This post first appeared in slightly different form on June 3, 2007. I'm a bit swamped and will be rerunning a few more posts, but I hope they're all old enough that they'll be new to most of you.
I’ve finally gotten around to reading one of his books. BEGGARS OF LIFE: A HOBO AUTOBIOGRAPHY is the story of Tully’s experiences as a “road kid” in the early Twentieth Century. The Hammett and Hemingway comparisons are apt. Tully writes in a terse, spare style that’s punctuated by occasional bursts of lyricism. He’s especially good at capturing characters in a few short sentences, and the moments of violence are handled very effectively. Since the hobo life is largely an outdoor one, Tully’s descriptions of nature also stand out, especially a sequence about riding on top of a train car during a spectacular storm. There are also plenty of wry observations about sex and politics and culture along the way.
My only complaint about BEGGARS OF LIFE is that it’s a little too long and occasionally repetitive. There are only so many times you want to read about Tully and his hobo friends getting onto or off of a train. But other than that, I think this is a truly fine, maybe even great, book. I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys hardboiled writing. I believe it was reprinted fairly recently, although I read the original 1924 Albert & Charles Boni edition, obtained through Interlibrary Loan by the local library. Tully also wrote books about the circus and boxing, and I intend to read those, too.