Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Books of 1955: Murder in the Raw by William Campbell Gault

William Campbell Gault started out writing stories for pulp magazines. According to the entry for this author in Paperback Confidential by Brian Ritt, he was writing for the "spicy" pulps and sports pulps in the 1930's and wrote for the detective pulps in the 1940's and 1950's.


Gault's first novel was Don't Cry for Me, published in 1952. It won the Best First Novel Edgar for that year. In 1955, he published Ring Around Rosa, the first in a series of novels featuring Brock Callahan, an ex-LA Ram football player, who becomes a private detective in Beverly Hills, California. That novel was later published under the name Murder in the Raw. The paperback edition I read had that title.

In this first book in the series, Callahan has just started his PI business and still wonders if he has it in him to go back to a year or two more of football. Although he has some contacts with the police in the area, in general they give him a hard time. Brock is doing his best to be an honest detective and stay within the law.

The basic story is that Callahan sets up his business and the first client who walks into his office is Juan Mira, a retired Filipino boxer. Juan wants to hire Callahan to find his missing girlfriend, Rosa Carmona, a dancer in a nightclub. Callahan does not want to take his money; he thinks Juan just wants him to make his girlfriend return to him. Juan talks Callahan into trying to find Rosa and things rapidly get more complicated.
Juan stood about five-four and would now weigh about a hundred and thirty. He wore a neat and creamy tropical weave suit and white buck shoes and a big-brimmed leghorn hat with an extremely colorful band. There are not many Miras in Beverly Hills; Juan was out of his league.
The cover of my edition describes the book as a hard-boiled classic. This book seemed to have less sex and violence than many books in that genre.

Brock often referred to his car as his "flivver." I am familiar with the word but haven't seen it used a lot, in books of any vintage.
My flivver is what is known as the Victoria model and it has really deluxe upholstery in white and green plastic. Tufted and buttoned and with beaded edges, I was so proud of it. 
I opened the door and turned sick.
Somebody had really worked the upholstery over with a knife. It was slashed viciously, both the front and rear seats. It was ruined.
The definition of "flivver" from the Urban Dictionary:
A 1930s (Great Depression era) slang term for a old, dilapidated, and/or otherwise ragged-out automobiles; appears commonly in 1930s literature like Jack Conroy's "The Disinherited."
Many of the books written by Gault feature sports. In addition to football, there is boxing, racing, and golf. In the mid-1960's and the 1970's he turned to juvenile fiction, often featuring sports, which was more lucrative. In the 1980's he returned to the Brock Callahan series and other crime fiction novels.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I am glad I finally sampled this author's work. I will be looking for more in the Brock Callahan series and also plan to try some of his other mysteries.

Resources:


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Publisher:   Charter Books, 1988 (orig. pub. 1955 as Ring Around Rosa)
Length:       191 pages
Format:       Paperback
Series:        Brock Callahan, #1
Setting:       Beverly Hills, California
Genre:        Hard-boiled mystery
Source:       Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.


24 comments:

  1. A better book than my 55 read, but I'm not green with envy over it TBH.
    I have heard of the author, but don't have anything by him on the shelves, and haven't previously read him either, a situation that probably won't change.

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    1. I am very happy to have found this author, Col. I will let you know what further books are like.

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  2. Oh very interesting - completely unknown to me, a great discovery for your 1955 book.

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    1. I was very excited, Moira. I felt my review sounded subdued and did not express how much I liked the book, but I will have plenty of time to praise him in the future, when I read more books.

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  3. Oh, this sounds really interesting, Tracy! I haven't read as much pulp as I might; glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. I am going to have to seek out some short stories in that vein, too, Margot, when I have time.

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  4. Both Gault's Callahan series and his Joe Puma series are well worth reading. His standalones are also worth a look. A fine writer.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Bill, I will try the Joe Puma series too.

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  5. He wrote a really unusual murder mystery set in the retail Oriental carpet business called the THE BLOODY BOKHARA. Who knew a mystery writer could make rugs so fascinating?

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    1. I had heard of that title, John. It does sound unusual. I will seek that one out also.

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  6. Gault was fond of throwing out slang, and it didn't much matter how old or current it was, if he liked it, he used it. I read this and the second in the series some time ago and remember liking them. The I want to read is the one John mentions, which I haven't yet come across.

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    1. Thanks for that info, Richard. I look forward to searching for paperback copies of his books, I love old paperbacks.

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  7. Sounds great TracyK - I must try some Gault but so far have only samples some of his short stories (there was a crippen & Landru collection i think).

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    1. Sergio, I saw that Crippen & Landru collection and I want to find a copy.

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  8. You can never go wrong with Gault.

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    1. Glad to hear that. I will be looking around for more.

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  9. Tracy, absolutely new to me and that cover is enough to make me go in search of Gault.

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    1. I was really impressed with this book, Prashant. I hope you find some Gault to try.

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    1. I agree, Helen Jean, vintage reads are usually very good. I checked out your blog and I like the combination of quilting and reading. In my younger years, I dabbled in piecing, applique and quilting, so I can appreciate your work.

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  11. I must echo the above commenter, I love these vintage reads. I'm in the grip of a James Hadley Chase glom but...and there's a but - his work is not without flaws. I'll go into it more later when I post about my reading of No Orchids for Miss Blandish. Gault is an author I have heard of before and I think I own one of his books. I must find it now. Thanks for posting such an interesting book for the #1955 challenge.

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    1. I saw your post on No Orchids for Miss Blandish and commented on it. Your take was very interesting. I hope you do get a chance to try a book by Gault. I would love to see your reaction.

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  12. Gault is new to me too. Terrific review, Tracy! And I must say that John has intrigued me with the rug title.

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    1. Thanks, Bev. I will definitely be seeking some of his books out soon, and I hope I find a copy of THE BLOODY BOKHARA. My husband liked the sound of that one too.

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