RARA-AVIS: NOSTALGIA REVIEW: W.C. Gault - Day of the Ram


"Day of the Ram" by William Campbell Gault, No Exit Press, 1989, 
(originally published in 1956 by Random House), 192 pp., #2.50, softcover, 
ISBN 0 948353 43 0.

William Campbell Gault has had one of the longest and most distinguished 
careers in the field of mystery fiction. Born in 1910, he was a member of a 
group of Milwaukee writers that included, most notably, the late Fredric Brown. 
Gault served a long apprenticeship in the pulps, to which he contributed 
hundreds of stories and of which he has said: "We wrote fast; they 
bought cheaply. But they bought." He has written many private-eye novels and 
juvenile books, achieving critical recognition as an outstanding storyteller; 
however, his success with the public at large has been moderate at best, an 
injustice if ever there was one. Nowadays Gault's books are mostly out of
print; fortunately No Exit Press, an enterprising English reprint house,
has reissued "Day of the Ram", an excellent example of his best work.

"Day of the Ram" takes place in Los Angeles and the private-eye is Brock 
(The Rock) Callahan, a former football player turned private investigator; 
this is his second appearance in a series whose last installment (so far) 
appeared in 1984 - his 1982 novel "The Cana Diversion" won Gault an Edgar
award for best original paperback, an uncommon achievement for a senior
writer who had been in semiretirement-and who, as far as I know, is 
still active. Callahan's personal life and traits are carefully integrated
into these novels; his background as a football player is well delineated;
he is a Stanford graduate, and in general a fairly ordinary fellow. In 
the present novel, romantic interest, such as it is, centers on 
Callahan's hot-cold relationship with Jan, a brash interior 
decorator who knows his weaknesses inside and out; she, too, is a fairly 
ordinary person - but definitely not a Doris Day, though certainly not a 
Susan Silverman. She and Callahan age and evolve through this entire, 
thoroughly enjoyable series, which you are invited to read.

In "Day of the Ram", Callahan is hired by Johnny Quirk, a quarterback 
with the L.A. Rams - a young and rich Beverly Hills kid who promises to be the 
next rising star of the team. Quirk has received a threatening note and fears 
he is being blackmailed by gamblers. Soon afterward Quirk is shot to death in 
his father's estate, and Callahan undertakes the investigation on behalf of 
Quirk's father, in uneasy collaboration with the police. The cast of suspects 
includes, on the shady side, Enrico Martino, a rich gambler turned respectable 
Bev-citizen, who had an appointment to meet Quirk at the time of his 
death and who actually saw him die, and the Heffner brothers, Martino's
rivals and enemies in the gambling business. As the investigation 
evolves, many questions arise about Quirk's character; as it turns out,
nobody really seems to have known him closely, not even a girl-friend
to whom he was supposedly engaged. To complicate matters, a mysterious,
slightly overripe two-bit actress, whom Quirk was seeing on the side,
turns out to be simultaneously involved with gambler Martino and 
kept by one of the Heffner gangsters. The investigation leads farther and 
farther into the past, skeletons are dug up, and suspense is impeccably 
maintained throughout until the last-page resolution, a surprise twist 
which rounds out the plot nicely. The central, dark theme of this novel, a 
violent death that brings back ghosts from the past, is one that was dear
to Ross Macdonald. While I can hardly speculate on what Macdonald would
have done given an outline of the story, I am glad that Gault used his
pulpster's instinct rather than Freud's writings as a guiding principle.  

I do not think I exagerate if I say that Gault merits being considered 
one of the top writers in the private-eye field. His style is concise,
witty but not fruity, and remarkably free from extraneous interpolations.
His plots are solid, the circumstances and dialogue believable; Callaghan,
an intelligent and medium-tough character with modest endowments as a
wisecracker and little propensity to use a gun.

If you like private-eye fiction, you might do worse than investing a 
modest amount in this novel and perhaps setting up an investment plan
in William Campbell Gault; the way I see it, Gault stock is vastly
undervalued and, should the market turn, you might make a killing.

Review Copyright (C) 1997 by Mario Taboada

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