C. H. Christie’s The Oyster Pirates (1973) | A Review

“Barton masterminded the deal. He knew a lot about the oyster business. But that was all he knew.” — The Oyster Pirates, Adam, March, 1973, Vol. 54, No. 4

In shuffling through old archives I recently stumbled across Adam Magazine, a curious mixture of erotica, corny comedy sketches and pulp fiction. The stories were of mixed quality, but one of them, entitled, The Oyster Pirates stood out to me.

The plot, like the prose, is simple: Doyle, a down-on-his luck prawn fisher is approached by a “enthusiastic” oyster dealer and refrigeration mechanic named Barton, who offers a singular proposal to sail with him to the island of Toraki Island in search of a “special kind of oyster” which are “as big as a saucer.” Barton asserts they’ll fetch a pretty penny in Sydney.

There is just one problem.

Fishing on the island of Toraki is illegal.

Doyle is hesitant. Barton, however, proves too persuasive and the two agree to split the profits 50-50, and together with Doyle’s friend, Smiley, a “raw-boned half-caste” of Aboriginal origin, set off upon the Esmeralda for the isle of Toraki.

When the trio arrive, Barton strikes up a deal with the local chieftain. In accord with their deal, the chief lets out some of the men and women of his tribe. With a massively expanded labor pool, oysters begin swiftly piling up. However, things quickly sour, when Barton, soused, chastises the chief’s son, slandering and physically abusing him. Doyle objects but Barton pays his partner no heed. Weeks pass and the trio assembles a mighty haul, which they estimate to be worth some $10,000.

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Cover for the issue containing ‘The Oyster Pirates,’ depicting Barton, Triki and the chief’s son, at the tale’s spectacular and penultimate climax.

Doyle is pleased and when the refrigeration unit in the ship’s hold becomes unreliable, suggests they return and cash in on their adventure. Barton, drunk, declines, declaring that he wants “a full load.” Doyle then suggests his partner “lay off the booze” because he was treating the natives “too rough” which enrages the blonde oyster hunter. Barton tells Doyle to “go to hell,” and beats Smiley over the head with a bottle after discovering the Aboriginal had been sneaking sips of whiskey, nearly killing the poor man. Doyle, furious at this fresh indignity, demands they depart to seek medical attention for Smiley, but again Barton declines and having paid for the entire trip, has Doyle and Smiley wholly within his power.

The next day a native frantically approaches Doyle and points to the jungle, but lacking the linguistic proficiency, is unable to tell him what is amiss. Doyle heads to the jungle for the stories penultimate climax and finds Barton, in a drunken fit, attempting to force himself upon the beautiful native, Triki. She attempts to resist the oyster pirate but he easily overpowers her. From behind, the Chief’s Son creeps in from the foliage to the left, spear in hand, seeking revenge for his previous humiliation at Barton’s hands. Doyle shouts a warning and raises his rifle at which point the girl, Triki falls into the water as Barton whirls, pistol in hand, thinking Doyle the threat. Immediately thereafter, from the water of the nearby river, a hungry crocodile emerges, imperiling the beautiful woman.

Doyle is faced with a impossible choice: Shoot the chief’s son, shoot the crocodile or shoot Barton. He shoots the crocodile, saving the woman, as the Chief’s Son kills Barton with his spear.

Doyle buries Barton there, on Toraki isle and, with Smiley, returns to civilization.

The big oysters prove to be a sensation in Sydney, just as Barton had predicted.

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Illustration of the deadly crocodile, eventually slain by Doyle.
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Illustration of Triki in the perilous river.

I really enjoyed the tale, which faintly reminded me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) and Polanski’s Nóż w wodzie (1962).

Like Heart of Darkness, the story sees men of civilization venturing into untamed lands where mysterious natives dwell, but yet never tips-over into strict dichotomizing of either the old paradigm of civilized vs savage (for the upkeep of civilization mandates savagery), nor the new paradigm of industrial exploiter vs noble primitive (to dispel this Rousseauian myth one need only take a cursory survey of the prehistorical archaeological record of our ancestors), nor ever engages in finger wagging moralizing, which, even when in competent hands, has a damping effect upon the pacing of a plot as a mechanical necessity.

Like Nóż w wodzie, the story centers on the conflict between its two male leads: the noble, if not particularly heroic, Doyle, and the ruthless, power-mad Barton; though, unlike Nóż w wodzie, the source of their disputation is not a woman, but money. Greed, or perhaps, more accurately, the inability to moderate desire, forms the central theme of the work and acts as the catalyst for the spectacular set-pieced showdown of the climax; for if Barton had simply heeded Doyle’s suggestion, he’d have escaped the retribution of the native. For Barton, however, he could never have enough, not enough money, social control, sex or alcohol. Ruin, a invariable outgrowth of his disregard for the Paracelsusian formulation; sola dosis facit venenum.

“The dose makes the poison.”

 

 

Fiction Circular 8/31/18

FLASH FICTION

First up, Nell of The Library of Nell published a sequence of erotic microfictions entitled The Book of the Woodsman as well as the surreal, The Book of Morpheus. Decidedly evocative. Very interested to see her future works.

“We raised our faces at octagon windows of colour, through mirrors, upending to infinity.” — Book of Morpheus, Ely

The persistently consistent Dark Netizen published the mircofic, Buster about a dog figurine that is more than it seems.

Curious Forgotten Lore has published a plethora of fascinating little fictional tidbits, most notably: a continuation of his mythos of Clod, The God Of Clowns. Perchance, in time, he’ll be the new Slenderman; if that is to be the case I just hope SONY doesn’t try and make a movie out of it…


SHORT STORIES

Lucas Barstow has published Deep Vein Trombonist, which begins alluringly, “Deep underground where sunlight can’t be seen, the ore veins glisten in the light of a candle half burned out, dripping wax onto the floor.” Whilst the opening line is intensely atmosphere and the story is interesting, Mr. Barstow often violates the show-don’t-tell edict, describing in a rather flat and matter-of-fact way what is going on and why instead of painting a picture of the actual events in motion; but my, what an ending! Highly recommended.

Also read The Stain from the The Story Hive.

“I petted the fabric, fingers tracing the sewed areas, for the hundredths time, maybe for the hundred-thousandths time by now…

It had been vibrant and colorful, with the reds and blues and yellows thoughtfully arranged on twenty to thirty-five inches. Baby animals playing under the stars and the moon. Pink hearts lined beneath those little paws. My fingertips knew all the stitches.”

Sad, taunt, eerie and moving. Highly recommended reading and the best of the week.

Also from The Story Hive, The Greater Good Protocol.

Terror House Mag published Soul Box by James McHell, a supernatural drama concerning a man whose spirit has affixed itself inside his wife’s TV. Also from Terror House, Sugar-Plum Fearless by Soren James, a sad, creepy tale about a sad creepy man.

Jellyfish Review published Smolder by Hannah Harlow, which was quite good.


NOVELLAS & NOVELS

Little to report other than that I found a old Henning Mankell thriller in a shoebox. Was titled The White Tigress (Kurt Wallander Series #3). Reading through, very good book thus far.


Tune in next time for more.

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