Friday, September 04, 2015

Forgotten Books: Trail of the Macaw - Eugene Cunningham

Despite the good Sam Cherry cover that I'm convinced first appeared on the cover of some Western pulp from the Thrilling Group (although I haven't been able to find out which one), the cover copy, and the fact that Eugene Cunningham was one of the top Western writers of the pulp era, TRAIL OF THE MACAW is not a Western.

Actually, it's a war/adventure novel set in the fictional but real-sounding Central American country Nicamala in the 1920s, roughly contemporary to when it was first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1935. There is a Texas cowboy in it, however, soldier of fortune Morg Conner, who has fought in several Central American and South American revolutions and who is looking for action again after spending some time in the States and getting bored. On his way to visit an old comrade-in-arms in Nicamala, Morg encounters a revolutionary whose colorful outfits have led him to be dubbed The Macaw. Morg quickly befriends The Macaw, who is half-bandit, half-statesmen, and becomes involved with a revolution against the country's corrupt government. He also meets a beautiful young aristocrat who supports the revolutionaries and falls in love with her, although any sort of romance between them seems doomed.

From there, TRAIL OF THE MACAW becomes a series of military engagements broken up by the occasional romantic moment, culminating in an all-out battle in the country's capital for the future of Nicamala. Cunningham's books have a reputation for violence and this one certainly lives up to that, with frequent wholesale slaughter on both sides of the conflict. The action scenes are gritty and very well-done, the best parts of the book as far as I'm concerned.

Cunningham has a bit of an odd, clipped style that takes some getting used to, but it's very effective. Morg Conner is a likable protagonist and The Macaw makes a good sidekick. The rest of the characters are interesting as well, although some of them aren't developed as well as they might have been. Cunningham's emphasis is on the headlong pace of the story, though, and there's nothing wrong with that. He actually spent time as a mercenary in Central America after serving in World War I, so the book has a ring of authenticity about it.

TRAIL OF THE MACAW would have made an excellent 1930s adventure movie with, say, Randolph Scott as Morg Conner. While I think I prefer Cunningham's more traditional Western work, this is definitely a well-written, entertaining novel and has put me in the mood to read more of Eugene Cunningham's books. (The scan of the paperback cover is from the copy I read, purchased from Recycled Books in Denton, Texas. I couldn't find a scan of the original hardcover edition.)

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

You had me at "headlong pace." I love that.