Many years ago, I remember hearing good things about The Red Scarf by Gil Brewer, but I've only recently laid my hands on a copy, thanks to Stark House Press, who have republished it together with A Killer is Loose in a volume introduced by Paul Bishop. Once again, Stark House have been responsible for the rediscovery of a first rate novel - if A Killer is Loose, which I have yet to read, proves to be as good as The Red Scarf, it will be quite something.
At first, it seems that we are in James M. Cain territory, as the opening is suggestive of The Postman Always Rings Twice. The story is narrated by Roy Nicholls, and we meet him as he is dropped off in the middle of nowhere by a truck driver who has given him a lift. He finds a nearby bar and there he encounters a glamorous young woman, Vivian, and her deeply unpleasant boyfriend Noel Teece.
From there, the story develops a personality of its own. Brewer uses familiar tropes - the decent guy who is so financially hard-pressed that he finds himself contemplating crime, the uncomprehending wife, the femme fatale, the unscrupulous gangster, the sceptical cop, the suitcase full of alluring banknotes. And so on. But Brewer uses these elements to fashion an extremely gripping story.
It's all the more gripping because it is short. So often, writers forget that less is more (especially when writing modern television serials) but Brewer was adept at maintaining a relentless narrative pace. There's one first-rate surprise development, and a satisfying conclusion. The merit of The Red Scarf is not originality, but the skill and economy with which an exciting story is told. I'm very glad I caught up with it at last.