Tuesday, November 13, 2012

IN BRIEF: Flight to Darkness - Gil Brewer

Vet noir. I think there's an awful lot of it. And I always seem to stumble upon it. I recently wrote about a Viet Nam vet up to his neck in bad women and murder (The Sexton Women) and here's another book about a hapless vet under the spell of a seductive woman.

As Flight to Darkness (1952) opens Eric Garth is about to leave a V.A. hospital where he has been given a clean bill of health. After returning from the Korean War traumatized and broken he had been under a psychiatrist's care for a disturbing recurring nightmare in which he murders his brother Frank with a wooden mallet. Now successfully having completed his treatment he hopes to return to Florida and return to his career as a sculptor. Going along for the ride is Leda Thayer, Dr. Prescott's nurse and assistant. Leda gave Eric more than his fair share of TLC while at the V.A. and now he's hoping to sample more regularly Leda's considerable non-nursing talents. But we know that Eric is doomed, for on the very first page he describes Leda as a "lush tropical flower blooming poisonously through a crack in a stretch of hot cement sidewalk." Not exactly a flattering metaphor, is it?

Leda, a truly fatal femme fatale, and Eric her love-struck mark make for quite a wanton couple. Neither can keep their hands or lips or anything else off each other for very long. These men of noir just don’t know the difference between love and desire. It's always their undoing. With Eric Garth you keep hoping he'll finally see the light. It takes him nearly three times before he starts to catch on.

Click to enlarge
He's framed for a hit and run accident, sent to another psych ward in Alabama, but manages to escape to Florida. There he meets up with his brother and learns that he has married Leda. Uh-oh. Then there are those wooden mallets hanging in the sculpture studio. One of them finds its way to Frank's skull and Eric is framed for the murder. Still, he is under the hypnotic sexual spell of Leda who amazingly does everything but get entangled with that randy Zeus/swan. For all his stupidity and thinking with his crotch you keep rooting for Eric hoping he'll see that his ex-gal pal Norma is the right choice and his savior from the path that leads to hell. He's not a bad guy at all, but you know he will never see the light until it's far too late. When he does he's compelled to exact a cruel revenge typical of Brewer's protagonists. But is there also the rare redemption for this Brewer hero? I'll leave that for you to discover.

BTW - the cover illustration is not accurate. Leda should be wearing a nightgown and Eric should be wearing pajama bottoms only.  But I guess Gold Medal had yet to get really racy with their covers so early in their operation.


  1. I've got my hands on some of Brewer's books on your say so and am going to be indulging myself with these over Chritmas (which after all is a time for indulgence), so thanks for that, in advance! This one sounds particularly Goodis-like

  2. Vet noir is a great phrase and I am writing a story about a Nam vet right now. I guess Veteran's Day brings it up. I need to read at least one Brewer book in my lifetime.

  3. They look like they're in Bart Simpson's tree house looking down on Homer & Marge's bedroom window.

  4. I too think that "vet noir" is a perfect phrase for what amounts to a real genre. Or maybe I should say "sub-genre." Anyway, over the years I've read lots of novels and seen lots of movies that feature a WWII soldier who comes home to find that the country he left—and often the gal he left—are a far cry from what he thought he was fighting for. I've been reading a book about Raymond Chandler, and it occurs to me that he might have been the founder of this genre, so to speak. His screenplay for "The Blue Dahlia" pivots around this trope, and he wrote it while the war was still under way (in 1943-1944).

  5. This is the sort of book, John, that would have me rolling my eyes until I collapsed in laughter. I can't help it. I like men as much as the next guy...uh, woman, but not when they're being boobs.

    Maybe I'm just not a 'noir' kind of gal.

    1. I admit that I thought this guy was quite a dolt, Yvette. For the first time in a long time when reading one of these books I was thinking: "Geez, man can't you see this chick is bad news? She's practically wearing a warning sign on her amazing breasts." HA! But then I reflect on the dozens of Eric Garths I have met in my life - both male and female. Sometimes you just can't steer people clear of the big mistakes they are making when it comes to choosing their heart's desire.

  6. A bit late, I know, but I can't help but remark on the similarities between this novel and Neil H. Perrin's The Door Between (1950). Both feature doltish, damaged, institutionalized vets who fall under the "hypnotic sexual spell" of wicked women. Whether Perrin's novel might be considered "vet noir", I don't know. There are crimes - a woman is beaten, a guy is thrown down a set of stairs - but there is no mystery and nary an officer of the law in sight. I will say this, The Door Between is one of the bleakest, darkest and most pessimistic novels I've ever read.

    If interested, I've written about it here and here.