Adventure March 20, 1923 – issue review

Inspired by a post on the True Pulp Fiction blog, here’s my review of the March 20, 1923 issue of Adventure magazine.

Adventure March 20, 1923

Adventure March 20, 1923

Cover by James C. McKell, headings by Virgil E. Pyles.
How the heck that guy got into that tight fitting shirt with no buttons, i’ll never know.

 Bad Men Make Good Pickings · Frederick J. Jackson · ss    3/5

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Bad Men Make Good Pickings
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Bad Men Make Good Pickings

WHEN Jake Humphries stuck a Winchester around a comer of the barn and took a pot shot at Bill Collier he started some-Jake thought that Bill had a warrant for him, which was all wrong, for Bill had that day resigned as deputy sheriff. He had excellent reasons for his resignation. As he had put it to the sheriff—

“I don’t mind taking up an odd job of sheriffing, but there’s gotta be a little action connected with it.”
And the early Summer of 1888 had been notably uneventful down in San Miguel County—altogether too peaceful for one of Bill’s restless nature.
Jake Humphries made a bull’s-eye on his two-hundred-yard shot. He had pulled the sights fine on the middle of Bill’s anatomy, but Bill’s horse had chosen that instant to jerk up its head. The bullet struck between its eyes.
Jake saw the horse go down. He also saw Bill snatch the carbine from the saddle boot and leap clear as the animal fell in a plunging roll.
That was enough for Jake. He leaped on to his horse, jabbed in the spurs and as long as possible kept the large barn between himself and the irate Mr. Collier. And between the latter and himself, Jake’s one ambition now was to put as great a distance as he could. He had been seized by a panic as the result of his shot, and was not greatly to be blamed. Bill Collier was a noted and talented administrator of lead poisoning.
Frederick J Jackson was a playwright, screenwriter and pulp author. This story about ex-Texas Ranger turned sheriff’s deputy, Bill Collier, is well written. A guilty crook takes a potshot at him, and sets off a chase that goes across county lines. Collier calls in his friends, swears them in as deputies, and ambushes the bad guys when they attack the town. Sounds like the plot of The Magnificent Seven, doesn’t it? Fun read, made me chuckle a few times.

The Magician of Ombakura · J. D. Newsom · ss    3/5

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for The Magician of Ombakura
BEFORE the accident his family always referred to him as “poor Frederick” because’ he was quiet and mild-tempered; after the railway smash when the surgeons had amputated his left leg nearly to the hip he became “poor dear Frederick,” which was not meant, as might be supposed, to convey any sense of heightened affection or sympathy. On the contrary, the additional adjective “dear” was given a value all its own. It stood for doubt, suspicion and a faint ironical ridicule tinged with condescension. Such subtle shades of meaning are well understood in embattled family circles where the only bond of union is common parentage.
It became a matter of course to apologize for Frederick Neild’s ways. He was queer, he read queer books, his mind was queer and his interests were queer and strange.
The mere fact that he had been left a vulgarly large amount of money by his father served as an added pretext for exasperation among his already exasperated relatives.
If only he had taken an interest in the horse-show, or the hardware factory or the Tagore Society or bridge he might have been excused some minor eccentricities, but he shunned all these normal interests and preferred the society of his books and his dogs. He was inexcusable, even when his artificial leg was admitted as evidence for the defense.
When his perplexing ways were discussed his sister, Mrs. Dalkeith, always brought the conversation to an abrupt close with the apologetic remark:
“Poor dear Frederick! He is unbalanced, you know.”
Her tone, her repressed lips, her shocked eyes never failed to convey the impression that Frederick Neild should have been under the care of a competent psychiatrist in a comfortably appointed padded cell.
When the eccentric heir to the family fortune decides to leave his greedy family, and use his inheritance to run a plantation in the South Seas, his family may be forgiven for believing him to be mad. Over time, their greed and fear distorts their moral compass to the point where they believe that they must get the heir committed to a mental institution “for his own good”. They go to fetch him…and the tables are turned in the end. Loses a bit of power due to the deus ex machina ending, but the writing makes up for it. If you’ve read Somerset Maugham and liked his South Seas stories, this is a bit like those.

Stake-Bound · Max Bonter · ss 1.5/5
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Stake-Bound
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Stake-Bound
Down the track toward the railroad station went Simmons the hasher. In his arms were his personal possessions, including his collar and necktie. Simmons was a fat man, but he was traveling fast. His feet fairly skimmed the ties. Little rills of sweat trickled down his careworn countenance, and his breath came and went in sobs. His speed was occasioned by a crowd of men stringing along behind him and filling the mild air with fierce epithets, hoots, cat-calls and various other noises designed to acquaint the departing hasher with the general esteem in which he was held.

A gang of railroad workers chase the cook out of their camp after imagined grievances over the food boil over. Knowing that the gang has money, but doesn’t want to spend it on drink, the railroad officials reason that this is how the gang proposes to get its thrills. They send a new cook to the camp…

A rather boring story, and one that seemed to be slanted against the workers.

The Nine Unknown [Part 1 of 5; Jimgrim] · Talbot Mundy · sl          3.5/5

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for The Nine Unknown
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for The Nine Unknown

“I cut throats with an outward thrust!”
I HAD this story from a dozen people, or thirteen if you count Chullunder Ghose, whose accuracy is frequently perverted. One grain of salt is never enough to add to the fat babu’s misstatements, although anyone who for that reason elected to disbelieve him altogether would be just as wide of the mark as the credulous who take what he says at face value. Chullunder Ghose should he accepted warily. But the others are above suspicion, as for instance King, Grim, Ramsden, the Reverend Father Cyprian, and Jeremy Ross, all of whom regard the truth from various points of view as economical.
Chullunder Ghose considers all truth merely relative at best—likes to be thought a liar, since under that cloak he can tell diluted truth unblushing. Consequently he is the only one whose real motive for taking part in this magnificent adventure is not discoverable; he scratches his stomach and gives a different reason every time he is asked, of which the likeliest is this:
“You see, sahib, bad luck being habitual is bad enough, but better than absolutely no luck. Consequently I took chances, trembling much, stirring innate sluggishness of disposition with galvanic batteries of optimism, including desire to keep wolf from door of underfed family and dependents.”
He certainly took chances, and he appears to have survived them, for I had a letter from him only a week ago begging the favor of a character reference and offering in return to betray trade secrets in the event of his securing the desired employment.
You can read the whole novel here:
Talbot Mundy’s writing is smooth, his characterization is top notch as usual, and he has picked a very interesting subject for a novel and a great company of adventurers. The impetus for this story is provided by Meldrum Strange, the mysterious millionaire who employs the adventurers. He sends a telegram to them:
Specie is coins, usually made out of precious metals. Meldrum Strange says that of all the precious metal mined in the world since the dawn of time, barely one percent is accounted for. Where is the remaining stuff? This leads them to the trail of the Nine Unknown, a secret society created by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka around 270 BC to preserve and develop knowledge that would be dangerous to humanity if it fell into the wrong hands. The nine unknown men were entrusted with guarding nine books of secret knowledge. The Nine Unknown are supposed to collect precious metals and store them or use them.
This is a nice concept; albeit one that Talbot Mundy seems to have created out of thin air. He probably was thinking about the Nine Jewels (nine brilliant courtiers) of the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s court. But it has an air of verisimilitude that makes the novel somewhat credible. Mundy is a keen observer of human nature, with a gift for the apt phrase. If I have a quibble, it is with the pacing – Mundy trades incident for description too often, and the novel might have benefited from some light editing. But that is a minor quibble, I love the writing.
“And whose is the money by right?” asked Grim; that being the kind of poser you could count on him for.
“The fighter’s—the finder’s!” shouted Ali of Sikunderam, and Narayan Singh agreed, nodding, saying nothing, permitting his brown eyes to glow. And at that Chullunder Ghose looked owlish, knowing that the soldier wins but never keeps; sacrifices, serves, eats promises, and dies in vain. He did not tell all he knew, being a rather wise civilian. He sighed—Chullunder Ghose did.
“There possibly may be enough for all of us!” he said, rolling his eyes upward meekly.

Back Pay · Arthur M. Harris · ss   2.5/5
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Back Pay

JUST outside of Plymouth, in the English county of Devonshire, John Avery kept a tavern, under the patronage for the most part of coastwise and deep-sea sailormen. It was a comfortable place, was that inn of good Master Avery, with its sanded floor, diamond-paned windows, clean tankards and the good ale and victuals that made the house synonymous with home for the parched mariner off in Malabar or his brother expectantly bumping homeward-bound around the bulk of Africa’s majestic cape.

A good place with a good landlord, but, alas for perfect pleasure, with a landlady not so good. For while mine host endeavored to drink as much as his customer, leaving the score an amicable affair between gentlemen, mine hostess tallied every drink and- clawed every broad penny laid upon the table. And how incompatible boozing and bookkeeping are, every one may be presumed to know.

Arthur M. Harris was a Seattle based lawyer who came across the courtroom records of old piracy trials. He found them so interesting, he wrote a series of articles about them. This one deals with the trial of William May, a pirate in the company of Henry Every. He makes a story from the trial transcript, and passes his own judgement at the end. I might have appreciated it more if Internet access hadn’t been around – we now have to deal, more than ever, with the problem of too much to read and too little time to do it in.

The author published a series of these stories in Adventure, eventually making a book out of them with the title Pirate tales from the law.

Mohamed Ali and the Father of Donkeys · George E. Holt · ss 3/5

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Mohamed Ali and the Father of Donkeys

NOW IT came about that Mohamed Ali, the bandit, after having tricked the Basha of Tangier and brought quick death to Kaid Bargash of Ain Dalia through another maneuver, was yet hunted day and night by soldiers of the sultan. But Morocco, which was designed by Allah for the pleasure and safety of the Faithful—although Europe has now made it slightly obsolete in that respect—offers innumerable retreats for a fugitive.

Although Mohamed Ali was now officially an outlaw he was nevertheless not a low character or one without recognized power. Being a direct descendent of the Prophet, Mohamed Ali was a shareef, which is a prince of Islam; and although the sultan, who of course was the greatest shareef of them all, might cut off his head and hang it grinning over the Fez gate, the passer-by would look upon it with reverence—and until then would earnestly seek his blessing.

Mohamed Ali, the Moroccan rebel, finds himself surrounded by the Sultan’s army. He makes an ass of their commander and saves himself.

This story and others of Mohamed Ali are collected and available from Black Dog Books in their Adventure library (disable your adblocker to see the book link):

Long Rifles [Part 4 of 4] · Hugh Pendexter · sl

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Long Rifles

 I WAS through the door with the kettles and running toward the creek before she could offer more objections. I reached the water and dipped the kettles full before the savages opened fire. A red man does not know how to take care of a gun. Most of their arms were the faulty trade-muskets, and their aim was poor even under decent conditions. I started back, confident the heavy balls would miss me; but when they began showering down their arrows I was more concerned.

Not the first part of the serial, so no review.

The Talking Rock · I. M. Nichols · ss 1/5

Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for The Talking Rock
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for The Talking Rock

LOUIE BIRD-THAT-FLIES-IN-THE-EVENING had the frame of a Roman gladiator and the disposition of a hyena. There was just enough Indian blood in him to entitle him to endorse his Uncle Sam’s oil-lease vouchers, and to warp and twist his soul into the mold of a being halfmonster, half-human. The result produced by the mixture of alien bloods in the same vessel is something no chemist has been quite able to account for, but perhaps Louie’s career may be better understood when you consider that his lineage was composed on his mother’s side of the diverse strains of Micmac, Canuck and Chickasaw and that his father was a white man with an extensive and fascinating jail record.

LOUIE BIRD-THAT-FLIES-IN-THE-EVENING had the frame of a Roman gladiator and the disposition of a hyena. There was just enough Indian blood in him to entitle him to endorse his Uncle Sam’s oil-lease vouchers, and to warp and twist his soul into the mold of a being halfmonster, half-human. The result produced by the mixture of alien bloods in the same vessel is something no chemist has been quite able to account for, but perhaps Louie’s career may be better understood when you consider that his lineage was composed on his mother’s side of the diverse strains of Micmac, Canuck and Chickasaw and that his father was a white man with an extensive and fascinating jail record.

Mixed race Native American attempts to outwit a white man with predictable results. A rather poor tale.

Judgment by Steel · Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur · ss 4/5
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Judgment by Steel
Illustration by Virgil E. Pyles for Judgment by Steel

??CERCAMON’S swift, sensitive instinct drew his eyes, in the midst of his singing, from the Count of Barcelona to the white-faced woman on the count’s right hand. The notes faltered on his lips at sight of her ashy, frightened face; the next instant her scream cut short his song.
Then none had any list for song. Some leaped to their feet, startled and pale; others sat staring. But Count Raymond-Berenger the Great rose slowly; his dark eyes rested, with terrible intentness, on the central figures in the sudden tragedy. And as he rose, all, men and women alike, turned toward him—all, save Cercamon the Troubadour, who could not take his eyes from the horror-stricken features of the Lady Maria de Moncada.
Beside her, hunched in his chair, sat Gomez of Moncal; and it was plain to all that Gomez was dead. His hand still clutched his thin-stemmed wine-glass, from which the blood-red wine had spilled upon the tablecover; his face was distorted in a horrible grimace of pain. His friend and lord, Perez de l’Arba, had reached across the dead man to seize Lady Maria’s arm, which he still held in a cruel grip; and he was livid with anger.
“What is this?” the voice of Count Raymond, quiet and sinister, broke the silence.
It was then that Perez de l’Arba sprang up, his fury almost choking speech, and…

Ambassadors from the Kingdom of Navarre are visiting the court at Barcelona. At a feast, one of the ambassadors is poisoned. Suspicion falls on the wife of the Catalan general Andreu de Moncada, the defender of Barcelona. A vial of poison is found in the folds of her dress.
She is to be put to death when her husband, defending her, demands a trial of combat against her accuser, Viscount de’l Arba, the chief of the Navarre delegation. Moncada is outmatched in physique and swordsmanship by the Viscount. It is clear that if the match happens, the Catalans will be without their greatest general, and will become vulnerable to conquest. The visiting troubadour, Cercamon, is drawn into this trouble.
Brodeur’s stories of Cercamon and Faidit are very similar to Harold Lamb’s stories of Khlit the Cossack. Like Khlit, the two depend on their brains before putting their hands to their swords. They are no cowards, though, and fight when it is necessary. An excellent story from one of the best authors in Adventure.
This story and others are collected and available from Altus Press (you’ll have to disable your ad blocker to see the link to the book):

Ask Adventure · Anon. · qa

The Camp-Fire · [The Readers] · lc


  1. Excellent review of this fine magazine during the peak period when it was publishing some of the best adventure stories.

    I have all the issues with the Pendexter serial, LONG RIFLES, and I read it back in 1977. I thought it was outstanding and my notes say:

    "Takes place in 1755, dealing with the events leading up to Braddock's army massacre by the French and Indians. This again proved to the colonists that they could not depend upon the English troops from across the seas for protection. Thus they became even more self dependent and started to break away from Great Britain. …full of fascinating details about indians and colonial life."

    THE NINE UNKNOWN by Mundy is also excellent and I read it in 1972. My notes mention that I thought it was extremely enjoyable and "whacky and crazy". I'll have to reread it and see why I thought this over 40 years ago.

    Speaking of Somerset Maugham in relation to the Newsom story, I love Maugham's work and I highly recommend the two volume edition of THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF SOMERSET MAUGHAM. These are great adventure tales, especially the novellas.

  2. Thanks James. I really enjoy your reviews of western pulps too. But Adventure is my favorite, and I'm getting inspired by the posts on that blog to put up reviews of the issues I have.

    I'm reminded of the gaps in my collection more and more. Good thing that Windy City is just a month away,

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