Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Books: Hard Case Crime Report

Let’s begin with The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer (1958). In particular the cover painting by Gregory Manchess, which is the finest this line has yet produced.

This is what the inside of my brain looks like 24/7. I want a framed version of this painting to hang on my wall. On black velvet, if possible. I’ve got a birthday coming up.

As for the book behind this cover ...

There was a book behind this cover?

Shirley, the virgin of the title*, is tending to her wealthy, ailing stepfather. She meets Jack Ruxton, a ne’er-do-well who’s thrown his lot into the TV business. They conspire to do the old man in, but naturally there are problems galore. Starting with the other women in Jack’s life.

Brewer packs in the suspense, but it’s the characters who truly shine. Shirley is a girl, aware of the power she has over men but unable to understand it. Ruxton is one of those men who “reckoned (he) would take the world by the tail and kick it smack it in the ass. Only it worked the other way around.” The brief but vivid scenes in Ruxton’s shop depict a man on the path to respectability who chafes at every step. It’s a great example of the keen insight the pulp authors of the ‘50s had into the lives of the working men who bought their books.

To prove I’m not a shill for Hard Case: Grave Descend by John Lange (1970) is the first of the company’s reprints I’ve read that’s something of a disappointment. Not that there’s anything wrong with this tale of an expat American diver in Jamaica hired to salvage a ship before it sinks. It’s a solid, serviceable novel. But compared to the other books Hard Case has rediscovered, solid and serviceable isn’t enough.

Lange is a pseudonym for an author who went on to achieve great success. Hard Case hasn’t mentioned his name in any of their publicity, so you can bet JURASSIC PARK I’m not going to tell you who it is.

There. That was subtle, right?

*I could have said “the titular virgin,” but I respect Brewer’s book too much.