Friday, March 21, 2014

Forgotten Books: DANGER CIRCUS by Raoul Whitfled (1933)

The more I read Raoul Whitfield, the more I see different styles. Danger Circus is the fifth Whitfield novel I’ve read recently, and no two have been quite the same.

In addition to his five mystery novels, Green Ice, Death in a Bowl, The Virgin Kills (reviewed HERE), and the two books published under the pen name Temple Field, Five (HERE) and Killer’s Carnival, Whitfield wrote four juvenile books.

One of those, Silver Wings (HERE) is a collection of stories. Wings of Gold (coming soon) is a full length novel. I have yet to read Danger Zone, but Danger Circus is just a puffed-up novelette.

Danger Circus (1933), a hardcover of less than two hundred pages, has large type, wide margins and oodles of white space. I finished it’s twelve chapters in about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Stylistically, Danger Circus is in the same ballpark as Wings of Gold. Both feature seventeen-year-old protagonists, and both boys are between sessions of “Prep” school. Both and nearly full grown and behave pretty much like adults, and neither has an aversion to handling a gun. But while they exhibit courage in dealing with adults,, both are clearly subservient to (and respectful of) adult authority.

In Danger Circus, young Gerry Brant is a pilot working for the manager of the Greater Stevens Circus. With his mechanic pal Sandy, he does whatever is needed to promote and support the traveling show.

As the circus begins a new season, the Greater Stevens is beset by a series of calamities. A storm brings down the big top, a deadly leopard is let loose upon the countryside, and a star performer is found trussed up and buried beneath a pile of straw. As the circus folk try to figure out who’s behind it, the problems just keep on coming. A show balloon catches fire and crashes, setting fire to a side show tent and terrorizing a polar bear. Still later the troupe must stop a pack of elephants from stampeding into the crowded big top.

It’s all related in perfectly serviceable - if undistinguished - prose. I started this the same day I finished Green Ice, and if Whitfield’s name hadn’t been on the cover, I would have been hard-pressed to believe it was the same writer.

Herewith, along with illustrations by William Heaslip, are samples of Whiifield's "junvenile" prose:

     There was a fiercer shrilling of wind—the rain beat down in a sweeping fury. In the distance there was a crackling sound that made Gerry’s body stiffen. He knew that sound; he had heard it before. Wood snapping—poles breaking! The big top was going down!

     “Gerry—that’s the leopard—lying down there!”
     The monoplane was low, winging across the field. And almost instantly Gerry Brant saw the leopard. There was no mistaking the spots. The animal lay sprawled on the earth—legs thrust forward and behind. Sandy called:

      Sandy muttered: “I hear he told Callahan that he never knew what hit him. He was in the recreation car alone, heard someone behind him, and started to turn. Something hit him on the head—he lost consciousness.”
     Gerry nodded. “That’s it. When he regained consciousness, his hands were tied behind him and he was gagged. He could hardly breathe—there was straw piled all over him. He managed to roll to one side. That elephant they call Rango was very close to him, and she’s pretty bad at times. The storm last night has her in nervous shape. She might have trampled him—but of Ben’s assistants happened along; he saw the straw move. That’s how they found Delgoda.”

     Fire flared from the hoop, hanging just below the platform on which Queenie stood. But the flame made no difference to the horse. She moved her fine head slightly, but her feet were rooted to the wood of the platform.
     The flame from the loop died; once again the spotlights played on the horse. For a second there was silence—and then the shot sounded! One sharp, clear crack! The crack of a rifle!

     As the ship came round, Sandy called out hoarsely:
     “Gerry—stampede! The elephants!”
     Gerry groaned as he roared the plane over the animal tent, a hundred feet off the ground. The elephants were moving from their end of the animal tent, led by the tusker, Sindor. Their ears were spread, and their heads were held high. Their trunks twisted and flayed at the air. They were milling about, some thirty of them, in a half stampede!

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