After my unfortunate encounter with 13 French Street, I thought I'd give Gil Brewer another try - and with The Vengeful Virgin, I struck gold.
Jack Ruxton, a small-time TV salesman hits the big-time when he's called out to do some work for the stunning Shirley Angela. Shirley, 18-going-on-unforgettable lives with her decrepit (and wealthy) step-father - forced to play the reluctant nursemaid in turn for vague promises of being written into the will. Hijinks ensue, culminating in the inevitable seduction, corruption and karmic reward for everyone involved.
If the above summary sounds like a paint-by-numbers noir plot, believe me, it isn't. I was left guessing until the end - and even now, I'm still stunned by how the cards fell. Not bad for a fifty-year old pulp.
Jack Ruxton is one of the most progressively heinous characters I've ever read. What starts as his token resistance to corruption quickly unfolds to reveal one of the darkest, most loathsome characters I've read. Yet, even with that, Brewer's writing manages to pull the reader into Jack's world. More upsettingly - he convinced me to start to mentally nodding along with Jack's seductively amoral thinking.
Originally published in 1958, The Vengeful Virgin now been reprinted as part of the highly-recommended Hard Case Crime series. This new printing includes a wonderfully steamy Gregory Manchess cover that I had to hide from the little old lady sitting across from me on the train - a true homage to the seedy pulp tradition.
With this dark whirlwind of a story, Brewer has claimed his rightful place in the hall of the pulp masters. Especially with a new edition on the shelf right now, I'd recommend this book to any right- (or wrong-) thinking paperbacks reader.
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