Of the many, many series written for the pulps by H.
Bedford-Jones, his longest-running featured a fat little Cockney named John
Solomon, which ran from 1914 to 1936 and encompassed more than twenty novels
and novellas. John Solomon may not seem very impressive at first glance, but he
actually runs a far-flung intelligence network and makes a specialty of
thwarting all sorts of criminal and espionage schemes around the world. I’ve
been aware of this series for years but hadn’t read any of them until recently,
when I started at the most logical place, the novel THE GATE OF FAREWELL, which
was published originally as a serial in ARGOSY in 1914 and is Solomon’s first
appearance. (It was later published as a novel under the pseudonym Allan
Solomon is a supporting character in this book and doesn’t play much of a part
in the action until the late stages. The protagonist is an American businessman
named Allen Tredgar, who is searching for his older brother who vanished in
Arabia five years earlier. He hires a captain and a ship, gets a tip on where
to look for his brother from John Solomon, goes through the Suez Canal, and
then heads down the Red Sea to the area where his brother disappeared.
Unfortunately, there’s a sinister American working against Tredgar’s interests,
and things are complicated even more when Tredgar and his companions rescue a
beautiful young woman blown out to sea in a small boat during a storm.
Ultimately, everybody winds up in a fortress on the coast of Arabia built by
what today we would call an Islamic terrorist group. Torture, slavery, and epic
battles ensue, along with a hunt for ancient relics that will give whoever
possesses them great power in the Middle East.
For a novel written and published more than a hundred years ago, THE GATE OF
FAREWELL is surprisingly modern. I can see this same basic plot being used by a
number of today’s thriller writers (although the resulting book would be three
or four times as long). This early in his career, Bedford-Jones’ prose is still
a bit stodgy and old-fashioned and not as crisp and stream-lined as it would be
later. Also, the plot is rather slow to develop, leading to the first half of
the book just sort of meandering along.
The second half, though, has a lot of punch, building up a considerable amount
of suspense that delivers an action-packed climax. The characters are
interesting, including a suitably despicable villain. Bedford-Jones lays the
groundwork for more adventures of John Solomon, which I’m sure I’ll be reading.
THE GATE OF FAREWELL isn’t in the top rank of H. Bedford-Jones’ novels, as far
as I’m concerned, but it’s an entertaining adventure yarn in the classic style
and well worth reading, especially as an introduction to his longest-running