By the late 1960s, successful crime-noir novelist Gil Brewer was battling many personal demons. His bouts with alcoholism and severe depression both contributed to the shortening of his superlative literary career. After a successful run of Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks, Brewer experienced a downward spiral through the publishing world, drifting to mid-echelon publishers like Monarch and Lancer. Aside from his three “It Takes a Thief” television tie-ins published by Ace in 1969 and 1970 and some house-name series work, Brewer's penultimate original novel in his own name was “The Tease,” published by Banner in 1967.
The book introduces readers to Wes McCord, a realtor and married man living in a shoreline house in Tampa, Florida. Wes is married to his very patient wife Lucille, who has lived with his lying and unfaithfulness for years. In the book's opening chapter, Lucille and Wes have a heated argument over their financial woes and Wes's sexual misbehavior at a neighborhood party. In the heat of the moment, Lucille flees to her sister's house with the solemn vow that she wants to dissolve the marriage.
That same evening, just hours after the fiery exchange with Lucille, Wes spots a half-naked vixen running along the beach. Rushing to her assistance, Wes meets Bonnie and brings her home where she claims she was assaulted by an elderly man at gunpoint in a nearby motel. While defending herself, the assailant’s gun discharged and shot the man in the chest. Fleeing the scene, she escaped down the beach and into the arms of Wes. Is that the story she maintains throughout Brewer's pulsing narrative? Thankfully, no.
With his wife out of the house, Wes finds a place in his home to hide this beautiful, sexually-charged 18-year old. When the cops arrive to ask about the footprints in the sand, Wes panics and covers for his new houseguest. The next morning, Wes reads in the local newspaper that a man from Jacksonville, Florida (fun fact: world headquarters of Paperback Warrior) named Joseph Vito was found dead in a Tampa motel. He was the prime suspect in a $325,000 bank robbery a month ago and his accomplices, including an unknown woman, were still being sought by authorities.
As Wes's emotional distress is elevated, he's faced with a number of life-altering choices. Does he defy the law and continue hiding Bonnie in hopes that she's holding $325,000 and is willing to share? Does he pursue his estranged wife and attempt to salvage their devastated marriage? Should he give into his desires and ravage this young woman in the sexual prime of life? It’s these questions that add fuel to the burning fire created by Brewer's compelling prose.
“The Tease” exhibits all of the vicious, savage tones that made Gil Brewer the crime-noir kingpin of his time. Like 1958's “The Vengeful Virgin,” the author melds sizzling lust with raw criminal intent. It's the perfect combination of hot, spirited passion and fervent greed. Bonnie's pleas for help – both mentally and physically – lead Wes into a spider-web of lies and treachery by forfeiting his career, marriage and lifestyle.
When presented with sex, money and power, what does the everyman do? It is amazing that despite Brewer's myriad of personal problems, he was still able to orchestrate an exhilarating story in the twilight of his career. While it has yet to be reprinted, don't let the expensive second-hand price deter you from obtaining a copy of this entertaining crime-noir paperback. “The Tease” is simply excellent.
A Private Message:
Hey Stark House Books, you’ve reprinted almost everything Gil Brewer touched including his grocery lists and appointment calendars. It’s time to give “The Tease” a resurrection. Chop-chop!
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