Saturday, March 28, 2015

13 French Street (Gil Brewer, 1951)

Very Edgar Allan Poe-ish beginning. Our hero arrives to a secluded countryside house visiting his old friend who is now living there with his hot wife and aging mother. Something's definitely wrong and this delightfully dark and sinister atmosphere is nicely rounded up in the following dinner scene:

Dinner was a wake. We sat for three quarters of an hour over a rare roast of beef. And I met Verne's mother. Yes. Really there were three corpses at that table. The old woman, Verne, and the roast of beef.

Things then move forward pretty quickly with somehow predictable sequence of an affair, a murder and a case of blackmail. Needles to say, we know from the start it will end tragically.

But it's still great. Affair between Petra and Alex is all about sex. Very carnal stuff, there are no profound declarations of love made while watching the sunset. To be honest, Petra does seem to be a bit confused and cannot make a distinction between love and lust. Her husband is impotent which makes him "a machine with one part not working" to her. So "there's nothing wrong with him, only I'm too much for him... He couldn't keep me - happy" which then leads to a conclusion that "He's sapped. He's a dead weight. He can't do anything any more.

Alex's reasoning, on the other hand, is much more straight-forward: he's simply horny as hell. And he cannot handle the guilt of fucking his best friend's wife and deceiving his fiancee so he turns to a heavy drinking. What a sissy :) But there's a great feeling of fatality and inability to control his destiny right through the book's opening sentence: "Petra's letters should have warned me." to realization that "you are stuck like a fly in the glue".

Story is smart too. It's basically a drama about the damaged people in the post war America and not really crime/mystery thing although it smartly disguises itself as one. There's a character of Jenny that definitely plays some sort of the role since she has/had a relationship with Verne but this never gets fully revealed so reader expect some sort of a twist. At least I did. Also liked the fact it didn't follow the usual pattern in which hero gets fucked at the end and femme fatale walks away unpunished.

Hot stuff. Real page turner.

4/5

Facts:

Hero
Alex -An archeologist with no place to dig and with no one to give a damn if he did dig - but with a dream.

Location
Fictitious (I think) town of Allayne

Body count:  3

Object of desire: 
Sex/Money for Petra, Sex for Alex

Dames
It's all about Petra (btw the very first word in the book is her name):

She was tall, slimly provocative. All in black. Black hair, worn long, tumbling around her shoulders. Black eyes, all pupil, or all iris. Her skin was very white. Her black eyebrows arched slightly, making her eyes seem bolder than ever, and her smile had shock value. Long-legged, full-breasted, and the neckline of her dress reached down. Down. She was bold, beautiful woman.

Petra. She stood alone. There was nobody like Petra. One image was made, then the gods shattered the cast. Why?

Her breasts were large, perfectly formed, upthrusting, and firm. Her body was flawless, as if she had been carved with some lusty godlike precision from a warm, utterly unblemished slab of pure alabaster.


Blackouts
Lust and guilt drive Alex to drink himself into the oblivion:

I barely made it to the toilet. I blacked out in an agony of retching, tearing the stuff up, trying to vomi all the crazy hell out of the bottom of my guts.

Title: 
Book's very first paragraph:

The minute I stepped through the doorway at 13 French Street, I sensed something wrong - something I couldn't nail down. But she closed the door before I had a chance to run.

Also a bit of (not exactly subtle) symbolism. Number 13 doesn't need an explanation and France part of the title comes from Alex and Verne's serving in France during the WW2 where their frienship was forged and where Verne (admittedly drunk) had promised Alex that they would share his future wife.

Edition:  Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal #211, 1951

Cover
See 'Dames' section

Cool lines:  
He looked as if somebody had machine-gunned his soul. 

His voice was hollow, and when he smiled it wasn't a smile at all, just a torturing of the muscles around his mouth.

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