Roger Zelazny

"The Dead Man's Brother"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie MAR 28, 2009)

"It is early, though the hour is late, and you still have time for some hunting - of men, secrets, power - living in your genteel way, per Aristotle's dictum, feeling that the best place, really, for violence, is offstage where you cannot see it."

The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny

Ovid Wiley is one cool character. He awakens one morning to find the body of his former partner-in-crime on his living room floor, a very long knife, a Gurkha, in his chest. Rather then panic, Wiley takes time to have a coffee and contemplate the situation. Years ago, Carl Bernini, the dead man, set up an extremely lucrative business stealing rare works of art and then selling the paintings. The two men met in Florence when Wiley was an art history student. Bernini made the young man an offer. As Wiley remembers, "So it came to pass that when I was not studying art history, I was obtaining it." Ovid and Carl had not seen each other in years. When Wiley returned to the States, he joined the military, attended OCS, and then, after completing his stint with Uncle Sam, he opened an art gallery in New York, City, "The Taurus," which doubles as his home. He is now a respectable art dealer.

The police arrive, take his story, seem to accept his tale of innocence. And then lock him in a cell for three days. The charge, suspected homicide. The real fun begins when a man in a black suit carrying a black plastic briefcase comes into the picture. He offers Wiley the choice, to remain in jail or to accompany him to McClean, Virginia, home of the CIA. Once there, Wiley is interviewed by two men and is offered a deal. They will make the murder charges disappear if Wiley does them a "favor." Apparently Wiley has an intelligence background, acquired in the Army, (ironic for a former thief...or maybe not), this along with his knowledge of art and several languages make him the perfect man for the job. What job? Apparently a renegade Vatican priest has been embezzling millions from the Holy See's treasury. The CIA honchos want to plant Wiley in the Vatican so he can see what he can see about solving the crime and returning the money to its rightful owners.

The relatively straightforward job is much more complex than Wiley, or the reader, can imagine. In Rome, Ovid meets various characters some helpful, some not, all colorful, and reintroduces himself to Bernini's former girlfriend, the beauteous Maria Borsini. Carl and Maria had broken up some time before and she knows nothing about she says.

O.K.! No more details - I don't want to inadvertantly inject spoilers. Let it suffice to say that the ever more complicated crime(s) leads Wiley, and Maria, to Brazil, specifically Sao Paul...and beyond, way beyond!

I really liked this suspense thriller/mystery. Zelazny is an outstanding writer and he paces his story in a way that maximizes its impact. I was immediately immersed in the plot and was up until the early hours finishing the novel. Here you'll find lots of shadowy intrigue, nefarious characters and close calls. Wiley, who is seemingly indestructable, and Maria are well fleshed-out, three dimensional figures. There are various fascinating subplots and a wonderfully described trip to Brazil's Matto Grasso, home to many of the country's Indian tribes.

By the way, Zelazny won six Hugos and three Nebulas during his lifetime, but never published a crime novel. The manuscript was probably written in 1970 and was discovered fairly recently and published by Hard Crime.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Dead Man's Brother at Hard Case Crimes

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Bibliography: (with links to

The Amber Chronicles (The Complete Series 1-10)

  • Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
  • The Guns of Avalon (1972)
  • Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
  • The Hand of Oberon (1976)
  • The Courts of Chaos (1978)
  • Trumps of Doom (1985)
  • Blood of Amber (1986)
  • Sign of Chaos (1987)
  • Knight of Shadows (1989)

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About the Author:

Roger ZelaznyRoger Zelazny was born in 1937 in Euclid, Ohio. He wrote fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels. He won the Nebula award three times (out of 14 nominations) and the Hugo award six times (out of 14 nominations), including two Hugos for novels.

In high school, Roger Zelazny was the editor of the school newspaper and joined the Creative Writing Club. In the fall of 1955, he began attending Western Reserve University and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1959. He was accepted to Columbia University in New York and specialized in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, graduating with an M.A. in 1962. Between 1962 and 1969 he worked for the U.S. Social Security Administration in Cleveland, Ohio and then in Baltimore, Maryland spending his evenings writing science fiction. He deliberately progressed from short-shorts to novelettes to novellas and finally to novel-length works by 1965. On May 1st, 1969, he quit to become a full-time writer, and thereafter concentrated on writing novels in order to maintain his income.

In the 1960s Zelazny became highly visible in a group of science fiction writers (which included Joe Haldeman)known as the 'New Wave'. Up until that time the genre had been dominated by writers producing action-adventures set in space. The new generation felt that they had freedom to experiment; they focused on psychology and believed science fiction should be taken seriously as literature.

Zelazny died in 1995, aged 58, of kidney failure secondary to colorectal cancer. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014