Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ben Gates Is Hot

John Frazier is one of my favorite critics. He has a literate, easy-going style that is much like listening to a friend tell you about a book he thinks you should read. I've spent the past few days reading Robert Terrall novels, the Ben Gates series (as by Robert Kyle) in particular. Terrall was the eldest of a disappearing breed--a man who wrote for pulps, slicks, hardcovers, paperbacks and even tie-ins before they were the big business they are today. So I thought I'd check out John's website and see what he thought of Terrall.

(go here for John's website:

Here John describes private investigator Ben Gates:

"He is convincingly embedded in Manhattan, with believable professional contacts and associates—a middle-aged part-time secretary who fears the typewriter, a Jewish confrere, Davison, who looks like a quarterback and catches cold easily, a gossip-columnist who he can draw on for information, a friendly-adversarial police-lieutenant. And you believe that he is well enough known to make tabloid headlines when he fouls up during a case.

"Moreover, he appears to be Ivy League, or at least to have gone to a decent prep school. He is comfortable around the rich when a case takes him that way, as is (fictionally at least) Kyle himself. There are thoroughly convincing round-heeled debs, dissolute preppies, money-hungry upper-East-Side divorcees, and other more or less obnoxious types in the novels. Kyle knows how they speak and how their minds work.

"He is also excellent at devising central situations that permit of interesting complications—threats of libel action against a scandal mag that sounds very like Confidential; theft and murder at a posh country-estate wedding where Gates is guarding the presents; an Albany hotel full of lobbyists pro and con a bill to legalize off-track gambling; a take-over attempt against a Manhattan corporation.

"The books are essence-of-late-Fifties, early Sixties, when formal structures and taboos were still strong but anarchic pressures were starting to build up inside them."

A perfect description except for the line about Terrall having to suffer the "taboos" of the time. Ben Gates is Hot opens with an anonymous letter detailing what will happen to the fourteen-year-old daughter of Gates' client if the client doesn't do what a mobster wants him to. This line appears in the letter: "(Your daughter) may not come back to you the same kid. Some of these bums are cunt crazy or should I draw you a picture."

The C word in 1964? Wow. Whod'a thunk it?


pattinase (abbott) said...

Not me re: the "C" word. Amazing.

Gonzalo B said...


Apologies for so rudely changing the topic.... I just saw a Black Horse Western book called The Sharpshooter, written by Daniel Ransom. Is that something you wrote?

Ed Gorman said...

Yes. It's not one of my better ones I'm afraid.

Todd Mason said...

Nearly twenty years after "fuggin" joined the language with that spelling, I'd hope that "cunt" might be usable in a novel, even if not quite on, say, ROMPER ROOM or even THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Gonzalo B said...

Thanks for your reply. I didn't know you had written for Black Horse Westerns.

Ed Gorman said...

Those were reprints Gonzalo B. Since I responded to your letter above two of my western readers wrote off line to tell me that they liked The Sharpshooter because it deals with two things you rarely see in westerns--the treatment of alcoholics back then and where society put them when they could no longer function. The only thing I don't like about the book is the hero--I wish I'd made him stronger but at the time I felt that he wouldn't be realistic if he was dealing with these problems.

Frank Loose said...

John Fraser is indeed a terrific writer. Anyone not familiar with him or the British "American Crime" books of the 1940's and 50s should check out his site. Informative and just plain fun to read. John also wrote a terrific piece on Charles Williams' Dead Calm. It's quite a treatment on it.