Ray Bradbury’s Killer Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury is a collection that brings together works truly spanning the decades of one man’s career. While relatively limited in genre compared to the overall works of Ray Bradbury, this collection puts a specific subset of his materials together for readers curious about his look into stories of detectives, murderers, thieves and the like.
Before the material by Bradbury there is a nice introduction that Johnathan R. Eller uses to provide a fair bit of historical context for the stories in this collection. Much is made of the connection Bradbury had with Leigh Brackett, as well as the detailed mixture of facts related to when and where the stories were published.
“And So Died Riabouchinska” is a wonderful little story and represents an entry by Bradbury into not only the crime genre but also the ventriloquist dummy story. The titular character is, in fact, the dummy belonging to an experienced ventriloquist with a long career. Like many ventriloquists in fiction, he has trouble keeping his dummy quiet when it is needed. The discovery of a dead man near the spot he stored the dummy only adds to the level of concern this creates.
It is also a story with a bit of a double meaning to the title, and a fairly deep amount of concern related to the history of an individual. While the likely solutions to the unexpected death will come to the reader quickly, the quality of storytelling shall nevertheless make this story worth the time. Ultimately the origins of the ventriloquist dummy are vitally important to the mystery, and those facts, given out piecemeal, are quite an entertaining and disturbing story. Indeed, given the long history of the ventriloquist in this little tale, it seems quite likely that his previous dummy might have its own little tale to tell.
“The Utterly Perfect Murder” is a strange little tale where a man of 48 named Doug decides to kill a man named Ralph Underhill for a slight more than three decades old. Amusingly, it involved a Tarzan figurine considered worthless in comparison to a catcher’s mitt. Today they would have closed in value, with the Tarzan figurine likely winning out. Further, the plan is absurd on the face of it, and the facts of the case seem increasingly hilarious and subversive of the motiveless murder concept.
After the full collection of stories, there is “Hammett? Chandler? Not to Worry!” Originally an introduction to A Memory of Murder, it has been repurposed as an afterward to this themed collection. The repeated and heartfelt thanks provided to Leigh Brackett’s management are touching.
While Ray Bradbury today is most well known for his science fiction and fantasy work, a collection like this reminds readers that there is an impressive variety to his work. This volume might not perfectly exemplify his work, but it clearly and definitely shows a great deal of range for the man even within a single genre. Killer Come Back to Me: the Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury is easy to recommend.
(Hard Case Crime, 2021)