Thursday, April 21, 2016
I think Raoul Whitfield's Jo Gar stories rank among the best stories in the hard-boiled genre. I think the 6-part "Rainbow Diamonds" story arc is the best of the Jo Gar series. That being said, "Red Dawn" (published in the May 1931 issue of Black Mask) is arguably one of the weakest in the overall series.
Perhaps it's because its in the middle of the "Rainbow Diamonds" arc, when many serials hit a bit of a lag. But whatever the reason, it is flawed in that it depends on several over-used cliches to move the story along.
I'm not against cliches. When used cleverly and sparingly, they are an effective shorthand to provide both exposition and movement in the plot. But in "Red Dawn," I'm afraid they seem a little too obviously a contrivance.
When the last story ended, Jo Gar was in Hawaii, having recovered one of the ten missing diamonds but having run out of living suspects. Good fortune comes in painful packages, though. One of the original crooks kidnaps Gar, convinced that he has all ten diamonds.
That part I'm okay with--the villain is presented with a reasonable motive for thinking Gar has been lying about having the diamonds. He kidnaps Gar to beat the location of the diamonds out of him.
But its here that Whitfield falls into cliche. First, the bad guy spouts off important information to Gar for no good reason at all--primarily that he has a female accomplice. Gar had no idea she existed before this and there was no reason to tell him. Second, the bad guy comes up with a nasty but overly complex method of killing Gar after he's done with the island detective.
Whitfield, though, still saves the story. There is a high level of tension built into the plot and Gar's cleverness in manipulating the villain with lies and then coming up with a brutal but effective way of beating the assassination attempt makes for great reading. Whitfield is just that good--he might stumble a little this time in plot construction, but he makes up for it with honestly-manufactured suspense and hard-core characterizations.
So the story ends with another dead bad guy, but with nine diamonds still missing. He knows a little more than he did before, though. He knows there's a double-crossin' dame out there somewhere. Find her and he finds the diamonds.