Monday, September 8, 2008

Vein of Violence by William Campbell Gault

Vein of Violence by William Campbell Gault
Award Books, Copyright 1961

"Two are already dead," I said. "A vein of violence has been brought into life. The first murder is always the hardest one; a killer gets hardened quickly after that."

Gault's Brock Callahan P.I. series is one of the best ever written. The novels are like a magnet; once you finish one, you're looking forward to the next. For those who are not familiar with "The Rock," he's a retired L.A. Rams defensive guard, level-headed, lives modestly, and likes to play poker with his old teammates. He has a fondness for Einlicher beer and is content driving his old groaning flivver. A practical guy, who you would love to have as a friend or on your side if you need help. Also, his on/off relationship with Jan Bonnett is always a welcomed enrichment in the stories. This is Gault's fifth Brock Callahan novel and he gives us another first-class murder mystery story with the honest California P.I.

Callahan's newly married Aunt Sheila pays the P.I. a visit with her new husband, Texas oil man Homer Gallup. We get the impression that the aunt likes to marry rich men. (she had a few) Anyway they would like to have Brock's girl, Jan Bonnet, help them find a house and help design the interior, which is her profession. They come across a dated mansion estate which belongs to an old silver screen scarlet named Mary Mae Milgram. Homer loves the place and purchases the property, despite the disapproval of Jan and Aunt Sheila. Brock has taken a liking to Homer for that. Homer throws an open house party and Mary Milgram is found dead, poisoned. Homer hires Brock to find the killer, and the cops let him assist as long as he keeps them informed. The road leads Brock into a world of blackmailers, greedy heirs, and other faded stars from a bygone Hollywood era. He stumbles onto another murder and discovers a family scandal that numerous individuals are determined to keep hidden.

No dark alleys or heavy gun play here, this is good honest detective work. The novel appears to be divided into two parts. The first having Brock and the group interacting with the real estate deal, the murder, and possible motives for Homer's mysterious interest in the property. There is the continual friction in the relationship between Brock and Jan, which heats up when Callahan is caught spending the night with the beautiful assistant to the murdered victim. The second half has Brock Callahan digging into the case with Aunt Sheila, Homer and Jan rarely around. The P.I. covers a good part of Southern California in his old flivver, uncovering leads and giving the cops just enough to keep them off his back. Eventually he puts the pieces together and just as he figures it out- we do too. And as readers, we get the privilege to go with him to lay it all out. -Wonderfully done by Gault.

As in all of the Brock Callahan novels, Bill Gault fills this story with terrific lines:

Brock describing his girl:
She is a fairly complex girl, loving both beauty and money. She is a girl of many moods, but I love her in all of them. She is the beginning and the end. She is Jan; what can I say?

Brock describing himself:
"I'm always for rent but never for sale."

Brock describing Hollywood:
I turned into the bright lights and swirling carbon monoxide of Sunset Boulevard, the street of stars, the treadmill of tourists, the winding, grinding, noisy street that leads where all streets lead -to the grave.

Brock describing L.A.:
The smog was behind and we were back in California. Los Angeles is not California, not in any way. Los Angeles is a fungus that will some day destroy California.

Brock describing reporters:
Small men working for big papers and it gave them a false sense of their own importance. Meaningless men with powerful weapons.

And one of my favorites, describing himself to the cops:
"I'm not a lecher, I said. "I'm not Joe Puma. I'm a square, Lieutenant, poor and honest. Occasionally, I am a victim of my strong romantic compulsions, but I have never accepted a dishonest dollar."
(Of course all Gault fans know about P.I. Joe Puma)

I'll say it again, the Brock 'The Rock" Callahan P.I. novels are some of the best ever published. To me he's right up there with Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer and Paul Pine. William Campbell Gault's "Vein of Violence" is a fine example of the huge talent he had as a mystery author. We find Callahan a little more upbeat in this novel. He has less worries and seems very content with his life. Highly entertaining, interestingly suspenseful, and as in all of Gault's novels- a damn good mystery.

Note: Don Siegel directed an 30 minute Adventure Showcase T.V. episode in 1959 called "Brock Callahan." Synopsis on TCM states: "The exploits of Brock Callahan, a retired Los Angeles Rams guard turned two-fisted private detective working out of Beverly Hills. The story relates Brock's attempts to find the killer of an interior decorator." Sounds interesting!

4 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Great stuff, indeed, and the Joe Puma novels are just as good, if not better.

August West said...

Yes, you can flip a coin with these two P.I.s I'm a Callahan guy first, the big guy just hits home to me. For some reason I can always remember the details of each Callahan novel, even if I read them years ago. I have trouble recalling the plots of the Joe Puma novels. It's probably just me. My favorite Puma book is still the first, "Shakedown" (Roney Scott),but all the others are not to be overlooked.

Thanks Bill, A.W.

Chris said...

Cool detail about Don Siegel. I've always really liked the films he directed.

Ever see his cameo in the '70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatcher?

August West said...

Chris: Missed that, but was the director for some of my favorites: "The Killers" (1964 version) with Lee Marvin and Ronny, "Dirty Harry," "Charlie Varrick" and "The Shootist" -from the great novel By Glendon Swarthout & and The Duke's last film.