Hummer in silhouette © Robert Sommers 2018

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Bloody Bokhara

I have been a bit melancholy of late and have turned to some old friends that never let me down for comfort, books. I have always been drawn to a well wrought mystery or crime novel and have just finished my second Otto Penzler Black Mask compilation, and am now working on a third edition that he has put together with the writer James Ellroy.

There were some incredible writers working to feed the American appetite for pulp fiction from the twenties through the fifties and while there were certainly some throwaways, much of the work of the period is frankly brilliant.

One of the writers that I was introduced to in the last book was William Campbell Gault (1910-1995), a Milwaukee born author who was a prolific contributor to the noir and detective genre.

I read his 1952 story the Bloody Bokhara and it was superb. On several fronts. The characters were believable, his scholarship in regards to the rug trade was laudable, and Gault makes some rather wry and profound observations about the antiques and decorative arts field in general.

The book is centered on an Armenian rug merchant family that comes into possession of a very valuable kashan, the carpet is actually what might be termed the holy grail in the trade. Gault sets the rug in a changing clime, a time when American modern homemakers are foregoing the 48,000 knots to the square foot oriental rug masterpieces so popular in the early part of the century in favor of the new and in the view of the merchant, very tawdry, wall to wall carpeting.

The merchants speak wistfully of the golden age when the hunger for the great old carpets was so great that oil millionaires would spend fortunes on them. He recounts with a laugh once getting the princely sum of thirty thousand dollars for a carpet that a year later brought only twelve hundred at auction. Ah, the glory days.The danger of selling objects of quality to the people at the apex of the economic pyramid. There are so few of them and when they lose interest, well things can get awfully dicey.

I won't ruin the book and give you too much. If you have a chance to grab Penzler's compilations at the library I think that you will not be disappointed. Gault was an excellent writer and I am going to have to track down more of his work. I think that if you are in my business, this book is almost a must read. It captures the whole game in a nutshell.

William Campbell Gault

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