Square in the Middle

Square in the Middle, by William Campbell Gault (Bantam, 1957). Cover illustration by Tony ...

Gault has a straight-forward style of writing that moves the reader quickly through a story. His writing is not bogged down by lengthy descriptions. His books are easy reading, not heavy, weighty tomes. Unlike many of his other books, Square in the Middle, published in 1956, is not a detective novel, although it is a crime novel. The protagonist, Jim Gulliver runs a mortgage brokerage with his pal, Max Schuman. Jim is the Iowa-bred honest face of the business. Max is the shark who can get deals done, but seems a bit too conniving to be trusting. Jim is solidly middle-class, a business owner, well-respected in the community, and married with two children. The story takes place in Santa Monica, the Pacific Palisades, and Malibu.

The set-up is not unique and, in fact, reminds me more than a little of the bumbling married man in Monroe’s classic movie, Seven-Year Itch. The wife and children are up in Lake Arrowhead for a few days and Jim decides to go to a bar and live it up by having a few drinks.

After several martinis, his attention is turned to a young lady in a booth who had been in his office earlier for a loan. Well, one thing leads to another, and eventually, Jim joins the lady, Lynn Bledsoe, a young-looking, “slim and doe-eyed” girl of the type “who look mature at fourteen and never seem to get beyond eighteen until the sag and the wrinkles come.” “She looked very open-air American and California-ish,
brown-haired, brown-eyed, healthy, and alive.” Jim joins Lynn and her partying friends for a few drinks.

They go toanother bar for a few more drinks and then the party goes to Lynn’s apartment. Jim can’t resist Lynn and ends up in bed with her, his first and only affair. He becomes slightly obsessed with Lynn and drives up to visit Tom, a former flame of hers, only to find a dead body there.

The smart thing to do would be to skedaddle from the crime scene, but
not corn-bred Jim, who does the right thing and calls the police, making him a suspect and putting his affair with Lynn on the front page of all the local papers. With his marriage falling apart and the local detectives looking to pin the murder on him, Jim has his hands full. It appears to be a classic fall from grace of a “square” who tried to have a little fun when he was alone for the weekend.

It is a fast-reading tale that gives you a good flavor for Southern California in the fifties. I was a little disappointed in the ending which seemed to fizzle out rather than carry the excitement of the book to a climax. Overall, it is good reading and easy, quick reading at that.

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