Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Chinese Nightmare

Chinese Nightmare (1947) by Hugh Pentecost

Johnny Curtain, a former POW in WWII and a pretty darn good piano player, wakes up, disoriented in a hospital in Chunking. He starts putting together his memory--traveling by plane and ferry towards a gig playing music for GIs stationed in China, noticing a man in disguise that joins him on each stage of his journey, realizing with a jolt who that man in disguise is, trying to convince Major Hardwick of the American forces just whom it was he saw, and then a drink in a bar that made him feel awful woozy...

Then, after he's gotten himself sorted, he starts listening to the ramblings of the man in the bed next to him. He seems to have lost someone named Lydia. When this man finally comes fully awake, he tells his story--he met this perfectly lovely girl on the plane and he made a date to have dinner with her after the conference he'd come for. But when he went to pick her up at the hotel address she'd given him--they claimed no such person had registered with them. The airline claimed that no such person had flown with them. Lydia has vanished into a puff of smoke. And now he'd had this infernal accident and couldn't follow up on the mystery any more. Would Johnny be willing to check the story just once more for him--to either prove that Lydia really had existed or to convince him that he'd somehow managed to dream her up?

Johnny's game and sets off to look for Lydia. And finds himself even further embedded in the mystery that started with the man in disguise.

Pentecost packs quite a lot into this tiny digest-size story. Mystery, murder, action, Nazis, spies and counter-spies, treachery and double-crosses...and even romance. He manages to set it in China without turning it into a latter-day Yellow Peril story and gives the whole thing a slam-bang (literally) finish. Very enjoyable, fast-paced little novelette. ★★★★

Deaths=  5 (one poisoned; four shot--and a whole slew more who are nameless and therefore can't count who are blown up)
Vintage Extravaganza Gold: Rule #5 (Chinaman)

First Line: It was like coming back from death.
Last Lines: I hope you weren't kidding when you said you like the piano. You're going to hear an awful lot of it the rest of your life.

1 comment:

J.G. said...

Sounds like good old-fashioned fun!