Frost Rides Alone – Horace McCoy (1930)

Captain Jerry Frost of the Texas Air Rangers, like me, hears footsteps behind him.  He and his reporterette companion Helen Stevens duck into La Estrellita [1].  It is a smokey cafe along the border filled with hombres y mujeres. Since this is 1930, this means it is on the south side of the border.  He sees his pal Captain George Stuart and tells him, “Hell’s about to pop.”

Frost notices three Mexican men — or as they’re known there, men — follow them into the bar.  One of them pretends to trip over Frost’s feet, but Frost catches him with an upper-cut. Before Frost can draw his pistol, the man’s two amigos have already drawn on him.  Stuart knocks out one of the men and grabs the third.  Frost brains him with a bottle as five more men ran into the bar.

The lights go out — the economy of characters suggests Helen threw the switch — and Frost fights his way out.  Luckily “Mexican marksmanship is notoriously bad.  The first love is the blade.”  Frost and Stuart find each other and escape across the street.  They start heading back to El Norte, but Frost is worried about the woman, so they head back to La Estrellita.  They ask the proprietor if he has seen the American woman.  He gives Frost an envelope someone gave a waiter.  Inside, a letter says, “Thanks Captain for the woman”  and WTF is so hard about keeping an agua glass filled?

Four days later, the Governor and the Adjutant-General of the Rangers have joined the search.  It is their responsibility to find blonde American babes missing in foreign lands until Fox News is invented.  They get a break as a Coast Guard cutter spots a woman on board a rum-runner.  Like Jack Bauer, Frost says he is going alone to rescue Helen. The A-G says, “I’d hate like hell to have him after me!”

In the next few sentences, we meet Jimmy O’Neill, Hans Traub, Ox Clay and Oliver Roland in Corpus Christi.  What happened to that economy of characters?  O’Neill was the one who spotted Helen.  He provides Frost with a plane to search for Helen.  Frost finally spots the cutter.  He lands the plane on the water and climbs aboard.

After killing one crew-member, he forces another to tell him there are six people on board, two of them women.  They are going to pick-up illegal rum, or four more women. Frost manages to kill or subdue all of the dudes.  He finds Helen in a luxurious cabin. She even has a phone on the wall.[2]  I don’t understand how a phone on a ship worked in 1930, but I don’t understand how it would work in 2017 either.

Turns out this chick — the one from the cafe — was just pretending to be Helen.  The fight was a set-up to kill Frost.  The real Helen has been locked away for a week.  So I guess the spotter on the Cutter was so desperate to see a woman at sea that it was hard to differentiate.  I think that also explains why pirates wear earrings, but that’s just a theory.

Frost saves the day and calls in the Coast Guard to clear away the bodies and hose down the deck.  Speaking of getting hosed, after things are settled, Frost takes the real Helen — who he met about 2 minutes ago — down below to make out.

This is standard action hero stuff — Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt, etc.  I must say, though, that the stories in this collection are more intricately plotted than those in the $.99 megapacks — lofty praise indeed.  Good stuff.


  • [1] Spanish for Tom Cruise.
  • [2] C’mon, even I know it is called a bulkhead.
  • First published in Black Mask in March 1930.
  • Also that year: Steve McQueen born and DH Lawrence died.
  • Horace McCoy’s best known work is the novella They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which was made into a great but very bleak movie.  Not only was it a dark allegory for the weariness and hopelessness of the Depression, it gave Jane Fonda her first Oscar nomination launching her to be a thorn in people’s sides for the next fifty years.  On the other hand, it also spawned They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They? so we’ll call it even.