Friday, September 16, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Hundred Dollar Girl -- William Campbell Gault

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 post originally appeared on May 17, 2005.


Todd Mason said...

And if I missed the post back then, let me take this opportunity to thank you, Bill, for encouraging more writing from him.

I'd say he was the default best sports-fiction writer I've read so far (certainly in his facility with all the sports...and I refer mostly to the sports-pulp adult stories I've come across from time to time over the decades), and among the best crime-fiction writers.

Todd Mason said...

And...well, I'm reminded of Isaac Asimov's note in his autobiographies, wherein Helen Del Rey, having heard him suggest that he couldn't do much in sf any longer, after having turned mostly to nonfiction in the early '60s, said to him, "Isaac, when you write, you Are the field." He credited that bit of encouragement with pushing him back into the traces and producing his later work, some of which would be among his best. (Of course, aside from being a good friend, she and her opinion of him had a special importance for him since earlier, she had also encouraged him to feel attractive as a man when he was at a very low ebb, something I doubt you would ever have been called upon to do for Gault, even if either of you had been so inclined...)


Unknown said...

Wasn't called upon, which is just as well. Gault did Tuckerize me in one of the later Brock the Rock books, though.

Todd Mason said...

Excellent. Brain slip on my part...Helen Del Rey was the second wife of LDR...Evelyn Del Rey, who had briefly been married to Harry Harrison, and who had been a member of the NYC-based Hydra Club where everyone involved met, was the person so pivotal to Asimov.