester’s The Stars My Destination in that regard; I never would have guessed it was written when it was.
For a writer it’s an excellent look at technique. Brown was apparently ahead of his time and utilized a number of techniques that didn’t see a lot of use or acceptance until much later — sections of the story are told in different tense. as a newspaper clipping, as a play, and as a radio sportscast.
Looking at some of his other works (The Cheese on Stilts?), Brown seems to have known his way around pulp but Wikipedia suggests Ayn Rand, Mickey Spillane, and Heinlein were all in his fan club.
Reviewed by Bella shortly after I finished reading it.