My dad said his favorite book as a child was The Warlord of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs is most famous for his Tarzan books. I read the first two of those. The first one was quite good, the second got a bit silly. My son, Zach, read further into the series, and said the silliness got rather out of hand—"jumped the shark", he said. Whatever, The Mucker
came out in 1914, and deals with a young hoodlum who came from the tough parts of Chicago. My dad was born in Chicago and was eight when the book came out. So I thought perhaps in reading it, I might learn something about the environment in which my dad spent his early years. At some point, his family moved to a small town in southwestern, Michigan, undoubtedly not much like Chicago at all. Still, the early years in Chicago likely had some effect on his personality. Fortunately, my dad didn't grow up to be a thug, he was rather more of an intellectual than Billy Byrne, the protagonist of The Mucker
, and had a professional career, as is appropriate for a college graduate, a class of people despised by Billy Byrne, but not at all by yours truly.
Well, the above is all mostly irrelevant. While the protagonist was born and grew up in Chicago, most of the book takes place in other venues. This is an amazingly silly book, geared primarily toward 12-year old boys I would guess. It's full of thrilling, but completely implausible and off-the-wall action. It reminds me a bit of the Hardy Boys, lots of exciting action that wouldn't make sense to one who had a shred of grounding in the workings of the real world.
So, we begin with a kid who grows up a thug in Chicago. He is what's known as a mucker:
[Muckers] were pickpockets and second story men, made and in the making, ... ready to insult the first woman who passed or pick a quarrel with any stranger who did not appear too burly. By night they plied their real vocations. By day they sat in the alley behind the feed store and drank beer from a battered tin pail.
He skips town to avoid a trumped-up murder charge, hopping a train to San Francisco. There he is shanghaied by pirates. The pirates kidnap a beautiful heiress from her father's yacht and carry her off to the south Pacific where they are shipwrecked on an island inhabited by samurai headhunters. Yup, you read it right. Some 16th century samurai landed on this island and intermingled with headhunters, and nothing changed for 400 years except the blood lines. Eventually, Billy and the heiress get saved, but not until after she has taught him to be able to speak in an educated and refined manner.
Then, the mucker, finds himself on the lam once again, in company of a poetry-spouting hobo. Of particular note is the spouting of the poem, Out There Somewhere
by Henry Herbert Knibbs. Their ramblings and adventures closely mirror this poem. They end up in Mexico dodging bandinistas (revolutionarios?), sometimes collaborating with them. You guessed it, the beautiful heiress' father owns a ranch down Mexico way; she and her father decide to leave New York for a quick visit; they have problems with bandinistas; and Billy rides to the rescue, winning the heiress in the doing. Something like that.
So, if you like a dose of bizarrité
with your adventure, and don't mind a lack of any semblance of realism, this is likely to book for you. If you're an adolescent male, or sometimes think like one, you're likely to find this book entertaining.