Friday, July 09, 2010

Forgotten Books: Tongking! - Dan Cushman

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!)

12 comments:

Ayishazain said...
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Anonymous said...

Also worth checking out is Cushman's "Jewel of the Java Sea," a Gold Medal with a great cover, which covers the same, down and out American in the tropics vibe that "Tongking!" does. Not bad.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We all need more time to read, James. My count goes down a little every year.

Cullen Gallagher said...

"SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH"!

Now that's what I call a title.

Thanks for pointing all of this out, James. I hadn't heard of any of these titles before. Perusing the Atlus Press website now looking at the reprints.

August West said...

Whenever I read a Cushman novel, it always read like a pulp story that was written in the 30's. I don't know if he ever broke away from this style. I read a few of his Westerns that were written in the 60's and they were all pulp-ish. I like pulp stories, but I like them best when they were originally published in the 30s & 40s. Ones that were written later (say the 60s or even the 70s) turn me off a bit.

You're right about that great ACE cover!

George said...

I have the same reaction to Dan Cushman's work that you do, James. I tend to prefer his early work.

Bill Crider said...

Yet another book that's been sitting unread on my shelves for 30 or 40 years. I really should do better.

Richard R. said...

This looks great. I'm reading some Singapore Sammy stories by George Worts (Black Dog Press) now, and they have a similar flavor. I wonder what's on the flip side of this one?

Seekers was one of my Mailbox Monday books a week or two ago. and is sitting here in the wait stack.

Yes, Bill you need to do better. We really do expect you to have read the books that you've had for over 20 years...

Anonymous said...

These are the titles in our library, James:

That buzzard from Brimstone : a western quartet

The return of Comanche John

Blood on the saddle

CJ is in large print. I'll try them soon. Thanks.


Ed Lynskey

James Reasoner said...

The other side of TONGKING! is GOLDEN TEMPTRESS, an abridged and retitled reprint of a novel called THE BROKEN GATE by Charles Grayson, an author I've never heard of. It's set in Saigon, in what was then French Indochina. Maybe I'll read it one of these days. Maybe not.

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks for introducing me to an author that I really didn't know anything about. I might skip the Pecos Kid stories now and go straight to the adventure stories.

Nat Pastime said...

Several years ago, I went on a collecting spree for Far East adventure vintage paperbacks. The best are those by Cushman. Singapore Sammy and Peter the Brazen by George Worts (Loring Brent) are good concepts, but Cushman is by far the better writer. One can't go wrong with Jewel of the Java Sea, Port Orient, Savage Interlude, Naked Ebony, as well as Tongking!, among many others.