Friday, June 07, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Opium Ship & Mr. Shen of Shensi - H. Bedford-Jones

Parts of this post originally appeared in different form on February 11, 2006.

THE OPIUM SHIP originally appeared as a serial in the famous pulp magazine THE THRILL BOOK in July and August of 1919. As I’ve said on numerous other occasions, Bedford-Jones is one of my favorite pulp authors. This is one of his sea-going yarns, about a couple of financially strapped Irishmen, former aviator Gerald Desmond and consumptive fiddler Michael Terence O’Sullivan, who wind up being shanghaied onto a ship where all sorts of deviltry and double-crossing is going on.

Between mutiny, opium smugglers, a hurricane, a couple of shipwrecks, two beautiful women in danger, and adventures on a deserted island, the pace never lets up for very long. Bedford-Jones keeps the story galloping along in his usual clean, spare prose (anybody who claims that all pulp fiction was overwritten must have never read Bedford-Jones) and throws in several surprising plot twists along the way. While THE OPIUM SHIP probably doesn’t belong in the very top rank of Bedford-Jones’s work, it’s quite entertaining and well worth reading.

It's soon to be available in a new reprint from Beb Books, along with "Mr. Shen of Shensi", a novella by Bedford-Jones that also appeared in THE THRILL BOOK in October 1919. This one finds explorer and unofficial secret agent James Kenrick on the trail of the mysterious Mr. Shen, a Chinese scientist, mystic, and professional troublemaker, who appears to have invented a new ray that blacks out all light, similar to the weapon featured in the Shadow novel "The Black Hush" sixteen years later. ("The Black Hush" is one of my favorite Shadow novels, by the way, well worth reading.) Mr. Shen has brought his gizmo to San Francisco, obviously bent on causing some sort of mischief with it, and it's Kenrick's job to find him and stop him.

This is a fast-paced adventure yarn blending espionage, superscience, and a touch of the supernatural, and it's a lot of fun. Combined with THE OPIUM SHIP, this volume is a good introduction to Bedford-Jones' work in a couple of different genres . . . but of course he wrote many other kinds of stories as well. As a storyteller, Bedford-Jones was one of the best, and you can see why in these two exciting tales.


Walker Martin said...

The THRILL BOOK is considered the first American pulp to have a policy of printing supernatural or fantasy fiction. It only lasted 16 issues in 1919 and is extremely rare. I once was offered the complete set but I only had $3000 available at the time and my offer was rejected. this was about 30 years ago.

I do have the Adventure House reprint hardcover which reprints the first few issues. I somehow managed to obtain a front cover from THRILL BOOK but the rest of the magazine is missing.

If a set of the 16 issues still exists somewhere, I would estimate the value of at least between $50,000 and $100,000. This magazine along with the October 1912 issue of ALL STORY is considered one of the Holy Grail's of pulp collecting.

George said...

The more I read of H. Bedford-Jones the more I want to read. This sounds great!