Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Two mysteries by Gil Brewer
Stark House Press
286 pages.

If you, like me, enjoy good, crime fiction, then allow me to point you in the direction of Stark House Press. Here you will find some of the finest mysteries and pulp noir thrillers ever penned by the masters of the genre. Stark House specializes in reprinting long lost classics in thick, wonderfully designed volumes that are jammed packed with good stuff. Each, such as this particular title, contains two complete novels by a particular writer, essays on his life and career and occasionally a short story or two to complete the package. When I wrote editor/publisher, Greg Shepard, last year requesting to be put on their reviewers list, I had no idea the first book he would send me would be such a gem.

Tolbert O’Shaugnessy is a con man. The trouble is he is not a very good one. O’Shaugnessy has a conscience, a real liability in the grifting game. He also has a weakness for alcohol, which tends to aggravate his delicate stomach, and another for beautiful women which almost gets him killed.

At the start of the book, O’Shaugnessy has been romancing Miriam Kindott, a sexy socialite who lives with her wealthy grandmother. His plan is to romance as much of that money from her as he can. It’s a good plan, but unfortunately for O’Shaugnessy, Miriam is two steps ahead of him and hires a private eye to look into his background. When she shows him the report detailing his checkered past to include a stay in the Colorado State Prison, he figures his ticket has been punched. But exposing him for the sake of ending their association is not Miriam’s intent. She likes the fact that O’Shaugnessy is a grifter because she wants him to help her murder Old Lady Kindott and inherit all her wealth.

Many years ago the old woman had a grandson, one Joe Lancaster, who at the age of eight was taken away to live overseas with his father. Except for a few letters over the ensuing years, the boy then disappeared. Grandma Kindott never forgot him and he is the sole recipient of her will. From the same investigator, Miriam has discovered that Lancaster died in England and she wants O’Shaugnessy to impersonate him to get into the old woman’s good graces. Once securely a member of the household, they would murder her, make it look like an accident and together run off with the inheritance.

It sounds simple enough, but O’Shaugnessy is a crook, not a killer. Although he allows Miriam to recruit him in this deadly con, he has nothing but reservations from the moment he comes to live at the Kindott mansion. There he meets Grandma’s beautiful secretary, Ann Elliot, and learns the old lady has a wild South American monkey named Gargantua as a household pet, believing it to be possessed with the spirit of her dead husband. If that wasn’t screwy enough, within a day of moving into the estate, O’Shaugnessy discovers a dead body hidden the basement. The identity of that corpse and its connection to his presence there all begin to crowd in on the reluctant con man. Events begin to spin wildly out of control and he soon begins to suspect he’s the real patsy in a much deadlier game.

A DEVIL FOR O’SHAUGNESSY is expertly written and effortlessly pulls the reader along, with enough twist and turns to keep things interesting. There’s even a very nice, completely rational surprise ending that I enjoyed a great deal. After this, the book showcases three of Brewer’s nasty short stories. My favorite was easily “Love…and Luck,” but each is a gem and wonderful bonus in this collection. It is followed by the second novel.

THE THREE WAY SPLIT tells the story of Jack Holland, a down and out guy who barely makes a living chartering his fishing boat out of Tampa, Florida to rich and bored tourists from the north. On one particular excursion, Jack is forced to dive into the clear waters of the gulf to retrieve a necklace that has fallen from the neck of one of his drunken passengers. In doing so he discovers the wreck of an old sailing ship, the type known to have carried valuable cargos of gold and silver.

Upon his return to his slip, Jack is anxious to tell two people about his amazing discovery. The first is Sally, the girl he loves and hopes to marry and the second is an old sailor named Mike Wales who is expert on ancient wrecks and diving. But his plans are suddenly knocked askew when his con man father, Sam, shows up with mob killers hot on his tail. When the old man learns of the sunken treasure, he muscles himself into the deal, much to Jack’s displeasure. Jack can sense his father’s involvement will lead to no good and his instincts prove correct when a hit man arrives on the scene. Murder follows and Jack’s dreams of a big strike become a nightmare that threatens to destroy him and the woman he loves.

Brewer was a skilled craftsman and he builds suspense slowly and deliberately, leading the reader down an unavoidable path of doom that is the hallmark of classic noir. His characters are flawed, desperate and always believable. That he is considered one of the finest crime writers of his generation is no surprise, it is a title he truly deserved as these two books clearly demonstrate.

So there you have it, two terrific novels and three shorts, all wrapped up like a nice noir gift between two covers. Do yourself a big favor, go to (, find this book and check out all the other great titles available there. Tell them Fortier sent you.

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