Chauffeur (and reluctant witness), afraid Gar will kill him:
Diminutive, with short arms, narrow shoulders, stubby fingers and greying hair that make him appear older than he is, polite and soft-spoken, Spanish-Filipino JO GAR is not your typical Black Mask detective.
Sure, there were constant references to his "almond-shaped eyes" and "thin, colorless lips,' but the Gar stories also represented a major change in the way Asians were portrayed in pulp fiction. Criminal mastermind Fu Manchu was popular, yes, but he was all about the Yellow Peril, an unfortunate racist caricature of evil otherness that proved exceedingly popular, and good ol' Charlie Chan who, while definitely on the side of the angels and portrayed with a great degree of respect, was essentially a supporting player in his first book 1925's The House Without a Key) and continued to be portrayed as a slightly comic figure.
Jo Gar was a good guy, too, or at least as "good" as any of the morally ambiguous dicks of the early pulps. But there was little comic in the way in which he was portrayed. He was as hard-boiled as Hammett's Spade, but possibly even cold-bloodedly pragmatic and closer in temparament to The Op. There was no doubt Gar meant business -- his small, Colt automatic was called into service with alarming frequency, and the dying confessions of men who thought they'd get the drop on "the Island detective" were as much a part of the stories as his seemingly endless supply of brown-paper cigarettes.
Add to that the fact that the mean streets that Gar stalks are in Manila, and you've got one of the more original eyes to appear in the pulps. And one of the very best of them. working out of his tiny office off the Escolta in Manila, his cases took him throughout the Phillipines, and, in one memorable story, as far as San Francisco. The more than two dozen short stories "the Island detective" appeared in, almost all in Black Mask, are all worth searching for. They occasionally show up in anthologies, and they're all recommended.
Ramon Decolta was the pen name of Raoul Whitfield, who was also responsible for several other eyes in the pulps, most notably Ben Jardinn and Donald Free. Whitfield spent much of his early life in Manila, where his father worked for the Territorial Government.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
| Home | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Web Comics | Comics | FAQs |
Drop a dime. Your comments, suggestions, corrections and contributions are always welcome.