LOUIS L’AMOUR – Off the Mangrove Coast.

Bantam hardcover; First Edition, May 2000. [Paperback reprint: Bantam, May 2001.]

   Louis L’Amour is likely to be one of the three most well-known western writers of all time. I’d place Zane Grey and Max Brand ahead of him, but you could argue with me. Of the nine stories brought together in this latest collection, however, only one takes place in the old West, and it’s perhaps the only one that could safely be considered “historical.”

LOUIS L'AMOUR Off the Mangrove Coast

   There are two boxing stories, one about a private eye, and another about an insurance investigator in a tight spot. None of these, including the western, are worthy of more note than this. A better one is a short little tale about a longshoreman who meets his match at checkers, and a good one is an interesting vignette that takes place in a French café after World War II.

   The two best stories are the title story, about diving for treasure in the South China Sea, and a longer one about hunting for diamonds in the jungles of Borneo, infested with headhunters.

   The time these stories take place is unclear, perhaps in the 1940s, perhaps as early as the 1920s. L’Amour pulpy, rough-hewn writing style is uneven, sometimes full of cliches and worn-out plot devices, sometime lyrical and imbued with a strong sense of what it takes to be a man. But if he hadn’t written these particular works, they’d have never been published again, I regret to say. The old pulp magazines are filled with stories just like these, gone and mostly forgotten, remembered only by a handful of enthusiasts who still collect them.

POSTSCRIPT: As one of those selfsame enthusiasts, I really would have liked to known where these stories first appeared. There is no bibliographical information provided at all.

       — June 2000. This review first appeared in The Historical Novels Review. It may have been very slightly revised since then.

[UPDATE] 02-20-08.    The final tagline explains why the emphasis in the review is on the “historical” content, and not so much on the detective stories that happen to be in the collection.

   The book is included in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, though, and here’s a list of the stories which (for reasons of space) I didn’t include when I first wrote the review. A couple of the magazines where the stories first appeared are given, and I’ll repeat them here:

      The Cross and the Candle
      The Diamond of Jeru
      Fighters Should Be Hungry, Popular Sports Magazine, February 1949
      * It’s Your Move, The Tanager, February 1939
      Off the Mangrove Coast
      The Rounds Don’t Matter
      Secret of Silver Springs
      Time of Terror
      The Unexpected Corpse, G-Men Detective, November 1948

   * This story is not one of those for which CFIV lists the original source. I just came across this one somewhere else myself. My copy of The Louis L’Amour Companion is not handy, I’m sorry to say, and in fact is nowhere to be found. It’s been almost eight years since I wrote this review, so obviously I haven’t been suffering from any unrequited urgency, but if you can fill in the details, I’d certainly appreciate it.

   If I were able to rewrite the review for the blog right now, I’d make sure to identify the stories more clearly with the contents, but I didn’t at the time, and I can’t. All I can tell you about the book is what you’ve already just read. L’Amour is not one of my favorite western writers, but in case it wasn’t entirely clear, I enjoyed this collection.

[UPDATE #2] 02-21-08. Robert Teague of the WesternPulps Yahoo group has supplied me with a couple of story sources:

    “The Rounds Don’t Matter” was first printed in Thrilling Adventures Feb 42

    “Secret of Silver Springs” Range Rider Western Nov 49

   Four more to go, keeping in mind, as others have pointed out, that titles may have been changed, and some of the stories may have appeared for the first time in this (much) later collection.

[UPDATE #3] 03-03-08. Excerpted from a pair of email messages sent me by Juri Nummelin:

Hi Steve,

   I finally pulled out my copy of Weinberg’s L’Amour Companion, and it does seem that the four stories have been previously unpublished. I can’t find them on the checklist Weinberg provides. Well, of course the titles may have been altered. There are short descriptions of the short stories in Weinberg’s book, so if you have synopses of the stories in the book, I can compare them to Weinberg’s.

   I seem to remember that “The Diamond of Jeru” was made into a film in the early 2000’s. Yes, I was right.

   From IMDB: http://akas.imdb.com/title/tt0282441/

   It says that the film is based on L’Amour’s novel, but you can’t really be sure about what Imdb says. It says however that the screen story was written by Beau L’Amour. Maybe this was an unproduced treatment Beau has found in his father’s archives. In that case it would be only sensible and polite to provide that info on a foreword or some such.

   You can add to the info Robert Teague already provided you with: “Secret of Silver Springs,” Range Riders Magazine, as by Jim Mayo, January 1950

   By the way, Robert Sampson has a pretty good article on L’Amour’s detective stories in Weinberg’s book. He makes the stories sound good.

                — Juri

       >>> My reply:

   Thanks, Juri, even if Weinberg’s book didn’t supply a lot more information. When I come across my copy of Off the Mangrove Coast again, I’ll see if I can’t supply the synopses you suggested.

The Diamonds of Jeru

   I was totally unaware that “The Diamond of Jeru” had been made into a movie. It was made for cable (USA Network) and is available on DVD. So far, though, all of the copies I’ve seen offered online have been very expensive, but I’ll keep looking. The movie starred Billy Zane, Paris Jefferson, and Keith Carradine, with Jackson Raine and Khoa Do. According to IMBD, it’s “the story of an American scientist and his wife who hire an ex-pat war veteran to act as a guide on a journey up an unchartered Borneo river in search of diamonds.” Reviewers on IMDB have mixed opinions about the movie, to say the least.

   By the way, there’s one synopsis right there.

   As for L’Amour’s detective stories, I enjoyed the one collection of them that I read quite a bit. On the other hand, once again there was nothing in them that knocked my socks off. I’m sure any reader of the detective pulps could come up with a selection of stories from any other pulp writer equally as good, if not better.