William Campbell Gault's Joe Puma has long been one of my favorite fictional private eyes. All it took was a reading of NIGHT LADY, some time in the early 60s, for me to be hooked. Although I've stayed on the lookout for any Gault/Puma title I could get my hands on ever since, a few in the series have still eluded me. Nevertheless, the impact was strong enough so that when it came time to name my own fictional PI in the early 80s, the choice of "Joe" as his first name came partly from the influence of Gault's Puma. (Other contributing factors were: "Joe" was the type of common, basic name I wanted for my character; as a kid, one of my nicknames—I accumulated many—for some reason was "Joe"; and the only other fictional PI I could think of at the time with that monicker was Joe Mannix, on TV.)
In retrospect, I think Puma also represented the first step in the evolution of my reading tastes and writing aspirations from the two-fisted/blazing-gun/relentless avenger style of Spillane (though the Mick still rates at the top of my favorites list) to stories with a bit more depth, richer characterizations—but still with plenty of action and, of course, a generous sprinkling of sexy dames.
Joe Puma is tough, testy, horny, a big "paisano" with more than a few rough edges, quick to throw a punch but a bit more reluctant when it comes to gunplay. Still, he is down-to-earth and likable, the kind of guy you'd probably enjoy having a few beers with at a neighborhood tavern. He operates against the familiar backdrop of LA/ Hollywood, but at its lower echelons ("not the carriage trade", as he puts it). Any movie stars he encounters are likely working for the lower-ranked studios on B-movie Row and the agents or studio moguls who seek to hire him are usually more interested in hiding facts than uncovering them. Puma sees his world for what it is, admits to his shortcomings, aspires to walk a straight line and be a better person, yet makes few apologies and in the end goes after justice in his own way.
Gault is also the creator of another, more acclaimed fictional private eye—Brock Callahan. I, for one, have never understood why the Callahan titles are perceived as the superior series … But that's a discussion (or argument, perhaps) for another time.
The main point of this post is to bring attention to JOE PUMA – PI, a fine collection of Puma short stories (originally published in the mid- to late 50s) now available from the Wonder Publishing Grop via Kindle. There are 5 stories here (of only 7 that Gault ever wrote, appearing mostly in Manhunt magazine).
The titles are:
The Unholy Three
Death of a Big Wheel
No Client of Mine
If you're unfamiliar with Joe Puma, these stories are a terrific way to get introduced to him. If you're already familiar with the big paisano, then this is an equally terrific way to rediscover why you liked him to begin with.
Persevere --- WD