Moving on the second tale in the collection FORBIDDEN RIVER from Black Dog Books, "A Gambler Passes", from the January 1930 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, is an important story among Frederick Nebel's work, because it may be an unacknowledged prequel to his most famous series, the hardboiled tales of a private eye named Cardigan that ran in DIME DETECTIVE. The protagonist of "A Gambler Passes" is one Jack Cardigan, a former prospector who abruptly turns gambler, much to the disgust of his partner. (Nebel would use a similar plot point two years later in "Wolves of the Wild", which I wrote about last week.) Cardigan has a good reason for his decision, although he keeps it to himself.
However, this is only a subplot of the story, which revolves around Cardigan being convicted of murder by a shady miners' court, over a killing that he carried out in self-defense. Faced with hanging, he escapes and sets out on an odyssey across the frozen North that winds up with plenty of action and plot twists.
Nebel's description of the frigid landscape is extremely vivid in this yarn. To say that the reader is able to feel the cold in the words is a cliché, but it's also true. There's some fine, naturalistic writing in this story. Cardigan's romance with a miner's beautiful daughter is a bit more on the melodramatic side, but it's still effective. The ending is particularly satisfying.
If the Cardigan in this story is the same one who shows up later in DIME DETECTIVE, then clearly a lot happened to him between those two points in his life. Nebel either chose not to fill in that gap, or more likely just never thought of it. But even if it's not the same character, "A Gambler Passes" is still a fine, stirring tale, and it's one more good reason to head over to the Black Dog Books website and order a copy of FORBIDDEN RIVER.