Friday, June 09, 2023

Satan Is A Woman - Gil Brewer

I’ve read and enjoyed many books by Gil Brewer over the years, but for some reason, two of his earliest and most successful novels have sat unread on my shelves for quite some time now. So I took the arrival of Stark House’s latest Gil Brewer double volume to be an omen that I ought to go ahead and read them. I’m going to start with SATAN IS A WOMAN, which was Brewer’s second published novel. He had previously expanded a Day Keene pulp novelette into a full-length novel that was published as LOVE ME AND DIE under Keene’s name. My review of that one can be found here. SATAN IS A WOMAN was published by Gold Medal in 1951 with a great Barye Phillips cover and launched Brewer’s career under his own name.

Larry Cole, the narrator of this novel, is one of Brewer’s everyman protagonists. He owns a not-too-successful beachfront bar on the west coast of Florida, is a World War II veteran, and is trying to live a respectable life even though he comes from a family of criminals. His father was a mob gunman, his mother was a prostitute, and his older brother Tad has been mixed up in plenty of shady deals. When they were growing up, Tad tried to keep Larry on the straight and narrow despite his own activities. As the novel opens, Tad is on the run from a murder rap and hiding out at Larry’s house. He gets caught and sent to prison, and while Larry would like to get him a better lawyer and try to help him, there doesn’t seem to be any way for him to do so. The guilt Larry feels over this tortures him.

He's about to feel a lot more guilty, because one day a beautiful blonde named Joan Turner walks into his bar, and that starts Larry on a path that includes robbery and multiple murders. Larry wants to do the right thing, but he’s so caught up by love, lust, and circumstances that he seems doomed right from the start, in the finest tradition of noir novels.

Then, late in the novel, Brewer springs a really nifty plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. It was a real “D’oh!” moment for me because everything is set up fairly, right out in the open, and with Brewer’s angst-ridden, breakneck style, I just went right past all the clues. I love it when that happens.

SATAN IS A WOMAN is one of the best-written Brewer novels I’ve read, with plenty of action and some poetic, poignant moments that are very effective. There’s also a long scene set in a rowboat on a stormy sea that gave a confirmed landlubber like me the galloping fantods. It’s wonderful stuff.

I can see why SATAN IS A WOMAN sold well and made Brewer a successful author right off the bat. It’s really, really good. I give it a high recommendation. The new Stark House reprint, along with Brewer’s all-time bestselling novel, 13 FRENCH STREET, will be out next month and is available for pre-order now. I’ll be getting to that novel very soon.


Tony said...

One of the early paperback versions has a yellow stripe up the right side of the cover, emerging from the knuckles of a buxom blonde who forgot her bra, exclaiming: (in red letters as big and bolder than 'Gil Brewer': "HANK JANSON says READ THIS BOOK!"

Now if Gil Brewer told me to read Hank Janson I might give it a try. But who the heck is Hank Janson?

Tony said...

Ahh. I see now who Hank Janson was.

But who needs Hank Janson when we've got Gil Brewer? Amiright?

James Reasoner said...

Must have been a British edition. Hank Janson was the pseudonym/protagonist of a long series of British hardboiled novels featuring a two-fisted American reporter. Stephen Frances was the original author. There's been a lot written about the series, but the Wikipedia page is a good enough place to start:

James Reasoner said...

Our comments crossed in the Internet aether, Tony. I enjoyed the few Hank Janson books I've read. They're probably not worth the high prices that copies of the original editions command (likely because of the gorgeous covers by Reginald Heade), but some of them have been reprinted in more affordable editions if you want to give them a try. Frances's attempts at writing in a hardboiled American style don't always ring true, but he does a decent job of it most of the time.