Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny

The Dead Man’s Brother by Roger Zelazny is another non-cozy mystery found during the great cozy hunt. Mind, I already knew it wasn't a cozy. That cover says "non-cozy" as clearly as ever a cover did, and, besides, I really can't see Zelazny writing a tidy little tale about murder in the local bakery(1).

Dead Man's Brother is firmly noir, which presents me with a bit of a problem: I do read noir, but only very occasionally, so I can say "This is noir," but I cannot comment knowledgeably about the precise flavor thereof. It's got manly men, it's got shady dealings, it's got violence, and a beautiful woman to complicate life. Oh, and there's revenge, and recompense, and a very low-key sort of "doing the right thing." And, it's by Zelazny. That last counts for a lot. It may come up again.

What's it about? Ovid Wiley, now the respectable owner of an art gallery, was once an art thief. There is limited evidence linking his present life to his past--until his former partner turns up dead in the gallery, and the CIA seems intent on framing him for the killing, unless he helps them with a small favor in Italy. It seems a priest has embezzled some funds. A lot of funds. The Vatican doesn't want any official involvement or fuss because it is embarrassing. So all Ovid has to do is quietly and unofficially poke around and see if he can't find out. If he does, the murder charge will go away, and he'll never have to worry about the body in his gallery. So Ovid, who is not at all happy, goes to Italy. There is a beautiful woman. Things get violent. Ovid gets even less happy, makes a trip to Brazil, and solves matters his own, highly unofficial, violent way.

This is unmistakable Zelazny, with his trademark mix of the pulp and the poetic (Is there such a thing as literary pulp? If there isn't, there should be). Ovid reminded me quite a bit of Corwin from the Chronicles of Amber, minus the bit about being pretty nearly a divinity. He does, however, have uncommon luck; reading The Dead Man's Brother, I could not decide whether it was good or bad, but it was certainly uncommon, and he ran through quite a lot of it in the course of the novel. Like Corwin, too, he cares little for the law, though unlike Corwin, he has no family ties to complicate matters.

All in all, a satisfactory sort of read. Dead Man's Brother is not my favorite Zelazny(2), and this is probably the only time I will read it, but I am glad I did. After all, it is by Zelazny. Have I mentioned that yet?

(1) Not that I knew Zelazny wrote mysteries at all, but then, from the afterward, neither did his publishers, not until after he died.
(2) So far, my favorite Zelazny is A Night in the Lonesome October. See
my reviewhere, at The Geek Girl Project, if you're interested in hearing about why. It made a lovely Halloween book, but I'm likely to pick it up at other times as well.


  1. I didn't know Zelazny wrote mysteries, but I just mentioned it to my husband and he said oh yes, under a pseudonym. Might have to look this one up.

    1. Are there others, then? The only one I can find mentioned is Dead Man's Brother.

      The publishers were apparently surprised when the .ms turned up, too.