Sunday, 15 December 2013
Day of the Ram
Day of the Ram - William Campbell Gault
They say that you should never judge a book by its cover but this one jumped off the shelf. The design seemed somewhere between seventies independent film and classic Penguin, nods I guess to the book's fifties genesis and the reissue date in the seventies.
It seemed likely to give what it says on the can, a slice of pure genre P.I. crime. And it did. This one was short and, if not sweet, muscular and direct, both in terms of the writing and the main character.
He is "Brock, the Rock, Callahan, mister" a retired American football guard who played for The Rams of the title. A big man, he can take and hand out a beating, if called for. But that's not what he wants. He tries to do what's right, rather than what's profitable, to the sometime frustration of his on again/off again girlfriend. The words of Raymond Chandler come to mind: “...down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world." Chandler also gets a look in in an interchange between Callahan and the chief of the Santa Monica police:
"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."
The book opens with Brock at a Rams match and a world of familiar nicknames and technical description of the game is established without losing this reader anyway. In the match the new quarterback, Johnny Quirk, finally finds his feet and delivers a devastating performance which has Rams fans salivating about the prospects for the year ahead. "The talk had been Quirk, Quirk, Quirk last night, even among the losers. Usually the losers are only concerned with deal, deal, deal, but Johnny Quirk had been too big a discovery to make anything else worth discussing." He is the son of an immensely rich Beverly Hills business mean and when he receives a death threat his father hires Callahan to protect his son and find out who is behind the note.
We are quickly introduced to many possible reasons for the note. Initially the shady world of gambling is where suspicion falls but then a world of sexual infidelity and jealousy opens up. The police take over from Brock as protection for Johnny and when he is shot and killed his father, regretting that he allowed the police to take over calls Callahan back in to find the culprit. Soon he is nosing around in the world of gamblers and meeting ex-girlfriends , all the while walking on a tightrope with the various police forces involved, none of whom are ever too happy to have private detectives involved in any case, it seems.
There is plenty of repartee between Callahan and various officers, never laugh out loud but often inspiring a wry smile:
"The Captain warned you only this afternoon about steering clear of murder cases."
"I promise not to report any more dead bodies I find in your district, Sergeant."
"You're too lippy, Callahan."
When the back-up quarterback is found to be a relative of Italian gangster Rick Martin turned "respectable businessman" further irons are thrown in the fire. Callahan always calls Rick, Enrico, much to his displeasure and although accepting help, remains disdainful of Martin's character, although prepared to accept his possible innocence in the case.
I enjoyed this book, the atmosphere of the locker room, the seedy bars, priviledged high schools, police stations and mansions; all painted with economy and no little style. In fact it did everything that the cover promised. Maybe judging books by their covers isn't such a bad idea.