Sun 28 Feb 2010
JAMES FRANCIS DWYER – The White Waterfall. Doubleday Page & Co., 1912; illustrated by Charles S.Chapman. W. R. Caldwell & Co., hc, International Adventure Library: Three Owls Edition. Serialized in The Cavalier in four parts, beginning 13 April 1912. Readily available in various Print on Demand editions and as an online etext.
Australian writer Dwyer was a welcome regular in Blue Book Magazine in the 1930s, and this early South Seas adventure novel is a fine example of his robust, colorful narrative style.
The remote, isolated island to which the characters travel, is thought to be uninhabited, but there are structures that pre-date the memory of any race that left written records, and a small group of natives perform ceremonies and make human sacrifices in the name of some savage God. This may remind some of a certain celebrated RKO film released in 1933, but the terrors are all too,human and no giant remnants of an earlier age live in the depths of the jungle.
The protagonist, and narrator, Jack Verslun, an itinerant seaman, is hired to serve on a ship chartered by Professor Herndon, an obsessive scientist who has brought along his two attractive daughters on what turns out to be an ill-advised and dangerous voyage to “The Isle of Tears,” which a rough-looking rogue named Leith has promised the Professor will yield scientific wonders that will make his reputation.
The party, aside from a largely native crew, is completed by Will Holman, a feisty young American who — the son of the owner of the chartered boat they are traveling on — is along for the heck of it and for the love of the younger of the two Herndon girls, Barbara. An older daughter, Edith, is useful for completing a quartet that I needn’t spell out for you.
They reach the island after a terrific storm and when Jack is ordered to stay on the boat while Leith takes a small party to the island, concerned about Leith’s intentions, he jumps ship, catches up with the party and finds himself, Will, and the Professor and his daughters, in a situation that takes them to the brink of disaster.
Dwyer is not, perhaps, as polished a stylist as John Russell, who wrote notable stories about adventures in the South Seas, but the slightly, pulpy cast of his story is perfectly pitched to drawn in a sympathetic reader, with the pace, once the horror of Leith’s intentions becomes clear, resembling the frantic drive of the flight through the jungle to the ship and escape of the earlier noted King Kong.
And of special note to anyone reading this blog is The Spotted Panther, also by Dwyer, has recently been published in a handsome softcover edition by Black Dog Books. Highly recommended!