Usually I try to try to add some visual interest to a post by including a scan of the cover or dust jacket. But I didn't have the jacket for The Desert Fiddler, couldn't find an image of it, and thought the cover was boring. The book's frontispiece, however, is irresistible. The accompanying text is: "He began to play . . . the song of the rose that blossomed with fragrance in the night."
The Desert Fiddler by William H. Hamby. Doubleday, Page and Co. (1921), 232 pp.
Bob Rogeen, an amateur fiddle player living in Calexico in 1917, becomes involved in raising cotton in the newly irrigated Imperial Valley. He leases a ranch “over the line” in Mexico and soon winds up managing several holdings of a wealthy investor from Texas. He also becomes acquainted with spunky Imogene Chandler, another local rancher. Meanwhile, Reedy Jenkins, a Calexico businessman, is hatching a nefarious plot to raise the price of water and thereby grab the profits of the cotton crop. Bob has little time to try to thwart the scheme. If he can do it, he'll insure a handsome return for himself and his employer and win the love of Imogene.
This book is completely readable. The style is straightforward. The setting is unusual. The story moves along at a brisk clip and maintains an air of plausibility throughout. The descriptions give a fairly strong sense of the desert at the beginning of its cultivation and clearly contrast devious business corruption in Calexico with blatant debasement down the street in Mexicali. As might be expected of a plot-based novel, the characters are not drawn with any depth or subtlety. The good guys, which include Chinese and some Mexicans, are upstanding and hard-working. The villain has no redeeming qualities. The author hasn’t created anything like serious literature here, but he has probably accomplished what he set out to do.