Monday, December 26, 2016

Redheads Die Quickly - Gil Brewer

He looked up and she had just stepped out from behind the bushes. She had her shorts on and the torn yellow jersey. She moved slowly and she looked pale and sheened with sweat, and as if she might have been crying. Her hair was damp and snarled, and brown pine needles clung in its dark richness. Lipstick was smeared all around her mouth.  - On a Sunday Afternoon - Gil Brewer

Gil Brewer
My favorite anthologies of the past few years is David Rachels's collection of Gil Brewer's short stories Redheads Die Quickly. It's a collection of 25 crime stories originally published in Manhunt and other Detective magazines of the 50s. Not a dud in the bunch, all of them featuring the classic Gil Brewer themes of sexual lust, booze and dangerous women.

Every fan of mid-century noir knows who Gil Brewer is by now, thanks to a number of his novels getting republished for new readers. I've been lucky finding a handful of his Gold Medal and Monarch paperbacks over the years and have liked them all. I grew up in Tampa Florida, near where Brewer lived for much of his life, and the setting of most of his fiction. Noir stories in the Florida heat, whether in a motel on the beach or a corrupt southern town, are my comfort food. My first exposure to Gil Brewer was reading The Red Scarf  in a single afternoon and from then on I was hooked. I haven't come across a novel of his yet that I didn't like. Sure, some of them are better than others, and some could have used a tighter hand at editing, but they're perfect examples of booze and sex filled nightmares of mid-century crime fiction. He's the flip-side of the far more famous and successful John D. MacDonald, They're scruffier, less polished novels than MacDonald's books, Sort of like the debutant's slutty cousins, and I love them just as much.

Redheads Die Quickly show Brewer's skill at putting together tight, psychotic and nightmarish tales of obsession and murder within just a few pages. They're "get-in-get-out and skip the fancy guitar solo" kind of cuts that you find on the best punk albums that your friends never listened to. Stories like "On a Sunday Afternoon" about a picnic gone horribly, horribly bad, or "The Black Suitcase" about a man's decent into madness during a yacht party, to name a few. Or the brutal story "Moonshine" with its gut-punching ending. Adultery, drinking binges, blackouts, robbery, sex, murder, oh man just wrap that stuff up in a bunch of short stories and how can you not like it?

This collection also includes an informative introduction on Gil Brewer's life and work written by David Rachels. Also included is a bibliography of Gil Brewer's short stories. If there ever ends up being another collection produced, I'll be one of the first to buy it.

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