Father Gus Gamble

(creator: Whit Masterson)

Hunter of the Blood cover
Father Gus Gamble is a 44-year-old Jesuit priest whose parish is the Las Vegas strip, where he works as a blackjack dealer. He explains that "the action isn't in the churches these days. It's in the streets. That's where people are hurting. Especially here in Vegas. They don't need sermons, they need help ... If I wear a clerical collar and a black suit, I turn off the people I'm trying to reach. But put me behind a table in the fancy jacket and red satin tie and I meet them on their own level. That way, I'm able to minister to them." Unfortunately, though, this is all we are told about this distinctly odd ministry.

He was nearly six feet tall and his "abundant black hair and bushy mustache was untinged by gray. His swarthy face with its prominent hooked nose and deep-set pale blue eyes retained much of the youthful raffishness which certain women had found more disturbing than good looks."

He had previously been a hard-nosed chief of internal security for the Atomic Energy Commission, but had been involved in a serious air crash, and had had to spend six months flat on his back in hospital. He had been the only survivor and felt that the only explanation must be "that God had put his finger on me and some reason". It was then he became ordained.

But he is happy to be given leave of absence to return to his old role as chief of security when duty calls. So for nearly all of the story, he is pursuing thieves who had made off with a deadly cargo of plutonium oxide, or "ploot" as it is called. As his old boss, General Womack, tells him, "You were the best security man in the business, bar none. You weren't just smart, you were brilliant. You had a feel for it, an intuition that was positively uncanny." But he does not make a very convincing priest.

Whit Masterson was originally two people: Robert Allison "Bob" Wade (1920- ) and H Bill Miller (1920-1961). Together they published seven crime novels, then, after Miller's death, Wade went on using the same pseudonym. Altogether he had written, or had helped to write, 46 novels, the last of them being published in 1979. After that he went on to write for TV and films.

Wade was educated at San Diego State College, and served in the U.S. Air Force in Europe during the Second World War. He has been writing all his life, as a newspaperman, wartime combat correspondent, screenwriter and novelist. He says that he had been much influenced by his combat experience in the Second World War, when he saw how men reacted to extreme stress and showed courage in all its forms. In 1988, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. He lives in Southern California, where he was born and which provides the setting for many of his stories. He is married with two daughters and two sons. I would welcome a photo of him.

Hunter of the Blood (1977)
Hunter of the Blood describes how hijackers have knocked out a government track in Mojavo, killed the driver and guard, and stolen enough plutonium oxide to make an atom bomb that could wipe out a city. A week after a frantic, highly secret and totally unsuccessful manhunt, General Womack came to Gus Gamble, now a Jesuit priest but previously his subordinate, for help. Gamble is given special leave by his superior to give up his unlikely job as blackjack dealer/ Jesuit priest to resume his former job as chief of internal security for the atomic energy commission. But things do not turn out as he had hoped, and he ends up deciding to disobey the orders of both General Womack and his religious superior, and sets off alone to Rome in a desperate attempt to prevent a demented priest from blowing up the Vatican. No, it's not all that likely, is it?

However, the story gets off to a gripping and exciting start and it certainly holds the attention, however unlikely it later becomes. Gamble himself is hardly a convincing priest, especially as he is so soon reverts to his previous role and does not seem to give his priestly functions more than a passing thought. When an attractive Israeli secret agent saves his life, and takes him home with her, she smiles and assures him that even if he is a priest, "I'm sure God will understand that night you are only a man. Trust me, Gus. After all, we have known Him a lot longer than you have."

But some episodes, such as his tricky relationship with Kenneth Neff, whose job as chief of security he has been given, are really convincingly described. When things get difficult, Neff sneers, "What do you suggest - prayer?"
"That's always the best way to begin," Gamble replied mildly. "Provided that you follow it up with action." And it is as a man of action, able to deal with violent death, that he comes into its own. He proves more than able to stand up for himself and is quite prepared to defy both his church and army authorities when the need arises.

The idea of stolen nuclear fuel is certainly a frightening one, and at first is dealt with in a thoroughly convincing way. But as the story unfolds, it all seems more and more unlikely.

There is an excellent series of articles about the two authors on the mysteryfile site.

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The cover is not all that enticing. Cards get only the briefest mention in the story, which is really all about stolen nuclear material. Did the illustrator ever actually read it?
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