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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Suicide Patrol" -- George Surdez (ADVENTURE, August 1934)

George Surdez is perhaps best remembered as the man who invented "Russian Roulette."  The term first appeared in an eponymous story written by Surdez and published in Colliers' magazine in 1937, though Surdez describes a much deadlier version in which only one chamber is left empty before spinning the cylinder.  However, Surdez was also a prolific pulp writer in general, having published more than a hundred stories in Adventure magazine alone, many of them stories of the French Foreign Legion, such as today's story.  A longer one, this one actually took me two nights to read but I was too tired to do any writing last night, so here we are talking about it all in one go.

Legionnaire James "Jacques" Carroll of Fourth Company, stationed at Kasbah-Tadla, has a problem.  Well, two of them.  Two recent American recruits, Dacorda and Zerlich, seemingly
Cover courtesy Galactic Central
offer nothing but trouble.  Dacorda is quick to anger and prone to starting brawls, while Zerlich, an older man, is clearly not cut out for the Legion life.  During an engagement with an aggressive local tribe, Dacorda takes a tumble into a ravine, and Zerlich is first in after him -- not to rescue him, but to rifle through his belongings as he lies unconscious and bleeding, much to Carroll's consternation.

To make matters worse, during a barroom brawl Dacorda's rosary (referred to in the text as a scapular, though the description given is clearly of a rosary) is stolen, and Zerlich persuades Dacorda that Carroll is to blame.  Carroll, doing a little investigating, manages to retrieve the rosary and finds the identity of the thief -- Zerlich himself? What's going on here?

Somehow, the viewpoint character is the blandest of the bunch here.  Everyone else, it seems, has personality and quirks and things to make them interesting, while Carroll is just a joe schmoe everyman and it doesn't work for me.  Even characters who only get a couple paragraphs of "screen-time" feel more fleshed out and real then Carroll does.

The relationship between Dacorda and Zerlich is nuanced and fascinating, especially once Zerlich's secrets are revealed.  In some ways Dacorda comes across as the better man - as quick as he is to anger, he's quicker to forgive and holds no ill will against Zerlich for acting against him.  In a moment of seemingly-uncharacteristic wisdom, Dacorda explains that after what they've gone through during their short time in the changes people, and changes their perspective and what they hold as valuable.

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