BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL by Paul Malmont

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OK, time for an admission. I bought The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril when it first came out in hardcover. Then I put it on the shelf and promptly forgot about it even though it was about my two favorite pulp writer idols: Lester Dent and Walter B. Gibson.

Even before I became a professional writer, I studied these two men (and plenty of other writers besides), reading their stories as well as their biographies, trying to catch a glimpse of a fascinating worlds I figured they’d lived in.

Then I came across this book again while looking for something to read. I sat down with it and became totally mesmerized by Paul Malmont’s debut opus. Within minutes I was carried away, back to New York in 1937 and I got to see Gibson and Dent in action. So much of their history, so much of the history of writers and the pulps, appears on these pages. Writing techniques, experiences with editors, real world stuff that went on for each of them, was laid bare in sparse and energetic sentences.

I was in awe of the world Malmont brings to life seemingly so effortlessly. And on top of that, the author then threads in a wondrous story that could have graced the pages of one of those pulp novels. You see echoes of The Shadow and Doc Savage throughout the book, and I hung on every one of them. There’s heartbreak and romance, adventure and horror, and great splashes of comedic humor.

Readers expecting a tightly knit story need to relax. Malmont works with a lot of bits and pieces, with a lot of scraps, but he sews them all together with cleverness and love. You get to see a large part of this pulp world and meet many of the players that were giants in their field. Not only that, if you’re clever and knowledgeable enough, you get to meet many other people in memorable cameos. Siegel and Schuster, the teenagers that created Superman, are here briefly. Louis L’Amour, though you won’t know him unless you know his specific history – and I do, plays a big part.

But overall it’s the adventures of Gibson and Dent that truly captivate the reader. Gibson is more cosmopolitan, a bit more polished, a bit more of the rascal and rebel. Dent maintains a bit of the innocent, a very large boy scout with an insatiable need for adventure and a curiosity for all things.

The creepiness of Gibson’s trip to H. P. Lovecraft’s is atmospheric and memorable, true to the horror writer’s own work. Gibson’s big city lifestyle, complete with personal Pullman train car, offers up another view of a lifestyle people had back in those days.

Dent’s trip to Chinatown feels very much like one of those “lost world” adventures he wrote in the Doc Savage magazine. The fact that he was such a physical person, that he tried to do so many of the things his hero could do, and that he could believe so much in the oath he made popular in his books, made him all the more endearing.

This is one of those books that I will read again and again, a touchstone of literature and history, coupled with a sense of the fantastic that I grew up on. It’s a piece of my childhood that still lingers today, and I thank Malmont for bringing it to life.

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