Avalon is a family name in this long-forgotten pulp novel, not a place. Originally serialized in ARGOSY in September and October of 1919, it takes place on a group of isolated islands off the coast of South Carolina. In pre-Revolutionary times, these islands were granted by the King of England to the Avalon family, who still rule them as a sort of feudal fiefdom despite the presence of a few modern items such as automobiles, gasoline launches, and wireless communication with the mainland.
The current master of Five Isles is Florence “Flurry” Avalon, who is a rugged male despite his feminine name. Avalon is seldom in residence there since he also runs a coffee plantation in South America, but his sister and younger brother live in Cliff House, the ancestral family residence which serves as this novel’s version of The Old Dark House . . . because that’s the kind of story this is, filled with secret passages, villainous Spaniards, shipwrecked survivors, mobs of torch-bearing villagers, unexpected shots in the night, and love at first sight between Avalon and one of the passengers from the wrecked schooner who show up at Cliff House.
The author of AVALON is Francis Stevens (the pseudonym of Gertrude Bennett), who also wrote some early weird thrillers such as THE LABYRINTH and THE CITADEL OF FEAR. I’ve read THE LABYRINTH and thought it was okay up to a point. AVALON lacks as many weird elements, but its plot holds together better and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s melodramatic, and its style is so old-fashioned that it might be off-putting to most modern readers. But if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind, the story moves along at a good clip and some of the writing holds up well. It’s available in a reprint edition from Beb Books, and if you enjoy early pulp thrillers, you might want to give it a try.
(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on May 11, 2008.)