Off in the Virgo Cluster, and only a million light years from Andromeda, on a small planet encircling a small star, and at a particular (and possibly unique) conjunction of space and time, Ray Bradbury, the distinguished author of fantasy and science fiction, has written--a splendid detective novel.
His readers will see from this that he is still engaged in his lifelong quest for a literary form that will stand still for the demands that he puts on it. There was never any doubt that straight sci-fi was not such a form: Bradbury is not a sci-fi writer from the mainstream (like Robert Heinlein, for example) but a romantic. His interest is not so much in organizing and explaining as in finding, somehow, a means of breaking through the limitations of space and time and form, a way of saying the ineffable. It is for this reason that the very idea of a literary "form" seems out of place here: The rhetoric is always bursting its bounds, and where the characters can't go, the images will. But more on them later.
The novel is set in Venice, California, in a past that is evoked rather than defined--we are in the domain of poetry, not history--and it uses the conventions of the detective novel to create something that is profoundly, fundamentally different from the detective novel. A young novelist--he is not named, but the Bradbury fan will recognize the plots of his novels--finds that strange deaths are taking place in his circle of bizarre, outrageous and utterly fascinating friends, one of whom is a detective. This is no ordinary detective, of course, but another romantic--he has an African jungle retreat for a backyard, complete with sound effects--and it is he whom the hero involves in his attempts to unravel the mystery.