BUT, I figure most of you won’t be reading this book anyway. It's not one you're likely to stumble across, and I'm not going to send you looking for it. Anyone who does want to read it will be either a serious leprosologist, or (like me) a hard core Richard Sale fan, and will insist on owning it no matter what I say. So here’s the poop:
Cardinal Rock, first published in 1940 (the book pictured here is the Harlequin edition from 1950), is Sale’s third book. It’s about an American doctor, Nick Adams by name (a nod to Hemingway?), who’s been traveling the world for three years treating all sorts of disease. He suddenly gets a bug up his butt to go home (New York) for Christmas, even though he has no family there.
On the way, he stops in Tahiti to visit an old friend - a famous novelist. There he hears of Cardinal Rock - a small island of red volcanic stone, owned by a reclusive Englishman who had a castle transported stone-by-stone from Scotland. The guy has a bunch of perpetually sad men working for him, and his employees have a unusually high death rate. The only contact they have with the outside world is to journey 500 miles south to Tahiti for supplies, and even then they never come ashore.
Though the novel is by no means a mystery, the mystery of the island is the major driving force for the first half of the book. Once we learn that Cardinal Rock is a leper colony, the mystery becomes Why was Adams summoned here?
Well, here’s a real SPOILER ALERT, because I’m going to reveal that, too. The rich Englishman is himself a leper, though he has the disease under remarkable control, and has been working on a possible cure. He wants Adams to take his findings back to civilization where other doctors can perform further tests.
In a minor romantic subplot, Adams meets an emotionally damaged woman in Tahiti who is later (quite conveniently) shipwrecked, rescued and brought to Cardinal Rock. Adams falls for her, but (another SPOILER ALERT), she falls for the head leper instead.
Adams accepts this with good grace, but when he finally gets to New York, he learns (final SPOILER ALERT) the island has most likely been destroyed by an earthquake.
Some fun, eh? Actually, I enjoyed reading it. Sale just can’t help being good. And it’s sort of a precursor to his most famous mystery novel, Lazarus #7, which also involves leprosy.
Eventually, I hope to review all fourteen of Richard Sale's novels.
For reviews of Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep (1936) and Is a Ship Burning? (1937), plus a complete Daffy Dill story and a complete Candid Jones story (both from Detective Fiction Weekly), and more, click HERE.
For more of today's Forgotten Books, many of which have NOTHING to do with leprosy, please visit the blog of Mr. George Kelley.