Created by Ray Bradbury
Perhaps my favourite story (and the most recent) in Killer, Come Back to Me (2020), Hard Case Crime’s spiffy 2020 collection of Ray Bradbury’s crime and detective stories, was “Where Everything Ends.” Originally published in the 2010 omnibus collection of the author’s Death Is a Lonely Business (1985), A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990), and Let’s All Kill Constance (2002), it’s a corker.
Still, the story was one of many that Bradbury wrote for the crime and detective pulps in the thirties, forties and fifties that never sold (one source suggests 1949), although it later inspired the three novels, provided the collection with a title, and served as a fitting coda.
The problem with Bradbury–and the reason for all those rejections–was that he found the guidelines of the mystery genre (or any genre, really) too constraining. It didn’t suit his impulsive, intuitive, often whimsical anyway-the-wind-blows plotting style, where anything, it seemed, could happen.
And often did.
As Alden Norton, editorial director for Popular Publications, explained to an associate, on rejecting “Where Everything Goes,” originally intended for Flynn’s Detective Fiction, “… if this Bradbury guy can combine undeniable talent for good writing with a few plots that can really hang together, he will be astoundingly good.”
Regardless, the story is worth checking out. It’s a surprisingly action-packed yarn, a surreal jolt that takes place in Venice, California, decades after the town’s big dream of becoming a glamorous tourist hot spot has gone bust.
“The beat of the ocean comes in a kind of salt anger upon piers, rocks and sand flats. There, the oil wells knit land and sea together with pumping black fingers.”
The town’s slowly dying, full of rot and decay, and the corpse of a man has been found, dead as the stagnant water of the city’s once-legendary canals. Nobody seems to give a damn, except for maybe the dead man’s friend, STEVE MICHAELS, a police officer.
Michaels is determined to find the killer, giving us a nice spin on the old “private eye investigating the death of his partner” schtick, and soon enough we have plenty of familiar tropes to keep it company: blackmail, vandalism, high-level shenanigans, oblivious (or possibly corrupt) cops, and of course a few more murders. But there’s also a woozy, almost existential twist to things, as Michaels begins to suspect that the killer may be using the canals to escape detection. Trying to put himself into the killer’s shoes, Michaels lowers himself into the water, and begins swimming across the neighborhood, trying to imagine the killer’s next move, even as the lines between hunter and hunted begin to blur.
- “Bradbury is less interested in actual detection or violence than in the magic of mystery, the power of the unknown to transform the quotidian into the extraordinary. In this sense, Bradbury’s crime writing is not really distinct from his SF. Both are projections of the same authorial worldview. And that’s what makes Killer, Come Back to Me such a revelation — by focusing on one underappreciated element of Bradbury’s work, the editors evoke the most distinctive feature of his artistic imagination.”
— Cullen Gallagher on Killer, Come Back to Me (November 2020, Los Angeles Review of Books)
- “Where Everything Ends” (2010, Where Everything Ends)