Desert Intrigue by Earl Ellison (Hamilton & Co., 1949)

Desert IntriguePublished 1949 by Hamilton & Co., Desert Intrigue sports a charmingly romantic cover illustration by noted English artist Reginald Heade. The novel is penned by the pseudonymous Earl Ellison; that alias was, up until his untimely death, 100% written by N. Wesley Firth. Originally simply born as Norman Firth, he adopted the “Wesley” after his own father passed away. Firth was incredibly prolific and required the need to adopt numerous nom de plumes in order to have his fiction simultaneously published.

The publisher failed to paginate the novel. Assuming the frontis is Page 1, the story spans pages 3 through 94.

The next page begins a short story by Margaret Graham entitled One-Man Woman; this ends on Page 126. No clue who she is, though there was a fiction writer by that name operating at least between the 1890s-1910 era. This isn’t that woman. Pages 127-128 are ads.

Returning to Desert Intrigue, the blurb sets out the following:

Ever since Graham had been killed while flying in the R.A.F., Kathryn Morny had suffered an agony that nothing seemed to ease. But, sensibly, she realised that brooding would not help her face the empty years ahead, and when she learned that her new job was to take her journeying across the sun-drenched dunes of the Sahara, she felt that here was the opportunity she needed to escape from the bitterness that filled her heart. She felt drawn irresistibly towards the relentless desert, for her lover had been killed while flying over its far-flung wastes. Visiting the places, gazing at the scenes she knew he himself must have witnessed, somehow brought him very close to her…

Being an ardent fan and collector of Norman Firth, I originally thought, prior to viewing the blurb, that this book might just be another of his romance novels. A deeper hope held that due to the background image and suggestive novel title, it could be a French foreign legion novel! Dismayed by the latter, I was thrilled to discover the romantic novella actually contains mystery and action, and a bona fide plot.

Kathryn replies to a want-ad for a secretarial position to author and script-writer Steven Pendleton, who has been hired by the French government to write about the African desert, etc. Tagging along is his lovely wife, Fay. Naturally, one imagines that the distraught Kathryn will cause a catfight, attempt to become romantically involved with the author, but none of this is the case. They all get along perfectly.

Also involved with the adventure is a film crew consisting of an overweight French director, a camera and field man, and a cocky young Englishman (Ralph Cardingham) bent on conquering Kathryn. She is put off by his attitude, mannerisms, and speech.

While trekking across the desert wastes, Ralph sabotages the second truck (in which Kathryn, author, and wife travel) and his own group sets out early morning and creates a vast lead. They later are stuck in the shifting sands, and discover that truck #2 is nowhere in sight. Leaving his two pards behind to dig out the wheels, Ralph faux-heroically sets off on foot to rescue the missing truck, knowing full well it likely broke down at some point. However, Ralph runs afoul of a roving gang of bandits. They take him hostage and toss him in their fort. Shame they didn’t just behead him!

Meanwhile, back at truck #2, they have indeed broke down and realize that they must forge ahead on foot. Making their way across the desert, they spy the old abandoned WW2 remains of a known fort and make their way towards it, knowing that a well of water exists there. Entering, they are despondent to discover the place is inhabited…by many camels. Where are the owners?

Deciding to abandon the need for water, they make to quietly exit but find themselves rapidly surrounded by the murderous sheik-bandit and his gang of outlaws. They are tossed in the “jail” only to find the Englishman, Ralph, nonchalantly awaiting them. He bluffs his casual capture and the falsified facts of how he came to be there. The trio (Kathryn, Steven & Fay) believe maybe he isnt the scoundrel his reputation carries, after all. While yakking, the sheik enters and withdraws Kathryn to dine with; he is enamored by her beauty and intends to take her with him to his distant mountain stronghold.

In fact, they must leave soon, for a rival bandit-gang led by El Tigro is approaching. Little is known about the identity of El Tigro save that he is reportedly an Englishman who has adopted the ways of the Sahara and plunders and murders all in his path, but the more Kathryn learns about the violent El Tigro, the more she fancies he sounds like her lost love, Graham, who was shot down over the desert during the war years, crashed, and burned. His body was found nearby, charred.

Finding the fort soon under assault by El Tigro, who has zeroed on the sheik’s position, the villain again snatches Kathryn and sends her with his second-in-command to ride quickly to a remote mountain stronghold many miles distant. Remaining behind with his men, a blazing battle ensues. Realizing he is losing men and ground, the sheik abandons his ill-fated men to their demise and flees after his second and Kathryn…

El Tigro seizes control of the fort, learns people are locked inside, and brazenly busts in the door…to find himself face-to-face with an Englishman, a woman, and is stupefied to discover one of his WW2 flying mates (Steven Pendleton) in the cell. They recognize each other and it is revealed that El Tigro is indeed Kathryn’s dead lover, Graham! While much handshaking ensues, the cocky Englishman (Ralph) realizes he must rescue Kathryn first before El Tigro does, or he will have lost his sexual conquest. He leaps outside and steals El Tigro’s horse, and takes off in pursuit of the sheik and company.

El Tigro is infuriated by this act. That was his horse, and, the only horse remaining in the company. He must pursue via camel.

Fast-forward, the sheik’s second and Kathryn stopped for the night. The sheik eventually catches up and is enraged that the second didn’t continue onward through the night. He knifes the second to death. Not far on his heels, Ralph has gained ground via horseback and jumps the sheik! A dazzling fight ensues but ends with the sheik thrusting his knife into the young man. Leaving him for dead, the sheik grabs Kathryn, and departs for the stronghold…

Not much later, El Tigro arrives on the scene, discovers the young man mortally wounded, delirious, but still alive. Leaving Ralph behind, El Tigro continues his pursuit and eventually catches up with the sheik-bandit. The usual fight ensues, he wins, captures the bandit, and discloses his secret identity to Kathryn, however, no romance ensues. Graham believes that she married long ago and/or the young Englishman (Ralph) to be her lover. Plus, contracted to work for the French government under the guise of El Tigro, he is hardly free to pursue her. Keeping emotionally distant from her, they return to the wounded Ralph to find him tended by not only Steven and Fay, but, a French army company! How did they come to be there?

Well, El Tigro had sent communications back in advance of his raid on the fort, noting the sheik-bandit’s locale and requesting reinforcements. The bound bandit is turned over to French authorities and El Tigro is honorably discharged. Ralph informs all of his awful dreadful deeds but is forgiven by both Kathryn and the former El Tigro. Officially relinquished from active-duty, Graham is now free to pursue his former life…and Kathryn.

And the French film director? From all the aforementioned action, he now has a new motion picture idea, one that will not feature Ralph in the lead, but the late El Tigro, possibly, instead, who has suddenly found himself out-of-work, and he has the perfect romantic lead…

THE END … and then we tackle the bonus short story by Margaret Graham…who might well be an undiscovered alias for N. Wesley Firth…or not.

In short order, Denise is married to Robin Dane; her husband will soon pick her up and go on their honeymoon. Another woman appears on the scene; she claims to be married to the same man! Shows a marriage certificate. Our heroine is distraught, flees the abode, goes out for a drink; an old friend from her days of rural youth spots her and they chat. Denise does not disclose her marriage or woes. Her friend offers a farm-job with her and her brother. Accepting the job, the offer gives Denise the opportunity to escape her woeful predicament and not face the cad. While working on the farm, a young man attempts to convince the sister to marry him. She rebukes him. Our heroine learns why: she wants to be “loved,” and while the man does love her, he just isn’t “exciting.” Denise visits young man, explains what he needs to do to win her over. He takes this in stride and pursues the sister again: wins. With the sister soon out of the scene, Denise decides she can’t remain working on the farm, alone with an eligible bachelor. While short-cutting across the farm, Denise is nearly gored by a maddened bull. The farmer rescues her and clumsily professes his love for her. Denise isn’t the least bit interested. She still misses her own husband, Robin, but weeks have gone by…and remarkably, there he is! How did Robin find her? Well, she had written a letter to her landlady, no return address, but, postmarked the region she is in, which turns out to be a tiny area. Robin obtained the letter’s envelope, spotted the mark, traced it, and from there, asked around until he found her residence. He explains he also had a run-in with the “other wife” and that the woman was wrong. Her private detective had found the wrong man, that there are many other Robin Dane’s in England! When Robin confronted the other woman, she was equally dismayed she had wronged the young couple. All facts clarified, Denise and Robin continue their relationship, and…the farmer walks in to find them making out and he realizes he is now the odd-man-out. A sad ending for him, as he isn’t a bad fella.

Desert Intrigue by Earl Ellison (Hamilton & Co., 1949)

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