Billy Byrne is a product of the slums of Chicago. He has made his way in life though various petty crimes and larceny. One day he is unjustly framed for a murder he didn’t commit and flees to San Francisco. There he is drugged and shanghaied on the ship the Halfmoon.The ship is on a mission to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman for ransom.
Billy beats up the daughter Barbara’s suitor Billy Mallory in a brutal manner. He expects that Barbara will cower in fear but she confronts him and calls him a coward. Now Byrne has always prided himself on his brutality as a sign of strength. He now starts to question his beliefs. Slowly he decides to change and also falls in love with Barbara.
A storm shipwrecks the ship on an island inhabited by descends of medieval Japanese samurai who have intermarried with the local headhunters. The tribe forms a hybrid of the two cultures. Byrne and the survivors have adventures among the inhabitants and he starts to exhibit more noble qualities. Barbara comes to love him and Byrne seems to sacrifice himself to rescue her fiancé. Barbara and the others are rescued and leave Byrne thinking that he is dead.
Months later Billy is rescued and finds his way back to Chicago. He cleans his act up and becomes a boxer with serious potential. He reads that Barbara is engaged to Mallory and goes to New York. Barbara is willing to break off the engagement for him but Billy decides he could never fit in her world and encourages her to marry Mallory.
This is one of Burrough’s books that are held in high esteem by fans. I can see why. It has pirates and savage, mysterious civilizations on a strange island. The main feature of this book is the protagonist Billy Byrne. He is not the usually well bred and educated man that are the staple of Burrough’s stories. He is an uneducated thug that speaks with heavy slang. He will hit a person while he isn’t looking and kick him while he’s down. He grows to eventually see that life can offer more and falls in love. There was a lot of character development in this story which is something is usually lacking in Burrough’s books.