Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Coast of Hate

Frederick Nebel (1903-1967) was second only to Erle Stanley Gardner in total number of stories published in Black Mask. The New York native sold his first story to the magazine in 1926, launching a prolific career that included stories for Danger Trail, Dime Detective, Air Stories, Northwest Stories, and Detective Fiction Weekly among others. His pseudonyms included Grimes Hill, Eric Lewis, and Lewis Nebel. I stumbled on his nautical adventure novella The Coast of Hate, which was first published in the January, 1930 issue of Action Stories. It was also collected in a black and white omnibus of Action Stories that was published by Odyssey in 1981, complete with an introduction by the great Will Murray explaining how Action Stories was the “alternate Argosy”. You can read the issue for free on HERE.

The novella begins by introducing readers to action-man Jack Ridlon. It is explained that Ridlon was a one-time sailing master in the island trading and shipping business. After saving and acquiring a plantation on the Borneo coast, a poor crop and a tidal wave completely flushed him out. He's now back to the drawing board as a free-lance adventurer searching for a quick fortune in Macassar, a small city on the coast of South Africa. 

In town, Ridlon meets an old businessman named McGarry. He offers Ridlon a skipper's position on a shipping schooner called the Flying Moon. The old man describes it as “...a two-masted schooner, fast and with a fair bottom. But, there's something queer in the wind behind her.” What McGarry is referring to is the death of the ship's prior Captain and the bizarre interest in the ship from a guy named McKimm. McGarry has the ship loaded up and she's ready to haul up the coast. Ridlon explains he has a girl waiting back in Singaproe and he needs the money. The two agree that Ridlon is the man for the Flying Moon and the telling of the tale begins.

The night before the ship's sail, Ridlon stirs up some action in a local dive. After a rowdy fisticuffs, Ridlon drags an old seaman named Captain Plummer out of the bar and sobers him up. Hesitantly, Plummer agrees to join Ridlon on the trip. The next day, Ridlon and Plummer discover they have some additional hands and one interesting guest, a guy named Starkey that paid for a passage on the ship. His destination isn't unusual, but his curiosity about the ship and a little clay Buddha statue peaks Ridlon's interest. What is the guy's true intention?

Nebel absolutely writes his butt off on this action-packed nautical adventure. The Coast of Hate has one of the finest pirate battles I've ever read. The action heats up in the fourth chapter, “Beyond the Jungle”, when the Flying Moon drops anchors at four fathoms on the coast of the Pahlawan Lagoon. After reaching their destination, Ridlon, Starkey, and Plummer go ashore to have dinner with a local businessman. But, when Starkey disappears, Ridlon and Plummer go on a wild goose chase to find the traveler. When they look out at their ship, they find their own crew in a fierce battle with pirates led by McKimm, the guy who was originally interested in the ship. 

The author includes violent knife fights, blazing guns, fist-fights, and jungle savagery as the crew battles McKimm's forces. Nebel is a sensational writer, penning these action sequences in a style similar to a rowdy boxing announcer on old-time radio– calling each vicious blow with a powerful bravado for the listening audience. Check out the imagery of this oceanic battle between knife-wielding combatants: 

“He plowed after him, churning the water, his knife between his teeth. It was the Ridlon of eight or ten years ago, the high-stepping young blood who had roved wild beaches, downed yellow mutinies, and fought bushmen on the raw New Guinea Coast. McKimm must have reasoned that the shore was too far away. He turned, treading water, his knife raised and gripped hard. His face was a blur in the gloom, fringed with the ripples that gleamed intermittently. Ridlon forged toward him, trailing a phosphorescent wake. They met in five fathoms, gleaming wetly. Steel flashed, missed and churned up the water. Ridlon shot his legs behind him and cannoned through. They came to grips, went beneath the surface, turned about and over and pushed their blades toward each other.”

Or, this description of the tough drunkard Captain Plummer:

“There was old Plummer, his face smeared with blood but his jaw set like a steel chisel – his hair plastered over his ears, his eyes burning fiercely. Plummer slugging his way into a knot of cursing, hard-fighting case-hards, many of whom had not so long ago thrown jibes at him in the Yellow Lantern. Plummer, stark sober was a different man from Plummer the drunkard. He was brimstone, rough on rats.”

I could probably write for days about this simple 17-page adventure tale. Frederick L. Nebel was really something special and I'm so thankful that exists to still salvage these old magazines and stories in quality scans for legions of readers. They are doing God's work when it comes to these vintage magazines. Do yourself a favor and read this awesome Nebel story, then chase down some of the independent publishers that keep publishing awesome vintage adventure stories in affordable collections.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for providing the link for this one. I've had a hankering for nautical adventures lately, so I'll pull this up on a tablet and give it a read.

    Slightly tangential, "nautical" might be a good tag to add for the desktop version. I know you've covered a number to which it could apply.