THE SQUEEZE by Gil Brewer
Review copyright 2009 by Mike Dennis
A fortune in illicit cash, a sinister gambling joint operator, a gorgeous redhead, and enough double-crossing to last a lifetime…those are the building blocks of The Squeeze, a fast-moving novel by Gil Brewer.
Written in 1955, The Squeeze is centered around Joe Maule, a Chicago transplant to the southwest Gulf Coast of Florida, the site of many Brewer tales. Joe is in debt to the tune of $12,000, a fortune at the time. He owes it to Victor Jarnigan, owner of a nearby illegal casino. Jarnigan, who has cheated Joe out of the money, has concocted a plan to allow him to clear his debt. All Joe has to do is get cozy with Caroline Shreves, local femme fatale.
According to Jarnigan, a local stickup artist from years past had squirreled away nearly $300,000 from his jobs, before finally being executed for murder. Before dying, however, he told someone where the money was hidden. That someone was Ernest Lobb, who lives in a sprawling beachfront home with his wife Sara and her stepsister Caroline.
Sara is overweight and repulsive. She drinks gin and eats chocolates at seven in the morning, generally making life unbearable for everyone around her. Caroline, however, is eye-popping, and is given to hanging around local cocktail lounges on weeknights. Joe’s instructions are to develop a relationship with her, then get into the house and try to find out from Lobb where the money is. The stakes are high, as Jarnigan has promised Joe a long, agonizing death if he fails to turn up the cash.
Well, Joe gets tight with Caroline, all right, according to the plan, but he falls in too deep. As with most Brewer protagonists, he’s blinded by his lust for this alluring woman who knows all the moves. She appears to fall for him, too, and before you can say “Judas kiss”, the two of them are plotting to grab the money for themselves and split town.
Meanwhile, Jarnigan puts relentless pressure on Joe to locate the loot. He continually checks on him, and sends henchmen around to make sure he’s got his shoulder to the task. Through it all, Jarnigan is never far enough away for Joe to get comfortable.
Joe finally confronts Lobb and, after beating it out of him, learns where the money is kept. A few minutes later, Lobb commits suicide. Knowing that Jarnigan would never buy the story, Joe and Caroline get rid of the body, making it look like Lobb has left for good on his own.
Complicating matters is the fact that when Joe and Caroline go to retrieve the money, it’s gone.
Jarnigan’s patience wears thin, Sara hits on Joe, Caroline is hot to find the money no matter what, and the betrayals begin.
Time runs out on all the characters, as The Squeeze comes rushing to its inevitable climax. Brewer’s formula of lonely-guy-meets-beautiful-dish works again, thanks to clever variations in his theme. He pushes all the right buttons in this little noir gem, which unfortunately has been left in the dust of the last half-century.