I read these three novels on the Kindle – “The Mucker”, “The Return of the Mucker” and “The Oakdale Affair”. Billy Byrne is, oddly, not a smart or educated fellow, but instead a small time thug. He starts making a place for himself in the criminal gangs of Chicago. But this happy life is aborted when he is named the killer of a shopkeeper by the police. He’s innocent, and only a warning from a cop that he saved from a beating allows him to escape. He flees to San Francisco, and is shanghaied onto a ship and becomes a sailor.
This is actually good for him, as the lack of drink and hard work gives him some pride. However, the ship and crew are involved in a kidnapping conspiracy to grab the daughter of a rich man for ransom. At first he hates and resents her, but as time goes on he begins to try to win her respect. The escaped ship is wrecked on a Pacific Island inhabited by a tribe of strange Japanese Samurai – Headhunter crossbreeds. When the girl is kidnapped, Billy rescues her and together they live on the island, where she teaches him to speak and behave better. Weeks later, her father and fiancée arrive at the island and are captured too. Billy rescues them, and leads the savages off after being severely wounded. Believing him dead, the others escape the island, leaving him behind. But Billy does survive, and eventually makes it back to the US and becomes a fighter. He and the girl meet and even though in love, Billy leaves her to marry the man of her class.
In the second book, Billy goes back to Chicago and is arrested. He escapes and becomes a hobo, along with Bridge, a poetic gentleman hobo. They drift down to Mexico, where the country is torn by criminal bands. There they run into the girl and her father, who apparently have just as bad a selection of vacation spots as ever. Billy has to save pretty much everybody, and get them to the US. There, instead of being arrested he finds that the true killer has confessed and he is cleared.
The third book is only related by the character of Bridge – it is a ‘hobo chic’ story of a young girl escaping a marriage by becoming a hobo, a proto “Scooby Doo” mystery haunted house, a gypsy and a semi trained pet bear, and a couple of murders and robberies and kidnappings to solve. If it sounds confusing, it is. In the end, it is revealed that Bridge is a rich guy and he and the runaway girl have fallen in love. Presumably they return to a life of status, or maybe they go on being hobos.
Like all of Burroughs’ works, these books read easily. Billy’s personal growth in the first book is a nice change of pace. The other two are more conventional stories with the standard hero-girl-adventure-love arc that is pretty common in stories of this era.