H. BEDFORD-JONES “The King Makers.” Novelette. Vincent Connor #6. First published in Short Stories April 25, 1932. Collected as the title story in The King Makers: The Adventures of Vincent Connor (Altus Press, The H. Bedford-Jones Library, trade paperback March 2015).

   Any attempt to cover H. Bedford-Jones’ career in the pulps is virtually doomed by the sheer volume of it. Writing in virtually every major pulp available (including Weird Tales), and with stories covering every historical era imaginable, he was the acknowledged King of the Pulps for much of his career, one of the highest paid writers in the field, and one whose work regularly was reprinted in hardcovers, whether it was his popular John Solomon stories written as by Allan Hawkwood, his Westerns, Mystery novels, historical novels, adventure fiction …

   He somehow even found time for a bit of poetry and non-fiction.

   Among his many series, one of the most popular featured Vincent Connor, a ne’er do well playboy American in China who would seem to be a jovial fool, but who in reality is one of the quickest minds and best fighters in Asia, “…an energetic young man who mixed largely in political affairs—not for his own interest, but for the good of China.”

   Not PC by any definition, in fact, another white man saving the natives, but these were the pulp magazines, and that was unfortunately the standard. Thankfully Bedford-Jones is too good to just settle for that.

   From the native city, bandits and alleged patriots had flooded into the Japanese quarter of Tientsin to kill and rob. Native mobs were being shot down, and all Tientsin was in alarm and uproar.

   Connor is in Tientsin waiting for his friend Earl Stanley when the rioting and violence break out in the Japanese quarter. A phone call from Stanley quickly summons him to an obscure restaurant in the French quarter where Connor finds the source of all the commotion “…This young native in the sweater and spectacles was Henry Chang-yin. He was the last of the line of the great Nurhachu, founder of the Manchu empire, and the throne of the Yellow Dragon was his by rights.”

   Henry is a quiet studious type who has been living in the Japanese quarter in a sort of separate peace with them, happy to let them use his status to their own needs so long as there is no violence, but now he has escaped, and in short order Connor and Stanley convince him to make a run for Manchuria where he can claim his throne and lead the advance to run the Japanese incursion out of China.

   1932, when this was written, was early in the Japanese imperial adventure in China that would become one of the bloodiest and deadliest in history, and Bedford-Jones can be forgiven in using it for a background for high adventure and political skull-duggery as it would be in countless stories, books, and films of the period. It’s only been in the last thirty years or so that the whole story of the Japanese war crimes in China has been fully exposed.

   In 1932 it was still possible to use the tragedy as a background for exotic adventure.

   The battle is bloody and hard fought with Colonel Honzai, the tough but honorable Japanese officer pursuing them. Bedford-Jones was an expert at orchestrating this kind of tale and pulls out no stops here.

   Despite the lack of political correctness, Bedford-Jones is far to good a writer to deal in the usual stereotypes. There are no evil Asian masterminds here (even when he did that trope he managed it with finesse), and both the would-be emperor, Connor’s driver, Wang, and their Japanese nemesis are written as intelligent and capable men, which doesn’t hurt the sense of adventure and action one bit, and even adds to it.

   The story ends with a nice ironic twist, with Connor’s dream of playing king-maker in China is lost, but not before undergoing a solid adventure tale in the old style by one of the masters of the genre.

       The Vincent Connor series

A Prince for Sale (ss) Argosy Jun 13 1931


House of Missing Men (ss) Argosy Jul 4 1931
The Tomb-Robber (ss) Argosy Aug 1 1931
Diplomacy by Air (ss) Argosy Sep 19 1931
Connor Takes Charge (nv) Argosy Dec 19 1931
The King Makers (nv) Short Stories Apr 25 1932

   All six are included in the Altus Press collection.