Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gallant Colt (1954)

Gallant Colt
William Campbell Gault, il. Pers Crowell
1954, E.P. Dutton and Company

I remember that the first time I saw Jeff, I thought he was a hobo.  I was down in the south pasture checking the gate that opened on the road there.

Denny Nolan is the 16-year-old adopted son of Colonel and Mrs. Randall; Jeff is the young veterinarian who’s too handsome and too electric to for his own good.  As Mrs. Randall says, “Everybody likes him, and I guess that’s not always good for a man.”   These two, and the golden dun colt called Earnest Endeavor, end up on the road together, seeking to launch the temperamental Endeavor on a racing career. 

Jeff was shaking his head and smiling.  “A great horse and a good boy aboard and a big stakes race.  Can you think of anything more exciting than that, Denny?”

At first, under Denny’s steady gaze, Jeff manages to work hard and stay straight.  But after their first victory, his weakness for good company and cards pulls him into a ruinous game.  Denny, shattered despite everyone’s warning and his own innate understanding of Jeff’s character, struggles on with one hope of getting back to his earlier plans of running their horse in the big race. 

The drawback of writing a charismatic character is that by definition, charisma is unaccountable and needs to be experienced in person to be felt.  Jeff’s wastrel charm is unconvincing, but Denny’s blunt understanding is very believable.   The action has the relentlessness of your average sports fiction, but moves well, and the characters are sometimes surprisingly fleshed out.   It’s worth a read.

About the Author
Gault began in pulp novels, used at least two pseudonyms and was extremely prolific in two genres – teen sports novels, and private-eye detective novels.  A complete list of the latter can be found at the links below.  None appear to be horse-related.  Originally from Milwaukee, he ended up in California.  He was married with at least two children.

While researching the author, I discovered he has a good reputation for his mysteries.  This was one of a long list of teen novels Gault wrote about various sports, and it shows in the droning on about the details of the game.  It seems to have appeared twice as a short story in magazines in the late 1940s, and I wonder if that contributed to the sense of disjointedness about it. 

The art is by Pers Crowell, but there's only a cover and a frontspiece, and my copy lacks a cover, so you will need to search online for that image. 

Wiki page
A forerunner of Gallant Colt appeared as a short story in the August 1949 issue of Short Stories magazine.

About his mystery work
The Thrilling Detective Website
Allan Guthrie’s Noir Originals
Mystery File – Bill Pronzini on Gault

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