Showing posts with label Gil Brewer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gil Brewer. Show all posts

Friday, July 21, 2023

Satan is a Woman/13 French Street

Stark House Press just released a reprint from Gil Brewer compiling his first two original novels — both from 1951 - Satan is a Woman and 13 French Street. The volume also features an informative introduction from David Rachels.

Satan is a Woman from 1951 was Brewer’s first original novel and the beginning of his publishing relationship with the Fawcett Gold Medal imprint. The narrator is Larry, the manager of a tavern on the coast in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Larry’s a legit businessman, but his brother Tad is not. Tad recently killed two dudes in Tampa, and now the cops are looking for him. Tad is hiding out with Larry, and Larry is forced to lie to protect his brother — a problem he never invited. As Tad’s legal jeopardy worsens, it becomes clear that Larry needs to come up with money — a lot of it — for an attorney to save his big brother.

One afternoon a knockout blonde walks into Larry’s sleepy tavern. Her name is Joan Turner, and she’s a New Yorker who just rented a cabin next door to Larry’s bungalow. Everything about this initial interaction gives Larry the green light to make a move. Of course, you realize there must be a catch. After all, this is a Gil Brewer novel and you may have noticed the title…

Joan’s true colors come out gradually and watching Larry compromise his own ethics little by little was fascinating to read. There are some great plot twists that I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that this is a top-notch femme fatale noir story among the best Brewer had to offer.

Brewer’s second 1951 paperback, 13 French Street, was also his most popular book. The paperback sold over a million copies and sustained multiple printings from Fawcett Gold Medal in the U.S. and foreign publishers abroad. The short novel’s reputation as a sex-drenched story of lust and betrayal drew me in, and the pages just kept turning.

Our narrator is Alex Bland, and he’s on vacation visiting his old war-buddy, Verne. Upon arriving at Vern’s house at 13 French Street in a fictional southern town, he is greeted at the door by Verne’s impossibly sexy and flirtatious wife Petra, a dame who just oozes promiscuity. Although Alex has never met Petra before, they know each other from letters (paper emails) they’ve exchanged over the past five years. You see, Verne isn’t much of a letter writer, so he had his sexy wife write the letters to keep in touch with his best pal. (Note to dudes with sexy wives: Bad idea.)

Things are awkward for Alex from the moment he arrives. Verne has aged poorly and does a bad job feigning enthusiasm regarding Alex’s visit. Petra can’t help but make bedroom eyes at Alex every time their gazes lock. A pretty chambermaid confides in Alex that he’d be well-served to keep his bedroom door locked at night.

Things escalate exponentially when Verne leaves town on business, leaving Alex to his “vacation” at the house with Petra. Verne’s elderly witch of a mother lives in the house, and she keeps a close eye on Petra while her son is gone. However, that doesn’t stop Petra from trying to seduce Alex every time the old lady’s back is turned. If you enjoy your vintage paperbacks filled with sexual tension, this one is definitely for you.

Eventually, the old lady’s chaperoning becomes more and more troublesome, and you can imagine where that goes. It takes about halfway through the paperback before 13 French Street becomes a full-fledged crime noir novel where bad ideas beget further moral slippage. It’s also compelling as hell, and the pages keep flying by - making it abundantly clear why this book was such a sensation nearly 70 years ago.

To be sure, there is some retrograde treatment of women in this book that wouldn’t fly today, but 1951 was a very different world. While I still think that The Vengeful Virgin was Brewer’s top masterpiece, 13 French Street isn’t far behind. It remains a lusty noir classic with a femme fatale you won’t forget. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 28, 2022

Best of Manhunt: Volume 3

The good people at Stark House Press have blessed us with another compilation of hardboiled crime stories from the pages of Manhunt Magazine, the premier digest for crime noir fiction in the 1950s and 1960s.

The introduction by scholars Jeff Vorzimmer and David Rachels tackles the literary mystery of the identity behind the house name of Roy Carroll, a pseudonym employed by the Manhunt editors when an author had more than one story in a single issue. The thought was that magazine readers desired a great diversity of names in the Table of Contents and would somehow feel ripped off if the same author appeared twice.

Several of the Roy Carroll stories in Manhunt are now known to be written by Robert Turner - but not all. The editors performed some investigative legwork worthy of Paperback Warrior to firmly-establish that the Roy Carroll story appearing in the November 1956 issue under the title “Death Wears a Grey Sweater” was, in fact, written by fan-favorite Gil Brewer for which Brewer was paid a tidy sum of $260.

With that mystery about a mystery solved, it’s only fair that we begin our tour of this anthology with the story itself.

Death Wears a Sweater by Gil Brewer writing as Roy Carroll (November 1956)

The story opens with the horrific death of an 11 year-old girl in a broad daylight hit-and-run while her father watches helplessly nearby. After verifying that his little girl is, in fact, dead, her dad — his name is Irv Walsh — goes bananas, hops in his car, and begins pursuing the hit-and-run driver. The confrontation with the car occupants goes poorly for Walsh, and his quest for quick justice is thwarted while his desire for revenge burns hot.

As vendetta stories go, this one is pretty dark, gruesome and sadistic. Brewer’s strongest works were his short stories and this one is no exception. It’s a tough and tension-filled read that packs the appropriate emotional punch.

Services Rendered by Jonathan Craig (May 1953)

Henry Callan is a crooked, hard-drinking police lieutenant investigating the murder of a florist. A suspect named Tommy is in custody, but refuses to talk. The dirty cop visits Tommy’s wife and makes her an offer of regular sex with Henry in exchange for Tommy’s freedom and avoidance of the electric chair.

This is the kind of dark and twisted story that made Manhunt great. Jonathan Craig (real name: Frank Smith) is always a reliably great writer, and this story is consistent with his hardboiled output. Don’t skip this one.

Throwback by Donald Hamilton (August 1953)

Donald Hamilton was the author of the esteemed Matt Helm spy series, but this short story predates his groundbreaking Death of a Citizen by nearly seven years. “Throwback” is an unusual story for both Hamilton and Manhunt as it is a post-apocalyptic story set shortly after the atomic destruction of the USA.

George Hardin and his wife are among the shambling survivors wandering among the smoldering ruins of a freshly-destroyed America. Hamilton’s writing is characteristically beautiful and descriptive. Unfortunately, a coherent plot never comes together, making this story perfectly skippable.

The Red Herring by Richard Deming (December 1962)

Richard Deming appears twice in this Manhunt compilation, and “The Red Herring” won the coin toss for the prestigious Paperback Warrior review. The story stars a Private Detective named Matt Gannon, who is engaged by a corporate CEO.

The company manufactures a radiation detector similar to a Gieger counter but way more sensitive. The company bought the technology from the inventor for a song, and now the creator is apparently sending threatening notes. Gannon is hired to make the case. As expected, Deming does a fine job with a compelling, if rather standard, PI mystery.

The Verdict

The brain-trust behind these Stark House Manhunt anthologies has another winner on their hands. I hope these collections never stop, and they expand to the other hardboiled magazines that popped up in the wake of Manhunt’s success. These short crime stories are an important part of American literary history and need to be preserved for modern audiences and future generations. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 98

Gil Brewer is a fixture of mid-20th century crime-fiction, and on this episode, Eric and Tom discuss his life and career. Tom tells listeners about a new collection of short-stories by Robert Colby and Eric highlights the career of crime-noir writer James M. Fox. Reviews include a post-apocalyptic novel that was the basis for the 1979 film Ravagers and a Manning Lee Stokes classic. Listen on any podcast app, paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE

Listen to "Episode 98: Gil Brewer" on Spreaker.

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, January 31, 2022

A Taste for Sin

Gil Brewer (1922-1983) was a prolific author of paperback original crime novels in the mid-20th century before his life was consumed with alcohol and personal demons. He was at the top of his game in 1961 when he wrote A Taste for Sin, a novel that’s been reprinted by Stark House Press

Our narrator is Jim Phalen, an employee at the Happytime Liquor Store.  As the novel opens, he’s been invited to the house of a horny local housewife for some afternoon delight. Her name is Felice, and her unwitting husband works at the local bank. She’s a conniving and kinky bitch — more on that later. 

Phalen is not a good and honorable person either. He rents a room in a dilapidated lodge with a toilet that barely functions, and he can barely afford those spartan accommodations on his meager salary. He recounts his brutally-violent past, and, man, it’s something else. Brace yourself for some insane violence throughout this book. Anyway, it’s clear that Phalen’s intention is to somehow leverage the rich, married lady he’s banging to change the direction of his life.

Meanwhile, Phalen is dealing with the fallout of a petty crime he committed that spun out of control. He needs to be deceptively clever to avoid getting caught. Felice learns about Phalen’s money troubles and pressures him into a scheme to rip off the bank and kill her husband. 

What we have here is a femme fatale heist novel and a rather excellent one at that. A Taste for Sin showcases some of the best actual prose writing I’ve ever read from Brewer. The sex scenes are more graphic than usual for 1961, and the action scenes are a genuine bloodbath. I’ve always cited The Vengeful Virgin and 13 French Street as Brewer’s masterworks, but A Taste For Sin is the new top-of-the-heap. Highest recommendation. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

13 French Street

Gil Brewer’s 1951 paperback, 13 French Street, was also his most popular book. The paperback sold over a million copies and sustained multiple printings from Fawcett Gold Medal in the U.S. and foreign publishers abroad. The short novel’s reputation as a sex-drenched story of lust and betrayal made me crack it open for a sample and the pages just kept turning.

Our narrator is Alex Bland, and he’s on vacation visiting his old war-buddy Verne. Upon arriving at Vern’s house at 13 French Street in a fictional southern town, he is greeted at the door by Verne’s impossibly sexy and flirtatious wife Petra, a dame who just oozes promiscuity. Although Alex has never met Petra before, they know each other from letters (aka: paper emails) they’ve exchanged over the past five years. You see, Verne isn’t much of a letter writer, so he had his sexy wife write the letters to keep in touch with his best pal. (Note to dudes with sexy wives: Bad idea.)

Things are awkward for Alex from the moment he arrives. Verne has aged poorly and does a bad job feigning enthusiasm regarding Alex’s visit. Petra can’t help but make bedroom eyes at Alex every time their gazes lock. Finally, a pretty chamber maid confides in Alex that he’d be well-served to keep his bedroom door locked at night.

Thing escalate exponentially when Verne needs to go out of town on business leaving Alex to his “vacation” at the house with Petra. Verne’s elderly witch of a mother lives in the house, and she keeps a close eye on Petra while her son is gone. However, that doesn’t stop Petra from trying to seduce Alex every time the old lady’s back is turned. If you enjoy your vintage paperbacks filled with sexual tension, this one is definitely for you.

Eventually, the old lady’s chaperoning becomes more and more troublesome, and you can imagine where that goes. It takes about halfway through the paperback before 13 French Street becomes a full-fledged crime noir novel in which bad ideas beget further moral slippage. It’s also compelling as hell, and the pages keep flying by - making it abundantly clear why this book was such a sensation nearly 70 years ago.

To be sure, there is some retrograde treatment of women in this book that wouldn’t fly today, but 1951 was a very different world. While I still think that The Vengeful Virgin was Brewer’s masterpiece, 13 French Street isn’t far behind. It remains a lusty noir classic with a femme fatale you won’t forget. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, August 10, 2020

Paperback Warrior - Episode 56

You don’t want to miss Episode 56 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast. We tackle the career and work of Charles Williams. Also discussed: Vechel Howard, Howard Rigsby, Gil Brewer's Sin for Me, and a discussion of the films and fiction of S. Craig Zahler. Listen on your favorite podcast app, at paperbackwarrior.com or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 56: Charles Williams" on Spreaker.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Memory of Passion

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Vengeful Virgin

With over 30 novels in a career that spanned 1951-1970, WW2 veteran Gil Brewer is considered a cornerstone of crime-fiction. His mid-era novel, “The Vengeful Virgin”, was originally published by Fawcett’s Crest imprint in 1958. Cited as one of Brewer's strongest works, Hard Case Crime reprinted the novel in 2006 with new cover art.

Jack Ruxton is a young owner/operator of a floundering television retail and repair shop. His life drastically changes the day he meets Shirley Angela, a primary caregiver for an elderly invalid named Victor. In a combination of desperation and hot-blooded lust, Shirley asks Jack to assist her in killing Victor. The payoff? About $300,000 that's been promised to Shirley in the event of Victor's passing. With a tumultuous tuition, Jack's life becomes an education on sex, greed, jealousy and murder. Does he make the grade?

With “The Vengeful Virgin”, Gil Brewer may have hit his high-water mark. The story's placement on Florida’s Gulf Coast parallels the author's own residence in sunny St. Petersburg. Like his contemporaries in Dan Marlowe, Day Keene and John D. MacDonald, Brewer makes use of a crime-fiction staple: the Florida waterfront cabin. It's here where the book reaches its violent crescendo, the crossroads of regret and guilt through the murky haze of hard liquor. Brewer's tale incorporates all of the genre tropes but still remains remarkably engaging and timeless. The paperback showcases the downward spiral of a man's ruin, lovers on the run and the inescapable, ever-consuming law enforcement dragnet.

In its utter simplicity, “The Vengeful Virgin” is a riveting masterpiece and should not be missed. It’s absolutely essential reading for fans of the genre.

Purchase a copy HERE

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Tease

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!

Buy a copy of this paperback HERE

Monday, April 29, 2019

Nude on Thin Ice

Gil Brewer’s “Nude on thin Ice” was published in 1960 and is narrated by Ken McCall, who isn’t the kind of guy you’d want dating your sister. He’s a player who enjoys no-strings attached female companionship before he inevitably casts the woman aside for a better offer. The novel has been reprinted by Stark House along with Brewer’s “Memory of Passion” and an informative introduction by academic David Rachels.

We meet Ken on a Key West vacation, where he’s ready to dump his recent sex-partner after she’s served her purpose of providing him with wild coupling and plenty of bikini time. Ken receives a letter notifying him that his close friend from New Mexico is dead, and his friend’s wife is now sitting on a fortune. The letter asks Ken to look after the grieving Nanette in her time of need. The Florida chick is quickly cast aside, and Ken is on the road headed for New Mexico, a place of new possibilities with a recent widow and her millions.

Ken is an anti-hero who isn’t bogged down in rationalizations for his behavior. He’s a heel who loves babes and money and will do anything to get them. Growing up dirt poor, he’s certain that cash is the elixir for all of life’s suffering. Ken doesn’t ever want to feel that cold, empty-stomach longing again and knows that his dead friend’s wife might be his golden ticket away from a life of sticking up filling stations for dough.

Upon arrival at Nanette’s house, it becomes apparent that Ken isn’t the only one with his eye on her fortune. It seems a cast of characters has gathered around Nanette in her time of grief. Each of the visiting eccentrics seems to have their own agenda, and not all of them pure of heart - most notably a horny, female relative with her eye on Ken. The scenes between Ken and this young nymph are sexy as hell until they take a dark and perverse turn - be warned.

If “The Vengeful Virgin” was the high-mark of Brewer’s writing career, “Nude on thin Ice” might be a close second. The scenes of sex and violence are a notch more intense than most 1960 paperbacks, and the story didn’t meander much at all. It’s a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of greed and lust, and it’s a damn fine noir paperback. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Flight to Darkness

In April, 2018, Stark House Press released a reprinting of Gil Brewer's 1952 novel “Flight to Darkness” and his 1954 book “77 Rue Paradis”. The two works are packaged together with a forward from Dr. Rachels, an English Professor at Newberry College that edited Brewer's short story collection, “Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stores” (2012 University Press of Florida). 

After Gil Brewer's wildly successful 1952 paperback, “13 French Street”, the author could have reserved time and effort for a monumental follow-up novel. Unfortunately, he didn't. Despite cautionary warnings from his literary agent, Brewer wrote “Night Follows Night”, later re-titled to “Flight to Darkness”, in a mere three days. I think the fact that he wrote this novel in such a short amount of time speaks volumes – it's an absolute stinker. 

My only prior experience with Gil Brewer was the ordinary crime novel “The Red Scarf”. Enjoyable enough, “Flight to Darkness” was not. It's a cumbersome narrative revolving around Korean War veteran Eric Garth. The book's opening pages explains that Eric has been hospitalized in a sanitarium due to frequent dreams and visions of killing his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Bizarre, yes. The source of the dreams and visions is a battlefield incident where Eric thinks he murdered another soldier despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, that the man was killed by enemy gunfire. 


During his hospital stay, Eric falls for the cunning and beautiful Leda Thayer, his nurse. Her attraction to Eric stems from his family's wealth. Eric and his brother Frank, whom Eric hates, are the sole inheritors of the family's thriving loan business. Leda practically tells Eric she's only in it for the money, but often love is just headed for tragedy and this story is no different. 

Upon his release, Eric and Leda head to Alabama to vacation in a lakeside cabin. There, Eric is drug out of bed and arrested for a hit and run. The blood and hair matches Eric's fender. But Eric doesn't remember any of this and proclaims his innocence. He's taken to the local sanitarium where he lives for a number of weeks before escaping. His destination is the family's home in western Florida. There he learns that Leda has married Frank! 

Soon, Frank is found murdered with...a wooden mallet. All signs point to Eric as the killer and he soon goes on the run to prove his innocence...again. Hit and runs, wooden mallets, scrupulous lovers, lots of money – these should be the ingredients for a wild crime fiction novel. Unfortunately, the story is just tossed together and none of it really makes much sense. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of riding with a lunatic. It's why I don't read novels by the likes of Jim Thompson or Richard Laymon. The idea that Eric is probably insane really ruins it for me. I like my novels to involve normal, everyday characters that are thrust into insane situations. Because of that, “Flight to Darkness” was a real chore to read. I'm not terribly excited to open the next Brewer novel. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Red Scarf

Stark House Press has just released a reprinting of Gil Brewer's 1958 novel “The Red Scarf” and his 1954 book “A Killer is Loose”. The two works are packaged together with a forward from the esteemed Paul Bishop, author of “Lie Catchers” and “Deep Water”. Brewer is a staple of the crime paperback empire, writing over 30 novels in a career that spanned 1951-1970. Despite being a fixture in the genre, his selling prowess never came to fruition. 

“The Red Scarf”, the subject of this review, is described by Bishop as “noir at its finest – comparable to any exploration of human darkness before or since”. While I wasn't as moved as much as Bishop, I found this crime novel intriguing in its dissection of greed and its effect on the human condition. It's a familiar and rather elementary story involving a briefcase of stolen cash from the mob. It seems to be the premise of nearly every noir crime, some sort of heist that goes incredibly wrong for the inexperienced planner and performer. 

Roy Nichols and his wife Bess are in a tough spot. They own a roadside motel that doesn't actually feature a road. The acquisition of the motel was in hopes that a planned road would be built through town. However, the city has nixed the idea and Roy has been rejected for additional loans by the bank and his own brother. Roy runs into Teece and his wife Vivian on a lonely stretch of road. Teece is running money for the mob from state to state and has decided to steal a briefcase of cash. After wrecking and seemingly dying, both Roy and Vivian escape unhurt and venture to Roy's motel in Florida with the money. It's here that things get somewhat complicated.

Teece wants to pay Roy to keep her safe at the motel. She's fearing the mob will find her and the money. Roy, hoping to keep all of this a secret from Bess, agrees but second guesses everything. He is constantly looking over his shoulder for the police, mobsters and even a dead Teece in fits of paranoia that may not be worth the price. When the police and a hitman start snooping around the motel...things get wacky and unhinged.

Brewer tinkers with everyday people and puts them in precarious situations. Thus, “The Red Scarf” wraps snugly around the reader, tightening in just the right places to make this one a stressful, high-tension read. The police interrogations are worth the price of admission and watching Roy's nervous antics and jitterbug dances between Bess, Vivian and the law were particularly enjoyable. While there isn't a great deal of action, suspenseful negotiating more than makes up for the absence of guns and fists. I'd recommend “The Red Scarf” to anyone looking for suspenseful fiction. 

Buy your copy here.