22 January 2013

No Gun for Gloria



This Gun for Gloria
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Gold Medal, 1956

As titles go, This Gun for Gloria is right up there with Wreath for a Redhead, Moore's first pulp. And who can resist that caption:
THEY SET OUT TO MURDER GLORIA – AND I SET OUT TO CATCH THE SLUGS
Much more exciting than, say: GLORIA'S MOM WANTED TO KNOW WHERE SHE WAS – AND I SET OUT TO FIND HER.

American Mitch Cannon is our narrator and hero. Not so long ago, Mitch was wunderkind of the newsroom, rising quickly through the ranks at a wire service agency. Then came a brief, ill-advised marriage to Nancy, a junior reporter intent on sleeping her way to the top. Mitch quit it all and made for Paris, where he hoped to reinvent himself as a freelance journalist. It didn't go well. When we catch up with Mitch at his Left Bank hotel he has perhaps $50 to his name. In walks Dorothy Gaye, an attractive older woman wearing a Dior suit with a tight black skirt. She also has a sapphire-blue mink stole, but it's not worth dwelling on these details; still smarting from Nancy, Mitch isn't much interested in women. Dorothy – Mrs Gaye – isn't interested in him either, except as a man who might be able to find her missing daughter, Gloria.

No private dick, Mitch is polite in declining the work, but changes is mind after finding a wad of bills that Mrs Gaye left behind in his bathroom. It's not the money, you understand, but the idea that same will pay for a trip to Berlin, allowing him to break a big story.

Forget Berlin. Forget Gloria, too. What's most interesting in This Gun for Gloria is the tour of the seedy side of Paris provided by Mitch's search. There's a nightclub at which sadists hook up, a sweat-filled jazz cellar, an Arab drug kingpin, an Amazonian German mule, Senegalese strong-arms and a wealthy, worn-out prostitute, her once-handsome face a "mired field where expensive cosmetics blurred and wasted into a stained palette of colours."

This Gun for Gloria features some of Moore's best pulp writing, much of it focused on the callow, spoiled and pretentious American kids who fill the clubs and cafés. Pushing through the crowd, I found I didn't care so much about ever finding Gloria, though I did begin to wonder about the title.

This Gun for Gloria? Just two guns feature in the novel, neither of which belongs to Mitch. While one errant shot is fired, they're used in the main to intimidate and pistol whip. No one, Mitch included, catches a slug.

This is not to say that our hero doesn't suffer. He's twice knocked out and endures several beatings, but as convention dictates soldiers on without breaking stride. And, as per the norm, he falls in love with Caroline, the most sensible, least spoiled of the young Americans. That's not her on the cover. It's not Gloria, either – she's a blonde. I'm not even sure that that's Mitch. The only person he ever carries is Papa Houdin, an elderly one-legged book pedlar who got run over by a taxi.

Of the five Moore pulps I've read to date, This Gun for Gloria is the best, but I can't help but leave off with a final complaint: only one person "SET OUT TO MURDER GLORIA" – and he used a wrench.

Favourite passage:
Above on a tiny platform, the tenor sax hoisted his horn and blew a straight chorus of Dear Old Southland. His fellow riders went to work on it, chasing it up and down, changing, arranging, losing it altogether as they went out on a cloud and came back in slow to let the others go. The kids loved it. They began to jig, double, triple time, rolling like crazy. One by one they stopped jigging, muscles unable to follow the tenorman's pace as he went far out, away above it all. Finally, one couple was left, a tall jazz bum with a monk haircut, and a well-stacked little redhead in an orange skirt and shirt. They really went, high, wide and handsome, and the crowd pressed around, swaying, watching, jumping. The redhead's shirt was ballooning around her and underneath it, the fans could se her firm plump breasts keep time to the gyrations. There was a gone, gut-bucket atmosphere of sex in the music, in the dancing, in the hungry eyes of the kids who watched.

Object: A slim, 144-page mass market paperback, This Gun for Gloria enjoyed just one printing. The back cover is a little less misleading than the front. Gloria's mother doesn't put a bundle of francs in Mitch's hands, but $500 (again, left in his bathroom). And that "sweet drugged death on a wooden floor" is only accurate if one considers alcohol a drug. Which it is.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, the Toronto Public Library and eight of our universities, but all copies are non-circulating. The good news is that Very Good copies begin at US$28, with several in Near Fine going for a just few dollars more. One bookseller is hoping to score US$200 for a Fine, "unread" copy. Before taking out your credit card it's best to consider that Gold Medal's print runs were typically in the 200,000 range.

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6 comments:

  1. You're going to have to move back to Montreal, so I can start borrowing these books to read.

    Seriously, how can I pass on a wealthy, worn-out prostitute whose face is stained with the blur of expensive cosmetics.

    Knuckles G.

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    1. Better Montreal than Ottawa. Here’s how Mitch describes our capital city: “It’s a dull town – no sidewalk cafés, no interesting café characters – like Bobo – no great galleries, no whoopee.”

      And, yes, the novel does feature a character named Bobo.

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    2. You hear that J & J...you're living in a no whoopee zone!

      Knuckles G

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    3. "'Ottawa? That's in Canada, eh? Who ever heard of it?' Bobo protested."

      Well, his name is Bobo.

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  2. I found on of these once and made a gift of it without reading it first. What a mistake. Love his literary novels so am sure I would love this. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne devastated me.

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    1. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is devastating. One of the great first novels, I think, but then it's not really a first novel at all. Interesting to consider that Judith Hearne was published ten months before This Gun for Gloria.

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