Friday, February 9, 2018

Forgotten Books: FLIGHT TO DARKNESS by Gil Brewer (1952)

Programming Note: Our ongoing extravaganza, BILL CRIDER goes to BOUCHERCON will continue tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can catch up on the first 9 installments (bringing us up to 2005) HERE.

Gil Brewer is one of those '50s noir guys (like Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Orrie Hitt and others) who've been highly recommended to me for years, but I never got around to reading. I have handfuls of musty paperbacks by each buried somewhere in my storage unit. 

So lately I've been reading a lot of historical fiction (Swords from the West by Harold Lamb, Sharpe's Fury by Bernard Cornwell, The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and Manassas and Shiloh by General James Reasoner) and was in the mood for something different when a review copy of a new Stark House book, featuring two Brewer novels, appeared in my mailbox. So I read the first, and this is it.

Gotta say, I'm impressed with Brewer's prose. His descriptions of Leda--this book's evil babe--were so good I took notes, and here are some of the results:

She came up to me and her eyes were full of hell.

She was an orgy of loveliness.

Sometimes when she talked and moved she kissed you with her whole body.

She was the type you might wonder about having a knife sheathed in the rim of her stocking. 

She was a complete savage, bursting with passion, lustful, wanton, wild. At first, it was like drinking hot red wine. Then the whole world shuddered and rock, with the trees thick and mingled with her hair and the smell of it with the shade, a dark blinding explosion. 

She managed to wiggle into what was left of her shorts. They made her look like something highly delectable out of Dogpatch. 

(She) was like having warm syrup poured over your head, hot down your sides, flowing along the veins. 

Feeling her was like touching a living flame

As you'll see on the back cover of this new Stark House edition, both Cullen Gallagher and James Reasoner had nice things to say about the book. Bill Crider liked it too, saying: Leda is as bad as they come, and Eric is just as driven as he is. When it comes to depicting people like this, all rough edges and raw emotion, Brewer comes close to his friend Harry Whittington.  Both can grab a reader on the first page and wring him out for a couple of hundred more.  If you like the old paperbacks with their fast action and blue-collar desperation, grab this new edition and give Brewer a try.

Now, I have the highest regard for the opinions of those three gents, and if they all liked it, odds are you will too. But it just ain't for me. I like my protagonists, whether good guys or bad, to be strong-willed and intelligent. Our hero in this one, Eric Garth, may or may not be crazy (he dreams of bashing his brother's head in with a mallet), and spends much of the book in a sanitarium. He's a mental and emotional weakling, and just gets weaker as the story plods on. 

A hero needs a fistful of trouble, of course, but I want to see him trying to battle his way out. Instead, this guy gets crapped on, crapped on some more, and keeps on getting crapped on until he's buried in it. He whines a little and blusters a lot, but just keeps on taking it, and I found him to be just as stupid and spineless after 130 pages as he was on page 1. 

There are still 25 pages left to go, so maybe Eric Garth will grow a pair and redeem himself, but for me, it's too late. I don't like anything about him, don't feel sorry for him, and don't care if he lives or dies.  

To clear my palate, I think I'll read another story in that Harold Lamb book. Hopefully 77 Rue Paradis will be more to my taste. 


Charles Gramlich said...

Very sweet. Love those descriptions. This just went on my tbr pile.

Elgin Bleecker said...

I’ve only read Brewer’s 13 FRENCH STREET. It too has a weak main character who has the hots for his buddy’s wife.

George said...

I've read a handful of Gil Brewer's novels and found most of them uneven with flashes of brilliant. Loved the lines you quoted! If Brewer had written more of them, he'd be better known today.