Friday, July 18, 2014

Forgotten Books: DAY OF THE RAM by William Campbell Gault (1956)

A couple of weeks ago I re-read Ring Around Rosa (aka Murder in the Raw), the first appearance of private investigator Brock Callahan, and complained because he was grabbing his ankles and taking too many whacks from the police. That's HERE.

Well, Brock returns in Day of the Ram, and while his nose is still a little brown for my taste, he's showing signs of improvement. Plus, as the title - and the cover - indicates, this one is directly involved with Brock's former profession as a guard for the L.A. Rams. So I have to give Day of the Ram at least a thumb and a half up.

Football has changed a little since 1956. Brock tells us that lineman like he was are are bit players who make no more than a living wage. And there’s this observation about the players in general: 

Some of them earned less here, as pros, than some of the others had earned as amateurs in college.

Along with the football, Gault paints a great picture of L.A. in the fifties. Here's a sample:

Somebody had described Los Angeles as a dozen shopping centers in search of a town. It isn’t quite that. Areas have names of their own out here, but Hollywood is still Los Angeles and so is Westwood. And so are Brentwood and Bel-Air. But not Beverly Hills or Culver City or Santa Monica; they are distinct and separate municipalities, island surrounded by the creeping fungus that calls itself Los Angeles.

Another nice passage: 

Ned Allen had said “this town,” but that’s just a phrase. He meant the Los Angeles area - all the town roughly identified as “this town” of Los Angeles. It’s really not a town at all, but a collection of attitudes. 

The paperback cover tells us Brock is tough, but he has some odd ways of showing it. After an encounter with an insensitive bartender, he pays for his forty-cent beer in five pennies and “the dirtiest coins I could find.” And when his girlfriend's neighbor's doberman barks at him, he spits in the dog's face. Yeah, he's got a long way to go, but that's an improvement over Ring Around Rosa.

There are some nice touches of the times. His former teammates kid him about his new profession, calling him "Dick Tracy" and "Fearless Fosdick." He overhears a man half-joking with his wife: "Some day, Alice - pow!" And when he's jailed by a detective with a bad case of B.O. The detective asks:

     “Anything witty to take back to the boys in the squad room, Callahan?”
     I smiled at him through the bars. “I’m glad I use Dial. I just wish that everybody did.”

And here's a cool tip of the fedora to Raymond Chandler:

     The Chief of the Santa Monica police was certainly a dandy. A little man with an unctuous voice, looking at me across his big, expensive desk, and sadly shaking his head.
     “What else could we think, Mr. Callahan? A respected businessman in our community claims you came in brandishing a weapon. Whose story would you believe, if you were in my position?”
     “Since when is a bookie joint a respected business?” I asked him.
     He frowned at me, horrified. “Evidently you don’t know our little town.”
     “I read about it,” I said, “but the writer called it Bay City.”
     “There’s no gambling here, not while I’ve been chief.”
     “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” I said humbly.

Next up in the Callahan series is The Convertible Hearse. I believe I'll take it for a test drive.

Your weekly round-up of arcane literature is at pattinase


Unknown said...

I really like this series, though I haven't read one in a while.

George said...

I read the Bantam edition of DAY OF THE RAM. Like Bill Cider, I really enjoyed this series. Gault is a very underrated writer.

RJR said...

I hate to think of Bill as a forgotten writer. I met him in the early 80's. He was one of PWA's early life achievement winners, and Presidents. I like his Joe Puma and Brock Callahan stuff.


Evan Lewis said...

I met him at one the '80s Bouchercons in SF, where he signed my DAY OF THE RAM pb.