Monday, February 27, 2012

Seekers of the Glittering Fetish: The Complete Adventures of Armless O'Neil, Volume 1 - Dan Cushman

I've discovered that I really like Dan Cushman's pulp adventure yarns. For years I've heard good things about his series featuring Armless O'Neil, an American adventurer in Africa. O'Neil isn't really armless, but he is missing his left hand and has a deadly dangerous steel hook in its place. These stories appeared in the pulps JUNGLE STORIES and ACTION STORIES in the Forties and Fifties, which can be hard to come by, but they're being reprinted by the fine small press publisher Altus Press, the first volume being SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH.

The title story, which originally appeared in the Winter 1945 issue of JUNGLE STORIES and introduced the character, finds O'Neil and his sidekick Tommy Huston on the trail of some magnificent blue diamonds. Tommy is an American musician stranded in Africa who's always after some elusive treasure or a beautiful woman or both, and his friend Armless O'Neil usually gets roped in on these risky deals with him.

"Black Mahogany", from the Spring 1946 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, finds O'Neil and Tommy trying to make a success out of a rundown mahogany plantation, despite the danger from a rival plantation owner who has plans of his own. Cushman springs a nice surprise ending in this one.

In "Jackal Kill" (JUNGLE STORIES, Fall 1946), O'Neil and Tommy join an archeological expedition that's trying to find a fabulous lost city built of pink ivory. O'Neil doesn't really believe in the city's existence, but an old enemy of his is part of the expedition, so he goes along to protect the others. I'm a sucker for lost city stories and have been as far back as I can remember, and this is a good one.

"Five Suns to Angola!", from the Winter 1945 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, has our two heroes and their sidekick Bobolongonga hired to deliver a mysterious sealed, canvas-wrapped bundle to a buyer in Angola. Unfortunately, everybody with an interest in the bundle seems to turn up dead sooner or later, and O'Neil and Tommy seem destined for the same fate. This is another excellent story with a nice mystery at its core.

"Dread Safari" (ACTION STORIES, Winter 1947) opens with a shocking twist: O'Neil is on the trail of whoever murdered his friend Tommy Huston. His vengeance quest takes him to a scientific expedition bound for the hidden jungle tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

This volume wraps up with "Blood-Spoor of the Devil-Stones", from the Spring 1948 issue of ACTION STORIES, and once again O'Neil is searching for the fabled blue diamonds.  Will his pursuit be any more successful this time? Ah, you'll have to read the story to find out.

Even though these yarns have interesting plots, stylish prose, and plenty of well-written action and local color, their real appeal is the character of Armless O'Neil himself. He's as hardboiled as they come, consumed by anger and dark thoughts but possessing a sardonic humor and a strong sense of loyalty at the same time. Although he claims that his goal is to make his fortune in Africa, then return to his native Chicago and buy a pool hall, the reader gets the sense that he would never be happy there, or anywhere else except the dangerous environs of the Congo. Africa and Armless O'Neil were made for each other.

The second volume, SWAMP FETISH, should be out soon from Altus Press with an introduction by yours truly. This will complete the adventures of Armless O'Neil, and I recommend both volumes highly. If you're a fan of pulp action yarns, you definitely should check them out.


Walker Martin said...

I also like Dan Cushman's adventure stories. I see you reviewed TONGKING on July 9, 2010. Armless O'Neil appeared in a couple Gold Medal paperbacks but I think Cushman changed his name.

seanhtaylor said...

Hi. You did know that Pulp Obscura will be creating new Armless O'Neil stories this year, don't you? I'm one of the writers involved, and I too have grown to love the Armless tales, especially the interaction between Tommy and O'Neil.

Be sure to give the new stories a shot. I think you'll like them too.

Sean Taylor

James Reasoner said...

I'd heard a little about the new Armless O'Neil stories but didn't know any of the details. I'll definitely check 'em out.

Nat Pastime said...

I've collected virtually all of Cushman's tropical adventure paperback originals from the 50s and can recommend them all very highly. I read many of his westerns years ago and they were also very good, especially Rusty Irons. I've seen the O'Neil book advertised but have not sprung for it yet. Your review has put it to the top of my list, although my library of books to be read is bursting at the seams now.

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