“A Graveyard for Lunatics” is the second in a series of three mystery novels written by Ray Bradbury. It is set in 1950s Hollywood, on the grounds of a film studio, and is essentially a murder mystery. The narrator is a writer of science fiction hired by the studio and loosely based on Bradbury himself, and the story is peopled with fictional versions of people Bradbury actually knew.
This is a weird story. The characters seem barely stable much of the time, doing and saying things that don’t make sense. For example, the actor only known as JC somehow has stigmata. Towards the end of the story another character who does makeup states he helped JC by giving him stigmata. However the stigmata actually bleeds and is cited as the cause of JC’s death, so it’s obviously not just makeup. So how does it happen? Other characters confuse the actor with the real Jesus, as if he had some sort of divine blessing that he could share. But the character is not depicted as being particularly good at all. So this and other character actions don’t make much sense.
Don’t get me wrong, Bradbury really fleshes out his characters well. They are larger than life, and really pop off the page. Possibly that’s part of the problem – they’re so big that they become caricatures. They are as fake as the movies they make. Did Bradbury intend this? Possibly. I just don’t think it works.
The only character who really made much sense was Roy. To have your life’s work and passion destroyed on a whim would be enough to seriously distress anyone. If you were obsessive about your work, if you had nothing else, could it tip you over the edge? It’s definitely possible.
The plot of this novel is excessively derivative. That it was intended to be derivative is clear, however I don’t think the intention really saves it. The identity of the mutilated character is obvious, leading to excessive Phantom of the Opera parallels. Bradbury gets carried away with his references and asides.
Bradbury writes as expertly as always, so I have no issues with his work. I do believe that in his desire to pay homage to the cinema he loves, this novel turns out to be all homage and little substance. There’s just not enough mystery in this mystery.
I love Bradbury, but I would have to give this novel a thumbs down. Even the experts don’t always get it right.