A femme fatale's deadliest weapon is never a gun.
We've discussed a few Gil Brewer books without talking much about the man himself. Eventual author of thirty-three novels under his own name and a dozen more under pseudonyms, he started as a literary writer but after selling Satan Is a Woman to Gold Medal Books in 1950 decided that genre fiction was a faster and easier way to earn money. It was also after Satan Is a Woman that drinking began to take a heavy toll on him, to the point of hospitalizations, a near-fatal auto accident, and eventual death. 1961's A Taste for Sin was written during his heavy consumption period, and it's spotty, to say the least, a messily written book, but so crazy it's impossible not to read in a state of wonder.
The story deals with Jim Phalen, a small time crook, an an unlucky one. He meets Felice Anderson, seventeen years old, married at fifteen, recklessly unfaithful from the day she took her vows, and so purely nuts that for sexual thrills she demands to be raped. Explorations of women's alleged rape fantasies were common back then, and at first we thought A Taste for Sin was just another, but Phalen assaults her enthusiastically more than once, making clear that he's had fantasies about this too. Thus, as a shortcut to getting to the essential core of his personality, it's an interesting choice by Brewer. It's clear that Phalen is a throughly bad guy, one who never had much of a chance in life. He won't get much of a chance in this novel either, and doesn't deserve one.
Felice's husband works at a bank and she comes up with a plot to rob it for a million dollars. The only way to succeed is to commit murder. Phalen is horrified at first, but those bedroom games short-circuit his thinking and pretty soon he thinks he sees a way it might work. There are dozens of obstacles, including the police dogging his heels about a robbery he committed early in the story, but it's Felice's wild nature that threatens to become insurmountable. In trying to reflect the confusion in Phalen's mind about her, the pressure he feels from all quarters, and the hasty logistics of the heist, Brewer's narrative becomes like a rock skipping across a pond, hitting and bouncing onward, hitting again, bouncing onward. Phalen even flies to Lucerne, Switzerland, and Brewer expends only a few pages on the entire trip.
We don't feel as if his writing is top notch through any of this, and in our view the narrative is especially loose during its latter third. The story is also rushed during that section—though we do understand that its acceleration may be intended to reflect the lead character's barely maintained control. It just didn't work properly. But we'll give the story credit for its unflinching nature. Did Brewer build it around an underaged femme fatale so nuts as to be unbelievable because he was ambitious, or did she end up on the page due to a booze-fueled lapse in judgment? We'll never know, but Felice, and whether you buy her characterization, is the key to whether you'll like the book. She's a rare creature in the annals of mid-century crime fiction.
This is nothing. When I get really mad I grow to enormous size and destroy entire city blocks.
There's getting into trouble, getting into serious trouble, and getting into ridiculous trouble. In Gil Brewer's 1959 thriller Wild To Possess, the main character Lew Brookbank finds his wife and her lover murdered, and, thinking he might get blamed, panics and disposes of the bodies. Trouble. Later he overhears two people plotting a kidnapping and murder and decides that if he robs them of the two-hundred-fifty grand they expect to profit he can start a new life. But he's a drunk, so signs don't point to success. Serious trouble. Then a man turns up determined to send Lew to the electric chair for the two murders he never committed. Ridiculous trouble.
In an effort to make this loony plot believable Brewer shuffles the timeline: it opens with Lew overhearing the pair talking about the kidnap/murder, then the narrative backtracks and reveals that his wife's murder is why he became an alcoholic basket case. It actually works, sort of, which is good, because bizarre things keep happening, some of which involve a trapdoor above his bed. We won't even explain it. This is mid-level Brewer, quality-wise. While it has some fun ideas, it could have used extra detailing from a dedicated editor. But it's worth a read, especially this Monarch edition with iconic Robert Maguire cover art of an orange-topped, Hulk green femme fatale. More Gil to come.
Turns out Barye Phillips and Dom Lupo lived at the same address, but at different times.
We've talked often about vintage paperback art being copied. We have another example today involving Dom Lupo and Barye Phillips. Hearing those two names you'd think it was Phillips, who was a stalwart of mid-century paperback illustration, who'd been copied by Lupo, talented but lesser known. Nope—it's the other way around. Above is Lupo's cover for 13 French Street, which was used by Gold Medal Books in 1951. You also see here Phillips' cover for Little Tramp (larger version here), which dates from 1957. Naughty Barry.
But Lupo copied too, sort of. He seems to have used as his inspiration a promo photo of U.S. actress Rita Gam, below. Using photos as the basis for illustrations was pretty normal, as we've documented before, so Lupo was just doing what artists did. You can see he changed the angle a bit, so it's not a true copy so much as a template. There's an internet replication error we should note: a few places say the Gam photo is from her 1952 thriller The Thief. Which means, obviously, she could not have inspired Lupo unless she had a time machine. Since the poses are so similar, we assume the attribution to The Thief is simply wrong—though ironic, because in art, everyone is a little bit of a thief. Great work by all involved.
I know it isn't exactly Tahiti, baby, but it's warm, cheap, and there aren't any COVID restrictions.
We're fans of illustrator James Meese. His covers are easy to caption. Remember Fort Everglades? How about Amazon Head-Hunters? We don't know if credit goes to him for the interesting moments his chose for his work, or if the publishers who employed him were responsible, but we'll take it. Above is another—Gil Brewer's 1953 novel Hell's Our Destination, with a couple who look like they've just realized their non-refundable AirBnB is right over a country/western dance bar that stays open until sunrise.
Once she gets her lips on you it's over.
This Gold Medal paperback of Gil Brewer's 13 French Street has a cool wraparound cover, which you see in its entirety below. It looks very much like a painting but is actually a photo. Brewer is a fun writer. What he attempts to do here is tell the story of a succubus. The character, named Petra, isn't an actual mystical creature, but she's so demanding, sexually predatory, and emotionally manipulative that men involved with her slowly lose their vitality, becoming withered, shuffling shells of their former selves. Brewer imbeds a love triangle in this odd premise, pitting two old friends against each other, and adds in murder and blackmail. The result is interesting and fun, though not wholly successful, in our view. But Brewer would hit the mark solidly with later efforts. This one is copyright 1951.
Then you die. And she's happy about it.
To quote Queen Latifah: “Who you callin' a bitch?” In this 1958 thriller trusty old Gil Brewer concocts a tale in which violent events are unleashed when a detective is hired to shadow a cheating wife. He learns there's two-hundred grand in a safe and stages a robbery, which of course goes spectacularly wrong, and leads to him being identified as the thief. He's suddenly on the run and everyone he knows is chasing after his big bag of money. Treachery abounds. There are actually two wives in this story. Which one is the bitch of the title? Well, from the narrator's point of view, probably both. But his troubles are his own fault. The book is fun, but there's a curiously aimless quality to this particular effort from Brewer. He's done better. The cover art, on the other hand, is about the best you'll see, though it's uncredited. Now we'll let Queen have the last word:
One day I was walking down the block.
I had my cutoff shorts on, right, ’cause it was crazy hot.
I walked past these dudes.
When they passed me one of 'em felt my booty.
He was nasty.
I turned around red.
Somebody was catching the wrath.
Then the little one said, “Yeah me, bitch,” and laughed.
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly.
I punched him dead in his eye,
and said, “Who you callin' a bitch?”
What would you do to get your hands on $3.5 million?
Gil Brewer wrote a lot of books. Wild rates in the bottom tier, according to most critics. When private detective Lee Baron takes over his father's investigative agency his first case is an old flame asking him to intercede on her behalf with her angry, cuckolded husband. Baron finds not an angry spouse but a mutilated corpse. Arms removed, face chopped apart with a hatchet, it's clear somebody was very angry at him. Or they were trying to obscure his identity—which means the corpse might not be the husband at all. When Baron uncovers a connection to a $400,000 bank robbery ($3.5 million in today's money) he begins to think he's landed a case that can put his agency on the map—if the police don't shut him down before he gets started. We agree this isn't Brewer's best, but it's still a mildly entertaining jaunt into Tampa, Florida's underbelly circa 1958. Above are two editions from Fawcett Crest and Gold Medal (aka Fawcett Crest).
You know, every few years we vote about changing the name but just enough people in this town really are hateful.
Gil Brewer's The Girl from Hateville was originally published as The Angry Dream, but this is one time changing a title was a good idea. Not only is the original title a bit limp, but Hateville is the perfect word to describe the town at the center of the narrative. These people are rabid. They're furious at the main character because his father, a banker, cost quite a few of them their savings, but geez, people—it was eight years ago and his son wasn't even living there when it happened. But that doesn't matter to the haters. They do just about every horrible thing to the guy you can imagine, even as he's trying to unravel the mystery of the missing bank funds. As hostile-hick-town-versus-innocent-man tales go, this one is pretty good, as well as unusually vicious. This Zenith edition was published in 1958 and has great Samson Pollen cover art.
Where have you been? I've waiting all day to crush what little spirit you have left.
The Brat is solid work from Gil Brewer. The novel has been extensively reviewed online, but we'll give you the set-up: a woman from the sticks marries the first man who can rescue her from nowheresville, but her desire for a better life soon reveals itself to be a mad lust for riches. She conceives a robbery that has no hope of success and tries to drag her husband into it against his will. The result is murder and a lot of evidence pointing his way, though he had nothing to do with it. The only way to keep his neck out of the noose is to find his missing wife, the missing money, and learn whether the robbery was all a fatal error or a set-up from the beginning. Excellent stuff from Brewer, with an awesome air boat chase in the Everglades as its pivotal action piece. The cover art on this 1958 edition is by the stalwart Barye Phillips, and we think it's one of his best.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
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