What this book is about, ultimately, is Faith.
I’m a huge fan of Richard Sale. I’ve read all his novels that have been published in book form (11), and one or two that have not. I’ve read a whole bunch of pulp stories that have never been reprinted. And I’ve enjoyed every word. This book is no exception. In fact, the first half is some of the most compelling fiction I’ve ever read.
Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was Sale’s first novel, published in 1936, and is an amazing work for a guy only 25 years old. It starts on a French penal colony, where ten prisoners (rapists, murderers, psychos, etc) band together to buy a small boat and escape. The weird thing is, they’re joined by an eleventh man, a mysterious figure named Jean Cambreau. No one has ever seen Cambreau on the island, but he knows things about each of the ten men - in some cases things they do not yet know about themselves. He knows who will survive the journey and who won’t, and what will happen to them afterwards. Over the course of the book, all ten men are changed by the experience. Some just a little, some beyond their wildest dreams.
Still, for Book 1 alone, I’d say this is well worth reading. You might call it literary fiction for people who don't like literary fiction.
Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep was the basis of the 1940 film Strange Cargo. I haven’t seen the flick, but descriptions I’ve read bear little resemblance to the book. The character played by Clark Gable, presumably the hero, is a jerk who’s washed overboard before the end of Book 1. And the book has absolutely no role for Joan Crawford. There’s only one woman in the story, and only for about three pages. She ain’t good looking and (as noted) her breasts don’t heave.
Richard Sale wrote hundreds of stories for the pulps, but is most fondly remembered for Daffy Dill, a smart-mouthed reporter who was one of the most popular characters in Detective Fiction Weekly. I don’t know how many Daffy stories appeared, but I have over two dozen, and there are a lot I don’t have. The shocking thing is, only three seem to have been reprinted. “A Nose for News” is in The Hardboiled Dicks, “Double Trouble” in Hardboiled Dames and “Three Wise Men of Babylon in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps.
That’s a shame, because Daffy tells a story like no one else. He’s witty, wacky and literate. What more can I say? You just have to experience him for yourself. Well, you’ll get your chance tomorrow - right here - as the Almanack presents, for the first time in 70 years, “A Dirge for Pagliaccio” by Richard Sale.
Find links to more of today's Forgotten Books on Patti Abbott's pattinase.