Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Good, Old-Fashioned South Seas Adventure

One nifty side-effect of electronic publishing is the number of pulp-era stories that are being reprinted. I assume this is because it wouldn't be economically viable to do physical print runs featuring stories by some of the more obscure authors. The relatively small overhead of e-publishing, though, changes the situation.

For instance, it's within the "pages" of an e-book that I ran across a story by George Armin Shaftel, a pulp writer from the 1930s and 1940s whose work has fallen into relative obscurity.

Shaftel knew how to tell a good story, though. "Mystery on Dead Man Reef" was published in the October 1940 issue of South Sea Stories. The main character is John Gregg, who has traveled to a remote Pacific island to find DeCourcey, the one man whose testimony can clear Gregg of a robbery charge.

But DeCourcey, who is running a trading post on the island, doesn't want to go back to the States to testify. Gregg isn't sure what to do next, but then another problem arises when a supposed film crew arrives by yacht to film background scenes for a movie.

At least, that's the story they tell. It turns out they've hijacked the yacht while hunting for a lost treasure and are holding a brother and sister hostage. Gregg now has a more immediate problem on his hand that might just take precedent over his legal troubles.

This story is just-plain fun. Shaftel sets up the situation with economical prose and also manages to insert the right amount of South Seas atmosphere into it all. Little touches add to the flavor; the lost treasure, for instance, is said to be gold buried during World War I by a German ship captain. It had been taken off of merchant ships captured by the German's warship, but the captain buried it when he realized the war was lost.

It's a nicely thought out bit of background that makes the story's Macguffin all the more interesting. There's also an ironic twist at the end regarding the actual nature of the island's treasure. (Which is one of several twists that help bring all aspects of the story to a conclusion)

But before we get to the end, Gregg has to sneak out to the yacht, free the brother, get back ashore, rescue the sister and team up with DeCourcey to take out the villains. We only get a little background information about Gregg, but by golly he knows it's always a good idea to bring a revolver to a fist fight.

"Mystery on Dead Man Reef" is a fine example of why pulp-era fiction remains entertaining and will always remain entertaining. It jumps right into the story without wasting any time; it generates the proper atmosphere to draw us into the adventure; and it moves along at a brisk pace while giving us some cool fight scenes. Reading it won't change your life, but you'll be a better person for having read it anyways.


  1. Where is this eBook available? I just handled this magazine today, and I was impressed by the cover. Unlike most pulp/comic/paperback covers, this depicts the moment AFTER the damsel is distressed, rewarding the hero with a passionate kiss.

    1. Rich, the story is included in The Adventure Megapack, which you can purchase from Amazon for the Kindle or from Barnes and Noble for the Nook.


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