Saturday, August 01, 2015

From James Reasoner Gil Brewer Stark House

Forgotten Books: Gun the Dame Down - Gil Brewer

This is one of the three previously unpublished novels by Gil Brewer that Stark House is reprinting in a handsome new volume, and while the dates when Brewer wrote the books are unknown, GUN THE DAME DOWN seems very much like a Fifties novel, including that hardboiled title. It's also one of the few private eye novels Brewer ever wrote.

In fact, this book hits so many of the familiar private eye notes that at times it almost reads like a parody of the genre. There's the first-person narrator who's a somewhat seedy private shamus; the rich guy who has both a cheating wife and a beautiful blond nymphomaniac daughter; the private eye's buddy on the police force; the multiple murders; scenes set in squalid fishing camps and roadhouses; the private eye getting hit on the head and knocked out and taken for a ride by colorful but brutal hired goons...Well, you get the idea.

But what makes this stew of the familiar worth reading is that Brewer turns up the heat on it and lets it boil over by playing everything absolutely straight and compressing the action into a short period of time (part of one afternoon and a night). GUN THE DAME DOWN is short, maybe 35,000 words, and it's one of the fastest books you'll ever read. There's always something happening, and private eye Bill Death (yes, that's really his name) is nearly always in danger, whether he realizes it at the time or not. There are great noirish lines like the first one, "I walked into it with my eyes open", and great characters like the beautiful dogwalker Cadillac Smith, who may or may not have some deadly secrets of her own.

Given its length and pace, I'm surprised Brewer wasn't able to sell this book, maybe to Donald Wollheim for one of the Ace Double mysteries. There are several scenes that would have made great cover material for, say, Norman Saunders. But thanks to Stark House, we get to read it anyway. I'll be getting to the other two novels in this volume, but for now, GUN THE DAME DOWN is highly recommended.

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