Friday, July 16, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE HUNDRED-DOLLAR GIRL

James Reasoner and I have discussed the fact that we can remember where we bought certain books, even though we bought them years and years ago. I remember buying The Hundred-Dollar Girl off a rack in Austin, Texas, very clearly. I could even describe the place, though it's long gone. This was the first William Campbell Gault book I bought, I believe, though it's the seventh book to feature Joe Puma. I'm not counting The Cana Diversion, and neither should you. I am counting Shakedown, half of an early Ace Double by "Roney Scott," but the Puma in that book isn't really the same guy who appears in the others. Five of the books were published by Fawcett Crest as paperback originals, and this one was published in hardcover by Dutton before being reprinted by Signet. The other night, for some reason, I decided I wanted to read it again after more than 40 years, so I got it down off the shelf. As you can see, it's still in pretty good shape.

The story has Puma investigating the murder of a boxer's manager. Gault was one of the best when it came to writing about sports, and this is a good story. The manager is murdered, and then there's another murder. Obviously they're connected, but just how is hard to figure. Puma sleeps with a couple of women, gets knocked around a lot (which is hard to figure, considering how big he is), eats well, and deals with goons, mobsters, cops, and women in his inimitable fashion. Puma has a quick temper, and it gets him in lots of trouble that a smoother operator might have avoided. But the temper (and the integrity) is part of what makes Puma such an interesting character. A lot of people perfer him to Gault's other p.i., Brock "The Rock" Callahan.

Gault won an Edgar, got good reviews, and had a lot of devoted readers (including me). But he never made much money from his mystery writing. So he left the mystery field and took to writing YA novels, many of which were highly successful, went through numerous printings, and which made him a lot more money than his mysteries ever did. I think I deserve a little credit for luring him back to mysteries because I did an interview with him for Billy Lee's Paperback Quarterly around 1979 or so. Then he was invited to the Bouchercon in Milwaukee and found out that he had a lot of fans who remembered him. He revived the Callahan series, and while the books weren't quite what they used to be, several of them came close to recapturing the old feel. If you haven't read any of Gault's books, it's time to check them out.

This is a reprint of a post I did about 5 years ago. I was looking at the book the other night and thought it would make a great FB post, and then I remembered I'd already written about it. So here it is again. Some of you may have missed it the first time.

5 comments:

Ron Scheer said...

Sounds as fresh as if it had been written yesterday. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I still remember that Bouchercon in Milwaukee and how surprised and pleased Gault was to find so many fans still remembered him and his books.

People shook his hand, told him how much they liked his stuff, bought him drinks. He had a great time and you helped make it happen.

Jeff

August West said...

I agree with everything you said Bill. Gault was one of the best. My first Gault reads were the Joe Puma books. Then I zipped through those early Brock Callahan ones. Lately I've been catching up on the later Callahan novels from the 80s. I remember a pesky sort of neighbor that Brock and Jan had living across the street in the novel "Cat and Mouse." That neighbor had a familiar name.

I also enjoyed all the excellent non-series mystery novels that Gault authored. One that I am having trouble finding is "Phantom." (1957) I think it's the only one that I haven't read.

Bill Crider said...

Yes, Gault was a great guy and he tuckerized me in that book. I haven't read Gault's juveniles, but I've read just about everything else. Hadn't heard about Phantom. I'll have to be looking for that one.

Todd Mason said...

I wouldn't be surprised if I commented on this post on its original appearance, but nonetheless I'm glad to see it again...even today, I think, YA books with legs are a bit more likely to be sustained in print than adult novels, and I think much of what else drew Gault to YA writing is that he could readily find a market for sports fiction that he couldn't, without other factors, in the adult market. I've mentioned that the first Gault I read were racing stories, for the better sports pulps, reprinted in auto-racing fiction anthologies published in the '60s, and a basketball novel that was included in a reading text from the late '60s/early '70s...he found an audience there, even if they're now all out of print...and thanks for helping him find his audience in CF again. The late work in crime fiction is also good stuff...