Wild to Possess by Gil Brewer (Monarch Books #107, 1959)
Gil Brewer started off with hits for Gold Medal, but all was not milk and honey for the noir author, as Bill Pronzini notes at The Mystery FIle:
His success had begun to wane. Overexposure, a slowly changing market, the darkening nature of his fiction. . . these and intangibles had led to a steady decline in sales of his Gold Medal and Crest originals after the high-water mark of 13 French Street, to the point where Fawcett decided to drop him from its list. In his world-by-the-tail decade, he published twenty-three mostly first-rate novels under his own name, fifteen of those with Fawcett; between 1961 and 1967, he published a total of seven mostly mediocre novels – one last failure with Gold Medal (The Hungry One, 1966) and the other six with second-line paperback houses (Monarch, Berkley, Lancer, Banner).
Wild To Possess is one of those titles from Monarch. The protagonist, Lew Brookbank, has been bouncing around Florida for six months, running away from the craziness of his life — his wife, Janice, had been having an affair with a boat bum they knew, Deke Clarkson, and when he went to the guy’s boat to catch and confront them, he found both their dead bodies, shot up.
Freaked out, he took the boat out, dumped their bodies in the ocean, and let the boat drift off. He had a Luger and figured the cops might try to pin the murders on him. He then started to wander, planted himself in Gulfville, a small Florida town, got a girlfriend, Rita, and tried to forget…only, he drinks more and more trying…
And one day, while posting real estate signs along the road, deep in the flora and fauna, by the swamps, he overhears a man and a woman talking about a kidnap for ransom plot. He follows them to the woman’s house and, like an Orrie Hitt peeper, he watches them from the window and listens to their scheme: they are going to kidnap his wife, whose mother is rich, and demand $250,000 in ransom. They are Isobel and Ralph; his wife is Florence. But they don’t plan to release Flo, they can’t; they are going to murder her and run off with the loot…always the loot, the payday, easy money, ill-gained cash, the greenbacks that drive many a noir and Brewer character…
Lew has his own ideas: he will wiggle in and get the money himself, and vanish and start a new life with the money. A monkey wrench is tossed in: a big man, Herbert Clarkson, has tracked Lew down. His brother Deke’s boat washed ashore in the Bahamas. He knows of the affair; he knows something happened; Lew stupidly left his Luger on the boat. Herbert doesn’t care why or how his brother was killed, he just needs proof to collect on an inheritance he was left out of.
Like most noirs, the hero has a number of problems to juggle: to hoodwink the kidnap caper, keep Rita from knowing anything, and evade Herbert. His entire world is crashing down around him…if the caper works, he can run from from his problems with the means to pay for safety.
He can’t understand, at first, why Ralph would want to leave Flo — she walks around the house naked and boozed up all the time, and she has a better, sexier body than Isobel…but as he peeps in on them and listens, he understands that Flo is abrasive and nags Ralph about everything, flaunting the fact that he’s struggling to make money with his shoe store and her mother is loaded.
He kidnaps Flo, keeps her in the attic of his house, hoping Rita won’t hear anything as she comes by every night…like an Orrie Hitt character, he jumbles three women: Rita, who is clingy; Flo, whom he has the hots for; and Isobel, who wants her share of the money and is willing to toss Ralph aside for Lew, to get her pay day.
These people are desperate for money because it means new lives for them; they have been lower middle class workers all their lives and they desire easy street, the good life wealth signifies. The desire for paper currency drives them all to do stupid things like kidnapping and murder…and Herbert is half-insane to get Lew to tell him what happened to his brother so he can have the family fortune. Of course, it’s no revelation when we find out that Herbert really killed Deke and Janice, and Lew messed up Herbert’s plans to get his brother’s wealth. Every one of them is pathetic — they think money will purchase happiness, when we know that just ain’t so, Joe.
Despite this being a “lesser” Brewer novel, it’s a good read. It starts a bit slow, but gradually sucks you in as the tension tightens and the plot(s) unravel. It has one of those quirky cut-off endings Brewer’s novels tend to have, rather than the patent “happy” moral endings some vintage books are plagued with.
On the Vintage Scale, Wild to Possess is an 8.
Stark House has reprinted this novel along with A Taste for Sin. The cover is from a photo that Robert Macguire’s daughter found in her dad’s papers, which her dad used to paint the original cover. Monarch Books may have been a second-rate paperback house, but they got first rate art, and the novel ain’t all that shabby either.