Vintage Pulp Aug 12 2020
FOCUS PEOPLE
Hollywood gets wholly weird in Bill Gault's show business thriller.


With Death Out of Focus, which is our third reading of Bill Gault, aka William Campbell Gault, we're thinking he can be moved into the trusted bin. He once more documents the decadent ins and outs of Southern California, this time centering his tale around a movie production. When director Stephen Leander's leading man ends up in the wreckage of his car at the foot of a cliff in Pacific Palisades and police call it an accident, a determined insurance investigator launches his own inquiry and begins turning up what looks like evidence of murder. Leander joins forces with the insurance guy to uncover the truth. Fun to read, quick of pace, and quirky the way a Hollywood thriller should be, Death Out of Focus takes various Tinseltown archetypes—the aging actress, the tyrannical producer, the sexy ingenue, the loyal industry wife—adds money motivations and showbiz ambitions, and ends up with a nice concoction. Like a typical Hollywood movie, it doesn't strive to be unique or lofty, but with so many literary duds out there, good enough is good enough. This Dell edition is from 1960 and the cover is by Robert McGinnis.

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Vintage Pulp May 6 2020
WENCH WAY IS BEST
So, I'm off to that crucial business meeting with— Wow, that thing's transparent, isn't it? Well, money can wait.

Above, a beautiful Bob Abbett cover for William Campbell Gault's Sweet Wild Wench, published by Crest Books in 1959. Abbett used a still of Brigitte Bardot from the 1958 film En cas de malheur as his inspiration. It certainly worked on us—we wanted to read this entirely because of the cover art. The story deals with a promiscuous private eye named Joe Puma who's hired to look into the activities of a Los Angeles cult, but soon finds himself tangled up in two murders, multiple lovers, and various pulp fiction tropes, which his main character actually refers to in his interior monologues as being like “something out of the pulps.” We appreciated the meta touch, the narrative has a nice L.A. feel, and there's a pretty good fight scene about three quarters of the way through, but the long and winding mystery resolves with a fizzle. Two Gaults down, two meh results. We'll dutifully try another.
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Vintage Pulp Oct 4 2017
COFFIN CORNER
I think I've finally got his strategy figured out. Every time he throws a punch he hits me.


William Campbell Gault was a fan of sports—or at least of using sports as a backdrop for his fiction. In The Canvas Coffin the boxer hero Luke Pilgrim wakes up the morning after a tough title fight and fears he may have killed Brenda Vane, the woman he escorted to his victory party. He can't quite remember, though, what with all those blows to the head, but she's definitely dead, and he needs to unpuzzle the mystery before he ends up in prison. As set-ups go, this is a nice one. Guys who think they may have committed murder are staples of crime fiction and film noir, but the idea of making the character a concussed boxer is clever. Gault wrote about twenty sports thrillers, so he knew his stuff. Illustrator William George knew his stuff too, and produced a nice cover for this Dell paperback, dated 1954.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 10 2015
GIRL MEETS CORPSE
What do you call forty dead men? A good start.

Two years ago we shared five covers of women standing over men they had just killed and mentioned that there were many examples in vintage cover art of that particular theme. Today we’ve decided to revisit the idea in order to reiterate just how often women in pulp are the movers and shakers—and shooters and stabbers and clubbers and poisoners and scissorers. Now if they do this about a billion more times they’ll really be making a difference that counts. French publishers, interestingly, were unusually fond of this theme—so egalitarian of them. That’s why many of the covers here are from France, including one—for which we admit we bent the rules of the collection a bit, because the victim isn’t dead quite yet—of a woman actually machine gunning some hapless dude. But what a great cover. We also have a couple of Spanish killer femmes, and a Dutch example or two. Because we wanted to be comprehensive, the collection is large and some of the fronts are quite famous, but a good portion are also probably new to you. Art is by the usual suspects—Robert Maguire, Barye Phillips, Alex Piñon, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, Rudolph Belarski, et al. Enjoy. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 5 2014
SPEED THRILLS
Oh boy, when you go really fast I feel it right here in my loins! Do it again!

Yet another subset of post-pulp literature was the hot-rod or racing novel. Henry Gregor Felsen made them his specialty and cranked out at least six books on the subject, but many other authors tackled the genre also. Above and below we have a collection of twenty-seven covers with racing themes, with art by Harry Schaare, et.al. A few of these came from the racing forum theroaringseason.com, so thanks to the original uploader.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 6 2009
NO MORE TEARS
Sorry, the agony from these unbelievably tight ropes distracted me. Did you say don’t cry for you?

William Campbell Gault, aka Will Duke, aka Roney Scott won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel when he published Don’t Cry for Me in 1952. Despite the nature of the prize, he was no novice writer—he had published many shorter length works before turning his talents to the novel form. His characterizations were unusual, and he worked hard at avoiding a cookie-cutter approach. For instance, the hero here lives next door to a pulp writer and constantly overhears bitter authors complaining about the travails of their profession. It’s an ironic touch, but more importantly, it’s a realistically quirky detail. Like many crime novels, the plot here involves an unidentified corpse and the trouble that tends to bring. Gault’s unique voice elevates the tale, but in the end Don't Cry for Me is still nothing special. We'll try him again down the line and hope for better.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 27
1994—U.S. Prison Population Reaches Milestone
The U.S. prison population tops 1 million for the first time in American history. By 2008 the U.S. Justice Department pegs the number of imprisoned at 2.3 million, and the overall U.S. correctional population, i.e. those in jail, prison, on probation or on parole, at 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 adults.
October 26
1951—Churchill Becomes Prime Minster Again
The Conservative Party wins the British general election, making Winston Churchill prime minister for the second time. Churchill is nearly 76 at the time, making him the second oldest prime minister in history after William Gladstone. Churchill remains PM until 1955, when he steps down at 81 due to ill health.
1964—The Night Caller Is Executed
In Australia, Eric Edgar Cooke, who had earned the nickname Night Caller, is hanged after being convicted of murder. He had terrorized Perth for four years, committing 22 violent crimes, eight of which resulted in deaths. He becomes the last person to be executed in Western Australia.
October 25
1938—Archbishop Denounces Dance Music
The Archbishop of Dubuque, Francis J. L. Beckman, makes headlines in the U.S. when he attacks swing music as a degenerated musical system destined to gnaw away at the moral fiber of young people. His denouncement follows on the heels of the music being banned in Germany due to its African and Jewish origins.
1993—Vincent Price Dies
American actor Vincent Price, who had achieved the height of his fame acting in low budget horror movies, and became famous again as the macabre voice in Michael Jackson's song "Thriller," dies at age 82 of complications from emphysema and Pariknson's disease.
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