Gil Brewer guns the dame down

We’ve been doing so much traveling this September, I only just finished the latest newsletter, which will post on Saturday, Sept 26th, just squeaking by before the end of the month. I talk a little about more the new Gil Brewer book, The Erotics/Gun the Dame Down/Angry Arnold, plus the upcoming October titles. It’s easy to get excited about the Brewer book.

Working on Gun the Dame Down was the real labor of love. The original typewritten manuscript was too faint and had too many corrections to scan. So I started from scratch, and retyped it page by page. Nothing quite gives you a feel for an author’s style like typing out an entire novel. I could see Brewer trying out some of the tropes of the wise-cracking detective novel, inserting quirky little character traits to make his characters come alive while creating the steamy feel of a hot summer night in Florida. I’m not such a great typist that I would want to do this with every previously-unpublished manuscript, but it was a lot of fun transcribing Brewer.

I could be wrong, but I think this is the first book where he introduces the dynamic of the older man and the seductive under-age nymphet that he used in some of his later books. You really can’t get much less politically correct than writing about that combination these days. I’m not going to take a moral stand on the issue myself, but the fact that the original editor had crossed these sections out doesn’t surprise me, even without the context of early 1950s censorship. The fact that I put them back in makes sense to me, because they help define the characters.

The main character, Bill Death, encounters just about every form of temptation and abuse a down-at-heels detective should have to take in a 24 hour period when he takes a case and walks into the household from hell. An over-sexed teen is only one of them. And let’s face it, part of the charm of Brewer is his sexual tension. His characters are usually after two things: sex and money. In Gun the Dame Down, it’s mostly sex. It took Brewer a couple more books before he got the balance right. But that doesn’t make Gun the Dame Down any the less obsessional, and certainly no less readable. For me, it’s the highlight of the collection.

Which brings me to George Tuttle, who first introduced me to these unpublished gems of Brewer’s. As far as I know, George was the first one to create a web page for Gil Brewer, which offers a very thorough look at all of Brewer’s works. His favorite is Angry Arnold, the serial killer book, and the last unpublished work in the collection. And a sick little serial killer Arnold is. He’s been in a car accident, and something has shaken loose in his moral makeup. He gets urges. Of course he does—he’s a typical over-sexed young man—but he himself has the sex appeal of a wet noodle. He resents all the beautiful women that won’t give him the time of day. So he kidnaps them, and….

Well, you get the picture. Were there a lot of serial killer books in the 1970s? I don’t think so. But by then, Brewer was trying all sorts of approaches to get back into print. At one point, he wrote an Executioner novel for Don Pendleton called Firebase Seattle. Everyone loved it except for Pendleton himself. And so it sits in storage. Brewer also wrote a spy thriller called The Paper Coffin which reads like a real period piece, when Euro-spy fiction was all the rage. Unusual for Brewer, the sex and money angle is toned down in this one.

Probably the most unusual book from Brewer’s slush pile is House of the Potato, a curiously static novel about a poor family in the Erskine Caldwell tradition. It feels very autobiographical, and reads like a first novel. Before Brewer developed the frantic style he started to develop in Gun the Dame Down, he didn’t seem to know what to do with his characters. In House of the Potato, they mainly seem to move from room to room, this character pining for that character, each one pissing the other off and interiorizing the pain. When someone gets around to writing Gil Brewer’s biography, I’m sure this book will get much discussion. In the meantime, it stands as the only book by Brewer that I’ve read that I most emphatically have not wanted to publish. And I’ve got pretty broad tastes.

Still, I think we put together a pretty good selection from these previously-published manuscripts of Gil Brewer’s, and since the book is out this week, I can now say, I hope you enjoy them.

—Greg Shepard