Sun 30 Nov 2008
BILL PRONZINI on WILLIAM CAMPBELL GAULT:
William Campbell Gault was a writer of the old school, a consummate professional throughout a distinguished career that spanned more than half a century. From 1936 to 1995 he published scores of novels, both mysteries and juvenile sports fiction and hundreds of short stories, and counted among his awards an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Life Achievement Award from the, Private Eye Writers of America.
Noted author and critic Anthony Boucher said of him: “(He is) a fresh voice — a writer who sounds like nobody else, who has ideas of his own ,and his own way of uttering them.” Another of his peers, Dorothy B. Hughes, stated that he “writes with passion, beauty, and with an ineffable sadness which has been previously been found only in Raymond Chandler.”
He was in his mid-20s when he entered a story called “Inadequate” in a Milwaukee Journal-McClure Newspaper Syndicate short story contest. The judges found it to be anything but inadequate, awarding it the $50 first prize. Spurred on by this success, he wrote and placed several more stories with the McClure Syndicate, then in 1937 entered the wide-open pulp field with the sale of a drag-racing story, “Hell Driver’s Partnership,” to Ace Sports.
Over the next fifteen years he was a prolific provider of mystery, detection, sports, both light and racy romance, and science fiction to such pulps as 10-Story Detective (where his first criminous story, “Crime Collection,” appeared in January of 1940), Detective Fiction Weekly, The Shadow, Clues, All-American Football, Strange Detective Mysteries, Adventure, Dime Mystery, Dime Detective, Doc Savage, Argosy, Detective Tales, Five Novels Monthly, and Thrilling Wonder and to such “slick” and specialty magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Grit, and McClure’s.
In the late forties he was featured on the covers of the king of the detective magazines, Black Mask, in whose pages he published nine stories, five of them featuring an offbeat, Duesenberg-driving private detective named Mortimer Jones.
When the pulp markets collapsed in the early fifties, Gault turned his hand to book-length works. He published the first of his 33 novels for young readers, Thunder Road, in 1952, a work which stayed in print for more than three decades. Appearing that same year was his first mystery, Don’t Cry for Me, one of the seminal crime novels of its time.
Prior to Don’t Cry for Me, the emphasis in mystery fiction was on its whodunit / whydunit aspects. Gault’s novel broke new ground in that its whodunit elements are subordinate to the personal lives of its major characters and to a razor-sharp depiction of the socioeconomic aspects of its era — an accepted and widely practiced approach utilized by many of today’s best writers in the field.
His fellow crime novelist, Fredric Brown, said of the novel: “[It] is not only a beautiful chunk of story but, refreshingly, it’s about people instead of characters, people so real and vivid that you’ll think you know them personally. Even more important, this boy Gault can write, never badly and sometimes like an angel.”
The Mystery Writers of America agreed, voting Don’t Cry for Me a Best First Novel Edgar. Gault’s subsequent mysteries are likewise novels of character and social commentary, whether featuring average individuals or professional detectives as protagonists.
Many have unusual and/or sports backgrounds, in particular his non-series works. The Bloody Bokhara (1952) deals with the selling of valuable Oriental rugs and carpets in his native Milwaukee; Blood on the Boards (1953) has a little-theater setting in the Los Angeles area; The Canvas Coffin (1953) concerns the fight game and is narrated by a middleweight champion boxer; Fair Prey (1956, as by Will Duke) has a golfing background; Death Out of Focus (1959) is about Hollywood filmmakers and script writers, told from an insider’s point of the-view.
An entirely different and powerful take on the Hollywood grist mill is the subject matter of his only mainstream novel, Man Alone, written in 1957 but not published until shortly before his death in 1995.
The bulk of Gault’s 31 criminous novels — and many of his short stories showcase series detectives. One of the first was Mortimer Jones, in the pages of Black Mask; another pulp creation, Honolulu private eye Sandy McKane, debuted in Thrilling Detective in 1947.
Italian P.I. Joe Puma, who operates out of Los Angeles, was created for the paperback original market in the fifties, first as the narrator of a pseudonymous novel, Shakedown (1953, as by Roney Scott), and then of several books published under Gault’s own name between 1958 and 1961, notably Night Lady and The Hundred-Dollar Girl.
His last and most successful fictional detective was Brock “The Rock” Callahan, an ex-L.A. Rams lineman turned private eye, who first appeared in Ring Around Rosa in 1955. Callahan, along with his lady friend, interior decorator Jan Bonnet, did duty in six novels over the next eight years. In a rave review of Day of the Ram (1956), The New York Times called Callahan “surely one of the major private detectives created in American fiction since Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.”
After the publication of Dead Hero in 1963, Gault abandoned detective fiction to concentrate on the more lucrative juvenile market. It was nearly twenty years before he returned to the mystery field; and when he did return, it was exclusively with stories of an older, wiser, married (to Jan Bonnet), inheritance-wealthy, and semi-retired Brock Callahan.
The new series of Callahan books began with The Bad Samaritan (1982); six others followed, culminating with Dead Pigeon in 1992. In The Cana Diversion (1982) Gault also brought back Joe Puma — dead. The novel’s central premise is Puma’s murder and Callahan’s search for the killer, a tour de force that earned a Private Eye Writers of America Shamus for Best Paperback Original.
The hallmarks of Bill Gault’s fiction are finely tuned dialogue, wry humor, sharp social observation, a vivid evocation of both upper class and bottom-feeder lifestyles, and most importantly, the portrayal of people, in Fredric Brown’s words, so real and vivid that you’ll think you know them personally.
— This essay first appeared as the introduction to The Marksman and Other Stories, by William Campbell Gault and edited by Bill Pronzini (Crippen & Landru, hardcover, March 2003). Reprinted with the permission of Bill Pronzini.
Sat 29 Nov 2008
ALBERT CONROY – Devil in Dungarees. Crest 349; paperback original, 1st printing, January 1960.
As opposed to my comments at the end of my review of Murder Gets a Degree, the sexual behavior and general lasciviousness exhibited by the characters in this book bothered me not at all. For the most part, it’s because it’s an integral part of the plot (see below), but there is another reason, one which I haven’t fully formulated, or if I have, maybe I haven’t even convinced myself it’s true. (I don’t mean to sound mysterious, but if I do, you’re just going to have to live with it.)
This bit of authentic Americana falls into a category no longer as common as it used to be in written fiction, but the theme has recently been picked up on by the movies — films such as Body Heat are direct descendants of the type. That is to say, a tale in which a good but severely flawed male is corrupted by the pleasures of the flesh, as embodied (and how!) by a young wanton of the opposite sex.
In this one, it is a cop who goes bad — and so does the bank job he’s persuaded to lend a hand on. It is therefore not so much Peggy’s story, in spite of the spectacular entrance she makes, straight from the shower, but Walt Bonner’s, and that of Ben Travis, his partner on the force.
Albert Conroy (quite possibly a pseudonym) wrote something less than a dozen books of the same vintage and era (late 50s and early 60s), although there was a Al Conroy who wrote some Mafia-type books for Lancer during the 70s. He’s not the type of writer to make any reference books other than Hubin, but this book at least is a humdinger. Once the bank caper goes awry, and the chase begins, the pace never sags in the least.
It would make a terrific movie, filmed exactly as written, of the type starring Richard Widmark, Lee Marvin, and Edmond O’Brien. (I haven’t yet decided whom I’d want to see playing Peggy.)
— From Mystery.File 1, January 1987 (revised).
[UPDATE] 11-29-08. First of all, I have no idea what I was referring to at the end of the first paragraph. I could guess, but I might be wrong, and you’d probably be no better off either way, would you?
But more importantly — and I’m sure many of you caught this right away — it’s now fairly well known that Albert Conroy was indeed a pen name, and for Marvin H. Albert, who wrote tons of books under his own name and others, not only mysteries, but westerns and movie tie-ins, too.
Nor am I the only one who likes Devil in Dungarees. Bill Crider does too, so much so that he wrote a Gold Medal Corner column about him for me a few years ago.
It’s online here, and not only does it have the same cover image as on this post, as well as several more, but I expanded it by putting together a complete bibliography for Albert/Conroy/Nick Quarry/Tony Rome and all of his other bylines.
You should go read it, and I hope you do.
Sat 29 Nov 2008
REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:
WASHINGTON STORY. MGM, 1952; Robert Pirosh, screenplay and direction; John Alton, cinematography; Patricia Neal, Van Johnson, Louis Calhern, William Self. Shown at Cinecon 41, September 2005.
This attractive, if slight, MGM political drama was scheduled to showcase the talent of Patricia Neal, the convention’s featured guest, but it’s Louis Calhern, as a seasoned congressional representative and mentor of freshman representative Van Johnson, who walks off with the film with a scene in which he mimics several of his colleagues, a demonstration of acting technique that received an ovation from the audience.
(The not very nimble interviewer “explained” to Miss Neal, and this came off as patronizing, that the audience reacted so strongly to Calhern’s scene in recognition of an old Cinecon favorite actor. Balderdash. We were applauding a scene-stealing star.)
I don’t remember ever seeing the film, in which reporter Neal is interviewing Johnson for a story as he’s up for reelection, but it’s very engaging.
Neal does a fine job in a not very demanding role, and Johnson surprised me with his command of his role. I never thought much of him as an actor.
Neal’s most striking comment, in her interview after the screening, was that Gary Cooper was the “love of my life,” to which the interviewer (who should have kept his mouth shut) responded weakly that “we’re all great fans of Cooper.” I would like to think I wasn’t the only one who snickered at that.
I was surprised at how small Neal is (she seems tall and rangy on-screen), but being in a wheelchair didn’t help. She’s clearly bright and very articulate, with an impressive memory of her career (with only some minor forgetting of names). A great actress and lady.
Sat 29 Nov 2008
A REVIEW BY MARY REED:
ETHEL LINA WHITE – The Spiral Staircase. Ward Lock, UK, hc, 1933; Harper & Row, US, hc, both as Some Must Watch. Harper & Brothers, 1941. Published as The Spiral Staircase. World, 1946 as a movie tie-in to the film of that title: RKO, 1946 (Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore). Remade: Raven Films, 1975 (Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Plummer, John Phillip Law); and as a TV movie: Fox, 2000 (Nicollette Sheridan, Judd Nelson, Alex McArthur). Paperback reprint, as The Spiral Staircase, Popular Library #120, 1946; and as #60-2381, late 1960s?
It is a dark and very stormy night as the novel opens, for a terrible gale howls around Professor Sebastian’s rambling but solidly built house, twelve miles from the nearest village. The entire countryside is gripped in terror after five local girls have been murdered, and once darkness falls few people venture abroad.
Protagonist Helen Capel works as “lady-help” to the scholarly professor; his chilly sister Blanche, who is firmly under the thumb of their invalid mother Lady Warren, who may or may have killed her husband “by accident” years before; and sinister, mannish Nurse Barker. There is also the professor’s son Newton, married to and insanely jealous of his flirtatious wife Simone, who has her eye on a fling with the professor’s resident pupil Stephen Rice.
Mr and Mrs Oates, faithful servants, round out the residents of the house, one of those rambling edifices with a warren of cellars, many rooms, and two staircases — and not all of it fitted with electric light.
After learning of another murder committed not far from the house, Professor Warren announces that as a matter of safety everyone must stay inside and nobody is to be admitted under any circumstances that night. But just as he gives this order, there is a thunderous knocking at the front door….
My verdict: The Spiral Staircase was originally published as Some Must Watch, a much better title given the plot hinges on efforts by the nine people locked in the house to protect themselves and each other during a long and extremely stressful night.
The manner in which one by one they fail in the task is extremely clever, for the reader cannot be certain if events come about naturally or if someone is pulling strings to arrange matters. I cannot say more for fear of spoiling an excellent work in which tension increases every chapter, characters are not always what they seem, and expectations based on behaviour turn out to be completely false.
I read this book in a few hours and regret I’m not just beginning it again! In fact, I name it without hesitation as my top read this month.
[EDITORIAL UPDATE] As you’ve probably already noted, there were three film versions of this book, all duly cited in Al Hubin’s Revised Crime Fiction IV or its online Addenda. While searching for possible additional details, I found a fourth: a 60-minute NBC production telecast on 4 October 1961 starring Edie Adams, Eddie Albert, Lillian Gish, Jeffrey Lynn, Hayley Mills, Elizabeth Montgomery and Gig Young.
That’s quite an array of acting talent, but at the moment that’s all I know about the film. It seems to have been a special presentation, but it’s possible it was an episode of some other overall series, but which one, if any, I do not know.
In any case, it will appear in the next installment of the Addenda.
[UPDATE] Later the same day. I’ve found it — the overall series, I mean. Theatre ’62 does not have its own entry on IMDB, but BFI describes it as “a series of TV specials commemorating the films of producer David O. Selznick.”
In this series, seven live adaptations of Selznick movies were presented:
4 Oct 1961. The Spiral Staircase.
19 Nov 1961. Intermezzo. Jean-Pierre Aumont, Ingrid Thulin.
10 Dec 1961. Notorious. Joseph Cotten, Barbara Rush.
14 Jan 1962. The Farmer’s Daughter. Lee Remick, Peter Lawford.
11 Feb 1962. Spellbound. Hugh O’Brian, Maureen O’Hara.
11 Mar 1962. The Paradine Case. Viveca Lindfors, Richard Basehart, Boris Karloff.
8 Apr 1962. Rebecca. James Mason, Joan Hackett, Nina Foch.
It’s doubtful if any of these exist, but wouldn’t it be nice?
Fri 28 Nov 2008
BETRAYAL FROM THE EAST. RKO Radio Pictures, 1945. Lee Tracy, Nancy Kelly, Richard Loo, Regis Toomey, Philip Ahn, (Victor) Sen Yung, Drew Pearson. Based on the non-fiction book by Alan Hynd. Director: William Berke.
This wartime almost-pure propaganda movie is no longer easy to find. It was released on video cassette but not (so far) on DVD, and the now out-of-print VHS tape (shown) seems to command high prices. I taped my copy from American Movie Classics, sometime B.C. (before commercials), but maybe, just maybe, its staunch anti-Japanese sentiment is part of the reason it seems to have slipped out of sight.
Drew Pearson, one of the most famous newspapermen of the day, appears as himself at the beginning and end of the film, warning heavily against fifth columnists in general and Japanese spies in particular. Considering the relocation camps that Japanese-Americans were forcibly moved to during World War II — but later repudiated in 1980 as “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” — it is difficult to view this movie in an purely entertainment mode today.
And in fact, it wasn’t intended to be then, and with the passage of years, it’s certainly not meant to be today. Which is not to say that this movie doesn’t have moments that are worth watching. Nearly ninety minutes long, the film’s production values are a step above the B-movies being made at the same time, and with a little tweaking of the story, dropping Drew Pearson’s role, and tweaking some more, it could have been another Across the Pacific. But they didn’t, and it isn’t.
Lee Tracy as Eddie Carter, now out of the army and low on funds, is tempted by a Japanese friend into making a few dollars, but when he discovers that what’s wanted are plans for defending the Panama Canal, he has second thoughts about what he’s gotten himself into.
Also taking an interest is Peggy Harrison (Nancy Kelly), a slim and pretty brunette who manages to work up an acquaintance with Carter, an acquaintance that quickly becomes more than that.
Tracy was much older than Kelly at the time, 47 to her 24 (and pudgier) and the love affair doesn’t set off any sparks as far as I was concerned, although I could see the attraction she has for him. Even with a couple of nifty plot turns, the whole affair is about as ham-handed as this, made with good intentions at the time, perhaps, but in retrospect, no.
Fri 28 Nov 2008
Of perhaps major significance or importance, let me announce first that I recently uploaded Part 30 of the online Addenda to Al Hubin’s Revised Crime Fiction IV, 1749-2000. It’s a long list of recently discovered additions and corrections, largely a matter of birth and death dates and setting of stories, but as always, there are books newly listed, new series characters determined, and new biographical data about the authors.
I’ve not had a chance to do any of the annotating that I usually do: adding links and cover images and the like. It’s just the facts, as some TV detective is well-known for saying, or is supposed to have said, which are not quite the same thing.
What I have been doing in this regard is merging Parts 1 and 2 with Part 3 in alphabetical order, A through H so far. To demonstrate, here’s a section of authors whose last names begin with B. And as always, if you know anything more about any of these authors, do let me know about it.
CAREY, BASIL. 1898-? Born in Plymouth, England; author of a number of thriller novels published between 1926 and 1937, some reprinted in the US.
Gray Amber. Add British edition: Constable, hc, 1930. US edition: Clode, hc, 1930.
CAREY, DONNELL. Pseudonym of Joe Barry Lake, 1909-1961; other pseudonym: Joe Barry. Under this pen name the author of one book included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV; see below:
Kisses Can Kill. Phantom, US, pb, 1951. Comyns, ca.1952. “The amazing story of a birthmark that solved a savage murder!”
CARR, JOHN DICKSON.
The Burning Court. TV movie [series episode/Dow Hour of Great Mysteries]: NBC, 1960 (scw: Kelley Roos [Audrey Roos & William Roos]; dir: Paul Nickell). [Note: Audrey and William Roos won an Edgar from the MWA for their television script.] Note: For more on the Dow TV series, see this earlier post on the M*F blog.
The Bloody Chamber and other stories. Film: The Company of Wolves, based on ss in this collection: Cannon, 1984 (scw & dir: Neil Jordan)
The Eagle’s Nest. Novelization of TV movie [series episode/The New Avengers]: TV1, 1976 (scw: Brian Clemens; dir: Desmond Davis). SC: The New Avengers: John Steed (Patrick Macnee), Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt) and Purdey (Joanna Lumley).
CARTER, MARY. Pseudonym.
Prisoner Cell Block H: Trials of Erica. Pinnacle, 1981. (Novelization of the Australian TV series Prisoner; distributed in the UK and the US as Prisoner: Cell Block H, and in Canada as Caged Women.) SC: Regular cast members including prison governor Erica Davidson (Patsy King).
CASTLE, JOHN. [Joint pseudonym of John William Garrod & Ronald Charles Payne.]
Flight Into Danger (with Arthur Hailey). TV movie: CBS, 1971, as Terror in the Sky (scw: Elinor Karpf, Steven Karpf, Dick Nelson; dir: Bernard L. Kowalski)
CAUSEY, JAMES O(LIVER, JR.) 1924-2003. Replace tentative years of birth and death with correct ones and add full name. Author of three crime novels included in the Revised Crime Fiction IV.
The Baby Doll Murders. Gold Medal, US, pb, 1957; Fawcett, UK, pb, , 1959.
Frenzy. Crest, pb, 1960. [Reviewed by Bill Crider on his blog.]
Killer Take All! Graphic, US, pb, 1957. Hale, UK, hc, 1960.
Thu 27 Nov 2008
THEODORA WENDER – Murder Gets a Degree. Avon; paperback original, October 1986.
A slim book, at 150 pages (of large print), it still packs a wallop of intensity, emotional drive and impact.
It is also the second fictional collaboration of Wading River’s chief of police Alden Chase with Glad Gold, female professor of English at Turnbull College, the first being Knight Must Fall (Avon, pbo, 1985), in which the former president of the school was murdered and his body thrown into a pool.
Wading River is based on a good many New England towns of the same type — this time apparently of the Rhode Island variety. Providence, H. P. Lovecraft’s hometown, is nearby, and witchcraft, black magic and secret covens figure prominently in the death of poor addled Adah Storm, the last descendant of a long line of permanent Wading River residents.
She even dies on Halloween, but the none of all this has much to do with her murder or the destruction of her home by fire. The motive lies elsewhere, for which I give thanks, as in the context of detective fiction I often find sorcery and contact with evil spirits invariably making for barely tolerable reading.
As another of the new authors recently published by Avon, Theodora Wender does a capable job of misleading the reader with the real clues uncovered by Chase and Gold, but any reader who is paying attention should easily decipher the killer’s identity.
The occasional propensity for using four-letter words seems misplaced in this particular setting and type of story, however, and I while I am happy for Chase and Gold’s delight in each other, I found their tendency to jump into bed (or the equivalent) at every opportunity (so to speak, and hardly explicitly) something I’d somehow (curiously) rather they’d do off-page.
— From Mystery.File 1, January 1987 (revised).
[UPDATE] 11-27-08. I know a little more about the author than I did in 1987. The two books were the only two mysteries she wrote, and from Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV we learn that the author’s real name was Dorothea S. Wender. She was born in 1934 and died in 2003.
This helped me use Google to good advantage, allowing me to discover that “Dorothea Schmidt Wender was born in 1934 in Ohio and graduated from Radcliffe College, and then went to the University of Minnesota and Harvard University. She has been Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Classics at Wheaton College, Massachusetts. Her publications include book reviews and scholarly articles.”
One of her scholarly publications was a translation of a book by ancient Greek authors Hesiod and Theognis: Theogony, Works and Days, and Elegies (Penguin Classics).
I confess that at this relatively late date I do not remember much about the book, but what I said at the time makes me (a) feel like reading it again, and (b) wish that there had been more in the series.
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