Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Red Scarf


Author: Gil Brewer
First Published: 1955
Pages: 170

Wow, where do I start with this one. What an amazing book. Gil Brewer is well known among fans of hard boiled novels for writing about characters who find themselves trapped in a difficult position and slide further and further down a rabbit hole of lies and deceit - the further down they fall, the more their situation seems unrecoverable by the reader. In The Red Scarf, Brewer skillfully plunges his antagonist, Roy Nichols, down a warren that you feel he will never be able to climb out of. I was rolling my eyes and groaning as Nichols makes decisions that I just knew were going to increase the velocity of his decent - you feel like grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and screaming "Just tell someone the truth!" or "For God's sake, don't do that!", but deep down you know it will spoil the fun you are having reading about his desperate attempts to wriggle free of any of the consequences of his previous actions.

Roy Nichols and his wife Bess, live in a struggling Motel in Florida, hoping that an abandoned highway nearby will have its construction resumed, so that it will help lift them out of the debt they find themselves in after all their business investments. Roy travels across country to seek some financial assistance from his brother. After coming up empty handed he decides to save money and hitch-hike back to Florida. This leads him to meet the decidedly odd-acting couple, Vivien and Teece. Vivien in particular seems rather strung out, flirting and toying with Roy right in front of Teece. Both of them reek of booze and despite his initial miss-givings Nichols accepts a lift from Vivien.

During the ride, it transpires that the pair have absconded with a briefcase stuffed full of cash from the Mob; Teece being a courier, and Vivien seemingly having influenced him into taking the dangerous step of keeping the cash and running off with her. The case is identified through the fact that Vivien has tied her bright red scarf around the handle. The three of them continue drinking in the car, there is a incident, and Roy is left with a moral dilemma.

What follows is a brilliant story following Roy back to his Motel home and wife Bess, determined to somehow save their livelihood whilst juggling all the set-backs and complex situations he finds himself in; facing the torment of lying to his wife, trying to avoid detection from the police investigator, and desperately trying to outwit the man the Mob send out to recover their cash.

Brewer was a master. This novel never lets up and Brewer never lets you down. I was hooked all the way and am really pleased I finally got around to picking this up to read. Highly recommended as an essential piece of noir fiction.

I purchased the Stark House edition of this novel. It is bundled together with another Brewer story, A Killer is Loose. It cost me £3.75 in total, well worth every penny. Even the cover is decent for an eBook.