Monday, February 22, 2010

April in Peril by William Campbell Gault

April in Peril by William Campbell Gault
Short Story in Mean Streets, Ed. by Robert J. Randisi
Copyright 1986


I'm a huge fan of Gault's work, especially the novels that feature P.I. Brock Callahan. The ex-L.A. Ram tackle appeared in seven excellent novels between 1955-63. Reading all, I quickly discovered that this might be the finest written P.I. series during that period. Callahan had a return in the 1980s, when Gault penned seven more novels. (Gault passed away after the last novel was written) After a twenty year absence, Callahan inherited money, moved out of L.A., and finally married his longtime girlfriend Jan. He's a bit more involved in the social scene than in the earlier stories. A little less "dark alley" fare, but he is the same old compassionate Brock "The Rock" Callahan making things right in Southern California.

I believe "April in Peril" is the only short story that Gault wrote featuring Brock Callahan. It's a good one and I liked two things about it. One is that it's a flashback story about one of Callahan's first cases and the other is that it includes the presence of Gault's other P.I., Joe Puma. Puma was a big, handsome, tough, Italian-American detective out of Los Angeles. All the beautiful ladies fall for him and he has no trouble bedding a couple of them in every investigation. Joe Puma had his nose to the street in seven P.I. novels from 1953-61 and in a handful of short stories.

Taking place in 1986, "April in Peril" starts with Brock and Jan reading the morning paper over breakfast, when Jan comes upon an article about the famous actress April Fielding having her hands imprinted in cement on Hollywood Boulevard. That's when Brock tells the story of his early case, years ago, involving the voluptuous April Fielding. On that day the young rising starlet arrives at Callahan's Beverly Hills office to hire him after first offering the case to Joe Puma. Puma was picked because he carries a .38 and doesn't hesitate to use it. Though fully competent, the horny Puma seemed more interested in laying his paws on the Fielding girl. This turns her off and her next option is P.I. Brock Callahan. The story is about blackmail. Before reaching star status, April Fielding acted in a few "dirty" films to earn a living. Even after being paid off, the blackmailer continues to find copies of these films and demands more money. To avoid any harm to her career, she needs protection and someone to put an end to this. Between a couple of meetings with Joe Puma and April Fielding's agent, Callahan makes progress in the case. But he doesn't solve it. Some one else comes up with a plan to permanently end the blackmailing scheme. A double murder takes place, Callahan figures out what happened, and then lets it go for the good of everyone.

This crime yarn is quick and neatly packaged. As a fan of both private detectives, this is another William Campbell Gault story that I was hunting for. And I'm glad I did, I enjoyed it.

There are plenty of excellent stories in this second collection edited by Robert Randisi. Though good, the Gault story is not the best of the bunch. Max Collins has an exceptional one, I really liked Kaminsky's Tobey Peters story, and Loren Estleman's Amos Walker tale is terrific. (I also loved the title of that one) Here is the complete list:

House Call (Nate Heller) by Max Allan Collins
Body Count (Joe Hannibal) by Wayne D. Dundee
I'm in the Book (Amos Walker) by Loren Estleman
April in Peril (Brock Callahan) by William Campbell Gault
The Parker Shotgun (Kinsey Millhone) by Sue Grafton
Busted Blossoms (Toby Peters) By Stuart Kaminsky
Fly Away Home (Ben Perkins) by Rob Kantner
The Thunder of Guilt (Alo Nudger) by John Lutz
Missing in Miami (Jacob Asch) by Arthur Lyons
At the Old Swimming Hole (Warshawski) by Sara Paretsky
Ace in the Hole ("Nameless") by Bill Pronzini
Wrongful Death (Henry Paige) by Dick Stodghill

A quick note: Joe Puma's name comes up a few times in the Brock Callahan novels. He even met his demise in one. Early in "The Cana Diversion" (1984) the two detectives meet and exchange pleasantries at a police station. The next day Puma is murdered and Callahan is determined to find who killed him. (Sort of a professional ethics thing- he can't standby and let a fellow sleuth's murder go without a private investigation into it) What's interesting is that Gault paints Joe Puma as a struggling P.I. who is married and has a son. Having trouble making ends meet, he even resorts to taking slimy divorce cases. There is no mention of his good looks, his brazenness, or his virility. A moderately different character than seen in the Puma novels of the late 50s.
It's an excellent novel and worth a read.

3 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Puma began his career as sleazy p. i. in the Ace Double by "Roney Scott." He was rehabilitated for the GM novels later on.

August West said...

I'm lucky enough to have two copies of "Shakedown." I don't remember much of the novel, but I recall the shady Puma was playing both sides of the street. In the end he did some good. Boy, that was a long ago read for me.

This reminds me of that noisy neighbor of Brock Callahan's that live across the street in Gault's 1988 "Cat and Mouse." Now what was that neighbor's name?

Frank Loose said...

While the Joe Puma series is great fun, the Ace Double Shakedown is flat out terrific. Totally different character from the series. Guess Gault liked the character name a lot and resurrected it when given the chance. IMO Shakedown rates right up there with Jada Davis' One For Hell, and Jonathan Craig's Renegade Cop, for featuring a really amoral protagonist --- and a fast paced read.