Adventure In Paradise, by Emile Schurmacher
November, 1958 Zenith Books
I love these vintage men’s adventure magazine anthologies. This is another one courtesy prolific men’s mag writer Emile Schurmacher, comprising five novella-length yarns from the Diamond Line. We’re not informed of the actual issues the stories came from, just provided a note at the start of the book of which magazine each originally appeared in. Also we don’t get an introduction from Schurmacher, as with Our Secret War Against Red China. In fact Schurmacher’s name isn’t even mentioned anywhere on the book, and on the title page we’re told the book is “as told to” Schurmacher.
Which means, somewhat unfortunately, that all five stories are narrated in first-person. I’m really not into first-person narrative in my escapist fiction, but it’s no big deal, and in a way it works for the stories assembled here. Each are heavy on the nature fiction tip, like men’s mag takes on Jack London or James Fenimore Cooper. Schurmacher as ever captures a rugged feel in his books, with great descriptions of the flora and fauna of uncharted regions of the earth. However, one thing I should also mention – as is typical with most every other men’s mag story ever written, the cover slugline has nothing at all to do with the actual contents of the story. There are no “savage women” anywhere here, and the cover painting, likely taken from a men’s mag as well, does not illustrate any scene in the book. For the most part, each of the stories is more focused on survival in the wilds, with the precious few women reduced to supporting status. Save that is for one or two stories – but even here the women in question are in no way “savage.” This isn’t a complaint, though; the stories are all entertaining and Schurmacher delivers gripping prose and memorable characters.
First up is “The Girl At Fat Wong’s Place,” which is credited to “Bill Harvey” and comes from Stag. This one, like all the others assembled here, follows the men’s adventure magazine template: it opens on some dramatic moment, then flashes back weeks or months earlier to tell us how the protagonist got here, before finally in the last pages returning to the opening incident for a harried finale. I almost think there was some men’s adventure mag school course somewhere that all these writers took, like the pulp magazine equivalent of DeVry or something. This story, more than any other in the book, spends most of its running time on the flashback portion.
Anyway Harvey is “free, white, and almost 28” (curiously a phrase you don’t hear very often these days!), and when we meet him his small schooner has just crashed on an atoll in Tahiti, stranding him with a sleazy Frenchman named Blois and a “pulse-stirring beauty” named Jeanne Lu who is Chinese-Tahitian. We flash back to months before and see how Harvey got in this predicament. His backstory is pure escapist fiction: he sees an ad in the paper for a shark hunting boat business for sale in Tahiti and decides to go for it. He flies over to Papeete, excited to get the schooner, only to be swindled by a Frenchman into buying a junker. As for the shark business, it too was a lie.
Eventually Harvey works at Fat Wong’s club, which is a dancing parlor with whorehouse upstairs – you can dance with the lovely native gals, and for a few dollars more take them upstairs. Harvey has his eyes on the gorgeous young Jeanne Lu, meeting her when he beats up the drunk who tries to take advantage of her. She takes Harvey up to her room for some off-page lovin’, and by the way all the sex is firmly off-page in this book, befitting the age of publication. Wong pays for the retrofitting of Harvey’s schooner and employs him on the copra trade, and after more adventures, including a few more bar fights, Harvey ends up on the schooner with his mate Blackie, Jeanne Lu, and Blois.
Finally we return to the opening sequence, which offers a half-baked suspense angle in which the increasingly deranged Blois lusts after Jeanne. Oh at this point Jeanne feels that Harvey doesn’t care for her, thus plans to return to her island or something. They live on the beach in what is an otherwise idyllic paradise, Jeanne using her childhood knowledge of survival on remote islands. Then one night Blois tries to kill Harvey and goes to rape Jeanne, who scratches him up like a wildcat. Harvey kills Blois, Jeanne buries him(!), and now the two live together happily until they are finally rescued. This one features an interesting finale in that Harvey and Jeanne get married; this is a trend that continues through the collection, and it’s different than other men’s mag yarns I’ve read, where the studly American protagonists usually go back home and leave their exotic foreign babes behind.
“I Found The Last Blonde Of Assam” is credited to Barry Ralston and is from Male. Despite having a misleading title, this one’s a better yarn than the previous, if only because it doesn’t spend the majority of its time on backstory. Ralston is a British “white hunter” who works for a London-based outfit and is responsible for big game hunting in India. When we meet him he’s just endured a massive earthquake (the date given as August 15, 1950) in which his native guides are wiped out. Now he must venture alone into the dangerous region of the Naga Indians, headhunters who put their brutal skills to work for the government in World War II. Harvey’s been asked to find Sandra Keith, a “snooty blonde bitch-on-wheels” director who has come here to India to make a documentary on the Naga, danger be damned.
As mentioned the title is very misleading: Sandra is the “blonde” of the title, not some exotic native beauty. Schurmacher as ever excels in the nature fiction vibe and really brings to life the rigorous terrain of Assam. Harvey encounters all sorts of setbacks and threats from the flora and fauna, and also Schurmacher adds an eerie layer of destruction thanks to the massive earthquake which just rocked the area. But when Harvey finds Sandra in the Naga village, run by a chief named Gtimi, the pulp vibe comes on full force: the Naga consider Sandra a “she-devil” and have locked her up. She was filming them with her movie camera when the earthquake hit, killing hordes of Naga, and thus the Indians believe that the woman and her mysterious device caused all this death.
Harvey’s able to talk some sense into the Indians, but ends up getting bashed on the head and knocked out (a recurring theme in the book). When he wakes up Sandra’s in the village temple, where she is to be sacrificed to the Snake God. Humorously, only one Indian’s even around, Gtimi and the others presumably out hunting or something. Harvey takes out the guard and finds Sandra about to become the meal of a massive snake. He chops it in half and the two make their escape. It’s back to the nature fiction vibe as the two fend through Assam – having some hot off-page lovin’ along the way – all the while hoping to evade their pursuers. Curiously, there’s no confrontation with the Naga; Harvey and Sandra escape to safety and leave “paradise” behind.
“My Six Years With The Amazon Women” is credited to George Ravenal and comes from Stag. This one also has a misleading title, but it’s a great story with the feel of an epic, like the James Fenimore Cooper of men’s mags, or even Dances With Wolves. This is one of those yarns where I wonder why the author didn’t develop it into a full-blown novel. There’s certainly the makings of one here, as Schurmacher packs a novel’s worth of events into a 40-page short story. Like the other protagonists in the collection, Ravenal is a rugged individualist who seems happiest far away from civilization. But Ravenal takes it to greater lengths than any of them, as here he spends six years living in the wilds, and only returns home because a shaman pushes him to it. An anthropologist, he tells us what brought him to the High Andes of Ecuador was “to find places no white man had ever seen before.”
This story is total nature fiction, all about surviving in the rain forests of South America and encountering a variety of flora and fauna. Snakes are a particular threat throughout the book but in this story in particular. Ravenal also has an encounter with vampire bats. As mentioned the story packs the details of a novel, just in rushed form: early on Ravenal’s informed that many Southerners fled to Ecuador after the Civil War, and now their descendants live deep in the Andes(!). Further, he’s told that one of them, who lives alone in the jungle, might be able to point him in some good directions to explore. Ravenal does meet this guy and spends like a month with him, but it’s mostly told via summary; there was a lot of potential here to flesh this out, particularly the bonkers “Civil War descendant” bit. Instead it’s back to the nature fiction, with Ravenal spending months venturing into the rain forest, at one point caught in a torrential downpour which pushes his raft into an unknown direction.
He ends up in the land of the Piji, the very same dangerous Indians the Civil War guy warned him about. As an anthropologist Ravenal is able to communicate with them using the base Indian language of this area, but still he’s attacked promptly by them, coming across an adult male and a twelve year-old boy. Ravenal somehow manages to kill the male, after which the boy proclaims that Harvey has become his new bodyguard, given that he just killed the old one! The two go to the Piji village, which is run by the boy’s father, Chief Tacla. While there are a few Indian babes here, going around in the expected skimpy clothing, it’s worth noting that these “Amazon Women” hardly even factor into the narrative. Indeed, Ravenal’s set up with his “own woman” upon entering the village – of course, the widow of the brave he just killed – but he turns down her blunt offer of sex. This was a “hmmm” moment, particularly given the fact that the dude by this point had spent around a year in the jungle by himself, but later he hooks up with Tacla’s lovely daughter, even marrying her.
While the women are supporting characters (if that), the men take the focus, especially the village shaman. Schurmacher is very good with foreshadowing, or introducing something early in the narrative which pays off satisfactorily toward the climax. This story features the best instance of this in the collection: Ravenal shows the shaman some of his belongings from civilization, and ends up giving the shaman his wristwatch as a gift. Ravenal has realized he himself no longer even tracks time: “Somewhere along the line I had become a white savage.” He lives with the Piji for years, as I say a sort of Dances With Wolves thing, until the day that Tacla’s son runs afoul of a rival tribe and the Piji go to war. Ravenal takes part in the raiding parties, only to return one day to find their own village destroyed – Ravenal’s wife and newborn son among the massacred. He becomes a one-man army of vengeance, but sadly – and again a reminder of how this story would’ve benefitted from a longer length – all this is rendered in a few sentences.
But the ending packs an unexpected emotional wallop: after his latest vengeance raid, Ravenal passes out in exhaustion and wakes to find the shaman trying to purge “the demons” from him. After this the shaman escorts Ravenal out of the village, to the trail that will take him home, and presents him with a parting gift. Later Ravenal opens it – to find the watch he gave the shaman years before. A reminder from the medicine man of the civilized world he knew Ravenal would one day have to return to. This one’s definitely the strongest story in the collection, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, at least so far as the pulp element goes. The only thing pulpy about “My Six Years With The Amazon Women” is the title.
“We Crashed Into An Unknown World” is by Roger Oakes and is from Male. This is another one that features a misleading title, as it’s more of a survival mini-epic. Protagonist Oakes is a World War Two vet who now acts as a foreign correspondent in Mexico. He tells us of that “terrible day last June” when the small plane he was in crashed over Copper Canyon, which we’re informed is an uncharted no man’s land about the size of the Grand Canyon. Also onboard is sexy Mexican actress Maria Vegas, along with her simpering heavyset assistant. Only these two and Ravenal survive the crash, after which it’s all about survival in the jungle, as they’re in the sort of underworld of the Canyon and Oakes tells them there’s no chance any planes will come looking for them, given the dangers of downdraft and whatnot.
So, they have to hike over hundreds of miles of jungle terrain, with the usual dangers both flora and fauna. Once again snakes are the top threat, one of them causing the untimely demise of Maria’s assistant. After this it’s just Oakes and Maria, living together in the jungle; when they find a nice spot by a lake, they build a sort of campsite and live together for weeks, eventually having the expected off-page sex. This one’s really more of a hunting and fishing in the wild sort of yarn, with Oakes snaring fish or bagging game and Maria cooking up nice meals. When some jungle cats show up the two realize with regret that they’ll need to leave, and eventually they hook up with a pair of Indians who lead them to safety. This one too features the unusual ending of the protagonist marrying the exotic foreign babe, but Schurmacher doesn’t follow up on movie star Maria Vegas’s miraculous return to civilization and the public which assumed her to be dead.
“I Was A Slave Of the White Savage Queen” rounds out the anthology; it’s credited to Jerry Gibson and is from Hunting Adventure. Well finally folks in this one we have a pulpy jungle tale that lives up to its title, and for that reason it’s my favorite in the book. We meet Gibson just as his two Indian guides are killed by an anaconda, and now he’s venturing all by his lonesome into a deep, uncharted area of Paraguay. A botanist in the employ of a Chicago pharmaceutical company, Gibson is here to find some plants to be used to make new medicines. This gives his character an interesting element which Schurmacher well factors into the plot, particularly given that it trades on a mysterious native drug that can control a man’s mind and turn him into an obident slave. Throughout the tale Gibson puts to use his knowledge of the various drugs in the area, making him like the men’s mag version of Terence McKenna.
In a brief flashback we see how Gibson came here to Paraguay, hired a few native guides, and bullied them into taking him down a river into a particularly dangerous region of the jungle. This is because, the previous day, Gibson came across a mysterious plant which one of his guides warned him to stay away from – the yala plant, which the Indian claims will rob a man’s mind. He says it’s used by the “Blonde Witch” of the jungle, then buttons up about it, clearly having said more than he intended to. Gibson pesters both Indians for info on this Blonde Witch but gets no answers. But anyway now they’re both dead and he’s alone on the river. He hears screams for help one day and goes onto shore to help, only to realize too late he’s been trapped. The scream was a diversion and mean-looking Indians with red-painted faces close in on him, strapping him to a pole like a “bagged tiger” and carrying him into their village.
This is the domain of the Blonde Witch, a hotstuff blonde babe in a revealing robe: “no ordinary pretty-faced blue-eyed blonde.” Early in the story, when gaining permission from the local government to venture into this part of the country, Gibson was told of other South American explorers who came down here and disappeared, one of them a female anthropologist from Argentina. Gibson quickly deduces that the “Blonde Witch” is none other than that missing scientist, Luisa Monte. But now she’s crafted herself into the merciless ruler of thse Indians; it’s a matriarchal society, Luisa later reveals to Gibson, noted for the usage of the yala plant: the women use it to turn their men into mindless slaves.
Luisa is truly sadistic; her intro features her sending a drug-controlled man to his death, bitten by a poisonous snake. This turns out to have been her previous lover – and she’s decided that Gibson will be her new one. The scene where she seduces him is a highlight of the book, inviting him to the house she’s had the natives build for her and casually reclining on animal skins while Gibson tries to throttle her. Instead her uber sexiness wins out and they have some of that off-page good stuff; Gibson serves as Luisa’s latest stud for a few days, but Luisa either finds him a subpar lay or just tires of his constant criticisms of her sadism, as she sends her henchman Felipe to round him up and force him to take the yala drug.
Schurmacher does a swell job of conveying the ensuing days from the viewpoint of a man under mind control. Gibson finds it easy to not have to think for himself and goes around doing slave jobs for Luisa, who presumably has no further use of him in the sack. But here’s where those botanist skills pay off; yala is addictive, Gibson finds, hence why these natives stay hooked on it. When it’s time for his next dose he finds some plants that cause vomiting and pukes it all out. That night he exacts his vengeance on Felipe but stops short of killing Luisa in cold blood. Instead we find out that eight months later, once he’s returned to Chicao, Gibson learns of a“skeleton of a white woman” which has been discovered in a remote Indian village; his supposition is that, with Felipe gone, Luisa was no longer able to keep her subservient Indians in check and they ran roughshod on her.
Overall I really enjoyed Adventure In Paradise. Schurmacher’s writing is skilled and evocative and he really brings to life these green hells of the world. Granted, the pulpy exploitative stuff isn’t as strong, but again that’s more so a case of the publisher’s misleading sluglines. I think the biggest indicator of the strength of some of these stories is that I would’ve enjoyed reading more of them – “My Six Years With The Amazon Women” in particular would’ve made for a great novel. However, Shcurmacher did eventually publish a story that totally lived up to the “savage women in the wild” tag – “Captured By Assam’s Amazon She Devils,” which came out several years later.