Saturday, August 11, 2018
'A decent-hearted straight-spoken white man reduced to that! And liking it! It's rotten!'
Arthur O. Friel includes a history lesson in his novelette "Killer's Gold" (Adventure, August 1, 1935) and editor Howard V.L. Bloomfield makes a point of informing readers that the backstory to the tale's treasure hunt is "actual Alto Orinoco history." The killer of the title is Tomas Funes, a "petty trader" who seized control of Venezuela's Amazonas territory in 1913 and held it for approximately eight years of "terror and murder." He's long gone by the time of Friel's story and only comes into it relatively late. At first it's the story of Pierce, sole survivor of a doomed expedition who encounters the vicious river trader/pirate Jacobo Dominguez. Predictably, Friel makes a big deal of Jacobo's black skin, though he makes a point later of saying while Funes was white, "inwardly he was even blacker" than the present-day villain. What gets Pierce's goat is that a fellow white man, calling himself "John Doe," is one of Jacobo's minions, though he also helps Pierce escape from Jacobo's clutches at a crucial point. Doe's complacency offends Pierce's sense of race prestige, but it turns out that Doe (short for Dolan) has an ulterior, selfish motive for sticking with Jacobo. He's after a long-rumored buried treasure of Funes' -- in the Camp Fire section Friel notes that no such had been found as of 1935 -- and when his path crosses again with Pierce's he figures a fellow American will help him so they can both get out of the benighted country. With one local guide of dubious loyalty, the Americans find the treasure and fight their way through Jacobo's effort to hijack it, predictably losing their token Venezuelan along the way. The poor superstitious chap believes that the dead hand of Tomas Funes claimed him, and Friel may mean to suggest that he's right in a way. In Camp Fire, he virtually apologizes for writing such a sordid portrait of Venezuela and feels obliged to remind readers that not everyone down there is a savage like the historical Funes or the fictional Jacobo. His story may well be a history lesson for anyone who hears about Venezuela in the 21st century and has the idea that everything was hunky dory down there before Hugo Chavez and his idiot understudy Maduro came along. As for Pierce and Dolan, there's a hint that they might become another of Friel's adventure teams, but as far as I know "Killer's Gold" was their one and only appearance. It's an interesting story regardless as an example of how Friel's own experiences in Venezuela -- he visited Funes' capital shortly after the tyrant fell -- shaped and darkened his once more romantic view of the region and its people.