Off the Mangrove Coast


Louis L’Amour is likely to be one of the three most well-known western writers of all time. I’d place Zane Grey and Max Brand ahead of him, but you could argue with me. Of the nine stories brought together in this latest collection, however, only one takes place in the old West, and it’s perhaps the only one that could safely be considered “historical.”

There are two boxing stories, one about a private eye, and another about an insurance investigator in a tight spot. None of these, including the western, are worthy of more note than this. A better one is a short little tale about a longshoreman who meets his match at checkers, and a good one is an interesting vignette that takes place in a French café after World War II. The two best stories are the title story, about diving for treasure in the South China Sea, and a longer one about hunting for diamonds in the jungles of Borneo, infested with headhunters.

The time these stories take place is unclear, perhaps in the 1940s, perhaps as early as the 1920s. L’Amour’s pulpy, rough-hewn writing style is uneven, sometimes full of cliches and worn-out plot devices, sometime lyrical and imbued with a strong sense of what it takes to be a man. But if he hadn’t written these particular works, they’d have never been published again, I regret to say. The old pulp magazines are filled with stories just like these, gone and mostly forgotten, remembered only by a handful of enthusiasts who still collect them.

Postscript: As one of those selfsame enthusiasts, I really would have liked to known where these stories first appeared. There is no bibliographical information provided at all.

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