FRANK GRUBER – The Gold Gap. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1968. Pyramid N2558, paperback, October 1971.

   Frank Gruber was a prolific pulp writer in the 30s who went full force with the future of publishing in the 40s, spending more and more of his time at the typewriter churning out hardcover novels, both mysteries and westerns, beginning with Peace Marshal, a western, in 1939, followed by The French Key, a Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg mystery, in 1940.

   As time went on, he also became a movie and TV screenwriter, creating in fact (according to Wikipedia) three TV series: Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan and Shotgun Slade.

   I’ve never been a big fan of his writing, though, and while I give his books a try every once in a while, I often end up disappointed, more often than not. The Gold Gap came toward the end of his career, and while it has a few moments, they come too far and in between. As a pulp fiction writer, a Hammett or Chandler, Gruber was not, nor does he seem to have improved as time went on.

   Or in other words, tight and taut his fiction wasn’t. In the case at hand, the plot meanders all over the place until it reaches an ending that I defy anyone to explain, or care. There are two also long accounts of pool games in progress, a game better watched in person than read about in a tale in which they have no purpose being there in the first place.

   The story has something to do with a fortune in gold coins being found in Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by a ragtag group of three French Legionnaires. That’s the prologue. The tale itself begins in 1967, thirteen years later, in Beverly Hills with an ex-Navy commander named Sargent, a recent escapee from the Viet Cong, being treated to a free suit by a Hong Kong tailor. Then, with no qualifications for the job whatsoever, he is hired by a multi-millionaire to investigate the background of the girl he is engaged to marry. There has to be a catch, the reader thinks. Who knows what Sargent thinks. For a long while, irrelevant to the plot, he seems to take the job seriously.

   Add to the mix another fellow who says he works for the CIA and manages to offer Sargent taxi rides at opportune times, and in other hands, you would have the beginnings of what sounds like a decent tale. But none of the characters comes to life, and à propos de rien Sargent suddenly has the deftness with a pool cue to beat the champion of Cleveland’s upper society at the game, as described above. A poorly planned attempt to rescue the girl involved, otherwise a complete non-entity, ends the book with a dull fizz.