Friday, July 03, 2015

FFB: The Demon Caravan -- Georges Surdez

I had high hopes for The Demon Caravan.  I'd heard good things about the work of Georges Surdez, and the book appeared to be a combination of a novel about the Foreign Legion and a lost world (or at least a hidden society).  What could possibly go wrong?  There's a long and fascinating article about Surdez here, and I'll just quote one little bit of it for you: The Demon Caravan "avoids action for a well-observed power struggle between moderate and conservative Muslims in a remote kingdom."

Okay, that doesn't sound too bad, and in fact it sounds downright contemporary.  The problem is that the "well-observed power struggle" doesn't enter into things until the final third of the novel, which is really a love story rather than an action/adventure tale or a political novel.   After an officer is wounded on a camel patrol near the Iron Mountains, the patrol's new commander, Captain Lartal, takes another patrol out to the spot and he and his sidekick capture two people who have come to spy on the camp.  One of them turns out to be a beautiful woman.  Do I have to tell you that it's love at first sight for both Lartal and the woman?  Someone should have told Lartal because it takes him forever to realize it.  At any rate he makes the decision to release both captives without gaining any information from them, something he would not ordinarily have done.

Later a mysterious message arrives at the fort, and Lartal finds himself once again at the Iron Mountains, where he's taken into the secret hiding spot of a hidden city.  And before long, he finds himself married to the beautiful woman.  This brings the aforementioned power struggle to a climax.

Surdez is great with the local color, and his descriptions of life in the Legion ring true, as do his descriptions of the life of the desert people. The writing is smooth and very readable.  The book was published originally in 1927, but it hardly seems dated at all.  

And here's a bit of trivia for you, in case you didn't know who invented the term "Russian roulette."  It was Georges Surdez, as you'll learn if you read the article at the link above.

The Demon Caravan was made into a movie called Desert Legion in 1953 with Arlene Dahl and Alan Ladd.  I haven't seen it, but I'd like to.

And finally, here's a good review of the novel by someone who liked it a bit more than I did. 


George Kelley said...

Sometimes the cover and mapback are better than the story between them.

Unknown said...

How true.