The literary works of crime-fiction master Gil Brewer have slowly become reprints by publishers like Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press. In 2006, Stark House Press reprinted two of Brewer's novels as one volume - 1960's "Nude on Thin Ice" (reviewed here) and 1962's "Memory of Passion". I've found Brewer's work to be slightly above average aside from what could be the genre's most impressive title, 1958's "Vengeful Virgin" (1958). The Stark House reprint offers an introduction by David Rachels where he proclaims that "Memory of Passion" contains characters that are "Brewer's ultimate portrayal of the male condition". Considering that Brewer's underlining emphasis is sex, I was curious to read it.
The novel features 11 total sections with each section containing a line from the song "Where or When" (from the musical "Babes in Arms"). Like many crime-noirs, Brewer's protagonist is a frustrated married man sailing the rough seas of domestic life. Bill Sommers is a wealthy artist and father living in a posh neighborhood. He drives a Porsche, is generally well-liked by his community, yet his wife Louise presents a consistent daily struggle. Often she's at neighborhood parties, displaying a fleshly fondness for the couple's circle of friends. Sommers mental solitude is dwelling on his first love, a teenage fling with a lover named Karen. The two were intimately best friends and Sommers feels she may have been the love of his life. But that was 20+ years ago and he hasn't spoken to Karen since. Until the phone rings...
Oddly, Sommers begins receiving calls from a teenage girl who claims she is Karen. After agreeing to meet her, Sommers is shocked to find that somehow Karen is ageless! She's still the teenage beauty queen from his youth. After refusing her advances and questioning his sanity, Sommers can't fight that feeling anymore. The two begin a hot-blooded affair that leaves the main character a shell of a man. He's plagued by guilt, wrecked with emotion and morally torn by his animalistic lust.
While Brewer injects his novel with a carnal energy, the narrative's pace eventually leads to a crime. Karen's mysterious presence leads to a deadly altercation that propels the novel's second half. With a sex-killer prowling suburban streets, Karen becomes the next target. But with Sommers caught in a love affair, he too begins to be ensnared by the killer. The author's presentation then becomes the view point of three characters – Karen, Sommers and the killer. And that very well may have been the book's ultimate demise.
Shockingly, I found this book to be well below average for a Gil Brewer work. He's certainly had some sleepers (“Flight of Darkness”), but “Memory of Passion” rests too much on the killer's thought pattern and behavior. Often I was reminded of provocative horror authors like Edward Lee and Richard Laymon. They were probably inspired by Brewer and/or crime-noir and this novel presents the raw sexual intensity that those two authors often utilized. I found that I didn't particularly like any of the characters and was never absorbed by Sommers' moral dilemma – I found him to be a rather lifeless character without any heroic traits. While advocates aren't mandatory, they sure can elevate a narrative saturated in depravity.
Overall, this is a Gil Brewer novel that I'll quickly forget. Thankfully Stark House Press offers an affordable reading option, but I can't fathom purchasing a high-dollar original paperback. “Memory of Passion” just isn't any good.
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