Monday, June 2, 2014

Mystery on Dead Man Reef by George Armin Shaftel

All there is to love about pulp fiction, without the formulaic aftertaste
John Gregg lands on the island of Puna-Puka, somewhere in the South Pacific, where he strikes up a friendship with DeCourcey, who operates the local trading post. The tropical veteran immediately takes a liking to the young newcomer, but has his suspicions that Gregg may be more than just another Pacific drifter afflicted with wanderlust. It soon comes to light that Gregg fled Honolulu, where he was wrongly accused of committing a robbery. He has come to Puna-Puka seeking DeCourcey, who is the only witness that can clear him of the crime. Gregg wants to take DeCourcey back to Hawaii to clear his name, but the trader would rather remain at his post until the day he dies. The two barely have time to argue about it before a film crew shows up on the island, complete with a temperamental director and a beautiful, vivacious starlet. Gregg and DeCourcey soon begin to suspect, however, that shooting scenery isn’t all these movie makers have in mind.

Mystery on Dead Man Reef, a novella by George Armin Shaftel, was originally published in the October 1940 issue of the pulp magazine South Sea Tales. While pulp fiction is often formulaic and predictable, this one is full of surprising twists and turns. The reader really never knows what’s going to happen next. Even the title is unexpected, as it’s really not so much a “Mystery” story, and as far as I know, there’s no “Dead Man Reef” mentioned anywhere in the text. Nevertheless, this story’s got everything you’d want in a good old-fashioned two-fisted tale. It’s like a cross between a Humphrey Bogart movie and an Indiana Jones adventure. There’s one uncomfortable scene when the hero slaps the female lead to show her who’s boss—a frequent occurrence in old movies, regrettably—but other than that there’s no other remarkably antiquated moments or heinous instances of political incorrectness; just good clean fun and edge-of-your-seat thrills.

George Armin Shaftel is not a household name in adventure fiction, and I could find almost no information on him. For some reason, this book isn’t even available on Amazon or Project Gutenberg, but Barnes and Noble is selling it as a Nook file, and you can find it in The Adventure Megapack, an inexpensive collection of pulp fiction from Wildside Press.

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