Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Found Him Dead - Gale Gallagher

Radio actress Dawn Ferris wants to hire Gale Gallagher to find out if a recently kidnapped girl is the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1933, fourteen years prior to the action of I Found Him Dead (1947). Dawn's ex-husband, however, seems to be blackmailing her now that her successful career on radio has established her reputation and made her a household name.  Prior to radio she and Eddie Wells were a dancing act on the a vaudeville circuit.  Eddie has a shady past and a long trail of aliases and debts he has run away from. Gale is used to Eddie's type, her business is not really private investigation but skip tracing. She is unwilling to accept the case that might be connected to the high profile kidnapping and therefore an obvious police matter. Dawn then reaches into her purse and plunks down two crisp one thousand dollar bills. Gale suddenly has an offer she can't refuse.

Gale heads off to Eddie's apartment first hoping that she can find proof that he engineered the kidnapping and hand the case over to the police. But she finds someone got to Eddie Wells first and put a bullet in his forehead.  As careful as she tried to be she was spotted by three people entering the apartment and now she tries to leave unseen as fast as possible.

Over the course of the novel we learn quite a bit about Gale's childhood and her father who was a policeman. We are told that her mother died when she was a baby and that her father raised Gale as a single father. He wanted a son but Gale turned out to be his only child. She often resented being treated as a boy and being groomed to follow in her father's footsteps. Though she came very close she ultimately decided not to enter the Police Academy. Now in her odd line of work she continues to draw on everything her father taught her. Having a cop for a father comes in very handy as well as her father's best friend, also a policeman, happens to be her best contact with the law. 

The case will lead her to the home of the wealthy Alexanders, parents of the kidnapped girl, as well as to a disreputable physician named Dr. Alois Wurber whose clinic may be a front for an illegal adoption outfit. Rounding out the cast are Montgomery Baxter, the Alexander's unctuous family lawyer, given to bursts of melodrama that seem like a cover for something very shady and John Bartley Crane, a children's portrait artist whose charm and good looks create an unexpected distraction to Gale's work.  Throw in another gruesome murder in a very seedy location coupled with an Ellery Queen-like dying message and you have the makings for a nifty noirish private eye novel with a very intriguing background.

The mysterious author/detective as
she appears on the rear dust jacket
"Gale Gallagher" was the pseudonym of Will Oursler (son of mystery writer, journalist and novelist Fulton Oursler) and Margaret Scott. They created Gale Gallagher who ostensibly writes her own adventures in response to the flurry of Philip Marlowe knock-off books that were appearing in the 1940s.  I Found Him Dead was successful enough to spawn a sequel Chord in Crimson (1949), but after that Gale Gallagher disappeared from the world of female private eyes.

Her place in crime fiction history is overshadowed by later more well known women private detectives. Though several female private detective characters appeared in pulp magazines throughout the 1930s, Gale Gallagher was most definitely one of the earliest to be closely modeled on a typical tough guy private eye.  I Found Him Dead has a cool urban feel to the story.  Gale is as steely and calculated as her male counterparts. Quick witted and sharp tongued she's just as quick with her pistol all the while keeping a keen eye on her whiskey bottle.  I hesitate to call this hardboiled but it sure comes the closest of any of the female eyes I've read from this early period. This is a debut worth discovering both as a pioneer work in the subgenre of fictional women private investigators and as damn good mystery novel.

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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space N5 - "Author uses a pseudonym"

4 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed learning about this one John and always curious about early instances of female private eyes (Does Miss Silver count as one of the very first?)

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  2. Sounds appetizing! I'd never heard of this author, so thanks very much for the introduction.

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  3. Does sound really good! Hope I can come across it someday!

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  4. Very cool! It's always nice to take a peek at the early instances of female private eyes. Yet another to hunt for when making my bookshop rounds.

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