Friday, August 11, 2017

Forgotten Books: GIRL IN A BIG BRASS BED by Peter Rabe (1956)

Confession time. I didn’t really read the 1965 Gold Medal edition shown here. I read the first novel in the review copy of the Manny deWitt Omnibus (containing Girl in a Big Brass Bed, The Spy Who was 3 Feet Tall, and Code Name Gadget), due to be published next month by Stark House Press (and shown way down below).

I didn’t know what to think at first. The Peter Rabe books I’d read before were crime novels. They were tough and fast moving. Girl in the Big Brass Bed is about a lawyer involved into the world of international big business. It tries to be funny, and the humor slows the pace. So at first, I wasn’t liking it much.

But it grew on me. The trick, as Rick Ollerman reveals in the Introduction, is to slow down and take it as it comes. Once I curbed my impatience, I began to enjoy the story, get into Rabe’s style, and appreciate some of the humor. So it ended up a very enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

The plot involves a Vermeer painting called “Apple Girl,” stolen during the war by Hermann Goering. (This is not the same Vermeer you’ll find online as “Apple Girl with a Pearl Earring,” and is probably fictional.) Manny deWitt’s eccentric and somewhat crazy boss sends him to Munich to bring it back, under extremely secretive and unusual circumstances. Once there, deWitt starts behaving more like a secret agent than a lawyer, which is surely a good thing, and the story moves on to Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Several mysterious individuals in and out of the art world, and representing (or acting in spite) of various governmental agencies, are after the painting, which may or may not be genuine. This results in murder, mayhem and assorted other crimes, with a little time on the side for romance.

DeWitt develops into an intriguing character, often at odds with his boss, but plowing ahead and getting to the truth anyway. And the truth turns out to be pretty cool.

The title, I’m guessing, was wholly the invention of the publisher, and leaves me wondering what Rabe's title was. There’s a brass bed mentioned, and a girl who sleeps in it, but if there was any sex I don’t remember it (and I finished it yesterday), and certainly no nudity or provocative behavior. It was more on the chaste side. It’s sort of a shock that Gold Medal published it anyway.

My takes on deWitt’s follow-up adventures will be coming soon.


Johny Malone said...

The current covers are very sad and ugly.

George said...

I'll be ordering this. Thanks for the heads up!

TracyK said...

This is very interesting, Evan. I know very little about Peter Rabe, but I did just get my copy of Hardboiled, Noir, and Gold Medals by Ollerman and I think I will learn more about him there. I might also purchase the omnibus (a better reading experience for my eyes) but I would rather have the old paperback editions.