Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sin for Me

As a key contributor during Fawcett Gold Medal's paperback gold rush, the 1950s and early 1960s proved to be a fruitful time for Gil Brewer. Novels like 13 French Street (1951), Flight to Darkness (1952) and The Red Scarf (1955) cemented his place among John D. MacDonald, Day Keene and Jim Thompson as cornerstones of essential crime-noir fiction. As his career soared, his personal life descended into the murky waters of alcohol abuse and depression.

By 1962's Memory of Passion, Brewer had found himself nearing rock bottom, and the author experienced his first major gap between titles as fans waited four years for 1966's The Hungry One. A new publishing imprint, Banner Books, secured original titles from Harry Whittington, David Goodis and Gil Brewer in hopes of building a successful brand. In Brewer's case, that arrangement led to only two books, The Tease and Sin for Me, both published in 1967. Those two novels proved to be the end of Brewer's successful literary career. He would continue writing a few more years under house names doing series work and television tie-in novels, but Sin for Me was essentially Brewer's last crime-noir paperback. Both of Brewer's Banner novels, The Tease and Sin for Me, have been reprinted by Stark House Press as a double with an introduction by scholar David Rachels

Whether intentional or not, Sin for Me reads like a fast-paced western tale. It's a wild manhunt story through the forests and mountain ranges of Colorado. But unlike a dusty, violent cowboy saga, Sin for Me is classic Brewer – a femme fatale story involving greed, sexual desire and bad people. Really bad people.

The book's main character is real-estate agent Jess Sunderland. He's recovering from a bitter divorce from Germaine, a sexy, mountain-bred seductress. To rebound, Sunderland now works for an old colleague named Brownie. In the opening pages, Sunderland receives a call from a beautiful woman named Caroline Jones. After having Sunderland show her numerous houses for sale throughout Denver, she finally confesses the true nature of her business. She was involved in a Florida bank heist with Germaine's new husband. After the heist, Jones was abandoned and finds herself estranged from the money she helped steal. Now she wants Sunderland to assist her in locating the stolen money at Germaine's residence. Like many of Brewer's flawed and doomed protagonists, Sunderland agrees.

Brewer thrusts readers into a chase for stolen loot through Denver and the rural outlying areas. The characters are introduced quickly and often I had to re-read pages to determine which character belonged to which portion of the story. There's a fraud investigator from Jacksonville, Florida, Germaine's backwoods family members, and the various criminals who have tasted the money along the road to misfortune. The finale comes in the form of a western scene – rifle fire from mountain passes between burly men vying for the riches.

As a finale to Brewer's successful crime-noir career, Sin for Me is rather disappointing. The plot moves briskly and introduces too many characters whose cameo appearances clutter the story's elementary dynamics. There was a bank heist. The robbers turned on each other. Sunderland wants the money. It's a simple approach that could have remained rudimentary even given Sunderland's desire to have Germaine back in his arms. However, the book's rushed pace and shallow characters left something to be desired. Like any Brewer novel, it's a fun reading experience but one that could have been better. Packaged with the far superior The Tease, Stark House Press has balanced the great and the average together at an affordable price. It's definitely worth the money, but buy the reprint for The Tease

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