Wednesday, June 28, 2023

13 French Street - Gil Brewer

13 FRENCH STREET was the second novel written by Gil Brewer to be published by Gold Medal in 1951. It went on to be the bestselling novel of Brewer’s career with more than 1.2 million copies sold. And that number continues to rise, as it’s paired with SATAN IS A WOMAN in the latest Brewer double volume from Stark House.

It's easy to see why 13 FRENCH STREET was so successful. It’s such an intense depiction of sexual obsession that the readers of the early Fifties probably hadn’t ever encountered anything like it before. The narrator is Alex Bland, an archeologist and straight-arrow kind of guy who lives up to his name. He goes to visit his old army buddy Verne Lawrence, who lives at the title address just outside a midwestern city. Verne is married to beautiful, dark-haired Petra, who has been corresponding with Alex and has formed a friendship with him. Or at least, that’s what Alex thinks.

When he steps in the door and meets Petra in person, things immediately change. Lust seems to erupt in both of them. Verne isn’t himself because of some business reverses, and to take care of them, he has to leave Alex and Petra there alone, except for Verne’s elderly mother, who spies on the would-be lovers.

The first half of this novel kind of meanders along with not much happening except Alex wanting Petra and Petra teasing him mercilessly. But the book is so well-written that the slow burn works and keeps the reader turning the pages. Then, abruptly, murder and blackmail complicate things, as they so often do in these books, and 13 FRENCH STREET races to a harrowing conclusion that’s still oddly satisfying for all its bleakness.

This is probably the best-written Gil Brewer novel I’ve read. Some of the images are stunning in their simple poetry. Petra is the personification of evil in many ways, but Brewer makes her too complex to write her off as that and nothing else. I think she’s a reflection of the darkness under the narrator’s placid surface. If somebody like Alex can do the things he does, what are the rest of us capable of if driven by the right (or wrong) urges? Starting out, Brewer wanted to write mainstream novels, and in 13 FRENCH STREET he comes close, although combined with crime and suspense.

This isn’t necessarily the sort of book you feel good about when you finish it, but it sure does stick with you. For that reason, I give 13 FRENCH STREET a very high recommendation, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.


Richard Moore said...

Very nice review of one of Brewer's best books. Rachels is doing an admirable job of keeping Brewer and his fiction available to readers new and old.

Evil Woman Blues said...

Keep the reviews coming. I read this blog every day. 13 French Street is $40 on Amazon. Outch1.

Evil Woman Blues said...

I stand corrected. BN has it for $19.95. Still a hefty truce