Monday, July 23, 2012

Gault, pulp, and professionalism

I've read a bit more of William Campbell Gault's Murder in the Raw (or Ring Around Rosa), the American half of yesterday's European/American football crime-fiction double bill.

My compadre Kevin Burton Smith writes on the Thrilling Detective Web site that Gault
"was never particularly flashy as a writer, but his simple, straightforward style made him one of the most dependable and solid P.I. writers to have written for the pulps ... His stories were always good reads, and if there were sharper stylists, there were few who were as consistent. A Gault story is always worth reading."
That observation feels right. The protagonist, Brock Callahan, is a former football player just starting out as a private investigator. He's boiled, but not too hard. He waxes bitter toward a police officer friend, but he never lapses into moodiness, isolation, or self-destruction. The self-deprecating wit never goes over the top; I haven't laughed out loud yet, but I've enjoyed every joke. None has been off-target.

Callahan and his creator walk firmly in the middle of the hard-boiled road, and the book has me considering, for the first time in my career as a crime reader, the delights of competence and professionalism.

Like many pulp writers, Gault wrote across genres. He gave up crime writing for years to write juvenile sports fiction, according to Smith, and also wrote hot-road stories for young adults. His affection for sports and cars shows effectively and unobtrusively here. Not every pulp writer was a Hammett or a hack, and it's nice to see one of the in-betweeners, a solid, highly skilled, competent professional at work.
Here's a bit I've liked, Callahan questioning a dead man's former business partner about the deceased:

“He’s been described to me as sensitive and talented and bitter and broke.”

“He was bitter. Maybe he was sensitive; I’m not sensitive enough to judge. He wasn’t talented and only a wealthy person would consider him broke.”
© Peter Rozovsky 2012



Blogger Dana King said...

I read a collection of Gault's Joe Puma stories last fall. As you said, his style isn't flashy, but they were very good stories. Definitely someone worth reading more of.

July 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've since read a few more chapters of Murder in the Raw, and I've discovered a weakness. Gault was not the greatest writer of dialogue, especially the kind that seems nautral but is fraught with meaning. But he is good at description, and I'm enjoying the novel.

July 23, 2012  

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