Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Death Mates for the Lust-Lost (Hugh J. Gallagher, MYSTERY NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES MAGAZINE, July 1940)
Miriam Daly is heading upriver somewhere in South America, having accepted a contract to perform for a mysterious "Mr. Martinez." She soon learns that the rest of the women on the boat - that is, the entire passenger list - are all also performers of varying sorts, ranging from a magician's assistant and a trapeze artist to a "public health lecturer" (whom I can only assume is discussing venereal health at her lectures), and they've all accepted similarly mysterious contracts from Mr. Martinez.
Upon arrival at Martinez's castle, Miriam and the rest are briefly greeting by the greasy tub of bearded lard that identifies itself as Martinez, and then half of them are whisked off to their bedrooms and locked in - the other three are to "entertain" Martinez.
The trapeze artist, Phyllis, soon appears at Miriam's window - and reveals that "she" is actually Phil, disguised as a woman to investigate the disappearance of his sister, who was heading to the Martinez estate a year earlier. The two take off into the jungle, coming across a sinister scene - Martinez torturing the public health lecturer before offering her up as a still-living feast to a cannibal tribe that serves him. The other two women are then hunted through the jungle by Martinez.
Yes, it's another take on the old "The Most Dangerous Game" territory, but "Death Mates for the Lust-Lost" lacks the visceral adrenaline rush of Richard Connell's classic story, as well as the narrative skill. Martinez is a disgusting slob, unlike the cultured aristocrat Zaroff, and never comes across as truly menacing.
Worse still, we're never treated to a description of the hunt. Instead we follow Miriam and Phil playing detective and trying to figure out how to get into Martinez's secret trophy room (which they find only by serendipitous accident, when Miriam faints and falls right into the secret lever that opens the door). Another serendipitous accident saves these two clods from Martinez. In fact, I'm fairly certain nothing these two do has any actual impact on bringing a close to Martinez's ghoulish operations.
In case you couldn't tell, I'm not a huge fan of this story, and I usually like "Most Dangerous Game" knockoffs. But this sent me scurrying back to "The Hounds of Zaroff" instead.