Originally under the working title Bridge and the Oskaloosa Kid this book is one of the few contemporary thrillers by Burroughs, a partial sequel to the much loved The Mucker, and was published in Blue Book Magazine in March of 1918. It’s the character of Bridge, the tramp with a heart gold, who connects these two stories together, but other than his appearance in both they are quite standalone stories. This entry is much shorter than its predecessor and though it’s billed as a mystery crime thriller there really isn’t much of a “Who dunnit” element to this story as there is a “Who are these people” element.
book begins with a young and inexperienced burglar breaking into home
of Jonas Prim, president of the First National Bank of Oakdale. The
young crook heads directly, but not so stealthily, to the room belonging
to Prim’s daughter Abigail, easily finds the hidden safe and concealed
gun, then slips out of the house and into the night. While skulking
about our burglar had overheard Jonas Prim and his wife discussing their
daughter, and how she has left town to visit the family of the man she
will soon be announcing an engagement to. We quickly ascertain that the
young Abigail is not all that keen on marrying this man who is older and
balder than her ideal version of a husband.
While out on the dark
streets the young burglar quickly becomes drawn to human companionship,
even just this brief foray into the night as unnerved the thief, and
soon The Kid comes upon a group of hoboes hiding out in a farmer’s barn.
They at first turn away this young interloper but once they see the
diamonds and pearls bulging out of the thief’s pockets they decide to
let him stay. The thief lets them believe he is the Oskaloosa Kid but
this group could care less about who he claims to be as they are about
relieving him of his spoils. The Kid’s sleep is soon interrupted when
one of the hoboes plunges a knife into him, but lucky for the kid the
knife hit the concealed gun. The Kid shoots and wings one of the hoboes,
and flees into the night.
It’s while on the run through a stormy
that The Kid runs into Bridge, a strangely educated tramp, and explains
the horrors he’s gone through, he also confesses to being a thief and
the notorious Oskaloosa Kid. Bridge happens to be well acquainted with
the real Oskaloosa Kid and this young boy is certainly not the pug nosed
thug he’s encountered in the past. Bridge doesn’t let The Kid in on his
knowledge which is kind of the theme of this story. Who is exactly who?
back in Oakdale the town is in an uproar; not only was the Prim home
been burgled but notable town member John Baggs was assaulted and robbed
in his home, and not expected to live, and local bon vivant Reginald
Paynter was murdered and thrown from a car. Worse is that the Prim's
daughter is missing and witnesses claim that Abigail was in that car.
The Kid and Bridge end up riding out the storm in the old deserted Scribs farmhouse, or as most know it “The Murder House”
and The Kid is at first against going into this supposedly haunted
house, but when a car roars by, with the sound of a gunshot piercing the
night, and young woman is thrown from the speeding automobile, it’s up
to our two heroes to take the unconscious woman to the “safety” of the
farmhouse. Soon after entering the darkened abode The Kid trips over a
corpse which event is shortly followed by the sounds of a heavy body,
dragging a chain, ascending the cellar stairs. They flee upstairs and
barricade themselves into one of the back rooms. Later they are joined
by two of the hoboes that were pursuing The Kid, who had also found
themselves chased upstairs by the mysterious creature.
If you happen to have seen the Frank Frazetta cover of The Oakdale Affair the mystery of the chain rattling creature is no mystery at all…it’s a bear.
follows are numerous close calls with the authorities, Jonas Prim had
hired a private detective to find his missing daughter, and the meeting
up with a young gypsy girl (it’s her bear), and more encounters with
those dangerous hoboes. Bridge is at odds with himself as he can’t
understand why he’s become so protective of this young criminal, as he
himself has a reputation of never straying from the path of law and
order, and yet he is constantly helping this admitted thief stay one
step ahead of the law. Even the young woman they found, who refuses to
divulge her name but all assume that she’s the missing Abigail, if not
up to no good has been involved with people of less than virtuous
will not get into spoiler territory for this review as the final reveal
of who is exactly who is too fun to spoil here; let’s just say if you
guess it before the final act reveal you did better than me. Overall
this is excellent and very quick read; the characters are interesting
and Bridge is a quintessential example of pulp hero. The book has some
great comic bits as a local farm boy, with dreams of rewards and
becoming a detective, keeps running into our poor suffering heroes and
causing no end of problems. For those who only know Burroughs from his
Tarzan or Mars books this is one worth checking out.
Note: The Oakdale Affair
was adapted to the screen in 1919. Sadly this is one of those films
that has been lost to time. Hopefully one day a studio intern will
uncover a can of film reels and this movie will be restored.