Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hell's Our Destination - Gil Brewer

Cora was poised in a half crouch not five feet away from Bliss's agonized, pleading face. She was wearing only a jaggedly torn remnant of yellow jacket over her shoulders. She stood there with her hands out, her head thrust forward, absolutely silent, frighteningly beautiful, her long finely sculptured legs pale against the dark green. 

Gold Medal, October 1953
Hell’s Our Destination is an earlier novel from Gil Brewer, and falls into that ever popular “swamp-noir” genre in which characters drink a lot, sweat a lot and feed upon their lusts toward no good endings. Who doesn’t like a good swamp noir romp? This one has all the right ingredients: buried loot, an eccentric loner, ex-cons out of their element, and sweaty babes who smoke cigarettes and disrobe a lot. We have two such dames in this novel. Vern, a raven-haired good girl from town, and Cora, the sultry blond from the city whose sideways glances give the menfolk pause.

There isn’t much surprise that’s ahead for someone who has made a steady diet of reading noir paperbacks from this period. You know a couple chapters in that Cora is no good and is going to screw at least one of the guys over before the end. In this case she’s got three suckers to pick from. The most obvious being our hapless “hero” of the novel, Simon.

Simon hasn’t had it so well these past years. He’s been obsessing over a wad of stolen loot that he knows is hidden out there somewhere in the swamp. Six years before he took two hundred dollars to help a traveler named Fred hide the loot. Problem is that he doesn’t know exactly where Fred hid the loot, just that it’s a couple hours up the river from his cabin, by two crossed “trees.” Simon figures that he’s going to get the money eventually, but waiting for the opportunity has eaten into his soul. It’s also but a halt to his relationship with Vern. With the money he figures he can make a life for the two of them, leave the swamp behind them forever. But until then…well…there’s booze and the bible to carry him along. But Vern can’t wait forever.

Simon reads about a payroll heist, and that Fred is sent up for it. The money is missing of course because Fred has hidden it in the swamp. Simon figures that he’d have to wait for Fred’s release from prison in order to get the money. But Fred is killed days after getting paroled, and Simon has no choice but to wait for Fred’s killer to show up looking for a tour guide into the swamp.

In the meantime Simon has to deal with a couple of smartass insurance detectives sniffing around. They figure that Fred disposed of the stolen loot in Simon’s swamp. They needle Simon. They dose him with a Mutt and Jeff routine. They wear him down with insinuations. One of them in particular, Steggins, seems to have plenty of time to just hang around the swamp in his skiff, fishing and whatnot, just waiting for Simon to make a move. If that isn’t bad enough, Fred’s old partner Bliss shows up. Bliss seems to figure Simon isn’t as simple as he tries to be. He tells Simon that it’s best for him that he shacks up in Simon’s cabin for a while, just to keep the heat off. Oh, yeah, and what about that missing loot his old buddy Fred made off with?

Then there is Cora. Ah...Cora, that icy blond who parades around Simon’s cabin flashing her legs and blowing smoke at him. Her method of attack is to play at a city gal looking for a local guide to take her out on a photography safari. She’s hot and bored and maybe willing to share a hot afternoon in Simon’s cot, but first, the guided tour into the swamp. As if she doesn’t know what’s buried there.

These characters come and go in Simon’s cabin to the point that you begin to wonder if they’re not manifestations of Simon’s torment.  He’s been putting life on hold for a false promise that his mind is getting as tattered as his old bible. Personally, I’d avoid a guy like Simon. Yeah, maybe Cora might be able to trip me up a couple of time, but I’ll know not to follow her anywhere near any quicksand. 

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