Dan Cushman is a problematic author for me. I’ve always felt that I should like his work, since he wrote extensively for the Western pulps and in fact was responsible for creating the last Western hero pulp, THE PECOS KID. (Cushman write five Pecos Kid novellas for the magazine, all of which have been reprinted in Leisure paperbacks during the past decade.) He also wrote original paperbacks for Gold Medal and was still turning out hardback Western novels for Walker during the Eighties. And yet, when I’ve tried to read Cushman’s work, most of the time I haven’t cared for it. I’ve started some of his novels and haven’t even finished them.
Ah, but I’d never read one of his Far East adventure yarns until now.
TONGKING! was published in 1954 as half of an Ace Double and is very much of its time. The protagonist is down-on-his-luck American soldier of fortune Rocky Forbes, who finds himself broke in Bangkok, not a good situation. He falls in with an old ally/enemy, the smuggler Fatto Kolski (who seems to be modeled pretty blatantly on Sydney Greenstreet). Kolski has a plan to smuggle some guns to anti-communist guerrillas in China, but in order to pull off the scheme, he needs Forbes to pretend to be a dead man.
This is just the beginning of a very twisty plot that involves American spies, British spies, Chinese spies, a beautiful Spanish torch singer, a beautiful American missionary, double crosses, triple crosses, murder, tramp steamers, and shootouts with Thompson submachine guns. If all those plot elements don’t perk your interest, I don’t know what would. The pace never lets up for very long, the local color is very well-done, and Rocky Forbes manages to be a likable hero while at the same time remaining an unrepentant heel. TONGKING! is an updated version of the sort of pulpish international intrigue and adventure stories that were published in BLUE BOOK during the Thirties.
In an interview with George Tuttle that was first published in PAPERBACK PARADE and recently reprinted in SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH, the first collection of Cushman’s Armless O’Neil stories that originally appeared in the pulps JUNGLE STORIES and ACTION STORIES, Cushman himself offers a fairly low opinion of TONGKING! I hate to disagree with the author, but I found this novel very entertaining, definitely enough so to make me want to read more of Cushman’s adventure novels. If you have it on your shelves but have never read it, you should take it down and give it a try. If you run across a copy of the Ace Double for a reasonable price, as I did, grab it. That great cover alone is worth something.
(Speaking of SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH, that was a Father’s Day present from my daughters this year, along with several other pulp reprint collections. This really is a Golden Age for pulp fans, the best since the Sixties. I just need more time to read!)