Gil Brewer is Wild

The first book I read by Gil Brewer was Wild. It’s a crazy-ass detective novel from an author who, for all his pulpness, wrote very few detective novels. Mostly Brewer wrote about hapless guys who fall for shady get-rich-quick schemes and underage temptresses who lead them down a dark path to their own destruction. But in Wild, there is instead a hapless detective who returns to his Florida hometown to take over his dad’s private eye business. He’s hired as a go-between by an old flame with husband troubles. When he checks out the trailer where the two of them live, he finds a corpse instead. This leads him to a local robbery and naturally the old flame has a younger, nymphomaniac sister whom he has to contend with as well.

I thought it was pretty damn wonderful when I discovered it back in the 1980s. Since then, I’ve found a lot of wonderful Brewer books. They’re all paced in a white-heat of frantic action and total obsession. Some read better than others. But for about ten years, roughly 1952 to 1962, Brewer ruled the racks with one wild thriller after another.

And then the bottom began to fall out of the paperback market, his alcoholism caught up with him, and his career came to a sputtering end. His last few books were written for hire, or as pseudonymous gothics or erotic fare for the adult market. But Brewer kept writing, and produced another five or so novels that were never published—rejected by his agent or the publishers.

These are uneven works, but for all that, still display that special spark of pulp madness that was uniquely Brewer’s. A Devil for O’Shaugnessy, which we published back in 2008 is a case in point. The main character is an alcoholic con man who keeps himself pumped up with brandy throughout the book; there’s a weird pet orangutan in there who might be the reincarnation of a rich woman’s husband; and it only makes sense in a kind of half-delusional way. Like Wild, it struck a note with me, and I jumped at the chance to publish it.

This summer, we’re going to release a 3-book volume of previously unpublished Gil Brewer books, including a very early detective novel called Gun the Dame Down that was rejected by the publisher (Gold Medal?) as too racy. Brewer’s detective novels make as much sense as his noir novels. In other words, his characters always act from emotion rather than logic. This one is an over-the-top hoot.

Along with this treasure, we’ve also got a couple of his late 1970s manuscripts—The Erotics and Angry Arnold. The Erotics features a disgraced artist turned beach bum who is set up as the fall guy for murder, and brings into play Brewer’s interest in modern art. And Angry Arnold is a serial killer book written back before there were hardly any serial killer books on the market. I can understand why it never found a market back in 1976, with its decidedly unpleasant protagonist, but it does show another side, a darker side, to the obsessional protagonists that populate most of Brewer’s books.

After this collection, we hope to bring back more of Gil Brewer’s classic novels from the 1950s. But for now, this omnibus satisfies a desire on my part to bring most of Brewer’s unpublished works into print, where they will exist as strange testaments to good old fashioned, unrequited lust and greed.

–Greg Shepard

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