This colorful cover by Howard L. Hastings never figures into the story written by Magruder Maury. My typical cover art vs story-line complaint aside, the story hails from the 25 December 1922 issue of Short Stories magazine.
The author has a remarkably short history of writing, with tales only spanning 1921-1925. Now, I’ve only read this one tale by Maury, and, while it does have some weak moments (hell, even top-notch writers suffer from such lapses) the novel itself is a damn fun read. Furthermore, while not directly a detective story, the plot is written around four ex-soldiers being hired by a detective to guard a wealthy young lady and protect the seven pink pearls, from a gang of thieves led by a villain known internationally as The Gargoyle.
Maury uses a lot of misdirection and doesn’t unveil the facts behind this until the closing chapter(s), which I found quite amusing, since Maury sure had me taken in. Why? Well, the novel comes across as a young adult novel, simply written, very straight-forward, and as thus, you don’t expect that the author is dealing bullshit to you above-board!
The four guards are in England, down on their financial luck, with ex-flying ace French detective Ribot hires the quartet to guard the lady while maintaining a safe distance from her. They are not to interact, nor reveal their true purpose.
The lady, one Donna Blanquita (her full birth name is actually a mouthful) has recently acquired said pink pearls for an absurd sum, and the newspapers played up the purchase quite heavily. Ribot is contracted to ensure their safety, and in turn, he hires the four. They are informed to board a ship, the Juanita, which is bound for South America, Donna Blanquita’s homeland.
While aboard, the self-presumed leader of the quartet finds himself mentally romantically involved with the lady, despite realizing he is nothing to her. One night, he is assaulted on ship by two ruffians and given clearance to be heaved overboard, when he is rescued by the timely appearance of a crusty old wireless man.
The lady notes the next day that our hero (they all are, but, heck, he’s the focus here) is bandaged up and he finds himself talking to her about his pathetic overnight adventure. She continues to regularly chat with him and he finds her flirtatious advances pleasurable but eventually realizes that she is just likely funning him, being as they are at sea. Once ashore, she’ll abandon all pretenses and move on with her life.
While docking briefly at Funchal, Portugal, the rich lady and her escorts decide to traipse across the area, and invite our hero (MacGregor) to accompany them. He insists that he can not leave ship, and must keep his bunk mate company. She overrides his arguments and has them both disembark.
They enjoy a nice picnic and she is accosted while playing fairy, by two ruffians whom pull a gun and threaten to kill MacGregor is she doesn’t fork over the seven pearls. She surrenders her rings and other jewelry, but not the gems, proclaiming that they are safely still aboard ship, and does she look stupid enough to wear them on land where they could easily be stolen?
MacGregor’s friend then appears on the scene with two automatics in his pockets, but the pair flee rather than face the friend’s guns. Turns out he was bluffing. No guns. Just a flashlight and something else.
Humiliated at his inability to personally protect Donna Blanquita, MacGregor isolates himself from her further on-board contact as they ship out again for South America. Meanwhile, the wireless operator hands them (over the ensuing days) a series of notes from Ribot, which baffle the quartet. The notes seem to convey that Ribot knows precisely what is happening on the ship at all times!
The captain rams the ship onto a reef, and all hands and passengers jump to the lifeboats and flee, but the cruiser is firmly settled on the reef and not sinking. So, they all return to the ship. The old man proclaims that the wireless set is busted up.
MacGregor gets the Donna Blanquita safely back to her rooms, and she fairly professes her interest in him was direct, open, and true. He’s baffled by this, and demands an explanation. She explains simply that she not only likes his looks, but, the way he looks at her. (Well, shit, if life were only THAT easy, we’d all get laid daily). They are both astounded by the sudden appearance of a gun-wielding bandit… The Gargoyle himself has arrived and demands the pearls. MacGregor, annoyed at his continued losses throughout the novel, (says fuck this shit) and damn the gun to hell, attacks the man, and is rewarded by being (apparently) shot.
MacGregor secures the Gargoyle, the captain is arrested, as is another crew-member, and some woman whom makes a brief ornery appearance is also arrested, as having been a member of the thieves (she had also doped one of the quartet’s drinks, earlier).
And, as for Ribot? Turns out he was the wireless operator in disguise, and nobody knew it. I won’t delve into the plot misdirection(s), only because one never knows when one of you fellow pulspters might decide to acquire a copy online.
This book represents the only time one of Maury’s stories was bound as a novel (in English, that is). “The Seven Pearls of Shandi” is well worth the read, and a fun young adult red-blooded romp it truly is.
Now, onto the next novel in the series, book 14 by Anthony M. Rud, which I hope to finish in a day or two….