Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Brat

The Brat, published in 1957 by Fawcett Gold Medal, was Gil Brewer's 12th career effort, a mid-era crime-noir that is misrepresented by the book's sultry cover. Fans of Brewer's sexier femme fatale novels, like The Vengeful Virgin (1958) or The Tease (1967) may be led to believe that The Brat possesses that same energy level. It includes all of the potent ingredients to make the narrative seemingly explode – wild women, lust, greed, criminality, and average men pushed from their suburban threshold into a world of madness. Like Orrie Hitt, Brewer loved this type of storytelling experience - the sexy seductress weaving a master-plan. But, The Brat doesn't utilize these ingredients to create anything magical. 

In this novel, Brewer mimics Day Keene's more simplistic approach. It makes sense considering the two were friends and even collaborated together. If I didn't know better, I would have pegged The Brat as a Keene novel. The narrative is saturated in genre tropes that are familiar to any seasoned crime-noir fan. The narrative's central element is identical to the “man awakens to find a corpse and flees from the law to prove his own innocence” concept. Only, Brewer exchanges the swanky apartment, soft bed, or suburban house with a bank.

Lee is a fairly wealthy guy before his trip into Florida swampland. It's in the sweltering jungle that he finds the sexy Evis, a backwoods tramp that he can't resist. Her family is redneck loonies, so Evis is rescued by Lee and soon the two ring the wedding bells. But, Evis’ domestication is ripe with greed and self-interest. She carves through Lee's savings, leaving the two almost destitute just a short time later. Evis, who conveniently works at the local bank, pitches Lee a heist plan. She can easily steal money from the bank's vault during her closing shift. Lee slightly agrees, but doesn't want to commit to steering into that lane yet.

Lee arrives from work one evening to find that Evis is working at the bank and she needs him to pick her up. When he arrives at the bank, there's a corpse, missing money, missing spouse, and enough evidence that suggests he collaborated with Evis to commit this criminal act. Terrified of being fried for murder, Lee hits the road to pursuit Evis. Along the way, he is tracked by a greedy sheriff that wants the money all to himself. There's also Lee's best friend that may have been Evis's side hustle to seduce into a joint heist. Lee must avoid the police, find Evis and the missing cash, and prove he is innocent. 

Brewer's novel  is one long road trip as Lee hops from destination to destination searching for clues. The pacing and plot structure never allows the narrative to breathe, making the characters one-dimensional and over-obsessive. This is Day Keene's wheelhouse and he excels at it far better than Brewer. The Brat is similar to Brewer's Sin for Me (1967) novel with its western feel and seemingly endless manhunt. If you must read everything Brewer has written, then you aren't skipping The Brat. Otherwise, there's no need to spend any time reading this less than satisfactory novel.

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