Bart Challis

Created by William F. Nolan

"Mickey Mouse said hello to me. Goofy was trotting along behind him, leading Pluto. Inside each larger-than-life figure some guy was making a buck walking around with a big rubber head. There are worse things to do for a living... And I was doing them."

-- Bart reflects on a private eye's life

"A dum-dum .30-30 can do a lot of damage. In like a pea, out like a plate."

-- Bart shows his sensitive side to a grieving client

It's a joke, right?

As far as I could figure out, Los Angeles eye BART CHALLIS was a rather rundown, beat-up but tough, hard-nosed private eye who wasn't above getting his hands dirty. While other eyes sneered at divorce work, Bart wasn't quite as fussy. He drank too much scotch (he had a preference for Black Label), drove a souped-up Corvair, and was not above peeping through a few keyholes, shaking down debtors or whatever else it took to survive. He appeared in a couple of hard, fast novels back in the late sixties, full of "terse, dry-as-bone prose and stacatto rhythms." Sounded good to me.

Well, anyway, that's what I'd heard, and that's what I was expecting. And then I actually read Bart's 1968 novel debut, Death Is for Losers. I had high hopes for it, but they soon evaporated. What a crock. Episodic, ham-handed pulp is more like it, full of ridiculous scenes strung together without rhyme or reason, and over-written over-boiled prose that makes Richard Prather's Shell Scott series look like Chandler. This book is so completely, desperately over the top you can almost feel the fun being sucked out of the room everytime you start a new chapter. Investigating the murder of a stripper, Bart manages to have a shootout in a funhouse, skydive, race dunebuggies, get assaulted numerous times, go to Disneyland, get shot once or twice, make love to an attractive female drag racer, crash a car or two, and sweet-talk his girlfriend into stripping at a club to gather information (yeah, right!).

It's all so over the top, I can only guess that author Nolan was putting us on. Which, of course, might cover a multitude of sins.

After all, Bart was brought to you by the same well-respected gent who brought us the sci-fi classic Logan's Run, a couple of absolutely essential Hammett biographies, Dashiell Hammett: A Casebook and Dashiell Hammett: A Life at the Edge and that wonked-out sci-fi eye Sam Space. The man knows his pulps. He's also responsible for The Black Mask Boys, a series that featured the fictionalized crime-fighting adventures of pulp writers Hammett, Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner. So, with all that, I thought it would be sort of nice to read his take on a straight private eye character. Looks like I was misinformed, or missed the point. Or maybe I'm just feeling disappointed because I was expecting one thing, and got something completely different.

In 1997, Gryphon Publications issued Double Novel #13, a collection of three stories featuring Bart and his younger half-brother, Nick Challis, who's also an eye. And judging from the short story I read, he's pretty much interchangeable with Bart.

NOVELS

  • Death Is For Losers (1968)
  • The White Cad Cross-up (1969)
  • The Marble Orchard (unpublished, at least as part of the Bart Challis series. It later became part of Nolan's Black Mask Boys series)

SHORT STORIES

  • "Strippers Have To Die" (May 1964, ; as by "F. E. Edwards") Chase
  • "The Pop-Op Caper" (October 1967, Playboy; 1997, The Brothers Challis: Gryphon Double Novel #13)
  • "A Long Time Dying" (1984, The Eyes Have It; 1997, The Brothers Challis: Gryphon Double Novel #13)

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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