Mr. Strang was an exercise in culture shock. Mr. Strang was all melodrama and bullets in the center of the forehead (both essential elements in a Carroll John Daly story). So I had to shift my brain into another gear when, on page 3 of Is a Ship Burning?, the narrator started showing off his Latin and dropping names like Nietzsche, Carlyle and Schopenhauer.
Is a Ship Burning? really isn’t that kind of book, but young novelist Richard Sale (26 when this was published in 1937) was trying to cover all the bases. This book delivers action, adventure and romance in roughly equal amounts, with just enough discussion of the human condition to make literary minds feel smart.
The title comes from a telegraph message received from another ship 40 miles away. They see a glow in the sky and ask if a ship is burning. This is the moment our cast of character realize they are in serious trouble.
For the first 2/3 of the book I found this compelling reading. Sale sucked me right in and I read almost the entire book in a day. Toward the end, when several survivors are sprawled on a raft cooking in the sun, I was less enthused, but can’t really blame that on the author. It’s just a thing with me. I don’t like reading about people trapped in snowstorms - or breaking their legs while alone in the woods - or lost in the desert - etc., etc. Some folks obviously find drama there, but such stuff makes me snooze.
(You'll note that some obligingly soul signed the name "Richard Sale" on the title page of my copy. All I know for sure is - it wasn't me.)
While exercising his literary muscles between hardcovers, Sale was busily churning out 400-odd mystery and adventure stories for the pulps.
Coming Sunday: I’ll reprint the first in Sale's popular Candid Jones series from Detective Fiction Weekly. Candid is a private dick turned newspaper photographer, and employed by the same paper as his pal Daffy Dill. And tomorrow: A Candid Jones cover gallery.
Previous Richard Sale posts here on the Almanack:
A brief look at the Daffy Dill and the pulp cover for “Dancing Rats”.
A Forgotten Books review of Not Too Narrow … Not Too Deep.
A complete Daffy Dill story, “A Dirge for Pagliaccio”.
An episode of the TV show Yancy Derringer.
An early short-short story called “10 O’Clock”.
I eventually hope to review all of Sale's novels in order of publication.
Not Too Narrow ... Not Too Deep, 1936
Is a Ship Burning? 1937
The Rogue, 1938 (serialized in Argosy, no book edition)
Cardinal Rock, 1940.
Sailor Take Warning (aka Home is the Hangman), 1942
Lazarus No. 7 (aka Death Looks In), 1942
Passing Strange: A Story of Birth and Burial, 1942
Destination Unknown (aka Death at Sea) 1943
Benefit Performance, 1946.
The Oscar, 1963
For the President's Eyes Only (aka The Man Who Raised Hell), 1971
The White Buffalo, 1975
For links to more of this week's Forgotten Books, visit George Kelley!