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: http://www.jottings.ca/john/thriller_quik2.html)
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?