Short Reviews – Panama Peril, by Jean Francis Webb

Friday , 30, December 2016 Leave a comment

Panama Peril by Jean Francis Webb appeared in the June 1943 issue of G-Men Detective. It was the 73rd Dan Fowler Novel (a regular feature of the magazine) and comprised about half of the issue. g_men_detective_194306

I’ve decided to branch out a bit in my pulp reading to see what else was going on in the 40s in hopes I’d be able to gain a better grasp of the zeitgeist and context in which the SF I’ve been reading existed. My first such sidequest will be into a small handful of G-Men Detective magazines acquired awhile back.

Riding the G-Men craze of the 30s, G-Men Detective promised to offer up all kinds of exciting thrills for would-be crimefighters: hard-boiled detective stories, crime-stopper tips, cryptoquotes and other cypher puzzles, and newswire press releases from the desk of J. Edgar Hoover masquerading as addresses to the readership. I think you could even sign up to be a Jr. G-Man and get a decoder ring!

From what I’ve read so far, G-Men Detective manages to do a good job of being a truly “all ages” publication. It promises, and delivers on, action and suspense, not dipping too far into the lurid or tawdry, though it could do with a bit more romance and allure.

The primary feature of nearly every issue is a “novel” starring Ace FBI Detective Dan Fowler, G-Men’s in-house signature pulp hero. Dan Fowler appeared in over a hundred of his own adventures, and numerous authors have had a chance to try their hand at the character, including Manly Wade Wellman. Until early 1940, G-Men used the house name of C.K.M. Scanlon for Fowler stories, though as many as a dozen writers may have penned those first fifty stories.

Panama Peril takes the Ace FBI Detective to the jungles of Central America during the height of The War. Road crews are trying to build the highway through the wilds so that crucial supplies can be delivered to the Canal that will be vital to the maintaining the Pacific war efforts. Progress has ground to halt, however, as several key personnel have been victims in a string of murders. Who is behind the sabotage? Is it the riverboat captain with a floating taproom? The guy who designed a causeway in Nagasaki a few year before the war? The Frenchman who won’t openly condemn the Vichy? The guy who was in Berlin awhile back? Or is it a local who is responsible for the attacks? It’s up to Special Agent Dan Fowler to solve the mystery so the project can get back on track!

I feel like this one could’ve been a bit shorter, by maybe a chapter or two, but it did a couple things really well: atmosphere and perilous action, which are probably the two most important components of any detective story. The jungles of Panama were dark and creepy, the old swamp mansion built by one suspect’s pirate ancestors was spooky and gothic, and the riverboat taproom was grimy and fetid. The money scene (which I feel would’ve been better placed closer to the end of the story) was when Fowler’s partner gets drugged on the riverboat and Fowler gets knocked out just as he finds an important clue then gets sewn up in a burlap sack and tossed into the river; he has to cut his way out before drowning and get out of the water before the crocogators can catch him—Fowler manages to get back to the boat only to find his prime suspect with a huge knife sticking out of his back. Yowzah!

Panama Peril is the 73rd Dan Fowler adventure. As such, I’m sure characterization was low priority. The FBI Ace Detective heroes pulling out and firing automatics at every turn did conjure up images of Fearless Fosdick, and the gorgeous but uninteresting Sally left something to be desired, but there was some decent red-meat action.

Perhaps what has impressed me most about G-Men is the amount and quality of interior illustrations. In addition to the occasional larger story illustration, each chapter of the Dan Fowler novel started with an illuminated drop-cap, depicting some rather macabre scene pertaining to the events therein.

Unfortunately, scans of G-Men are far less readily available than Planet Stories, so I may not be able to share this or the other stories from these issues with you, but I will look. In the meantime, feel free to check out this audiobook of the first Dan Fowler story, Snatch!, from 1935 narrated by none other than Richard Epcar (Batou from Ghost in the Shell).

 

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