There's just something endlessly appealing about the noir formula: an unlucky protagonist, usually already in trouble of some sort, makes a bad decision and winds up in an even worse mess, and things just keep going wrong as he tries to dig himself out of the hole he's fallen into.
Gil Brewer plays this plot like a finely turned instrument in WILD TO POSSESS, a novel originally published by Monarch Books in 1959 and then reprinted a few years ago by Stark House Press in a double volume with Brewer's A TASTE FOR SIN.
In WILD TO POSSESS, Brewer throws in some subtle variations on the standard noir plot. His protagonist Lew Brookbank isn't lured into trouble by a beautiful woman but rather gets into it all on his own. As the book opens, he's already on the run, hiding out in a small
town because he discovered his wife and her lover had been murdered and then covered up the crime because he thought he'd be blamed for it. But he's afraid somebody will find out what happened and the cops will come after him, so he's in a bad frame of mind to start with when he accidentally stumbles on a plot by a couple of locals involving kidnapping and murder. Desperate for money and drinking heavily, Lew decides to horn in on the plan and grab the ransom money for himself. Florida
Needless to say, that turns out to be a bad move.
Rather than lust, Lew is driven by greed, guilt, and gin, and naturally things don't turn out the way he expects them to. Then a stranger shows up to complicate things as Lew's past comes back to haunt him. Brewer just piles the trouble on Lew until it seems almost impossible for him to get out of it, and knowing the way books like this work, maybe he will . . . or maybe he won't.
Lew's not a particularly likable protagonist, but he's so blasted unlucky that the reader can't help but root for him. Brewer keeps things racing along, tightening the screws more and more, until an over-the-top climax. To be honest, it struck me as a bit of a deus ex machina, but in the crazy, fate-doomed world Gil Brewer's characters inhabit, what else would you expect? The important thing is that he makes it work and really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen.
Even though it's not a Gold Medal, WILD TO POSSESS is one of the best Gil Brewer novels I've read, and I had a great time with it. Highly recommended.