on 23 November 2003
Jimmy Torrence has spent four years in college as a star athlete, blissfully unaware that because of his low grades he is about to fail. This rather contemporary idea is actually how Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, began his 1921 romantic murder mystery, "The Efficiency Expert." Warned by the university president (who is known as "Whiskers"), Jimmy gets his act together and graduates. This story was originally published in "All-Story Weekly" and is one of the relatively few totally realistic stories that ERB wrote. Set in the big cities of New York and Chicago "The Efficiency Expert" is assumed, in part, to reflect ERB's early years when he bounced from job to job before making the writing thing work.
Anyhow, Jimmy's father is the president of Beatrice Corn Mills, but Jimmy goes off to Chicago to make it on his own. There he makes friends with the Lizard, a pickpocket who aspires to be a safe cracker, and changes a flat tire for Elizabeth Compton, daughter of Mason Compton, president of International Machine Company. She is engaged to Harold Bince, who will end up running the company one day, but he is not a good person. Meanwhile, Jimmy is having trouble finding a job and earning enough money to eat. You can tell where "The Efficiency Expert" is going in terms of the romance, because ERB always telegraphs such things, but in terms of road blocks there are labor union problems, a murder, a trial, and a prostitute with a heart of gold.
"The Efficiency Expert" shows that without the fantasy elements that made him so successful with novels about not only Tarzan but also Mars, Pellucidar, Venus, and such, that the stories are competently told but not much more than melodramas. This is one of the few stories that involves any sort of significant court room scenes, which comes across as rather stilted. This particular pulp fiction yarn has the slight disadvantage that the Lizard is the most interesting character in the story. This one is only for fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs who are literally trying to read everything the Master of Adventure ever wrote. Otherwise, this story would not remain in print.