Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Golden Goshawk - H. Bedford-Jones

I hadn’t read anything by H. Bedford-Jones for a while, but he remains one of my favorite pulp authors (favorite authors, period, in fact), and THE GOLDEN GOSHAWK is a prime example of why.

This is an excellent new collection from Black Dog Books. As usual, publisher Tom Roberts has put together a nice-looking volume, and this time around he also provides an informative introduction about the origins of the four stories reprinted here. The title story first appeared in the August 1928 issue of the rare and sought-after pulp, THE DANGER TRAIL, one of the Clayton pulps. By the time the second story, “The Jest of the Jade Joss”, appeared a year later in August 1929, the name of the magazine had been changed to WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES. Bedford-Jones wrote two more stories in this short-lived series featuring Captain Dan Marguard, but they went unpublished when WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES folded. A couple of years later, those stories were published in a different pulp, FAR EAST ADVENTURE STORIES. All four of them appeared under the pseudonym Captain L.B. Williams.

What about the stories themselves? Well, they’re great fun. Dan Marguard is a free-lance trader, adventurer, and mercenary in the South Seas, skippering an old schooner called the Gadfly. In the course of these yarns, he retrieves a stolen idol, rescues some kidnap victims, walks calmly into the stronghold of a headhunter tribe to retrieve the dried head of an old friend, and prevents a bloody native uprising. In the process, he usually finds a way to latch on to a decent payoff for himself and his two Chinese “elder brothers” who raised him. The stories are smartly plotted and told in Bedford-Jones’s usual clean, terse, exciting prose. I don’t know how authentic they are in terms of history and geography, but HB-J had the knack of making everything in his stories sound absolutely accurate and believable. He even goes to the trouble in one case of having the supposed author, Captain L.B. Williams, provide an afterword detailing the inspiration for the story, adding another layer to the fiction.

Bedford-Jones was good at this. During the Thirties, he brought back the good captain to serve as half of a joint by-line on his “Ships and Men” series that ran in BLUE BOOK. Those stories all appeared as by H. Bedford-Jones and Captain L.B. Williams. BLUE BOOK, like numerous other pulps, sometimes ran biographical features on the authors who wrote for them, and on the inside front cover of one issue was a biography and an artist’s portrait of the wholly fictional Captain L.B. Williams. The editors had to be in on the joke, but the readers at the time weren’t.

For fans of pulp adventure fiction, I can’t recommend THE GOLDEN GOSHAWK highly enough. Great yarns, a great author, and a little-known character who appeared in hard-to-find pulps adds up to a must-have as far as I’m concerned.


D.K. Soames said...

Great review. Never heard of the guy. I've ordered it. Money out, fictional goodness in.

James Reasoner said...

Bedford-Jones was one of three men who was known at one time as the King of the Pulps (the other two being Frederick Faust and Erle Stanley Gardner). He wrote hundreds of novels and stories in all the different sub-genres of adventure fiction, but he's probably best known for his historical adventure stories. If you like this one, a lot of his work is currently available in small press reprint editions, and the older editions of many of his novels can be found inexpensively on-line, too.

D.K. Soames said...

I'm looking forward to reading this, and have the feeling it will be a lot of fun. Doesn't exactly sound like Dostoevsky and that's fine with me.

George said...

Your review convinced me that I need to own some H. Bedford Jones. Keep up the good work!

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

There's a bookstore out where I live that's got quite a lot of old pulp fiction around - new reprints at that. Anyway - one set I saw was strange. L Ron Hubbard (the scientology guy) .. a series of 90 page dime novels. Westerns, rafael sabatini style pirate stories (one of which had a blurb that talked about a "60 gun bark", which is where I stopped reading).

Barkentines / barks were fairly small craft, about the size of a seagoing yacht, and single decked. 60 guns would have made a rather old midsized two decker (with the cannon in two tiers one above the other - and on a ship rigged vessel - that is square, or in the 17th and 18th rather than the 19th century, lateen rigged)

For sea stories of that type I'll stick with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin novels. Beats the earlier ones - CS Forester's Hornblower novels, earlier stories by Captain Marryat, Bret Harte etc.

James Reasoner said...

I have one of those L. Ron Hubbard pulp reprints but haven't read it yet. The only thing I've ever read by him is his novel TYPEWRITER IN THE SKY, which I recall thinking was okay, but that's all the impression it made on me.

You know a lot more about sailing ships than I do. Any time I'm writing a historical novel with sailing scenes in it, I have to surround myself with research books and be very careful.

Richard Robinson said...

Arrived a couple days ago. It's on top of the TBR. Looking forward to it!