Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

"She had on a red knitted thing, made of one piece. It was shorts and a top, without sleeves. The top was what I think they call a boat-neck, tight up against her throat. The whole thing was very tight on her. Her face seemed almost childlike, but she was no child." —from The Vengeful Virgin

... and she was no virgin, either, if her actions at the end of Chapter 2 are any indication. But the title has a nice alliterative ring to it, though it suggested that I would be too embarrassed to read it on public transportation. The cover, lovingly illustrated by Gregory Manchess (whose work has also graced Fade to Blonde, Home Is the Sailor, and Grave Descend), practically guaranteed it.

Hard Case Crime continue their attempt to revive the careers of previously popular, now-little-known crime writers. Gil Brewer was one of the best selling authors of his day, but he had a little problem with substance dependence that eventually killed him. The abuse made his writing uneven, so he is hit-or-miss in terms of quality, but The Vengeful Virgin is probably his best, with a shocker ending that rivals that of Grifter's Game.

Shirley Angela has the unenviable responsibility of being constant caregiver to her invalid stepfather following her mother's death. Hungry for social contact of any kind — but especially of that kind — she calls television serviceman Jack Ruxton to install a special setup in her stepfather's bedroom.

Together they hatch a scheme to get rid of the old man and share the several hundred thousand dollars he has stashed away in the bank. All Ruxton has to watch out for, besides getting caught, are the two other women who have set their sights on him. Our Jack is apparently a very popular man with the ladies. You may wish you had that problem. Don't.

The Vengeful Virgin is everything readers look for when they seek the pure pulp experience. It feels like it was written in a flash of inspiration, and it has all the earmarks of this perfectly lurid literature: its characters are boldly sexy, violently cruel, lustfully greedy, and utterly remorseless. I couldn't find a single flaw in Brewer's execution, which means that if you're not a Gil Brewer fan by the time you finish this book, then maybe you need to find another hobby, because reading is obviously not for you.

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