My foray into magazine fiction begins with the first novel of H. Vernor Dixon, who turned out a stream of paperback originals in the 1950s. The story, published in a mainline general-interest magazine, lacks the punch of his later work. I wonder whether he would have come up with something more noirish if the novel had been published as a book rather than a magazine serial. The story, incidentally, runs a book-like 70,000 words.
“The Siren Smiled” by H. Vernor Dixon. American Magazine, Jul - Nov, 1940, 60 pp.
When their fathers die in an underwater accident, Jo Kelsa and Mike Ryan become owners of their parents' lucrative salvage firm. Neither knows much about the business. Jo is part of San Francisco's horsey set. Mike is a successful novelist. Pat Carmichael, owner of another salvage company, offers to buy them out. They refuse, and Carmichael threatens to drive them out of business. Meanwhile, Mike catches the eye of wealthy socialite Myra Chase. When her father's ship sinks with millions in gold bullion, the rivalry between the two salvage companies heats up.
Dixon has concocted a fairly engaging yarn tailored to readers of magazine fiction. The story appears to be thoroughly researched. Action sequences provide convincing descriptions of deep-sea diving and salvage operations. Business decisions are rendered plausible. The novel's romantic entanglements are less believable, largely because the characters lack depth. Some familiar themes from Dixon's later work appear -- the flying of light planes (Jo is a pilot), the corrupt tendencies of the rich, even the disastrous results of rough sex on virginal brides. The first-person narrator is unusual, however, since he spends most of the story as an onlooker. Dixon's prose here lacks its later edge, but his ability to construct a story is much in evidence.