Brewer wrote dark, gritty crime novels, primarily in the 1950s and
1960s, for houses like Gold Medal and Lancer. His books were full
of rotten men and fast women, and his prose was straightforward and
direct. Sometimes his ideas, great as they were, could not sustain
themselves throughout the entirety of the story, but he would build
up enough momentum that you rarely noticed.
Hard Case Crime has brought Brewer's THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN ---
originally published in 1958 --- back into print, and it's a treat
to see how remarkably well it stands up even without computers,
cell phones and caller IDs. Jack Ruxton is the owner of a
struggling appliance store who is hired to install a television and
intercom system for Victor Spondell, a seriously ill and crusty
customer who seems to be on death's door. The person doing the
hiring is Shirley Angela, Spondell's stepdaughter, an 18-year-old
whose thermostat is stuck in the "on" position and set way too
Before you know it (and longtime readers of the genre will see it
coming from the first page), Ruxton and Angela are deeply involved.
Ruxton is at the tail end of a relationship with Grace (though
Grace doesn't think so) and is ready for a change. Spondell also
has a next-door neighbor named Mayda Lamphier, whose husband has
been working in Alaska for months; she spots Ruxton and…well,
his cup, as they say, runs over. But Spondell is worth a lot of
money, and that bundle goes to Angela at his death. It is obvious
what will happen, isn't it? Angela and Ruxton are going to 1) kill
Spondell, 2) be rich, and 3) be happy. What is not clear, however,
is what really happens after #1.
When he suddenly brings all the disparate plot elements together
for a cataclysmic explosion that rocks the world of all involved,
Brewer is smoking hot. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention
Miraglia, who is probably the only honorable person in the entire
book. You'll hate this guy. It's simply amazing how Brewer is able
to do this.
If you missed THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN the first time around, Hard Case
Crime --- as it does repeatedly and so wonderfully --- makes it
possible to close the gaping hole in your literary experience.
Don't miss the opportunity.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011