Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Essentials

"The Essentials" by John Randolph, SDO Detective, October 31, 2004

This is one type of story that I've always liked to read but don't see many of anymore. It's as much an adventure story as a crime story. You've got a tramp freighter (though you never actually see it), an exotic locale, beautiful women, tough men and danger abounding. God, I love this stuff!

This story follows a young man with more guts than brains who tries to help a friend out of a hole. It's also a little bit about growing up.

Mr. Randolph writes pretty well, though I did have problems with the following sentence: "What do you have to do with him?" A non-native English speaker utters this stellar bit of clumsiness, which is hard enough for me to say. I wouldn't have thought she would know enough English to be able to mangle a sentence this way.

A failure of research resulted in my next quibble. The author makes reference to a shipment of Armalite rifles being shipped to the Air Police at Clark Air Base north of Manila. First, if the rifles were going to the APs they would have been M-16s. The Armalite Corporation manufactured the civilian semi-automatic version of the M-16 many years ago. I don't keep up with the arms industry the way I used to, but I think Armalite went out of business or was absorbed a long time ago, probably before this story takes place.

The only other thing I noticed was a structural weakness. After the main character, Hank Evans, helps his friend, Marc, out of a beating in progress, Marc proceeds to spill his guts to Hank about his rather illegal activities. Now Marc is the supercargo for a large shipping line. This is a fairly exalted position. He coordinates loading and unloading ships to shorten the stay in port. Why would this guy spill his guts to a 20-year-old third mate from a tramp steamer who might go back and squeal on him? Mr. Randolph should have spent a little more time establishing the relationship between the two men before this scene.

And the twist at the end is a nice touch, though it felt the slightest bit forced. Fortunately, none of this is fatal to the story.

In short, it's a good read, and I'd like to see more of Mr. Randolph.