Three-Way Split by Gil Brewer (Gold Medal, 1960)
Another breezy fast-paced Gil Brewer crime novel set in Ft. Lauderdale and the Florida Keys, with bad fathers, cookie cutter gangsters, drunk wenches, and the sweet girlfriend who wants to get married.
Jack Holland is a boat bum…owns a sailboat that he charters now and then but is behind the rent on the dock slip, his phone and electricity turned off…his girlfriend, Sally, wants to get married before they get too intimate. She has a wild sister, Vivian, a drunk wench who gets involved with Jack’s father.
Jack and his father don’t have the best relationship since Jack’s mother died when he was young. Sam, the father, is a con man and grifter, always out for the big cash grab, and he has shown up with the mob sending hit men for an old debt…Sam kills the first “slgnutty” who comes after him.
During a charter, Jack had dived into the ocean to retrieve a fake diamond necklace that went overboard and spots an old wrecked ship 2 fathoms down. He tells a fried, Mike, about it — Mike is in his 70s, a retired treasure hunter and deep sea salvage man. Mike thinks the recent hurricane brought the old ship out from a sand burial, and that it could be one of 3 Spanish ships that vanished in 1724, with $700,000 of gold onboard.
But how to get to it before the next storm buries it? Mike is too old for diving and Jack does not have the experience diving that deep in a dive suit. They can’t hire a pro diver because (1) they don’t have the money and (2) a diver would blab his mouth and word would spread and everyone and their brother would be out to salvage the boat, not to mention the government making a claim on the gold, which often happens when people find old wrecks.
But Jack is desperate for money and Mike is desperate for one last deep sea salvage adventure in his autumnal years, so Mike gives Jack a crash course with an old diving suit.
To add to the mess, Jack’s no-good father gets wind of it all and thinks he’s entitled to part of the loot just because Jack is his son, and he could re-pay the mob what he owes (didn’t Han Solo have the same problem with Jabba the Hutt?)…and then the ob goons find out…now everyone wants a piece of the action, although no one knows if there’s anything on the ship, like gold.
The setting and situation is different than most urban crime noirs and that’s a welcome change. There is a lot of detail about diving, so either Brewer did his homework well or had experience
“I felt the air rushing into my helmet an dthe pump transmitting its energy along the hose and into the old diving suit. I clung to th elife line, sick with wanting to be back aboard the boat, swaying with the surge of the violent overhead. It was bad. There were two toughs waiting up there with guns cocked. And they had my girl. It was either dive or stop a bullet with my skull. So I dove. I took it too fast and the changing colors of the water flashed past like the patterns in a kid’s kaleidoscope. Then my feet struck bottom. And there she was – like an enormous black monster, teetering on the sand bank. Two people had already died for the treasure in her rotten hull, and I was next in line.”
Like all noirs stories, things never work out quite right, with the two mob guys and his desperate dad waiting on the boat for the riches to come up, while Jack rishs his wife at the bottom of the ocean…
Stark House reprinted this one with another Brewer classic…