The Darker the Night – Herbert Brean (1949)

TheDarkerTheNightHerbert Brean wrote a mere seven mystery novels, and these days he’s mostly remembered for his debut effort, Wilders Walk Away.  While Wilders is an excellent read – mixing New England charm with multiple characters disappearing under impossible circumstances – I found his third novel, Hardly a Man is Now Alive, to be just as good if not better.  Brean’s a unique story teller, peppering the books I’ve read with minor puzzles, quirky footnotes (including entire recipes), and plots that span centuries.  I’ve been meaning to dig further into his limited catalogue; on one hand because he’s so damn good, but also because it just doesn’t seem to get explored that much.

The Darker the Night is Brean’s second novel, picking up where Wilders Walk Away left off and leading to the circumstances of Hardly a Man is Now Alive.  Although there’s a bit of minor continuity, you could read these in any order that you want, although I’d recommend starting with Wilders since one potential suspect goes on to be a reoccurring character.

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Hardly a Man is Now Alive – Herbert Brean (1950)

HardlyAManI wasn’t going to let more than a few months go by without catching back up with Herbert Brean.  My first encounter with him was with Wilders Walk Away; seemingly the only book that people connect with his name.  There’s good reason for it.  The blend of small town New England with a clever tale stacked high with mysteries does more than give the best of Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville novels a run for their money – it flat out beats them.

The only other Brean novel that seems to get any press is Traces of Brillhart, which was a logical next step.  However, a few comments pointed me towards Hardly a Man is Now Alive, suggesting it was a hidden gem.  Having finally laid my hands on both, I had to give in to the one with the vintage cover style that I so love.

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Wilders Walk Away – Herbert Brean (1948)

WildersWalkAwayIt took me a while to track down a copy of this book for the price that I wanted to pay for it – mostly because I’m a stickler for getting an edition with a cover that I want – and finally won out when a friend got me the IPL edition for Christmas.  Leave it to fate that immediately after finishing reading this, I stumbled upon a vintage Pocket Books edition for $5, but that’s my life…  And hey, an IPL is always more than welcome in my home.

Wilders Walk Away has this interesting reputation: an excellent read, a unique take on the impossible crime, and yet not a book to read solely for the impossible elements.  And, as it happens, if you want to save yourself some time, I’m basically going to grouse on and one about those exact points below.

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