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Death Is a Lonely Business Paperback – March 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

The image of drowned circus cages in the trash-filled canals of Venice, California, both haunts and illuminates famed fantasy and science fiction author Ray Bradbury's rare venture into the mystery field. Like filmmaker Federico Fellini, Bradbury is fascinated by the seedy splendor of cheap carnivals and circuses--"a long time before, in the early Twenties, these cages had probably rolled by like bright summer storms with animals prowling them, lions opening their mouths to exhale hot meat breaths. Teams of white horses had dragged their pomp through Venice and across the fields."

But now it's the early 1950s, and foggy, shabby Venice is the last stop on the circus train for scores of old silent-movie stars and young writers trying to keep their art and their bodies alive. As Bradbury's autobiographical hero, a young writer, pounds out his short stories, someone is killing off the older denizens of the tacky city. The writer joins forces with a quirky detective called Elmo Crumley and a faded screen star to investigates the deaths. Their search begins and ends in one of those iconic, waterlogged cages.

Blending hard-boiled detective fiction with beautiful descriptions of this strange Californian town, Death Is a Lonely Business is well worth investigating. --Dick Adler

From Library Journal

Dedicated to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald, Bradbury's 1985 novel is a paean to the hard-boiled mystery. The plot follows a writer who joins ranks with a detective and an actress to get to the bottom of some strange doings. Bradbury is always worth reading.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380789655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380789658
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #666,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91, inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and close to fifty books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time. His groundbreaking works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screen play for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television's The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree. He was the recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, among many honors.

Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, "Live forever!" Bradbury later said, "I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bill R. Moore on August 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Ray Bradbury, as his fans know, is a man who has published a lot of works through the years -- over 500 -- but only a handful of novels. Most of his novels, in fact, are expanded versions of his short stories, e.g., Fahrenheit 451. Death Is A Lonely Business, a very good title from a man who is a master of titles, published in 1985, was his first novel since 1962's Something Wicked This Way Comes. What a surprise, then, it was for me to find this overlooked gem at my local library for a mere 50 cents. It is something one would not expect Bradbury to write: a detective story. Of sorts. This genre, previously monopolized in the science fiction realm by Isaac Asimov (as was everything else), turns out to fit Bradbury's writing style surprisingly well. As anyone who has read the author knows, he has a unique and very distinctive style -- poetic, atmospheric, and highly literary. Arthur C. Clarke has termed him a "prose poet", and this description works quite well. His aforementioned style, which is very complex and literary, would seem, on the surface, ill-suited to a hard-boiled detective novel and destined to be relegated to the short story -- as, indeed, much of Bradbury's work is. His writing style and use of imagery is very dense and literate, too much for some, and is often difficult to hold up over the course of a novel. This novel, like much of his work, contains very vivid poetic descriptions and not a few fantasy elements, and the reader is often left unsure whether a given sentence is meant to be taken literally or only figuratively.Read more ›
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Writing in the style of hard-boiled mystery writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, Bradbury sets his story in Venice, California, in 1949, presenting as his main character a 27-year-old struggling writer, much like himself. Returning to Venice late one night on the last trolley from Los Angeles, he finds himself alone in the car, except for a mysterious, alcohol-fumed vagrant, who whispers in his ear, "Death is a lonely business." Convinced that he has met "Death's friend," the speaker gets "chicken skin," which gets worse when, upon arriving in Venice, he glances into an old canal and discovers, inside an abandoned lion cage, a body bobbing up and down on the tides.
The city of Venice in 1949 is a place for the down-and-out, its pier and amusement park crumbling, its rollercoaster lying on its side "like the bones of a vast dinosaur," old animal cages abandoned in the canals and filled with fish, and the oil pumps looking like "great pterodactyls" as they creak and groan. Inhabited by "the lonelies," old people with no futures, Venice is a dark and dismal place in those final days before the pier is demolished. Bradbury's hypnotic descriptions of this decrepitude provide dramatic contrasts with the young speaker who still has hopes, dreams, and a future.
With veteran detective Elmo Crumley as his mentor, the speaker tries to save lives and outwit a mysterious stalker, as more and more sad, old people meet their deaths.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Ray Bradbury's ability to craft amazing prose shines through in this unheralded masterpiece of fiction. The way he wraps his life and his views on writing and the world into an entertaining exploration into the darker side of life in the 50's is superb. One of my all time favorite books. A must read for any true Bradbury fan.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 22, 2002
Format: Audio Cassette
I bought two of his newest books, one of which is the aforementioned _Death is a Lonely Business_. I began reading it late last night and just finished it a little more than an hour ago. Technically, it's not a fantasy or science fiction, but it is such a great book, in my opinion, that I had to put a review of it somewhere.
_Death is a Lonely Business_ is Ray Bradbury's tribute to Hammet, Chandler, Cain and Ross McDonald. It is a very engrossing noir detective story, with the young Bradbury as the main character. More or less. The main character is a struggling, starving writer living in Venice, CA with a girlfriend studying in Mexico. Strange deaths begin occuring around him, seemingly triggered by a mysterious encounter with a man he calls at one point "Death's friend".
With the aid of a detective and a reclusive, yet very much alive actress, he attempts to unravel the mystery before the people he most cares about come to harm.
Bradbury's writing style, though for some perhaps a bit wordy and "purple", pulls the reader into the story, making him feel and see the world through the eyes of the main character. Once I began reading it, I found it very difficult to stop and go to school; I wanted to keep reading until the end.
The story itself, through the deliberate use of death and loss, affirms life and demands that the reader seize the moment and pursue life, happiness, and even pain. For by avoiding pain, we die a slow, lonely death.
In short, it is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone, even those dyed-in-the-wool single genre people. This has strong fantasy elements in it, and plenty of references to other books and stories by Bradbury.
What a pleasant and welcome way to rediscover a favorite author.
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