Wednesday, April 25, 2018

'He thought I was too young to be among such men as most rebels are.'

Arthur O. Friel's "The Hawk of Zaguamon" (Adventure, December 1936) reminded me of a later story of Friel's that I read earlier, in which his series hero Dugan, an American adventurer in South America, tentatively befriends a young aristocrat turned rebel. As usual, the setting in "Zaguamon" is Venezuela, specifically during the regime of President Juan Vicente Gomez, who died a year before Friel's story was published. The American hero this time, Rod Steele, is the sidekick/adviser of Ricardo Torre, the U.S.-educated hawk of the title ("El Halcon") and a rebel against one of Gomez's abusive and potentially rebellious governors. The Hawk's small army intervenes in a skirmish between the governor's forces and another rebel force whose leader ends up mortally wounded. The dying man entrusts his heir, a slender youth, to the American's stewardship, while his army readily joins forces with Torre's. This proves a decisive encounter in more ways than one. Torre and Steele discover that Governor Boves, their true enemy, has been importing Germany military advisers for some can't-be-good purpose. His now-augmented force inspires Torre to provoke Boves into a decisive battle. The two factions get along well enough, except that the Guerra forces are very protective toward Ricardo, their beardless new leader.Ricardo's father hadn't wanted them to join with any other rebel force because "He thought I was too young to be among such men as most rebels are." This makes sense to Steele, since "the average gang of self-styled rebels in these wilds comprised human beasts of prey, vicious in every word and deed." But there's more to it than that, as Steele finds out after young Guerra has to kill a soldier who's less protective than possessive, telling the young commander, "No man -- have you!"

Steele's amazed eyes, lifting sooner than the furious gaze of the slayer, stared anew. The loose army-shirt was torn wide open; and, scratched by clawing nails now dead, out swelled firm young breasts never those of a boy. The gray eyes flashed up, met the wide brown ones. Quick hands yanked the shirt together. Burning red arose to the dark hair, gradually receded. Then, with a sigh, Carlota Guerra holstered her pistol and stood mute, head still high but gaze avoiding Steele's astonished regard.

I must confess that the twist took me by surprise, though in hindsight I should have been tipped off by "Carlos" deciding to wear an oversized uniform confiscated from one of the dead Germans. Certain things become inevitable from here, of course. Carlota convinces Stelle to let her continue her imposture, reminding him, "Have there not been fighting women before now?...Have I not fought for years like a man? Do not be stupid!" Friel makes a point, however, of having Carlota thrown from a horse and taken out of the action for the final battle against Boves, so she can live to become, at age seventeen, our American hero's bride. In Steele's defense, he offers to send her to a "high-class girls' school up North" first, but she's not having that. "I know men!" she protests, "Men that are men, not schoolboys! And damn, hell, if you not want me --" No, damn, hell, he does want her, and "right over yonder in Trinidad are English clergymen waiting for us." Such is romance south of the border, and it doesn't really feel out of place in this entertaining mini-epic of pulp South America.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'I'm so sober, I'm damn near ready to fight anybody for any reason.'

Robert Carse wasn't the most prolific of pulp writers, and that probably explains why his work was consistently above average. He published a grand total of thirteen stories in 1932, including a six-part Argosy serial, and that's not much considering that his stuff usually appeared in weeklies like Argosy or Detective Fiction Weekly or in twice-monthlies like Adventure and what for that year was known as The Popular Complete Stories. This was the merger of Street & Smith's two general-adventure pulps, The Popular Magazine and Complete Stories. The selling point, as you might guess, was that there were no serials, when Argosy, by comparison, ran four at a time, so you weren't going to be in the middle of something if you picked up a TPCS. Carse specialized in what could be called the French Colonial genre, encompassing both Foreign Legion adventures and Devil's Island-type tales of brutality and resistance. "The Web" (February 1, 1932) has a little bit of both. Its co-protagonist, James, is an American who was framed for murder and condemned to the typical hell on earth so a crooked French Guiana politician (a "half-breed," of course) could take over the oil fields James inherited from his father. We never actually see the prison, since the story opens with James a free man in France, but suddenly subject to blackmail. Somehow, someone has learned that he's an escapee and fugitive, and that someone is demanding a huge sum of francs for his silence. Somehow James catches the interest of Rand, an alcoholic American journalist who only sobers up on the promise of a big story. He sees one in James's plight and together they discover that the very people who smuggled him out of prison are blackmailing him and other escapees. Basically it becomes a gangster story in a French setting, with Rand swinging from man of action to staggering drunk until he finally recruits a gang of ex-Legionnaires in Marseilles to take on the blackmailers, who of course include James's old enemy, who supposedly had been lynched in his homeland years ago. Rand may be rather implausible as a hero, arguably a sort of defective-detective type, but Carse's semi-hard boiled style makes him palatable. This is a "complete novel" at 48 pages and it's actually novelistically paced in an almost-daring way as Carse opens with several pages of dialogue introducing his protagonists to each other. Perhaps the Street & Smith editors were more indulgent of this than others. Fortunately Carse is good enough with dialogue that the protracted opening holds your interest, and there's enough novelty to the setting and situation to make this a fairly entertaining little thriller from one of pulp's more dependable writers.

Monday, April 2, 2018

'This probably was the last time he'd pick up something Trump brought him.'

Arthur Hawthorne Carhart's "Give a Dog a Name" (Adventure, June 1943) is a cute mystery story in which a heroic dog discovers the crucial clue. Carhart, a western specialist, wrote something short and to the point. The hero, Lige, is reluctantly conscripted to hunt down a friend accused of murdering another man. The law has leverage over him because Lige is wanted in another territory. The authorities expect Lige's dog, himself a sort of outcast, to be able to sniff out the suspected man. The twist is that the dog leads Lige to the alleged victim, who had faked his death, making it look like his bloody body had been dragged to the rapids, in order to get away with robbery. The crucial clue is the victim/culprit's bloodstained shoe, which indicates that the shoe's owner had to have taken it off after he'd supposedly been killed. Good dog! The thing that makes this story worth a post to me, or at least worth some clickbait, is that the dog's named Trump. I could have used a lot of sentences to headline this post. For instance:

Trump was an ugly dog. Everyone thought so, except Lige.

Trump was about to be shot the day they met some years ago. The shepherd had seen Trump smelling a coyote-killed lamb. He believed Trump guilty.

Trump must have realized he'd been pulled out of a bad spot.

The citizens wouldn't care what became of Trump. He'd probably haunt back doors, scavenging food, until someone shot him or poisoned him and felt righteous doing it.

There was one way to do it. Kill Trump and then let Newt Slayne send a telegram to the law man up north.

Maybe if he could understand, Trump would rather have this happen than to have Syd caught.

"Me and Trump don't think Syd's guilty."

Trump came back when called but then struck out in that wrong direction again.

"I'll bet Trump's hungry, too. He's done a day's work."

[Or, if you really want to editorialize...]

"Don't try," said Lige, "From here on we both follow Trump."

This is all very sophomoric in what I hope is nonpartisan fashion, but I couldn't help myself. If anyone takes offense, I swear that if I find a jungle story featuring any sort of savage named Obama, I'll do the same thing.