RARA-AVIS: The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer

From: Dave Zeltserman ( dz@hardluckstories.com)
Date: 12 May 2007

What starts off as a kind of tired by-the-numbers noir plot--lovers conspiring to kill an old man for his money, turns into something very entertaining where just about everything that can go wrong does-- and the main protagonist, Jack, knows it's all going wrong but is helpless to stop it. This was my first exposure to Gil Brewer, and I almost put the book down several times before the murder happened-- mostly because the writing seemed flat and uninspired. I stuck with it more out of curiosity whether it went anywhere. Then a funny thing happened once the murders started--the writing got crisper and truly inspired, reaching a David Goodis-type level. I don't know whether Brewer was bored with the initial perfunctory story setup--but to me it was night and day difference between the quality of the writing. There's a scene after the murder where Jack is visited and to some degree tormented by a doctor who sees through his guilt, and the coolness and skill of the the writing matches anything of Goodis's that I've read. The second half of this book is really quite something--what's supposed to be an easy murder turns into something nightmarish, and there's a lot of craziness that follows. I'd almost recommend skipping the first 90 or so pages, but what follows comes close to matching Jim Thompson's Savage Night and Hell of a Woman in psychotic craziness. anyway, I'll be reading more Brewer after this.

--Dave Z.

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