Over the past few years, Frederick C. Davis has become one
of my favorite pulp authors. I’ve always liked his work ever since reading
those Corinth paperback reprints of some of his Operator 5 pulp novels, back in
the Sixties. I hadn’t really realized how many different genres Davis wrote in,
though, until recent years.
THRILLING SKY STORIES is a 2005 small press collection of aviation yarns Davis wrote, including two novellas and a short story. I’ve had it for years but just got around to reading it. The volume opens with the novella “The Sky Pirate”, from the April 1929 issue of AIR STORIES. A mysterious, all-black plane is involved with a series of daring robberies. The thieves strike at a ship at sea, a gold mine in the mountains, and a bank in a San Francisco skyscraper. It’s up to a pair of stalwart, two-fisted Border Patrol pilots to track down the mastermind behind these bizarre crimes, but their investigation has barely started when one of them finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit, a twist of fate that turns him against the law, too.
The prose in this yarn from fairly early in Davis’s career isn’t as polished as it would be later, and his plotting is a little weak and driven by too many coincidences . . . but man, the action scenes are great. Also, he was a master at coming up with slam-bang endings where the action continues to the very last paragraph, and he provides a fantastic one here that would have called for some great flying and stunt work if Hollywood had ever made a movie out of this tale. I was really flipping the pages in the last chapter, and any time an author can make me do that, I’ll forgive a lot of other weaknesses. “The Sky Pirate” is a mixed bag, but overall I enjoyed it quite a bit.
“Sky Racketeers”, a novella from the May 1930 issue of WINGS, is exactly what it sounds like, a tale of how gangsters work the ol’ protection racket on an airline. Also as you’d expect, a stalwart, two-fisted pilot gets the job of stopping them, with help from his mechanic sidekick. The plot is a little better in this one, but some of the coincidences still stretch credibility too far. Again, however, the slam-bang ending is great.
This volume wraps up with “Patrol of the Dead”, a short story from the Spring 1937 issue of AIR STORIES. It’s a sequel of sorts to “The Sky Pirate”, featuring the same Border Patrol base and one of the same supporting characters from the earlier story. It’s about the conflict between the Border Patrol and an organization of Mexican drug smugglers (an early day drug cartel, in other words) and is better written and plotted than the other two stories in this book. It lacks the huge climax, but there’s still some good action.
I enjoyed THRILLING SKY STORIES. It’s not a book I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t read Davis’s work before, since it’s not as good as some of his other work, but anyone who’s already a fan, or who just really likes aviation pulp, will get some good entertainment out of it.