Friday, February 26, 2016


I discovered Ralph R. Perry's tattooed pearler amid the several dozen Argosy issues scanned and uploaded to Ron Unz's website, a mind-boggling trove of popular fiction in its original form. Along with a diverse selection of pulps in other genres, from Ranch Romances to Thrilling Wonder Stories, has a huge run of Collier's, "the National Weekly," the home of Fu Manchu and the magazine where many pulp authors found slick legitimacy. It's not exactly a balanced sample of pulp (no Adventure or Blue Book, not so much Short Stories) it's still one of the first places to go to read a lot of pulp stories. There are three Bellow Bill stories in the Unz collection; the links below will send you to the site's .pdf renderings, which can be downloaded for your reading convenience.

Bellow Bill is surprised to find an old blind man on his schooner who proves to be a legendary and honorable trader whose son has been kidnapped by an old enemy who rules the title island as "boss and witch doctor." The old man wants Bill to attempt to negotiate for the youth's release but mainly to try and rescue the lad, since the old-timer doesn't trust his enemy to honor any ransom deal. Bill finds his quarry inside a volcano and has the devil's time getting out to plan his ultimate rescue attempt. You'll feel like you've walked a mile of lava in Bill's shoes, and you'll wonder how he doesn't lose the fine-cut chewing tobacco he always keeps loose in his pants pocket. Intense physical action and a welcome attention to detail in characterization even for subordinate villains.

A preposterous academic quest draws Bellow Bill into a treasure hunt, but before he even gets started Bill is attacked by an antagonist big enough to impersonate him, with body paint substituting for Bill's famed tattoos. While he escapes his initial predicament he's subject to distrust from some of the treasure hunters so long as his doppelganger is on the loose. Mutual misunderstandings complicate the competition with the double and the man backing him. Perry emphasizes that Bill himself is an imperfect judge of character. His fallibility makes the stories more entertaining, since you can't necessarily guess how things will turn out from Bill's first impressions.

The penultimate Bellow Bill story is one of the best. In an eerie opening he discovers an abandoned ship with corpses in the captain's quarters, three of whom are islanders with luminescent paint on their faces, and only one of whom seems to have died by violence, though the captain had been tortured. The mystery takes him to an island ruled by "pirates without a ship" led by a missionary-educated native and his twin brothers. It's an unhappy commonplace of pulp that a little education only makes native types more dangerous, but Perry makes the pirate leader into a formidable antagonist, emphasizing a tactical genius that forces Bill to figure out an elaborate multipronged plan of attack requiring the aid of the dead captain's sister, her native servant, and a drunken, cowardly trader whom the pirates had maintained as a figurehead to lure fresh victims ashore. Perry can write action thrillers with the best of pulp authors, and these stories are the proof.

1 comment:

  1. OK, you convinced me. I've just read my first Bellow Bill Williams story, TERROR ISLAND. And it's everything you promised me it would be. Great stuff!