SOME WORDS ABOUT WILLIAM CAMPBELL GAULT
By Bill Pronzini
BILL GAULT IS THAT rara avis, a legend in his own time.
Few writers have had a career as long, distinguished, honored, and critically acclaimed. He has been a professional writer for more than half a century, having made his first sale in the midst of the Great Depression. His credits include scores of quality novels, both mysteries and juvenile sports fiction, and hundreds of short stories, many of which have been anthologized. Among his awards are an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America and the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Noted author and critic Anthony Boucher said of him: "[He is] a fresh voice-a writer who sounds like nobody else, who has ideas of his own and his own way of uttering them." Another of his peers, Dorothy B. Hughes, in reviewing one of his novels stated that he "writes with passion, beauty, and with an ineffable sadness which has previously been found only in Raymond Chandler."
Born in Milwaukee in 1910, Gault began writing while in high school and continued to write sporadically during a brief stint at the University of Wisconsin and then while holding down a series of odd jobs. But his early efforts displeased him; he made no attempt to market any of his stories until 1936. He was working as a sole cutter in a shoe factory when he entered a story called "Inadequate" in a Milwaukee Journal-McClure Newspaper Syndicate short story contest. The judges found it to be anything but inadequate, awarding it the fifty-dollar first prize.
Spurred on by this success, Gault wrote and placed several more stories with the McClure Syndicate, then in 1937 entered the wide-open pulp fiction field with the sale of a drag-racing story, "Hell Driver's Partnership," to Ace Sports . Over the next fifteen years he was a prolific provider of tales of mystery, detection, sports, both light and spicy romance, and science fiction to such pulps as Scarlet Adventuress, 10-Story Detective (which published his first mystery story, "Crime Collection," in its January 1940 issue), Detective Fiction Weekly, The Shadow, Clues, All-American Football, Strange Detective Mysteries, Adventure, Dime Mystery, Dime Detective, Doc Savage, Argosy, Detective Tales, Five Novels Monthly , and Thrilling Wonder , and to such "slick" and specialty magazines as The Saturday Evening Post (which published three of his sports stories), Grit, McClure's , and Young Catholic Messenger . In the late forties he was a cover-featured contributor to the most revered of detective magazines, Black Mask , in whose pages he published nine stories-five of them featuring an offbeat, Duesenberg-driving private detective named Mortimer Jones.
When the pulp markets collapsed in the early 1950's, their once-lofty eminence having been undermined by paperback original novels and that insidious new medium, television, Gault turned his hand to book-length works. In 1952, he published the first of his thirty-three novels for young adults, Thunder Road , which earned him numerous plaudits from readers, reviewers, and educators and which remained in print for more than three decades. That same year saw publication of his first mystery, Don't Cry for Me , one of the seminal crime novels of its time.
Prior to Don't Cry for Me , the emphasis in mystery fiction was on the mystery itself: whodunit and why. Gault's novel broke new ground in that its whodunit elements are subordinate to the personal and inner lives of its major characters and to a razor-sharp depiction of the socioeconomic aspects of its era-an accepted and widely practiced approach utilized by many of today's best writers of mystery and detective fiction. Don't Cry for Me 's narrator, Pete Worden, is anything but a standard hero; he lives a disorganized and unconventional li