Saturday, July 25, 2015

West of Guam: The Complete Cases of Jo Gar by Raoul Whitfield

This outstanding collection from Altus Press includes all of the short stories featuring the Philippines Detective Jo Gar originally published in Black Mask between 1930 and 1933. As it is, you get 535 pages of noir pulp suspense. I purchased this over a year ago and began picking my way through the stories off and on until I finished it. There are 26 stories here, and all of them are good. Jo Gar is introduced in the first tale, “West of Guam,” as a small brown man who “looked rather old” although he’s not. Unlike other oriental characters such as Fu Manchu (a villain) or Charlie Chan (a stereotype), Whitfield casts Jo Gar as cool and calculating, intelligent and resourceful. In all of the stories Jo Gar’s deductive reasoning comes into play. He’s nobody’s fool. He a crafty detective and the stories involve him outsmarting equally crafty murderers or thieves. Whitfield writes in the classic hardboiled pulp style with strong images and brisk plotting. The stories are dripping with moodiness. The characters that occupy space here are killers, con-men, harlots, policemen, corrupt businessmen, jilted lovers and various mentally unstable kooks. The stories are all set in Manila with the exception of one or two where he travels to San Francisco. Whitfield had been to Manila and was writing from experience, so we have a pulp writer’s historic view of a lost culture, one that was at once barbaric but struggling with the encroaching modern world. I enjoyed this collection. I’ve mentioned before that Altus Press books are expensive paperbacks, and West of Guam: The Complete Cases of Jo Gar retails at a whopping $29.95. Buy it anyway or watch Amazon for sales. This is great American pulp fiction.

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