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Death Is a Lonely Business Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Updated on March 22, 2020
Mel Carriere profile image

Postman slash Reviewer Mel Carriere is not above liberating (stealing) a book from a front porch if he thinks it will serve his purposes.

Although on its surface, Ray Bradbury's Death Is A Lonely Business might appear to be just another pedestrian crime novel, there is still something Fahrenheit 451ish here.
Although on its surface, Ray Bradbury's Death Is A Lonely Business might appear to be just another pedestrian crime novel, there is still something Fahrenheit 451ish here. | Source

Lunchtime Lit Is A Shelter for Abandoned Books

If I'm your mailman, I'm going to walk across your front porch every day. I'm not being a creepy peeping Tom, I'm not casing the joint, I'm just doing what I get paid to do, deliver your mail.

Naturally, because the nature of the beast forces me onto your property on a regular basis, I am going to lay eyes upon those intimate artifacts that separate you from the other 7.5 billion people in the human race. I am going to observe your garden gnome, your antique butter churn, your cactus planted in a boot, and your pink flamingo on a pole.

Although these decorations continue to be active extensions of your personality, things you use to make a statement about who you are and where you are coming from, items of sentimental value you have no intention to toss into the dust bin anytime soon, I can tell more about you by the swag you are trying to throw away.

People often leave their unwanted refuse accumulating on their front porches, lying there in limbo while they make a decision what to do with it. They fully intend to part ways with these items, but sometimes there are emotional strings attached that keep them from cutting the chord completely. Then the mailman walks up and facilitates the decision.

In this way I espied a milk crate full of books sitting on a front porch along my mail route. This was not the first time it has happened, but usually such tired tomes are in the transitional phase to the junk yard for a good reason - being titles like Glamour Guide for Teens, Broke Is No Joke, Finding Your G Spot, etc. etc. These are words that people tried on for size, believing they had magic to pull them out of their poverty, turn them into sexual dynamos, or give a positive outlook to an otherwise gloomy, hopeless existence. They soon discovered that the books did not deliver like I, the mailman do.

Yet a few weeks ago, while still happily embedded in the seemingly endless saga A Suitable Boy, I found an unexpected gem lying there on the slag heap of false promises and broken dreams. This lantern shining in the gloom of human misery was Death Is A Lonely Business, by Ray Bradbury. I knocked on the door offering to buy it. The novel's former owner told me, albeit somewhat sadly, to take it away for free, to give it a good home. Perhaps Ray Bradbury and his work say something about who the man with the milk crate of abandoned books is and what he stands for, just as he does for me.

Most books are abandoned for a very good reason, but every once in a while you find a real gem lying there atop the literary slag heap.
Most books are abandoned for a very good reason, but every once in a while you find a real gem lying there atop the literary slag heap. | Source

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Once the adoption papers have been processed and the orphaned book has been taken into reviewer Mel Carriere's protective custody, California law strictly prohibits him taking it home for sneak reads at night. It must remain like a neglected foster child in his battered orange Homer box, to be read only on his thirty minute Postal lunch break.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

Book
Pages
Word Count
Date Started
Date Finished
Lunchtimes Consumed
Titus Alone
224
95,120
12/11/2018
1/5/2019
18
Cloudsplitter
768
260,742
1/7/2019
3/27/2019
49
Power In The Blood
903
330,930
3/28/2019
6/28/2019
57
A Suitable Boy
1,349
591,552
6/29/2019
12/10/2019
103
Death Is A Lonely Business
276
79,200
12/12/2019
1/15/2020
17

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

*Twenty-three other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,009,783 and 749 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 looks like a bantam boxer alongside other literary heavyweights, but it packs a powerful punch.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 looks like a bantam boxer alongside other literary heavyweights, but it packs a powerful punch. | Source

Now Trending - Fahrenheit 451

The author of Death Is A Lonely business is, of course, Ray Bradbury, and his Fahrenheit 451 is a hot topic here on Lunchtime Lit - never reviewed, but frequently mentioned in other reviews. The ubiquitous citation of this novel indicates that it remains relevant, that its tireless topics are timeless. It is an epic ostrich of a book disguised as a sparrow.

Who can call themselves a fan of Ray Bradbury and truthfully claim that it is not because of Fahrenheit 451? If you are a disciple of the written word, if you are fanatical about freedom of speech, then this finest and most famous of all of Bradbury's books is your gospel. Its joys are your joys, its worries and woes are your own. Not only did this novel depict a society in which deep thinking is being systematically set aflame, it also accurately predicted the fate of our modern world, a planet full of electronic junkies who have willingly surrendered their free will to the now trending...

Although his tales are bantam boxers, they pack a powerful punch. Unlike Tolstoy and Vikram Seth, Bradbury does not require a thousand pages plus to deliver a sermon that will bring you to the altar. Yet to the altar you will come, never on your knees, but walking upright and proud. His messages weave their way into your soul without you knowing it, during a still, peaceful interlude in which you thought you were only being entertained. Maybe you were curled up at home in bed or on your sofa, maybe you were wiling away the hours of a weary flight, maybe you were parked beneath a tree on your half hour postal lunch break, when Ray Bradbury spoke to you in his very non intrusive way.

Mel's departed literary hero - Ray Bradbury.
Mel's departed literary hero - Ray Bradbury. | Source

A Menagerie of Misfits

Although on its surface Death Is A Lonely Business might appear to be just another pedestrian crime novel, there is still something Fahrenheit 451ish here. In a very non-preachy way, Bradbury echoes the theme of like minds coming together, a small group of humans clinging to an ideal in a world that does not appreciate their values. The destruction of the pier in Venice, California is symbolic of a beloved way of life being plowed under. The real meaning of friendship and loyalty, that forged through a shared appreciation for the product of man's mind is being bulldozed there, to make way for profitable commercial culture.

The unnamed narrator is an impoverished writer trying to make his way, but he is not alone, he has his oddball support staff to prop him up. His girlfriend Peg, "absent among all those catacomb mummies in Mexico," makes eagerly awaited calls to the pay phone across the street from his shabby apartment. When the loneliness becomes unbearable he visits his rotund, mayonnaise munching friend Fannie, a former opera singer. Fannie connects him to Constance Rattigan, a star of the silver screen who has become disillusioned by the decay of her craft, and has withdrawn herself from Hollywood. Elmo Crumley is a jaded detective who does not want to be a cop at all, but a writer. The center of gravity of the story is a tenement house whose inhabitants may appear to be poor, but are fiercely dedicated to the welfare of one another. The rickety dwelling is patrolled by Henry the blind man, an adroit sleuth who makes up for his lack of sight by mastery of his other senses.

Some self-appointed arbiter of life and death has decided to take it upon himself to put the tenement's occupants, and others who are close to our unnamed narrator, out of what he perceives to be their misery. This clever assassin contrives means by which his victims either terminate their own lives, or remove themselves to less deadly climes. In this way the killer is part and parcel of the Venice urban renewal project that is earnestly underway. Can our unnamed narrator stop the fiend before he disposes of all the people he values?

Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad.

— Ray Bradbury - opening line of Death Is A Lonely Business

Venice was and is full of lost places where people put up for sale the last worn bits of their souls, hoping no one will buy.

— Ray Bradbury - Another characteristic sample from "Death Is A Lonely Business."

Bradbury's Venice

It is fairly obvious that our unnamed narrator in Death Is A Lonely Business remains unnamed because he is none other than Ray Bradbury himself.

In fact, Bradbury is a former inhabitant of Venice, California, the backdrop of this crime novel plus, this friend with benefits. He lived there between the years of 1942 to 1950, his formative years as a writer, as something of a roller skating beach bum. The author is obviously intimately familiar with his setting, and accurately conveys the gloom of a foggy Southern California seaside town. In the course of the novel the narrator travels down south to places I am familiar with - The Hotel Del Coronado and the Tijuana bullring by the sea, here in my own backyard. This deft depiction convinces me that despite his Midwestern upbringing, Bradbury has California in the blood. The pall the novel depicts is not quite so thick here by the Mexican border, but I have experienced the oppressive mist that can suck happiness out of the most sunny of settings.

Venice was founded by developer Abbot Kinney in 1905, on some marshy land he won in a coin flip. This visionary drained the swamp by building canals he supposed were reminiscent of Italy's namesake city. He hired an architect to mimic the Gothic architecture of the floating metropolis, and increased the allure of his investment by constructing a "pleasure pier" with multiple attractions for tourists, who poured in by the thousands. The faux city-state by the Pacific could be toured via miniature railway and of course, by gondolas plying waterways that were soon to be clogged by greasy crude.

Two decades after its founding, oil was discovered on the Venice Peninsula and the charming, italianesque landscape was quickly pincushioned by 450 wells. Plagued by infrastructure problems resulting from an unprecedented population boom, Venice then annexed itself to the city of Los Angeles. It soon became a neglected backwater. By the 1950s Venice was known as the "Slum by the Sea," a low rent district that provided a haven for counterculture artists of the Beat Generation. This was the Venice of young, pre-fame Ray Bradbury, and it is this prematurely aged, decrepit Venice, a postcard-perfect vacation destination now threatening to erode into the Pacific, that provides the somber scenery for Death Is A Lonely Business.

The heyday of Venice, California, prior to oil, annexation, and neglect.
The heyday of Venice, California, prior to oil, annexation, and neglect. | Source

Ray On A Bad Day Still Beats Everybody Else

The jaunty, light and bouncy writing style of Ray Bradbury, replete with metaphor and strange, incongruous descriptions that deftly convey an impressionist's mood rather than classical detail, stands in brilliant, sunlit contrast to the foggy shroud strangling the seaside city.

Here is such a defining snippet from Fahrenheit 451, where the protagonist Guy Montag is drifting down a stream "...mild and leisurely, going away from the people who ate shadows for breakfast and steam for lunch and vapors for supper." This is not a literal description of the activities of the Bradbury universe's inhabitants, but a metaphorical flourish that allows readers to paint a picture inside their own heads, from various shades and perspectives. It imparts a mood that is much more powerful than dry, dull detail.

Death Is A Lonely Business continues the Bradburyesque tradition of favoring mood over realism. There is nothing at all of what we could call realistic in this book. There is no detailed Crime Scene Investigation into the multiple deaths by mysterious circumstances. Instead we get broad but potent brush strokes. The nostalgic denizens of the Venice Pier go for one last joy ride on the roller coaster just as the hungry bulldozers are revving up to topple its foundations. How could this happen in real life, without CONDEMNED signs being nailed up weeks in advance, security posted around the perimeter to prevent the intrusion of last-minute throwback thrill seekers, and disclaimers being signed by anybody going within a stone's throw. No, Bradbury's style is not realistic at all, nor is it intended to be. Instead, his method transmits emotion and meaning that is much more powerful than any superficial shell that might surround them.

Death Is A Lonely Business might not be Bradbury at his best. It does not contain the literary fire of Fahrenheit 451 and the ageless tales of The Martian Chronicles. Still, Ray on a bad day surpasses crowds of cookie cutter crime novelists. These two-bit hacks with their computer generated plots, soulless characters, and dumbed-down dialogue languish at the bottom of the literary milk crate, left behind as refuse after the greats have been rescued off the top.

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    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      3 months ago from San Diego California

      Sorry Mills, he was a son of the Midwest who escaped, and now we in Southern California embrace him as one of our own.

      Just kidding. Have a great weekend there in the heartland.

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      3 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      I've read some Bradbury short stories, and I agree that mood helped to craft his stories. He was a son of the midwest who made good.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      3 months ago from San Diego California

      Thanks again Ann.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 months ago from SW England

      Good, I prefer Van Gogh! Thanks for the extra suggestions. No I haven't read Huxley either but I know about his style.

      Cheers, Mel!

      Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Ann. I don't think Ray Bradbury is a cubist like Picasso, he's more of a post-impressionist like Van Gogh. You can still appreciate his work without much effort. Try Fahrenheit 451 first though.

      Bradbury claims to have been a big fan, and been influenced by your own Aldous Huxley. Maybe that will help to explain him. Personally I have never read Huxley but he's on my book bucket list.

      I really appreciate your great comments. Thanks for dropping in.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      4 months ago from SW England

      This sounds right up my street, Mel. I like the sound of his style (never read his work before) and his background obviously gives him plenty to draw on!

      Your writing has good style too. You draw us in and keep us interested and that's not easy to do in a review.

      Thanks for putting forward this book for us.

      Ann

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Linda for dropping in. I recommend that you start with the classic Fahrenheit 451 or The Martian Chronicles. The latter sounds like Science Fiction but it has some really deep themes that just so happen to be playing out on Mars. Bradbury is not a ponderous writer at all. His style is really light and readable.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I like the sound of this book. I'll add it to my reading list. I haven't explored Bradbury's works very much, but I hope to do so soon. Thanks for another interesting book review, Mel.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Road Monkey for dropping in. I ordered that book my the Irishman you recommended. It is supposed to be in my mailbox by Thursday earliest. I have two books in the Lunchtime Lit queue ahead of it. Now you have me interested in this Year in Provence.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Bill you don't fool me. You're too busy of a man to do much reflecting. I'm glad you like Bradbury, you would probably like this one if you can find it. Thanks for dropping in.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Davika it was interesting learning more about Venice California. I live two hours from there but I have never been there.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      4 months ago

      A great review, as always. I have read some Bradbury but he is not a favourite writer for me. I don't think I have tried Fahrenheit 451 and am not sure I would try Death is a lonely business. I am currently reading A year in Provence. Funny!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I really have to read this one. I have always admired Bradbury and his style....the title of the book has me reflecting....I do that a lot the older I get....and death being lonely....oh my yes, I can see that.

      I'll leave you now. I have a bunch of reflecting to do.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I am intrigued by this review. You have done your research well, and introduced me to new information.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      John that is sad to hear, but they died helping good people. Aussies are our brothers and we will always pitch in where we can regardless.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Eric okay yeah buddy that was me. One of them Ring doorbell doo-hickeys busted me again. Hey - at least I'm finally going viral, and not in a corona virus kind of way.

      Thanks for dropping in.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Mel, i thought most of the fires had been extinguished my welcome rains, but not so in our capital Canberra where a new fire sprang up. Sadly a water taker aircraft had been deployed to help from the USA and it crashed killing all three crew.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Alright, alright I will read it. It sounds like my kind of book. I think you should move your reading sight, I heard they were looking for a book stalker on your route.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you John. I too read 'Something Wicked,' which was somewhat of a horror novel. Bradbury really moves between genres. Some would classify him as Science Fiction but I think that is an oversimplification.

      Thanks for dropping in. I hope they are getting a handle on the fires down under.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Well, Ray Bradbury is a true legend but though I have read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and some of his short stories, I admit I still haven’t read Fahrenheit 451.

      I too sift through garage sales and the throwaway books in the hope of finding some forgotten treasure. This book “Death is a Lonely Business” May not have been Bradbury’s best but it was obviously worth the read so was a good find. Thanks for the entertaining and enjoyable review.

    • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

      Mel Carriere 

      4 months ago from San Diego California

      Pamela, if you lived close you could swing by and I would gladly recycle it with you. It's a good read, but not the kind of book like Fahrenheit 451 that merits repeated rereads. This poor book is probably going from the milk crate to the friends of the library discard bin.

      I really appreciate you dropping in.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I remember Ray bradberry's TV shows that were on sometime in the 1980s. I have never read his books but I appreciate your good review of 'Death in a Lonely Business'. This doesn't sound like his best work but I think it is still worth reading .

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