Friday, October 20, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Slave Runner - Gordon MacCreagh

Gordon MacCreagh is an author whose name I’ve seen on many pulps, but I’ve never read his work until now, at least not that I remember. He wrote a lengthy series about an American named King adventuring in Africa. The natives refer to him as “Kingi Bwana”, and he’s rumored to be a shady character, little better than an outlaw, a slave runner, and a smuggler. Of course, in Africa as anywhere else, things are not always as they seem.

The first Kingi Bwana story is “The Slave Runner”, from the April 1, 1930 issue of the iconic pulp ADVENTURE. MacCreagh takes the unusual tack of opening this debut adventure with rumors of his protagonist’s death. Supposedly, King’s charmed life has run out, and he’s been killed by a lion. I don’t imagine many, if any, readers actually believed that, even in the more innocent era of 1930.

MacCreagh spends quite a bit of time on two British officials in Kenya, a pompous deputy commissioner and a young, earnest consul. It’s the latter who first encounters King, the former who captures the American and accuses him of slave running because King is always in the same vicinity as a notorious Arab/Spanish slave trader. The deputy commissioner is convinced the two men are partners in the illicit enterprise.

MacCreagh’s style is a little old-fashioned, as you’d expect, but his prose reads very smoothly and is packed with details about Africa and its geography, politics, wildlife, social customs, and the attitudes of its people. He manages to do this without infodumps, so the pace of this first story moves along very nicely. There’s a long, suspenseful scene where King is penned up in a lion trap, only to have an actual lion come along and try to get to him. King’s escape from both the trap and the lion make for some good reading.

My only real complaint about this 25,000 word novella is that all the climactic action takes place off-screen, making the ending considerably less dramatic and more low-key than it could have been. King is a very good character, though, and Deputy Commissioner Sanford makes for an effective foil, reminding me of Inspector Teal in Leslie Charteris’s Saint yarns.

All the Kingi Bwana stories have been reprinted by Altus Press. I have all four volumes and will be working my way through them. Based on “The Slave Runner”, this is a good pulp adventure series, and I look forward to reading the rest of the yarns.


Charles Gramlich said...

Don't think I've read any of his stuff either

George said...

Great minds think alike! I reviewed an Altus Press classic today for FFB, too! SECRET AGENT "X" has the same pulpiness that you enjoyed in THE SLAVE RUNNER.

Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks for sending me that much closer to the poor farm, James!

Unknown said...

MacCreagh's non-fiction books, White Waters and Black and The Last of Free Africa are just as entertaining as his African adventure stories and of course, they are real life adventures.