Oct 082014
 
I just spotted this blog post via the Facebook group for Gil Brewer fans. It's a review of The Vengeful Virgin, Brewer's novel that was reprinted by Hard Case Crime some years ago. (Mind you, I've never read it, maybe it's about time!) There are some glaring errors I want to point out.

First of all, Gil Brewer didn't start writing at the age of seven. He was born in 1922, so he couldn't have started out in pulp magazines in 1929! It was his father. I know where this originates from: the St. James to The 20th Century Crime and Mystery Writers, but I believe it's been corrected in later editions. Anyone should see it's plain wrong, but apparently not.

Second, Gil Brewer didn't hit the pages of Black Mask, but then again, his first novel was published in 1950, and Black Mask ceased publication in 1951! And as for someone not publishing in Black Mask, let me point out that Fredric Brown - whom we all consider a genius, right? - published only one story in Black Mask. And Manhunt that has been one of the most influential crime short story magazines in history was Brewer's mainstay for years.


Jul 112014
 
With a title like THE BITCH and an author like Gil Brewer, you'd expect that this novel would have a femme fatale in it, and you'd be right. In fact, it sort of has two. The narrator and protagonist, Tate Morgan, is a private detective who works for his brother Sam's agency in Tampa. He's hired by a rich man to find out if the guy's beautiful young wife is cheating on him. We've all read
Apr 132013
 
Femme (2012) is one of two Nameless Detective novellas recently published by Cemetery Dance, an independent press known primarily for horror novels. It's a throwback for Pronzini to the days of the Gold Medal paperback original. Nameless meets his match in a woman who might have been appeared in any of the number of dark crime and noir novels that were the specialty of Day Keene, Bruno Fischer, and especially Gil Brewer. Pronzini has mentioned in 1001 Midnights that The Vengeful Virgin is his favorite of Brewer's books and I can see that wicked Cory Beckett might easily have been inspired by Brewer's legion of bad women who'll do anything to get what they want.

The plot is a basic find-the-man plot with Nameless hired to track down Cory's brother Kenneth who is on the lam from a robbery. As the story progresses Nameless soon learns that Cory is far from the decorous client and loving sister. She has an ulterior motive for finding Kenneth and Nameless is sure it has to do with money. But Cory wants more than just money.

For those who like their woman characters in crime fiction mean and nasty you get more bang for your buck in Cory Beckett than any other bad girl in the genre. She outdoes Phyllis Dietrichson, Cora Papadopoulos and Julie Bailey and a dozen others whose names may not so recognizable. And the final twist disparaged by some other blog reviewers I thought to be the perfect icing on this frigid monster. This is no book for feminists that's for sure. But for a quick dip into the depths of the darkest of noir you can do no better.

This was my brief contribution to a blog celebration for Grand Master Bill Pronzini who turns 70 today. I'm on the road headed home from the French Quarter Jazz Festival in New Orleans. I promised something and this may be short and sweet, but it's a review of a neat little book that I think lives up to, and in some ways surpasses, the kind of noir novel I love from the past.

Happy birthday, Bill! And keep on scribin'!
 Posted by at 3:26 pm
Dec 022012
 
I meant to do this for the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but I didn't have enough time on my hands. I've been rather tired lately - frustrated even - and am already on some sort of a Christmas vacation (which the tax refund, paid to me by the state of Finland, makes possible). I've been doing too much work for the past couple of years and it's starting to show.

Sorry, didn't mean to vent. Gil Brewer's The Brat (1957) is a prime example of Brewer's mix of white-collar noir and backwoods exoticism: "the brat" of the title is a sultry babe living somewhere in the Florida swamps whom the lead man takes away to the civilization to live with her - only to notice that "the brat" has something in her mind.

I'm sure The Brat was the publisher's title, since this babe sure is no brat, she's an evil liar and a scumbag. You might call Brewer - or at least his books - misogynistic and you'd well be right. But there's no denying the simple, yet forceful narrative drive in the best of his works. An important issue is also his handling of the bourgeoisie despair: there's not much living beyond the boundaries of the family and work. And when these boundaries break, the nightmare awaits.

I don't really like the cover of the book. It looks like the femme fatale of the book is wearing diapers.

The book is readily available from Prologue Books as an e-book. (I read this from my Kindle and I'm not complaining any about it.)


 Posted by at 5:46 pm
Nov 162012
 

Gil Brewer's 1958 Gold Medal novel THE BRAT begins where a lot of noir novels end: with murder, robbery, and the sympathetic but none too bright protagonist's realization of just how badly life and the femme fatale have screwed him. And from there it just gets worse for our narrator, St. Petersburg, Florida printer Lee Sullivan, who has let his beautiful wife Evis talk him into a scheme that includes robbing the savings and loan association where she works. But nobody was supposed to die, and Evis wasn't supposed to take the money and disappear, and Lee wasn't supposed to be framed for killing one of Evis's co-workers at the savings and loan. Too bad for Lee that's exactly what happens.

From there THE BRAT becomes a chase novel as Lee pursues Evis back to the Everglades, where her family still lives. He knows that he has to find her and recover the money to clear his name. Of course it's not that easy, as Lee has to deal with treachery on all sides, an ambitious and vengeful back country lawman, and a barely legal swamp girl who happens to be Evis's little sister lusting after him. That's a lot for anybody's plate.

As usual with a Gil Brewer novel, THE BRAT is permeated with sweaty desperation. Even though a lot of it takes place in broad daylight, an air of gloom hangs over the story, helped in large part by the feeling of being hemmed in by the swamp and all its myriad dangers. You never know what's going to happen in a Brewer novel, but you can count it being bad for the hero most of the time. His prose has such a headlong pace, though, that it's hard to stop reading.

This is a fine novel and a prime example of Gil Brewer's formidable storytelling prowess. I really enjoyed it. And you can, too, since there's an e-book edition available from Prologue Books if you don't have the original paperback. Either way, THE BRAT gets a high recommendation from me.

Nov 132012
 
Vet noir. I think there's an awful lot of it. And I always seem to stumble upon it. I recently wrote about a Viet Nam vet up to his neck in bad women and murder (The Sexton Women) and here's another book about a hapless vet under the spell of a seductive woman.

As Flight to Darkness (1952) opens Eric Garth is about to leave a V.A. hospital where he has been given a clean bill of health. After returning from the Korean War traumatized and broken he had been under a psychiatrist's care for a disturbing recurring nightmare in which he murders his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Now successfully having completed his treatment he hopes to return to Florida and return to his career as a sculptor. Going along for the ride is Leda Thayer, Dr. Prescott's nurse and assistant. Leda gave Eric more than his fair share of TLC while at the V.A. and now he's hoping to sample more regularly Leda's considerable non-nursing talents. But we know that Eric is doomed, for on the very first page he describes Leda as a "lush tropical flower blooming poisonously through a crack in a stretch of hot cement sidewalk." Not exactly a flattering metaphor, is it?

Leda, a truly fatal femme fatale, and Eric her love-struck mark make for quite a wanton couple. Neither can keep their hands or lips or anything else off each other for very long. These men of noir just don’t know the difference between love and desire. It's always their undoing. With Eric Garth you keep hoping he'll finally see the light. It takes him nearly three times before he starts to catch on.

Click to enlarge
He's framed for a hit and run accident, sent to another psych ward in Alabama, but manages to escape to Florida. There he meets up with his brother and learns that he has married Leda. Uh-oh. Then there are those wooden mallets hanging in the sculpture studio. One of them finds its way to Frank's skull and Eric is framed for the murder. Still, he is under the hypnotic sexual spell of Leda who amazingly does everything but get entangled with that randy Zeus/swan. For all his stupidity and thinking with his crotch you keep rooting for Eric hoping he'll see that his ex-gal pal Norma is the right choice and his savior from the path that leads to hell. He's not a bad guy at all, but you know he will never see the light until it's far too late. When he does he's compelled to exact a cruel revenge typical of Brewer's protagonists. But is there also the rare redemption for this Brewer hero? I'll leave that for you to discover.

BTW - the cover illustration is not accurate. Leda should be wearing a nightgown and Eric should be wearing pajama bottoms only.  But I guess Gold Medal had yet to get really racy with their covers so early in their operation.
 Posted by at 6:44 am
Aug 162012
 
Viet Nam vet Johnny Sexton returns home to ask his rich father Tom for $30,000 in a movie making deal he and his friend Jim Ralston are planning. During the visit Johnny falls for his father's very young , very sexy wife Lucille. When Dad Sexton reports his lawyer has discovered that Ralston and his other movie investors are in the porn biz he vetoes the loan. Relations between Johnny and his father were not that good to begin with and now the son is pissed off. His anger gets the better of him. He vows to get not only his $30,000 but even more money.

Like any noir anti-hero he, of course, confides in his object of desire who wickedly encourages him. An arson plot is rigged at an old house where his father lived with his first wife – Johnny's mother. When the wreckage is bulldozed by Tom's own construction company they turn up a skeleton. But it's much smaller than Tom Sexton's body, has all teeth intact (Tom wore dentures) and the skull is bashed in. Dental records prove it to be Tom's first wife. Uh-oh. What happened to Dad's body? And who killed Mom?

This is a deviously constructed book, as fast paced as any paperback original from the 1950s on which it is modeled. The Sexton Women (1972) matches those crime novels in every aspect and to a certain extent goes further than books by Day Keene, Bruno Fischer and Gil Brewer in terms of sleazy sex and amoral behavior.

Neely is an underappreciated writer of nasty noir done up 1970s style. He is probably best known for The Plastic Nightmare turned into a movie, the pulpy fun thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen retitled Shattered and starring Tom Berenger, Greta Scacchi and Bob Hoskins. His other novels well known among discerning readers include The Japanese Mistress and The Walter Syndrome.

This little known book among Neely's fifteen titles is one of those twisty roller coasters with a vertigo inducing plot and a genuine noir atmosphere in which the innocent are punished and the guilty get their just desserts. It's hard to sympathize with Johnny, a model of human baseness -- greedy, selfish, vengeful, sex-crazed. You can't help but read on envisioning a suitably nasty end for the guy after all his scheming. And when that end comes there's also a delicious irony thrown in for good measure.
 Posted by at 1:47 am
Jun 022012
 
A good if not stellar example of the sex and crime thriller.  Reminded me of The Man with My Face in reverse with a bit of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers thrown in.

Steve Nolan wakes up from a drunken (or drugged?) stupor to discover the woman who claims to be his wife is a sexpot impostor.  No one believes him when he insists she is not his wife.  He approaches his pal Bill Rhodes, a cop, then his ex-girlfriend Claire.  They begrudgingly allow for the possibility of truth in his preposterous story.  The two become his only allies.

To save money Steve and his wife live with his bedridden aunt and Dr. Earl Paige and Janice Langford Nolan (the fake wife) seem to be victimizing her for some unknown reason. Even with the frequent visits from Paige Aunt Eda 's health worsens rather than improves.  Could it be all that food Jan keeps preparing? As the story progresses it is clear that Doc Paige, a one time friend of the Nolan family, and the fake Jan have joined in a conspiracy against Steve. But why?

When a dead woman is pulled from a river Rhodes asks Steve to identify her.  Though she's been violently beaten (and later learned been raped repeatedly) Steve is able to confirm that the woman is the real Jan.  To borrow a phrase from Richard Prather  -- Steve is in some kind of pickle now.

Monarch Books, the publisher, was one of the leading marketers of sleazy paperback originals in the late 50s and early 60s.  They loved sex of all kinds -- straight, gay, lesbian, three ways, bigamy -- and even ventured into publishing non-fiction books about "perverts" and "sexual deviants."  It was a prerequisite that any novel published by Monarch contain a heavy dose of sex. Brewer delivered the goods with passages like these:
There were other girls.  When one sells mattresses one has an in. Talk comes quickly to the point.  A woman wants to buy a mattress.  Take it from there.
She didn't say, "Yes." It wasn't combustion, not that time." She asked him point blank, "Oh, damn you! Do it to me -- hurry, before I go crazy! Do it to me, now!"
When he touched [her breasts] she moaned, touching him with a savagery that made him explode, her body a circus of frantic urgency.  And he as wild and frantic as she -- lost in a world of heat and desire.
She laughed with wild abandon, savoring this tumultuous moment, riding her passion like a running steed, hoarsely gasping half-intelligible words.

I can't help but think that last pun was Brewer's private joke at his requirement to fill pages with this kind of thing. Fulsome breasts and erect nipples abound.  Frequent use of the word "savagery" and its adjectival form sum up Brewer's style of sex writing.  The woman's bodies are always described in great detail in these books.  I find it laughable that nothing is ever mentioned about the guys other than their hands. No wonder a lot of these writers were so good at writing lesbian sleaze as well.

The crime plot is typical of this kind of book and not meant to be anything other than a frame-work on which to get a guy in trouble with violent thugs and temptresses of the flesh. This is one of Brewer's lesser books with few twists, but he tells a fast-paced, exciting story. At least you're rooting for Steve to be proven right. Unlike most of his books published for Gold Medal which were bleaker and more cruel this one even has a happy ending.


 Posted by at 3:26 pm