Wednesday, August 31, 2011
recent read - The Pathless Trail
The Pathless Trail by Arthur O. Friel
I stumbled on this by accident at a library book sale a few years ago. I recognized the Centaur imprint, as they had done some Solomon Kane collections under the same Time-Lost series.
I later replaced the paperback with a Kindle version to make some shelf space. I wasn't collecting the Time-Lost series, so no loss – except the Jeffery Jones cover art.
If you've followed the link above to Two-Gun Raconteur, you'll see this novel was read by Robert E. Howard, too. So, that was a bonus. Always interesting to dig to the roots of my own reading roots.
The plot entails three American adventurers in the jungles of South America, searching for a heir who has gone native with the man-eating "Red Bones" tribe – or so it appears. Along the way they must deal with treacherous Europeans, Brazilian and Peruvian rivalry on the river, and cannibal tribes that get more dangerous and combative the deeper the Americans travel into the hinterland.
After reading that Friel had once penned a tale with enough racist overtones that no one today will reprint it, I was prepared for the worst. You know, “superior white men” drivel and savages shaking spears. I was pleased that it is just the opposite. Friel had spent time on South American rivers and in the jungles. He paints a very vivid and veracious picture of jungle life. The white interlopers are fully aware that the natives are their key to survival. The natives are shown as clever and pragmatic, surviving in their harsh world. Before the end battle, the white men convince the cannibal tribe to fight their way – not out of superiority, but because the enemy tribe is led by a German, and the Americans know how he will fight.
It could have used more action, but there is a lot of well done tension building as the journey progresses. The final battle is suitably climatic and exciting.
Two things on the downside. First, there are a couple of racial epithets. Really, just turns of a phrase – nothing derogatory aimed at any given character. They could be changed easily enough, but it does give a window to racial attitudes of the 1920s and isn't exactly pleasant. Literally, though, there are only two such moments – it is not like the work is littered with them or anything.
Second, the secondary characters came across more interesting than the three main heroes. The pair of Brazilian bushmen, Lourenco and Pedro, already had starred in other adventures, so that is not surprising. I found the dialogue of two of the Americans stilted, and the third was rendered phonetically – and I have no idea what kind of a regional accent it was supposed to be – Southern, midWestern, New York City?
In short - it's a quick read, an interesting adventure and I enjoyed it more than I expected. That's always nice.