Gil Brewer Revisited

The Red Scarf-A Killer is Loose

The latest Mystery Scene magazine e-newsletter included Ben Boulden’s “2018 Reissues Roundup: Some Of The Best Books To Hit The Page (Again)”, starting with Stark House Noir Classics, nice looking trade paperbacks ranging from $17.95 – $21.95 US, most with reproductions of vintage postwar illustrations for their cover art (not necessarily the cover art from the novels’ original editions, though) and usually double books (two novels). Boulden’s article features Stark House’s republished version of two Gil Brewer novels, The Red Scarf and A Killer Is Loose from 1958.

A lot of Gil Brewer material deals with regular folks who are particularly unlucky, whether with money, jobs, love, marriage, you name it, and such is the case in The Red Scarf.

The Red Scarf Montage

Roy and Bess Nichols’ roadside motel looks out on a planned highway that never was built, so now they’re deep in debt, unable to borrow any more from the bank or family, and Roy’s taken to drinking too much. Doing just that at Al’s Bar-B-Q one night, Roy hitches a ride home with Noel and Vivian Teece, a bag man and his girl who’ve had a few themselves. When an accident kills Noel (or so it seems) Vivian grabs their satchel of mob money and holes up in Cabin No. 6 at Roy’s hotel, where Roy obsesses over the bag of dirty loot tied shut with her red scarf, even as the law and some very dangerous gangsters start to sniff around.

The Red Scarf

I’d read some Gil Brewer before, including Hard Case Crime’s edition of The Vengeful Virgin and Wild To Possess/A Taste Of Sin, another Stark House double. Brewer (1922 – 1983) was a Florida writer who usually set his fairly bleak tales in familiar turf, all of them a kind of ‘sun-drenched’ noir that neglects the glitz of Miami Beach for back roads, small towns, roadhouses and hot sheet hotels instead. My own work has me constantly stuck in a 1959 mindset, so some more late 50’s/early 60’s era Gil Brewer ought to go down swell right now.

Ms. Tree

Hard Case Crime Ms Tree

I discovered Grand Master ‘Edgar’ winner Max Allan Collins’ and Terry Beatty’s ground-breaking character Ms. Tree completely backwards: Not from the various comics series which debuted in 1981 and ran in titles by several different publishers through the early 1990’s, but in the one Ms. Tree novel, Deadly Beloved, published by Hard Case Crime back in 2007. And as it happened, I didn’t even buy that when it was released but several years later, and foolishly didn’t read it right away. But that delay didn’t diminish the enjoyment one bit. I was completely entranced with the character of Michael (not Michelle!) Tree, and determined to track down the comics. Easier said than done, as it turned out. I’ve never been lucky with comic shops’ back-issue bins, often as not muscled aside by some hard-core comics dude. In the end I only located one DC Comics Ms. Tree Quarterly. That one I grabbed and enjoyed a lot.

DC Ms Tree Quarterly

So I was thrilled to hear that Titan Comics Hard Case Crime line will reprint the Ms. Tree series later this year. So far I’ve been pleased with all of Titan’s Hard Case Crime comics that I’ve tried — Triggerman, Peepland and others —  and trust them to do an excellent job.

Ms. Tree. Well, just say it out loud. Misz-Ter-ree. Mystery. Get it? Cute.

Ms Tree Trio

Ms. Tree is writer Collins’ and artist Beatty’s ode to the classic crime comics which largely vanished in the aftermath of the 1950’s Wertham comics scare (Seduction of The Innocent, congressional hearings, etc.). Michael Tree took over her murdered husband’s private detective agency (the Mister also named Michael Tree) and the original series apparently dealt with her violent, vengeance-driven quest to solve his murder and ultimately bring the crime syndicate responsible to justice. Subsequent stories dealt with serious subjects for a time when comics still tiptoed around more mature real-world topics like pregnancy, abortion, homophobia. Ms. Tree herself is kind of a double for Mickey Spillane’s Velda, Mike Hammer’s secretary and paramour — An imposing six foot tall, sporting a Bettie Page hairdo and packing a gun in her shoulder bag (a bag that’s wielded as a nasty weapon in an emergency). Ironically, Ms. Tree turns out to be an even more effective P.I. than her husband was. The character preceded – or maybe even foreshadowed Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, and helped to supplant outmoded notions of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ previously embodied in the G.G. Fickling’s Honey West and Carter Brown’s Mavis Seidlitz series. I don’t see release dates for this Titan Comics Hard Case Crime comics series, but will definitely be watching for it. Ms. Tree is not escaping me this time.

 

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