The Posthumous Fredric Brown, Part 2: The 1980s

Yes, of course, you’d invest heavily in Apple if you were to time-travel back to the 1980s, but while you’re there, you might as well invest in Dennis McMillan’s Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps series. If you want to obtain the entire collection now, without the hassle of purchasing the nineteen volumes piecemeal, then head over to Abebooks, where you can have the set delivered to your door for the cost of about $2,500, double what you might have paid a decade ago. But hey, the shipping is free!

Dennis McMillan has been amassing short stories into pristine collections, as well as reprinting rare books in limited runs, for about forty years now, and if you’ve had the pleasure of obtaining any of what he prints, you’ll understand the demand. According to Don Herron, McMillan’s releases have been known to sell out before finishing their print run, and have sparked bidding wars over future reprints. Herron details the publisher’s eccentric career on his blog, and it’s well worth the read. Also of note is McMillan’s bizarre website, which claims that when its construction is complete, it will serve as “a resource for bibliographic review of all Dennis McMillan publications, and a source for purchasing available publications and collectable books.” The last update was in 2013, and the only book being promoted is his final publication, Electrum and the Invention of Coinage (2011), which is, unsurprisingly, a book about the origins of coinage. If you head over to Amazon quickly enough, you can buy the cheapest copy they have for $85.

The strange tale of McMillan’s publishing company explains the inconsistent and unpredictable pricing of his finest releases: the Fredric Brown collection. Some copies are easily obtainable, like Homicide Sanitarium, which is the only volume I own, purchased for $6.50 in the basement of the Caliban Bookshop in Pittsburgh (a place with a bizarre story of its own, currently playing out in the national news). This volume was published in Belen, New Mexico in 1984. According to the previously mentioned Herron blog, McMillan’s books have been published in New York, San Fransisco, Miami Beach, and Missoula, to name just the well-known locations.

Volume one of McMillan’s crown publishing achievement kicks off the posthumous Fredric Brown of the 1980s, and with just a couple notable exceptions, Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps dominates the decade with fifteen releases. Take out your credit card and read on.

  • The Best Short Stories of Fredric Brown (1982): Only published in the UK, this collection is a unique posthumous entry in that it includes more than fifty short stories, equally mixing crime and science fiction. A collection this voluminous wouldn’t occur again until the early 2000s, and it wouldn’t include Brown’s coveted crime fiction. It’s a unique item to purchase and is fortunately very affordable, as it’s a mass market paperback.
  • Homicide Sanitarium Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 1 (1984): The first release in the series sets the tone well. Bill Pronzini writes an introduction which explains that this collection doesn’t contain the best of Brown’s work; rather, it’s a selection of short stories that haven’t been reprinted or anthologized since their original release in the late 30s to early 40s. This isn’t to say you’re going to find inept writing; some of it is quite good, and all of it reveals a burgeoning mystery writer with his pulse on the beats of the noir typical of the time and an ability to transform this into originality. It also includes Brown’s first published fiction, “The Moon for a Nickel.” If you just want to read the stories, you can find a crisp paperback copy for under ten bucks. If you’d rather track down the hardcover, good luck. It’s not the most expensive of the series, but it’s print run was far more limited (300 copies) than the paperback, and you’d be lucky to find something under two hundred bucks. You will get Pronzini’s signature, however, as all the hardcovers are signed by the writer of the introduction.
  • Before She Kills Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 2 (1984): William F. Nolan, a writer as prolific with short fiction as Brown himself, writes the introduction to the sophomore volume, which reprints six stories rescued from ancient pulp magazines. You’re still able to easily obtain a softcover for under ten bucks. Hardcover is, you guessed it, much pricier. However, this is one you could probably find for under a hundred bucks. Not bad for a print run of 350.
  • Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown (1985): One of three non-McMillan releases in the 80s, Carnival of Crime is a great companion to the misleadingly titled science fiction collection, The Best of Fredric Brown (1977). Bill Pronzini provides another introduction. Also included is a checklist of Brown’s fiction, but good luck completing that one. Unfortunately, while this one is the best primer on Brown’s crime fiction, you’re looking at at least a $50 price tag. For that you might as well pick up the first volume of the all-encompassing Haffner Press releases.
  • Madman’s Holiday Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 3 (1985): This one includes an introduction by Newton Baird and two novellas from Detective Story Magazine and New Detective. Prepare for frustration. Limited to 350 hardcover copies, all signed by Baird, Madman’s Holiday will more than likely run you at least five-hundred dollars, and there aren’t many of them floating around the internet. You might chance upon a copy from someone who doesn’t know what they have. I once obtained a copy of E. M. Forster’s manuscripts for Howard’s End for around thirty bucks. Lightning has never struck twice for that particular Forster collection, however, and I don’t expect it to strike at all for this one.
  • The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 4 (1985): Content-wise, you’re getting into the real rarities here, as the unfinished novel version of the title story is the centerpiece. The original novelette is also included, and the introduction by Lawrence Block is a nice touch. Inconsistency, however, is the name of the game with these releases. Four-hundred copies were printed this time around, and there aren’t any paperbacks. You could easily obtain one in the one- to two-hundred dollar range.
  • The Freakshow Murders Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 5 (1985): If you’ve been keeping score at home, McMillan released the first two volumes in paperback and hardcover, the following two only in limited hardcover, and now the fifth volume also released in both paperback and hardcover. Who knows why this happened, though I’m sure the hard-traveling McMillan has a good story to explain the reason. Introduced by Richard A. Lupoff, this collection of six stories can be obtained for the same price as the other paperbacks. Hardcover, predictably, is much pricier, but it can be found in the hundred-dollar range. Sometimes copies have been published in Miami. Some in Berkely. Sometimes copies are stamped with a different publication year. Also, there are listings claiming Creative Arts Book Co. as the publisher. Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Thirty Corpses Every Thursday Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 6 (1986): How’s that for a title? Another fine choice would have been another story in this collection, “Satan’s Death Warrant.” Introduced by William Campbell Gault, you can easily obtain the paperback for slightly more than the others. Hardcover copies aren’t too difficult to come by, despite a total printing of 375 copies. You can find a nice one in the $50 to $75 range. Plus, you’re getting Gault’s signature. Though perhaps known best for his sports writing, he was indeed influential in the crime pulp circuit, and his debut crime novel, Don’t Cry for Me (1953) won an Edgar only four years after Brown won his for The Fabulous Clipjoint (1948). Also published in paperback and modestly priced.
  • Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 7 (1986): The price and availability of this collection, available again in paperback and hardcover, is pretty much the same as the last entry.  Three time Edgar winner (very rare), the prolific (more than one hundred novels to his name, mainly crime) Donald E. Westlake wrote the introduction, so you could snag his signature for a modest $50.
  • Red is the Hue of Hell Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 8 (1986): No paperback here, but McMillan printed 400 hardcovers. Even so, the lack of hardcover makes this volume tough to find, and it tends to start in the $200 range. Walt Sheldon, friend of the Browns when they lived a few years in Taos, New Mexico, wrote the introduction. In fact, according to Elizabeth Brown’s memoir, Oh, for the Life of an Author’s Wife (2018), Brown, Sheldon, and Mack Reynolds collaborated a few stories together. Being a close friend of the Browns, Sheldon’s introduction is probably illuminating. (Side note: Abebooks has a copy of the dust jacket listed for $75. Just in case you shelled out the $200 then promptly lost the cover.)
  • Brother Monster Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 9 (1987): I’m afraid it’s hardcover only from here forward. A nicer copy of this one will run from $200 to $700, unless you just want the dust jacket once again, which will run the same as Red is the Hue of Hell. The material grows increasingly more interesting the further along in the series, and this one includes an introduction by Brown’s agent, Harry Altshuler, as well as a rare glimpse at Brown’s poetry, as the previously self-published Fermented Ink: Ten Poems is included. Brown hand-typed the original copies of what would now be termed a chapbook, and they are extremely rare to come by. There’s a listing in Fine Books Magazine from 2007 for $5,000, and it’s probably the only copy you’re likely to find, though it’s more than likely gone.
  • Sex Life on the Planet Mars Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 10 (1986): Now we’re getting pricey. Even a dust jacket will run a couple hundred, and the whole kit and caboodle starts in the upper $600 range. This is probably due to the inclusion of Charles Willeford’s signature. It’s a shame this one is so difficult to obtain, as the cover art is quite comical.You might have noticed that McMillan published volume 9 the year after volume 10. That’s not a typo, but I’m sure it is an interesting story in itself.
  • Nightmare in Darkness Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 11 (1987): Easily obtainable in the $75 to $100 range, this one includes two sure-to-be interesting writings: an introduction by Brown’s son Linn and the original ending for The Screaming Mimi.
  • And the Gods Laughed (1987): This extensive collection of mostly science fiction stories is the final of the three non-McMillan books published in the 80s. Published in hardcover and mass market paperback, it is affordable and obtainable, though the complete collection of Brown’s short SF, which NESFA Press published in 2001, is the go-to collection.
  • Who Was That Blonde I Saw You Kill Last Night? Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 12 (1988): Gotta love these titles. $100 to $200 for this one, and this is probably due to the introduction of Alan E. Nourse, an established science fiction writer but not a household name. His novel The Bladerunner (1974) lent its name, but none of its content, to the film. Also responsible for the lower price could be the print run of 450.
  • Three-Corpse Parlay Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 13 (1988): Despite the Max Allan Collins signature (to be fair, though, he’s currently alive and probably signs a lot of books), this one is affordable for under $100. There’s also a story titled “Heil, Werewolf!” How could you not want this volume?
  • Selling Death Short, Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 14 (1988): Same price range as the last volume. Introduced by Francis M. Nevins, Jr., it contains more stories. Enough said.
  • Whispering Death, Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, Vol. 15 (1989): This one caps the 80s and is the first volume lacking an introduction. It’s pretty impressive McMillan squeezed fourteen intros into the collection before hitting a gap. This one contains more stories and is priced the same as the previous two volumes.

1980 was quite a productive year for a very dead Brown, and we have the eccentric Denis McMillan to thank for the bulk of it. In the 90s, McMillan released four more volumes, representing Brown’s only releases until the early 2000s. So while this post included a whopping eighteen entries, the next couple are going to be pretty short. However, the most interesting posthumous publications were published well after Brown’s death. Stay tuned.

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