An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature

An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature -- Crime and Adventure, Fantasy and Science-Fiction, Horror and Weird

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Peace Waits at Marokee" -- H. Bedford-Jones (ADVENTURE, November 1940)

I hope you'll forgive me, readers (or reader, as the case may be), if I break from my self-appointed schedule of one post per day for a bit; I'm working eleven days straight this week, long hours, to complete a special project at work, and I'm currently eight days in without a break.  This will be followed by a three-day weekend during which time I'll be with my girlfriend, and as such won't be spending much time on the computer.  That being said, today's story is from the pen of H. Bedford-Jones, often called the "King of the Pulps" for his prolific output -- somewhere in the vicinity of 1400 short stories and 80 novels, but who's counting? Set during the Second World War in North Africa, "Peace Waits at Marokee" was originally published in Adventure magazine in November 1940 before being reprinted here, in The Big Book of Adventure Stories.

By some small miracle, gunner Jean Facini escaped death in a fiery plane crash, guiding the plane in to a blind landing, managing to extricate himself from the plane before it burst into flames.  As he watches it burn, another plane - an English bomber - comes to a crashing halt nearby.  Three men tumble out, and introductions are simple: ANZAC pilot Jock Erne, reserved photographer Lance, and Cockney gunner Hawkins.

Bandaging their wounds, the four men decide to set out for the English outpost at Marokee; three days' hike across the burning desert sands, but it's their one hope for survival.  However, what the three Brits don't know is that Facini is a Fifth Columnist; while technically a Frenchman, he's Savoyard French, and would like nothing better for the Savoy to be returned to Italian control.  And he knows that Marokee was taken in a surprise attack by the Italians two days ago...

I don't have a huge amount to say here; not because the story's not good or not interesting (it is, in fact, absolutely gripping) but because I'm not familiar enough with spy fiction during this period to comment knowledgeably about its place in that lineage.

And arguably, while ostensibly a spy story and a war story, there's little emphasis placed on Facini's Fifth Column activities or the war itself; it's a story about men from two sides of a conflict (albeit unbeknownst to most of them that this is the case) forced to put aside their differences and work together against a common enemy - in this case, the desert with all its hazards; heat, dehydration, sunstroke, scorpions, jagged rocks...

Facini is our viewpoint character, and rather than being simply a two-dimensional sneering villain, he's shown to be a relatively complex character that ultimately garners our sympathy and even admiration.  We're given enough to get an idea of what led him to side with the Fascists - dissatisfaction with French rule of his province and a desire, most likely fueled by nostalgia - not his own, as he's depicted as too young a man to remember a time before French possession of Savoy, but perhaps based on wistful reminisces of older family members as well, perhaps, as an idealized unified Italian state as envisioned by Garibaldi at the same time as the French annexation.

Given his output, I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot more from H. Bedford-Jones to come in writing this blog.  I'm looking forward to it.

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