William Campbell Gault Critical Essays


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

During the sixteen years in which William Campbell Gault produced more than three hundred short stories for the pulps, he developed a distinctive voice. Gault took to heart the advice of William Saroyan: “If you can’t write well, write fast.” Over a period of time, Gault learned to do both. At first, he wrote mainly for the sports pulps. To keep the stories coming and the plots fresh and varied, Gault ventured into other genres—mystery and science fiction—and then began combining genres. Later, he began to address themes of personal concern to him, particularly issues of ethnic and racial prejudice. One of Gault’s first recurring characters, for example, was Sandy McKane, a private detective of Hawaiian descent. Other stories dealt with juvenile delinquency, with young, streetwise protagonists with questionable morals who in the end redeem themselves.

As Gault gained confidence as a novelist, he decided to create a series character who would be a vehicle for these concerns. Brock “the Rock” Callahan emerged as one of the most distinctive and fully realized characters in detective fiction. He is a character with a strong moral code, one forged out of his well-documented past. He was born in Southern California and reared in Long Beach; his police officer father was killed by a hoodlum when Callahan was a boy. Callahan attended Stanford University on a football scholarship and was graduated near the top of his class. After college, he joined the army and was involved with the Office of Strategic Services for three years. Subsequently, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams and played guard for nearly a decade, earning awards and accolades for his outstanding achievements. When he retired from football, he chose to open a detective agency in Beverly Hills, believing that his reputation as a star athlete would attract clients and win him friends on the police force.

Callahan is very much aware of the question of his credibility, his ability to perform adequately as a private detective with no real formal investigative training:Well, what had I brought to this trade? Three years in the O.S.S. and my memories of a cop father. Along with a nodding acquaintanceship with maybe fifty lads in the [Los Angeles Police] Department. That didn’t make me any Philip Marlowe. Work alone wouldn’t do it, nor determination; I was a fraud in my chosen profession. So many are, but that didn’t make me any more admirable.

What keeps Callahan dedicated to his new profession is his past. He grew up fatherless because of a hoodlum killer. He knows at first hand how crime can devastate the lives of the innocent. He also knows, through years of playing professional football, the importance of being treated equally and fairly, of being judged by one’s actions and performance and not by one’s social or ethnic background. Callahan feels compelled to apply the sports credo of fair play to his new profession. He wants to protect the lambs from the lions, to make sure that the innocents have a chance to survive despite the manipulators and murderers who pervert society’s rules to their own advantage.

Callahan carries the aura of the sports world wherever he goes. It defines him more than any other characteristic. He is linked to his sports past and is proud of it, although he never indulges in sentimental memories. The sports references are used to clarify a point or give a fuller dimension to a character or a situation. Many of Callahan’s clients are sports heroes, former teammates, or friends of sports figures, yet rarely is the sport itself used as the central focus of the story, and macho posturing is avoided. Callahan is well aware of the reputation most sports figures have of being brainless hulks. It is almost an obsession with him to shatter the stereotype of the stupid jock; this concern fuels his desire to establish a reputation as a competent and intelligent detective.

Gault, through Callahan, challenges stereotypes, prejudices, and hastily formed judgments. Callahan has a gruff, aggressive manner that usually antagonizes the person he is confronting, whether it be an officer, a client, or a criminal. The tension created through these...

(The entire section is 1715 words.)