Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pulp Review: THE IRON DUKE

L. Ron Hubbard wrote a lot of pulp. Tons of it in fact, melding his extraordinary life experiences (travel, military service, writing, exploration, aviation) into a variety of genres and hybrids that are being re-released in print and audio by Galaxy Press, the arm of the Hubbard empire dealing with science fiction publishing.

I recently received another set of books to review for this blog: DANGER IN THE DARK and THE IRON DUKE. DANGER had elements of the supernatural and mysterious to it, and frankly seemed to be an easy fit into the oeuvre of this corner of the blogosphere. Perhaps it was this very reason I decided to take the road less travelled (are you surprised?) and review IRON DUKE first - a romantic, action-adventure set in 1930's "far flung" eastern Europe.

Or maybe it was just the really cool cover.

From the synopsis at Golden Age Stories:

American arms merchant Blacky Lee is wanted by nearly every government in 1930s Europe— especially the Nazis. They want Blacky's head for selling them dud weapons, prompting his rapid (and illegal) escape across the Balkans to the kingdom of Aldoria with his business partner in tow.

Aldoria is well chosen. Years before, Blacky discovered he was the spitting image of the country's Prince Philip, learned the archduke's speaking voice and memorized the royal family tree just in case. When Blacky brazenly impersonates the leader, things go surprisingly well . . . that is, until he finds himself caught in the middle of a Communist plot to rig elections and take over.

Now we've all read this plot before - from THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER to THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK - and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Hubbard were inspired by these classics. This was after all the pulp era, where you were expected to churn out quantity as well as quality. The thing is IRON DUKE is such a classic charmer of a story that I really don't mind if he did take the story and twist to his purposes. It was well worth it.

In the short space of a few pages, Hubbard gives us a fun, adventuresome character in Blacky Lee and if you are a fan of the sort of hijinx that occur in the OCEAN'S ELEVEN movies or Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF then you're going to feel right at home with your feet curled right next to the fire with this story. Long on wit, short on fat, IRON DUKE is a movie that hasn't happened yet -- but should. I would cast George Clooney in the lead with the Coen Bros. as the directing - producing team. This is a story that plays into all their sensibilities and period piece excellence.

I urge all my readers to pick this one up and give it a try. If I were to find fault with any of it, it would be that the story is too short. A small nit to pick to be sure in a story that features con games, sword fights, train escapes, royal politics, humor and romance.

This is also a great introduction the the 79 other books in the series crossing a wide range of genres and styles...


Harvey Jerkwater said...

That plot synopsis almost exactly matches Anthony Hope's classic novel The Prisoner of Zenda.

was such a big hit in the early twentieth century that it spawned its own sub-genre, the "Ruritanian Romance." It looks like Iron Duke falls right into that category: fictional tiny European monarchy, hero who looks just like the monarch and takes his place just as a crisis of succession emerges, etc. It was made into a movie a couple of times, too.

From that brief synopsis, Hubbard's only real change to the formula is to make the hero a "lovable rogue" making his way, rather than a decent fellow caught up in circumstances. Whether or not that's enough of a twist to make the story seem fresh, I couldn't say.

Cunningham said...

Then I would suggest you pick up the book and spend an hour reading the story.

I enjoyed myself so I have to say:

"Mission accomplished."

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