The New Doc Savage Movie Idea Page
Archived Doc Savage Pulp Reviews
Page Four Of Seven
076 - The Flaming Falcons 077 - Merchants Of Disaster 078 - The Crimson Serpent 079 Poison Island 080 - The Stone Man 081 - Hex 082 - The Dagger In The Sky 083 - The Other World 084 - The Angry Ghost 085 - The Spotted Men 086 - The Evil Gnome 087 - The Boss Of Terror 088 - The Awful Egg 089 - The Flying Goblin 090 - Tunnel Terror 091 - The Purple Dragon 092 - Devils Of The Deep 093 - The Awful Dynasty 094 - The Men Vanished 095 - The Devil's Playground 096 - Bequest Of Evil 097 - The All-White Elf 098 - The Golden Man 099 - The Pink Lady 100 - The Headless Men
!Standard Spoiler Alert!
There's no such a thing as Doc Savage spoilers because you either figure out who the bad guy is soon enough and/or it doesn't really make a difference which day-player gets the nod. It might be better to know beforehand so you can see how well Lester Dent and Co. handled said ne'er-do-wells from the start.
076 - The Flaming Falcons:
"The huge terror Falcons swooped suddenly from the sky to feed on the flesh of hundreds of innocent human beings. Then, their mad lust satiated, they disappeared in a searing flash of white flame. While the terrified world waited for their return, The Man of Bronze and his gallant group penetrated the steaming, unexplored jungles of Asia to uncover the lost lair of The Blood-Birds of Indo-China."
"Great dollars!" Monk gulped
The Flaming Falcons is a thoroughly enjoyable Doc Savage adventure that starts on a high note, doesn't settle into routine, and ends with less of an explosion than a thump while being perfectly satisfying. The tone is generally fun and loose, the treasure is amazingly simple yet brilliant, and the death device of the flaming falcons is a highlight of the series and more feasible than usual. It doesn't swing for the bleachers but it also doesn't miss and twirl around foolishly. From June, 1939. The summation above was written by someone who didn't read the book.
Doc, Monk, and Ham are on hand and with them is Hobo Jones, your typical Lester Dent day-player protagonist with not much going for him but some honesty and an instant love for the lead female day-player:
Hobo Jones was a rugged individualist, and he was going to stick to it. He was going to keep moving, and sometime, somewhere, he was going to find himself a job. He understood clearly that he might belong in the class labeled block-heads, because there was no stigma attached to the WPA or the PWA, whichever it was. He knew some pretty swell guys who were on those jobs. They were all right...
He started to think about the affair, then checked himself. He had a hunch he couldn’t make sense out of it, and would only get himself dizzy. And maybe scared, too. Thinking was the stuff that got you scared, wasn’t it?—at least, Hobo Jones had discovered that when you didn’t stop to think, you didn’t have time to get scared.
While it doesn't have grand designs to be the greatest Doc Savage spectacle ever, Dent put in the effort from beginning to end to make The Flaming Falcons engaging and entertaining. It's obvious (to me at least) when Dent switches to auto-pilot and spontaneously cranks out word quota at an insane rate of speed. This doesn't happen here, and just for that the book is special.
The Flaming Falcons wind up being live falcons covered in thermite and set off by remote detonation. They're a terrific menace and their flaming deaths visually perfect:
THE skull-colored bird was such a ghastly looking thing that Hobo Jones emitted a bleat of horror. It was that bad. It was—well, the most hideous apparition it had ever been Jones’ ill fortune to see.
The thing was about the size of a small goat. It was almost the same color as a goat, for that matter, and for a moment, Hobo Jones thought it might be a goat. But a goat wouldn’t be sitting perched on the back of a chair in a corner. This thing was a bird. It was foul-looking.
Hobo Jones had seen buzzards, and hitherto considered them the vilest-looking things on earth—but a buzzard was as attractive as a love bird along this hobgoblin...
The thing batted its eyes at him. It had eyes that were like little blisters full of blood, but the rest of it was all one color—the hue of the skulls in doctors’ offices.
To top everything off, the bird smelled. It had an odor of indescribable vileness.
At this point, the ugly bird turned into an incredible sheet of white flame and a cloud of smoke, and vanished...
First, there was the sheet of flame, so utterly white as to be searing to the eyes, and hot enough that the heat could be felt on the face, even at that distance. The flame enveloped the whole bird. It was like old-fashioned photographic flashlight powder burning...
Third, there was the smoke, a spurting cloud of it that jumped upward and swirled around the ceiling of the room, then came drifting toward the door, and poured outside, dense and black, looking so much as if it was alive that Jones made several wild wallops at the stuff with the long piece of devil’s-walking-stick.
The devil-bird flew around for several minutes, then winged over and alighted on Fenter Bain’s plane. It sat there, perfectly motionless, about the size of a goat, with its wings folded. Utterly hideous.
Suddenly, it burst into flame. White, sheeting flame, that seemed to dissolve the bird, and melted almost instantly through the wings of the plane to the gas tank, the fuel contents of which caught fire.
There was an explosion, and the plane came apart, and burning gasoline spread over that part of the little lagoon.
The flaming gasoline reached the black plane, licked at the pontoons, lunged high, and the kapok wood which had been used to build up the streamlining of the struts took fire, and shortly that plane also became a bundle of flame, then exploded, scattering gasoline and smoke.
With this idea, she grasped the handle to open the plane door. She twisted the handle. The door didn’t open. Instead, two metal arms whipped out, encircled her, and clamped her to the side of the plane.
It happened instantly. One moment, Fiesta stood there. The next instant, an unexpected mechanical gimcrack of some kind held her fast against the plane. She struggled. The thing only got tighter. Not tight enough to hurt, but plenty tight nevertheless...
The big bronze man went forward somewhere, touched something, and this released the mechanical gadget which held Fiesta. Doc came back and apologized.
"That thing may seem rather simple-minded to you," he said, "but you would be surprised how many times it has caught prowlers who were trying to steal my planes. All of the ships we use are now equipped with them."
Doc Savage removed a small motor scooter from the plane, a two-wheeled go-devil of a thing, which would carry double.
This was the incident of the man who seemed to be hard of hearing. At least, he wore a small telephone receiver tucked over one ear, the cord from which extended into a small box which he wore slung over a shoulder.
[She'll soon be experiencing hair loss, bloody vomit and stools, infections, etc., but by then we'll be long gone, and she did sign the liability waiver - the only reason we keep Ham around, isn't that right Ham...] "I repaired it. Under the pretense of making sure both heels were secure, I got both her slippers. In the heel of each of them, I inserted a pellet of radioactive mineral. Very strong radioactive mineral, as strong as it was safe to use, because too strong a material might burn her."
But the most remarkable thing about him was his eyes, these being of a peculiar flake gold quality, the gold flakes seeming as if they were always stirred by small winds. There was a compelling quality about the eyes. They were friendly, and yet they were the kind of eyes that could make someone mighty uneasy.
Doc Savage, who had said very little for some hours—the big bronze man had learned that there was nothing to do but preserve a weary silence during the prolonged verbal gymnastics of Monk and Ham—got up from the chair where he had been seated.
Doc Savage seemed not to hear the inquiry, which was another of his traits. The bronze man, as those who came in contact with him soon learned, rarely voiced a theory; only what were in his own mind proven facts. Rather than make evasive answers, or indulge in a long argument about what might or might not be the facts, he simply became deaf to inquiries.
[How Doc got on Hobo Jones' good side] "You do-everything-just-right guys got something put over on you," advised Hobo Jones.
"How do you mean?" Monk demanded.
Doc Savage spoke quietly.
"He means," the bronze man explained, "that our late visitor, Court Tottingham, is the leader of the gang that waylaid him and Miss Fiesta on the Arizona desert that night, and also Tottingham is the fellow who had charge of carrying off that field of yellow vegetables."
Hobo Jones looked as if he had been kicked in the stomach. He sat down. His jaw drooped.
"How’d you know that?" he demanded. "I only knew because I recognized the guy’s deep voice."
Doc Savage smiled, which was a rare thing for him to do, and confessed, "I merely guessed. From your manner, I knew he was obviously someone connected with this mystery, and the guess I made seemed the most reasonable one."
Jones looked a little more cheerful, and finally grinned himself.
Once, when he encountered a gang of the noisy little monkeys, he bounced up and down on a bough and made a lifelike imitation of the angered cry of a bird of prey of which the simians had a mortal fear. Every monkey became as quiet as a leaf, and remained that way until the bronze man had gone on.
[Hello to you, I'm Fops Magoo!] The man on the sand was small, and dressed for a horseback canter in Central Park, New York City, rather than the Arizona desert. His boots were custom made, with mirrorlike luster, his breeches were cut with swank, and his brown-checkered riding jacket had that certain "umph" which expensive custom tailors only get in the models that sell for over two hundred dollars.
Ham stumbled, fell the last few steps, got up saying things he had not learned in Harvard, and they dived outside.
"Oh, no, indeed. That was an American chap. Rather poorly done, his film was, too. Rather crude chaps, these Americans. That is—ah—some of them."
Monk, not caring for the remark, looked at his own large, hairy fists. "Crude," he advised, "but effective."
The brown naked man smiled, showing all his black teeth. He bent over, picked up a handful of the sand which composed most of the soil hereabouts.
he said—or so it sounded—and pointed at the fistful of sand.
A peculiar thing happened—one of those accidents that occur when people are excited and doing things wildly.
Fiesta had informed Jones that she had been seized because she had wanted him to believe that he could not help her, and save himself. Fiesta had made it so lifelike that Jones had believed her.
Actually, the bull-voiced man and all his helpers likewise presumed that Fiesta had been seized. It was very dark. They couldn’t see one another. Each of them thought one of the others was holding Fiesta, so they went charging away in pursuit of Hobo Jones.
Fiesta was left scot-free. She got up off the sandy ground, amazed, and stood listening to the gun-bangings, yells and other bedlam that accompanied the pursuit of Jones.
"It’s the witch’s chicken!" gasped Fiesta...
"Hurry, car!" she said wildly.
[I live for this routine] The hotel clerk was all smiles—he had been all frowns when Fiesta left.
"I’m terribly, terribly sorry," said the clerk, bowing very low. "I want to apologize abjectly, most abjectly. You may telephone New York City long distance. The hotel will pay the bill, and you can pay us back just whenever you like, with no hurry, no hurry at all. And as for your room rent, don’t worry about that. No, don’t worry. And we want you to move into our best suite of rooms. The rent will be the same as you’re paying for that little room you’re in now."
"Goodness," said Fiesta. "What did you say?"
"You may telephone New York and we will pay."
"We want you to have our finest suite of rooms, at the same rent you’re now paying, and don’t worry about when you have to pay for it."
"Gracious," said Fiesta.
At this point, the ticket seller from the airport rushed in. He was out of breath. He had an envelope in his hand.
"Here’s your airplane ticket to New York," he puffed.
"What?" said Fiesta.
"We’re giving you a special plane," explained the airport man, "because we have no regular ship scheduled to leave immediately."
"But," reminded Fiesta, "I have no money."
"That’s perfectly all right. That’s perfectly all right. We—er—trust you."
Fiesta looked at the hotel clerk, then at the young man from the airport. She tapped the floor thoughtfully with one foot.
"Just what," she asked, "changed your minds so quick?"
"You mentioned Doc Savage," said the hotel clerk.
"Yes, you mentioned Doc Savage," agreed the airport man.
"You mean," said Fiesta, "that—well—"
"Yes," said the hotel clerk, "we’ve heard of Doc Savage."
"That’s it," said the airport man. "We’ve heard a little bit about Doc Savage."
"Who," asked Fiesta, "is Doc Savage?"
The hostess smiled. "A man," she said, "who is—well, quite a fellow. You’ve kind of got me, honey. I don’t know how to describe him. You couldn’t describe the Grand Canyon, could you?"
"Oh, he’s like that," suggested Fiesta. "A great big thing full of empty space."
The hostess shook her head.
"You’ll learn, you’ll learn," she said.
[He beat her unconscious once and then again] For a pretended physical wreck, Fenter Bain proved strong and of good durability. He ran a full mile, with Fiesta across his shoulder, stopping only once to pop her one on the jaw again and quiet her, and he was hardly puffing at the end.
Hobo Jones leaned back. His face was strange. He was awed, astounded, and his heart was going downstairs in a series of sinking bumps. This big man of bronze, Doc Savage, had an amazing mind, and a breathtaking way of doing things on a large scale. If it became a matter of rivalry for pretty Fiesta between a man of such capabilities, and Hobo Jones, who didn’t have a nickel in the world, it was likely to be just too bad. Jones felt slightly ill.
Court Tottingham was large, but not as much so as Doc Savage. He was well-muscled, but his sinews were the polo type; they didn’t appear to have been put on by hard work.
SOMEWHAT inexplicably, and to the astonishment of everyone, and to the disgust of Monk and Ham and Hobo Jones, who were craving action, nothing whatever happened for exactly a week.
Only luck would save the bronze man, he knew perfectly well. And he had learned that luck was a very fickle wench upon which to depend.
Monk digested this. Rubber? At first, it struck him as a very small thing to cause so much trouble. Then the magnitude of the thing began to dawn upon him. Rubber? There were millions and millions of dollars involved in the industry, billions. All of the world’s supply of crude rubber came from the tropics, and nothing had ever been developed that would successfully displace the tropical rubber tree. The great American inventor, Thomas A. Edison, had spent most of the last years of his life trying to develop a plant that would grow in the United States and produce rubber. Such a plant, if developed would be worth—well, millions and millions.
[Criminals have no way of finding out these things outside of pulp fiction] The gas itself was an almost instantaneously lethal variety—they found it in bottles, in a suitcase padded with cotton—and a type that was used to some extent in warfare. (When the descriptions of poisons and deadly gasses which appear in the Doc Savage stories seem incomplete, it is done deliberately. There are always such gasses and poisons in existence, but naturally we do not identify them. We have no desire to aid criminals with such information.)
Every part of The Flaming Falcon fits and works, excluding my usual loathing for Pig & Ape and Monk and Ham's frenemy shtick, skipped over like they don't exist. This is a Doc Savage story that's stylistically consistent all the way through, and that might be more rare than anyone might care to admit.
077 - Merchants Of Disaster:
"The deadliest weapon ever devised is unleashed upon the world. A twisted message, scrawled by a blind man, is the only clue to the flashing lights of shuddering death. Doc Savage calls upon every known secret of science in his fierce battle with The Oxygen Destroyer!"
I'd like six disasters to go please. July, 1939's Merchants Of Disaster offers more than six disasters of the writing kind, but who's counting as it's almost impossible to pay attention to this overly formal and stiffly written adventure where many situations are resolved by the magical appearance of the right things at the right times. Ghosted by Harold A. Davis, instead of a vest or jacket with pockets Doc's got an "equipment case he carried about his waist" that's Felix The Cat's Magic Fanny Pack. In this scene Doc uses a human body balloon filled with helium while these other things are happening:
A strange figure drifted down the hallway. It was dressed in a long coat and tattered trousers. A big hat covered the head. Arms hung slackly at the sides.
The figure made no noise, despite its rather large size. There was a good reason for that.
The feet were at least a foot off the floor...
Finding of the thin wire made the explanation simple. Small, torpedolike objects had been hurled into the room from the opposite end of the corridor. They had burst into smoke and flame when they struck, creating the impression of ghostly figures.
The wire explained the voice that apparently had issued from one of the figures. Not even as expert a ventriloquist as Doc Savage could throw his voice that far, but his voice could travel over the wire, through a tiny microphone, and issue from an equally small speaking unit at the other end.
Merchants Of Disaster is packed with randomness like an office building hallway being a conveyer belt and fighter planes connected to each other with a cable while zooming around. Doc carries one of his super-firers and uses it. Ubiquitous oxygen lozenges replace breathing and Doc changes disguises on the run. This bit states the aides must constantly lather themselves in goop (there's also a character named Joe Goopy) in order to not burn to a crisp in case they sweat or a beverage gets spilled:
Long Tom’s coat and shirt, like those of all Doc’s aids, were impregnated with a potassium compound, the chemical that flames when it comes in contact with water. Perspiration had furnished the necessary liquid. The ensuing fire had burned the ropes off Long Tom’s wrists.
It had been painful, even though his skin was coated with a solution similar to that used by fire eaters, but he had been caught without any other method of escaping in such a situation.
More of the same:
[All from Doc's Magic Fanny Pack!] A minute later a snow man appeared!
At least, he looked like a snow man. His body appeared covered with snow and ice. Steam poured out on all sides of him. The snow man clawed at his face, and there was more steam. Then he walked uncertainly in the direction of the street.
A second snow figure came into view. This one was larger than the first, and moved with surer steps...
The suits really were in two layers, airproof, of a transparent asbestos composition. Between the two layers was an improved type of the ammonia solution used in refrigeration systems which depend upon heat to produce ice.
Under influence of strong heat, the solution circulated constantly between the two layers of the suit, passing through numerous small, almost invisible coils, that acted as condensers.
The effect had been to incase Long Tom and Doc in portable refrigerators. Oxygen tablets had provided air for them during their long stay.
Doc’s apparent feat of magic in reality had been only the practical application of well-known scientific principles.
THEY found their car hidden far off the road. From the trunk in the rear, an odd assemblage of coats and clothing provided more complete attire for the bronze man and his aids.
Doc did not waste time. His long, powerful fingers shot out. They touched nerves on the back of the man’s head. Thereafter, the other answered questions readily.
[There's a Chinese man costume in Chemistry's size laying around] He had imitated Monk now. No sooner had the two left, than Chemistry also struggled into a gown. He didn’t have a thing for his head, but that didn’t bother him.
"That wasn’t a ‘truth serum,’ it was a ‘lie serum,’" Monk explained patiently.
Doc produced a small, peculiar-appearing compass. The needle of the compass swung northeast. The bronze man gave orders to the driver...
And when his arm had moved he had thrown a pulverized powder of a rare mineral found In South America, which clung to Holst’s coat. The mineral had unusual magnetic qualities. Through use of the special compass Doc had devised he could follow the flight of anyone he sought. The powder often was easier to use than the marble mechanism he had slipped in Zolg’s pocket.
"I found the counterirritant to the oxygen destroyer," Doc said. "It took a minute or so for that to become effective before I could release pure oxygen and clear the air; that is why you were subjected to so much discomfort."
KNOWING that Long Tom was a prisoner in the building across the street, Doc Savage could have called for police aid before going to the rescue.
That was not his way. And in this instance it seemed apparent that men who thought nothing of killing two hundred soldiers would not hesitate in the least over wiping out one man, if danger threatened.
I had a hard time following or caring to follow the story. Words that marched in place were flypaper and my eyes stuck to them. The story tried hard not to be laborious while being so from start to finish.
Doc thrust a small tablet into his mouth, then moved forward. The tablet was one of his own devising. It furnished oxygen, made it unnecessary to breath outside air.
As Carl Zolg had bent over him, Doc had dropped a small, marble-sized object in the other’s pocket.
The small marble was of metal. Inside the marble was a complicated mechanism that would have been the envy of a watchmaker. A tiny battery operated the mechanism, causing it to throw off a steady flow of spark signals.
The battery usually became exhausted after an hour, but that was long enough for the purpose for which it was intended. A small radio directional finder permitted Doc to trail whoever had the marblelike object.
The watch was cleverly constructed. It wasn’t a watch at all, really. But through it, messages could be received without even a person a foot away knowing anything about it. Some of the watches, Doc decided also, could send as well as receive. The one he had was a receiver only.
Signals were transmitted to the back of the wrist in the form of heat flashes, easily read by anyone who understood Continental code. Only in the case of highly important messages, Doc had learned, was a cipher code used. Then it was usually necessary to copy the cipher down and decode it...
Examination of the wrist watch also had disclosed to Doc that a new development was being used in the transmission of messages. The watch was a highly sensitive, delicate radio receiver.
But it did not receive ordinary radio waves.
The watch had been constructed to receive microscopic waves of a type not previously used for communication. It was practical application of the long-known fact that infra-ray light really consists of extremely small waves.
Long Tom pointed to the calves of Doc’s legs. One bulged out more than the other.
"False skin," Long Tom explained. "Doc’s had many things, including oxygen tablets, concealed there. He got free at once, then freed us, picking the locks of the handcuffs. We used oxygen tablets and stayed down until we figured our hosts had gone."
[Doc looked a question] The secretary’s face became old. "I do not know. That is the trouble. There have been strange rumors—very strange rumors. And some strange things have happened, as well."
The bronze man looked his question.
"I don’t know that there is a connection between the rumors and the merciless murder of so many of our soldiers," the war secretary went on. "But I am inclined to believe there is."
[1 - This is a ghosted book. 2 - A cheap and bad out to have Doc carry a gun] The bronze man held a peculiar-shaped pistol in his hand. In appearance it was oversized, with a drum on top.
Ordinarily, Doc did not use weapons, depending upon his own skill and muscular prowess to get him out of any difficulty. In the present case, lives other than his own were involved. He could not afford to take chances, when chances might cost the life of a Secret Service man.
[Great opening] JOE GOOPY encountered it first. Two of his companions saw it happen. Those companions didn’t believe what they saw and took the attitude that it didn’t matter much anyway. Joe probably would have agreed with them. He was rather tired of living.
The three were making their way to the hobo jungles outside Washington. Not one of them was sober. Panhandling had been better than usual. They had bought some canned heat, squeezed the alcohol out and gulped it down.
[Punctuation abuse] But he could see the queer light flashes!
Without the glasses he could see nothing at all!
Scientists were interviewed. They gave as their solemn opinion the statement that the soldiers could not have been killed, that it was impossible for them to have suffocated in the manner described, and that, as a matter of scientific fact, they could not be dead.
A mass funeral was scheduled for the soldiers just the same.
"What causes all the trouble in the world, brother? I’ll tell you. It’s getting married. You give away your freedom. You give away your pay check. You take orders from two bosses. One on the job, the other at home. Join my anti-marriage society. Put pressure on your congressman. Get a law passed forbidding marriage. Then you’ll have prosperity. And that will make the country have more prosperity. Everyone will be happier."
[That's what she said!] Newde athwe apona succe ssbri ngpro spect toarm yprov inggr oundw illki lltwo hundr edthe reto day."
Reading this book felt like staring into a flashlight. Working through the text was like walking through waist-deep snow. Merchants Of Disaster froze my mind to where I stared blankly at the screen. I'm glad it ended so I could move on with my life. I'm taking the rest of the week off to reconsider if reading really is fundamental.
078 - The Crimson Serpent:
"A ferocious killer is stalking the Arkansas swamp! As the Man of Bronze and loyal companions venture forth to unmask the dread villain, they encounter some of the most horrifying perils of their careers -- including the Crimson Serpent itself!"
I soon enough found this August, 1939 piece of ridiculousness from Harold A. Davis barely readable, skimming the last third seeking anything not ridiculous. Certain words in isolation were fine but when joined together in sentences they tended to fair poorly. The Crimson Serpent would have worked better if DeSoto was the car company and not de Soto the explorer. Hernando de Soto was real and the Fountain Of Youth is a "real" thing so the book might have special appeal to those into some such things, but putting aside the awesomeness points for History this adventure reads fully like a serial film for viewers lacking in Critical Faculty either by age or head trauma.
Doc switches disguises left and right fooling these people's close associates, gets in and out of being taken prisoner ad nauseam, carries and uses a machine pistol in battle, and always has the right gadget on hand. He bamboozles ignorant folks with a motion picture camera:
Then other figures appeared—men in khaki, in modern fighting equipment. Machine guns rattled, raked the armored forces. A company of United States infantry charged into the line of ancients. The ancients retreated, firing their old-fashioned muskets. Then a terrific blast rent the air. A dozen cypress trees hurtled from their roots, fell upon the armored soldiers. There were cries of pain, of surrender.
Then darkness came again. The swampers yelled in fear. They were impressed. It was one thing to tell them that it was useless to fight the nation’s soldiers. But an object lesson they could see went home. They might have figured that Doc had been using a sound-film projector, might have realized that the scene they had witnessed had been carefully made from spliced films Doc had in his airship laboratory. But the blast of the trees was real, not a moving picture. It had hurtled several of them to the ground.
Doc knew they were a simple, superstitious folk. Most of them had never even been inside a moving-picture theater. The bronze man had taken the simplest method he knew of driving home a point.
Filed under "Really?!":
RENNY groaned as one huge guard in steel breastplate and helmet carried the bronze man under one arm.
Ham was the only one of the three who could speak ancient Spanish.
reached out quickly to the guard who was with them. He used a trick Doc taught
all his aides. Ham’s fingers touched sharply on certain nerves at the base of
the skull. The guard went to sleep.
A small pellet flashed through the air, hit the firing mechanism of the gun, even as the other tried to pull the trigger....
The finger was frozen. So was the firing mechanism of the submachine gun. Doc had thrown a small capsule of highly compressed liquid air. It had broken, expanded instantly with freezing force. It made the gun momentarily useless.
"An electrical field," Ham muttered unbelievingly. "A very modern electrical field. That’s what held us. And that isn’t ancient or medieval. It’s very modern."
"Why, yes," said a voice in perfect English. "In four hundred years of life, we have managed to learn many things. English, for example, when we wish to speak it. And also how to harness many forces of nature."
Even before he started his round-up of the swamp dwellers, he had placed explosives outside the castle wall. And, he had placed duplicate sound-apparatus, to simulate the noise of an armed attack.
[Doc had no time to drop in contact lenses] He did not add, as he might have, that it was a compound he had discovered himself, and one that soon would probably be adopted by police for controlling unruly mobs. He took two pieces of glass from his own eyes. They were lenses made to fit directly over the eyeballs. Use of them had enabled Doc to see when the others could not.
[To be low enough to use a rope ladder, a blimp would be quite visible] The dirigible came to a stop, however, practically invisible in the sky. A rope ladder was dropped from the underside.
A few moments after, the bronze man appeared in the midst of the excited government workers. So swiftly had events occurred that none knew where he had come from.
Why are Renny's fingerprints on the listening device used by the bad guys? Why would the swamp people even consider allowing a dam that would flood where they proudly live? How does a speeding blimp create a cloud that covers itself and looks like a regular cloud minding its own business?
The wrist watch he wore was not the type to attract undue attention but it was useful for receiving emergency messages from his aides when necessary.
Acquired as the result of a previous adventure, the wrist watch really contained a delicate, ultra-violet ray receiver. Messages, flashed by the rays, were transmitted to the back of his wrist in the form of heat waves.
The only disadvantage in the watch Doc wore lay in the fact that it was a receiver only. He had not thought it necessary to wear a larger type that contained a transmitter as well.
[Overkill] It was about this time that the ring he wore began to act peculiarly.
The ring itself was uncommon. It appeared of some rare blue stone. Occasionally it seemed to show a thread of dancing light. Right now that light was more than a thread, it seemed to be a whirling disk beneath the blue...
The blue ring on Doc’s finger had shown that such a device was in use. The ring, extremely sensitive to electrical circuits when boosted by coils, had flashed the warning the bronze man had seen.
One hand had darted under his shirt, into the equipment belt he always wore about his waist.
[OK] Doc spoke swiftly, in a tone that carried only to his two aides. He had noticed the fake hummocks, had suspected what might be coming. The ship was too low to escape from high-powered weapons, so Doc pretended to fall into the trap. To do so it was necessary to turn on the lights. In the gloom, a dark shadow would have been sufficient target. But Doc had dusted a fine powdered chemical from the ship. The chemical dust had set up a field of light refraction, similar to a mirage. The gunner’s aim had been accurate, but the dirigible had not been where they thought it was. The refracting dust had bent the light rays. Doc had created a harmless fire aboard the ship.
[Used in 1941 by Alan Hathway in The Devil's Playground] The implement was something like a huge trap. It was large enough to fit around a human body. Right now, the trap was wide. One side of it was perfectly smooth.
The other side was filled with scores of tiny knives. The knives were set in the form of a coiled snake.
Ham gasped. The secret of the Crimson Serpent had been disclosed. It was a modified version of the old Spanish "iron maiden."
[Harsh] She was looking at Monk.
"I do not think," she said slowly and distinctly, "that I have ever seen a face so homely, or a person who looked so much like an animal."
"Why, those dirty thugs!" he bellowed. "Torture a woman, will they? Let’s go down there. When I get my hands on them, I’ll—I’ll make them wish they’d gone back to Spain in 1542 and hadn’t hung around here!"
[This week in Fortunate Coinkydinks!] The bearded man shook his head in amazement. He didn’t know that Monk had just completed a series of research tests on truth serum for Doc. In the process of his work, Monk had developed a highly preventive drug for truth serum. He had immunized himself with it for the purpose of further experiments just before he and Ham had left New York.
[Bill Craig won a 73 million dollar judgment against Doc Savage, Inc.] But Renny knew how to handle hysteria. His features hard, his mouth thin and grim, Renny’s huge opened palms smacked the other crisply on either cheek.
The blows did not appear hard, but Bill Craig’s head rocked from side to side as if hit by a sledge hammer. Reason returned to his eyes.
[Callback to The Living Fire Menace, January 1938, also written by Harold A. Davis] "I understand it will be of the time he penetrated the earth to such a distance that he encountered a strange substance never before found," one guest whispered to his companion.
"I’ve heard rumors," the other replied excitedly. "There was something about a ‘living fire’ connected with it, that caused men to die in flames without apparent cause."
[Rare actual cleverness in the Monk/Ham relationship in a book filled with the opposite] Ham, on the other hand did his best to ease into every picture taken. He would have adopted different tactics if he had noticed Monk.
The hairy chemist, after each picture was taken, would sidle up to the photographer and confide that Ham really was only the valet for Doc. The photographer would nod wisely and make a special note to see that Ham’s features were blocked out before the picture was presented to the city editor.
The mystery figures were wearing armor! It was ancient armor! They were carrying guns of a type now seen only in museums, ancient, long-barreled weapons such as were used by Spanish explorers hundreds of years before!
[A real plus that Doc doesn't destroy another ship to fake his own death. That grew old quick] Doc and his aides knew they were being watched. But it was easy for the bronze man to counterfeit what was expected to happen; in fact, the gas bomb made the disappearance of the ship logical.
A smoke bomb was put in its place. The smoke hid the dirigible while Doc set off an explosive that sounded loud, but did no damage.
What the watchers from the ground failed to notice was that a cloud drifted across the sky after that explosion. That cloud was artificially made, but it concealed the dirigible from those below.
[Monk and Ham are bad at certain brain functions] Monk and Ham debated angrily on the number of men there had been in the party.
Ham was convinced there had been several hundred. Monk said fifty, at least.
Doc did not join the argument. He had counted the men. There had been exactly twenty.
[How you know Carter's not dead] De Soto flicked one hand in signal. Monk shuddered. A tall armored figure swung hands downward, partly obscured the body. Then Monk saw the instrument the man was wielding. It was an old-fashioned broadax. It crunched as it struck. Fletcher Carter’s screams stopped abruptly. A head rolled on the concrete floor.
The Crimson Serpent has excitement overload and both historical and mythological trappings in its plus column. The rest, and it overlaps completely with its offerings, is a disheveled mess. I was hoping to not read about swamp dwellers again after Quest Of The Spider, and The Sea Magician had a similar ruse with dressing up criminals as spooky old legends.
079 - Poison Island:
"Weird disappearances at sea … an empty schooner full-rigged with no signs of life on board … on the foremast a fantastic crimson eye. A mad dictator strangles the Caribbean as the Man of Bronze penetrates the century-old curse that triggered a submarine war!"
For a grand adventure this is a slight story with not much going on in the plot department. Its hooky gimmick was direct references to the lost passengers of the Mary Celeste in a tale of piracy, international political intrigue, poison, and nautical numbnuttery. Poison Island was a quick read not only because of length but also in that so little goes on for stretches you can skim the first lines of paragraphs to get all you need from them. September, 1939's Doc Savage thriller doesn't earn itself much positive praise or negative derision. I can state emphatically it's a book you'll read and then put back on the shelf.
A 3-out-of-5 coin flip told me to start with worthy things of note:
The great spike of brick and steel that housed Doc Savage’s office loomed about a dozen blocks ahead, discernible by the windows which were still lighted. There was a mooring mast for dirigibles on the top—the building had been constructed during the silly era of American finance, and the mooring mast was a wild publicity stunt of that day. The mast was bathed in a red glow of floodlights, which made it stand out distinctly high in the sky.
IN leaving Doc Savage’s headquarters, they used one of the secret exits. They entered a private elevator, which let them out in the basement, and passing through an unnoticeable panel, they walked down a long tunnel which admitted into the nearby subway. After making sure no trains were coming, they ran to the nearest subway station, climbed onto the platform, and took the next train.
They were in a part of the city where nobody paid much attention to his neighbors—possibly because looking around at the neighbors would make anybody ashamed. It was an old-law tenement area, a section where the firemen got white-headed at an early age, and the cops walked two by two and kept out of dark places.
The tenements were all shabby walk-ups, five stories high, narrow, dark. In the next block, one had caved in about a month ago.
Renny dived flat on the floor, scrambled, and got behind the big safe. He bumped into Johnny, who was already there. Both of them felt in a rack that was cleverly concealed behind the safe, and which held machine pistols.
[Silent Selfie Motion Pictures were HUGE then] Then suddenly there was a long picture of Pat herself. Of her face. She must have held the camera at arm length, lens pointed at herself, and taken the shot. She was speaking, but there was no sound, the film being a silent one.
Pat’s face was strained now. Something unpleasant had obviously happened.
Doc quickly reversed the film, and again ran the long sequence where Pat was speaking. The bronze man, this time, spoke into a dictaphone as he watched.
He was skilled at lip reading.
[More realistic than the magical breathing pills] Then the bronze man dived, and swam away under the water. He had put in his mouth a pellet of chemical which slowly dissolved and while it did not supply his lungs with oxygen, it did enable him to stay under much longer than would have been possible otherwise.
[Comedy violence] Monk and Ham had the other machine gunner between them, and were slugging the fellow. The gunner was probably already unconscious, but Monk kept knocking him against Ham, and Ham knocking him back against Monk.
Dara nodded. "Renny Renwick, the eminent engineer. The magazine article mentioned you, too. Where are the others?"
"Johnny Littlejohn? Johnny is in the library."
"Johnny," said Renny, "we’ve got company." He nodded at the six-gun. "They brought their own entertainment."
Johnny peered at the gun thoughtfully.
[Doc's a little more human scale in this book] The big bronze man said nothing. He had wrapped his belt around his leg above the knee and was drawing the belt tighter.
Renny understood, then, why Doc Savage had not followed him downstairs in pursuit of the fleeing raiders. One of the mercy bullets from the supermachine pistol had hit Doc in the leg, and the bronze man had saved himself from unconsciousness only by quick application of a tourniquet.
Before Doc said anything, he hobbled into the laboratory, where he filled a hypo needle with a chemical that would counteract the effects of the stuff in the mercy bullet. He treated himself. The wound itself was not serious, merely a bad bruise and some broken flesh. But he would be very groggy for an hour or so, in spite of his quick first-aid treatment.
Doc shuffled back into the reception room and sank in a chair.
One boat was an exception. It was a schooner, three-master, with a clipper-type bow and good freeboard. The schooner was a solid-looking vessel, obviously well rigged and manned by fellows who looked as if they took a bath occasionally. The boat had a neat, yachty quality about her, but she didn’t have enough mahogany and brass to be a yacht. Most wonderful of all, the schooner flew the United States flag. The craft was named Patricia.
That afternoon, the girl stood on the aft deck with a long-barreled single-action six-shooter of the variety popular during the heyday of Jesse James. The schooner was sailing through a stretch of sea where many Portuguese men-o’-war floated, like small purple toy balloons. The girl nonchalantly popped away at the floating men-o’-war with her cannon. She shot at least fifty times. Herb March was positive she hit at least fifty men-o’-war. He stood there with his mouth open.
"Do you never miss one?" he asked.
"Once I did, about three years ago," the girl said. "That’s why I’m practicing."
[I love this Doc Savage Fan Service] Doc Savage was a man who had a world-wide reputation as a righter of wrongs and a nemesis of evildoers. Doc Savage was a sort of free-lance adventurer, and his feats and escapes were fabulous. Herb March had heard hardened soldiers of fortune speak of Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, with a kind of breathless respect. He had seen an African slaver grow pale at mere mention of the name of Doc Savage, and had seen a Malay pirate react the same way. The adventures of Doc Savage, and a group of five assistants who aided the Man of Bronze, made Herb March’s feats seem rather milky.
[Spock stole the crap out of this move] The grumbler snorted.
"Quiet," somebody told him. "You want ‘em to hear us?"
"What I want to know," said the dissenter, "is why the deuce we can’t all go and conduct a raid."
Dara Smith put in: "Yes. That seems the sensible plan to me."
"The girl even agrees. You see."
What Doc saw was that he could spend the night arguing. He reached over in the darkness, found the man who was squawking, and took him by the neck. He did not choke him. He simply put pressure on some nerve centers, so that a quick and harmless temporary unconsciousness ensued.
[Monk as deliberate killer] One man stood on the cove rim. It was he who had shouted the inquiry. Monk fired a rifle. The man howled, coved in sidewise, and crawled over the cliff rim. He had been shot in the leg.
"Good shot," Doc Savage said. "Do not kill any of them if you can help. That’s the idea."
Monk did not feel exactly deserving of the praise. He had intended to shoot the man between the eyes. "The sights on this rifle must be jimmied," he muttered.
Monk took hold of the key of his grenade.
"Those two ran a long way," he said, "to find a darned poor shelter—as I’ll now show ‘em."
"Don’t!" Doc rapped.
Whether Monk misunderstood or not was always a question. He later claimed he never even heard Doc Savage request him not to pitch the grenade. Monk could become deaf at very convenient moments.
Monk’s grenade arched out and down and landed on the hut roof. A ripping crash followed. The hut flew apart, with sand and smoke—and a rolling cloud of vile-looking vapor.
[Being "Engaged" in 1939 meant what exactly? Part 1] "The latest and most persistent follower of Dara was a young man who answered to the name of Larry Forge.
Herb March wouldn’t have liked that. Dara was engaged to Herb March, although she hadn’t seen him for months. In fact, she had told Herb he had better not show his sunburned face until he had all that adventuring nonsense out of his system.
[Being "Engaged" in 1939 meant what exactly? Part 2] "I’m all right," Dara told him.
"Oh, darling Herb!"
"Fooey," Monk said under his breath. "There goes my chances with that girl."
Now for what didn't work. Dumb Pig and Stupid Ape. My god, if I read the name "Jurl Crierson" one more time my drinking game would have pickled my liver. There was no doubt he was someone you'd already met, and also no doubt it was the person described thusly:
He spoke with a very vague accent, although he looked and acted perfectly American. The accent, he had explained, came from a Kansas boy spending too much time in European engineering schools.
[What other proof do you need to start a war between nations than a guy yelling from a submarine?] "I have been informed that the United States submarine is now out of sight, having taken a course westward toward its homeland. I am also asked to repeat that there is absolutely no doubt about the submarine being an American craft. They hailed us, announcing their United States identity.
[Doc talks to himself because Lester Dent didn't want to write it out as narration] "Foreign plane," he remarked thoughtfully. "That checks, and probably explains why they stole the Brazil Trader. They wanted those three United States military-type planes that are aboard."
It was one of the few times that he had talked to himself.
[Improbable foresight ahoy!] "I found this place. It was what we came to seek, anyway. I had returned to get you and the others to help raid it when the trouble in the cove began, and everything was ruined. But before leaving here, I made all my remaining gas grenades, the little glass ones, into a bundle with some rocks and put them in that tree, then disguised them with leaves. The wind will carry the gas this way."
At one point Doc doses food with a chemical that renders everyone unconscious for days. Doc's explanation to Monk makes no sense unless he suspected one of his aides of being a traitor. He also knew beforehand who the bad guy was anyway:
"There seemed to be a slight leak in our ranks," Doc reminded. "Otherwise, how did those fellows know we were going to land in Shipyard Creek?"
A series of serendipitous eavesdroppings takes place to learn needed
exposition, and using Pat as a
drug gold mule is counter to everything
Doc's done to keep her out of danger. The existing system of gold showing up at
the bank in Hidalgo was working swell up till then. Poison Island is a book with
Doc Savage in it!
080 - The Stone Man:
"The Man of Bronze and his fearless friends trail the treacherous Spad Ames to the Arizona Badlands. There they encounter the mysterious men who live through the mists — men who can turn flesh into stone."
The Stone Man is a thoroughly generic lost-world adventure that moves along with a slow yet steady flow of information and a density of initial seriousness and descriptions of simple actions. I would not be surprised if Lester Dent didn't write this one. It doesn't read like his work much if at all. October, 1939's story is as exciting as its treasure - a new and better form of dry ice!
Renny says "Holy Cow!" a lot and Monk and Ham are teenage idiots in their arguments and skirt-chasing. Delving into the fantasy fiction spittoon you get random extraneous bits like this that thankfully don't get the usual overkill of other novels:
Every building, every part about each building, was square or rectangular. They were like boxes piled one atop the other, large boxes on the bottom, smaller ones on top. The colors were brilliant and varied; greens and yellows and blues were plentiful, but nowhere was there a red structure.
Not all of the people here were garbed in red. Twenty of them, at a rough estimate, wore scarlet, Doc Savage decided.
Wires from the mike led to an amplifier, the output of which fed into a phonographic recorder which was of unusually ingenious design, being equipped with a record changer. As soon as one record was full, it was automatically removed and another blank substituted. The records were of the large fifteen-minute type, hence four of them were used per hour.
[If it's electrical wouldn't Long Tom know about it and not Monk?] The "scanner" was a device perfected by Doc Savage, and so complicated that only Monk and the missing Renny had any accurate idea of how it functioned. There was a projector that put out "black" light, or light with a wavelength near the infrared spectrum, and which was called "black" because it was invisible to the unaided human eye.
The gas which poured out of tanks mounted in the fuselage of Doc’s ship was one of the secrets which would probably save America from foreign air raids, if the war need ever arose. It was colorless. It spread quickly. It retained its effectiveness. And when a plane motor sucked the stuff into its carburetor, the gas made fuel vapor noninflammable. The gas would instantly stop any airplane motor of internal combustion type—and no plane today has a motor of any other type.
Doc produced a metal tube which was filled with round dark objects which somewhat resembled shotgun shot. He sprinkled these over the sand carefully.
"I get it," Monk said. The stuff was an explosive which was not affected by moisture, and detonated from pressure—an improved variation of the ordinary Fourth of July spit-devil. An intruder could hardly pass this point without stepping on the stuff; immediately there would be a loud, if not very damaging, explosion. Enough noise to give a vociferous alarm.
Doc Savage’s metallic features had shown no particular emotion during the recital—which meant nothing, since he had a carefully developed ability to keep his feelings where they belonged, in his mind.
Monk fell silent. The truth was that he was afraid of the anemic-looking Long Tom, who occasionally flew off the handle without warning and performed somewhat after the fashion of a wild cat.
[Error on count] Ham Brooks, who was capable of making a young fortune each year practicing law, had become associated himself with Doc Savage for the same reason as had the other five aids. Ham liked excitement and adventure and his association with Doc Savage was abundantly productive to both.
Reported the board of psychologists: "We are somewhat puzzled. Both applicants seem to know practically nothing about civilized customs. They might almost be persons not of this world at all. They refuse to tell anything of their past. In spite of strange circumstances, we suggest acceptance, because they unquestionably have the most brilliant minds of any Phenix applicants to date. We recommend observation, however."
The news commentator was followed by an asininely cheerful fellow who wanted all the little early birds to look in the mirror and smile, smile, smile.
"Married? You mean that they let their captives intermarry?"
"Sure. The prospector an’ the arky—arky—what you call him—is married. So are the two Mormons, with one wife apiece, an’ always arguin’ they’re entitled to more’n that."
THE old prospector, possibly irritated by the aspersion Monk had cast on his sanity, suddenly refused to talk further until they had given him the latest news from the outside world. He sat there and listened to the troubles in Europe, the latest crooked politicians to go to jail, the difficulties in China and the baseball situation.
Maybe having read 171 Doc Savage books in a row I'm tired of any story of this type. The Happy Slaves angle is always a loser. At this point The Stone Man is the most generic of the bunch. It's most obvious quality is that there's not much to like or not like about it.
081 - Hex:
"From the moment Miles Billings arrived in a little town near Salem Corners called Witches’ Hollow, Hannah the witch began her reign of terror. While innocent people were being “hexed” and reduced to mumbling nonsense, The Man of Bronze went into action, risking his own life and those of his bold allies. Doc Savage plunged into nightmare horrors to subdue the most terrifying Master of Crime alive."
Hex was William G. Bogart's second effort at a Doc Savage, the first being World's Fair Goblin, that an odd and often childish story. Hex is much better. Both were done in collaboration with Lester Dent but the voice is Bogart's, defined in how Hex has a distinctive feel to it. That it's easy to visualize it being filmed as you read doesn't make it less Dentian but it doesn't shift gear and tone from start to finish as is Dent's wont. Bogart's stick-to-itiveness in a story that works is in itself a laudable accomplishment for a Doc Savage ghostwriter.
Hex is a Halloween-themed story that saw publication in November, 1939 but there's no mention of All Hallows' Eve. Publishers Street & Smith didn't want to be bound to anything but a new story each month. As you'll notice in TV shows with Halloween episodes, Hex has hints and elements of real witchery that don't pass inspection but you go with it as it's part of the fun. That all who are hexed talk in the same way about the same witchy things is quite the contrivance, but hey, it's Halloween.
Hex is a nice adventure with only a few errors and oddities. Johnny is lent Renny's pallbearer face in an unforced editing error. Famous highway engineer Miles Billings opens the story and is the first to be afflicted with the hex that makes people "wacky". June Knight is introduced in Chapter 3 but in Chapter 8 she makes first mention of her "fiancé" Miles Billings. I imagine Billings didn't start as her fiancé but was added later to give her more reason to be emotionally involved. Later, to keep things moving, Doc tosses gas into a room and it knocks out everyone but Monk and June Knight. Besides that it's a good story, and whatever dallying it's guilty of is mitigated by the spooky fun of the goings-ons.
Doc is in top form as man and super man. There's exiting scenes with Doc and Renny tossed off a boat in handcuffs and a posse raised by Monk, Pat, and June Knight to storm the fortress of the mastermind who wasn't especially pretending to be otherwise, and it's given a nice casual reveal in Chapter 15 that doesn't pause for dramatic effect. It's also nice how the supernatural and criminal elements are intertwined without commentary.
[Doc's car gets bad mileage] The car was a remarkable-looking machine. Topless, it was a gray roadster of unusual length. Sixteen cylinders were concealed beneath the long hood, and on a straight road the machine could do one hundred and fifty miles an hour.
As he had expected, Doc Savage found hidden wiring that would set off an alarm the moment the window was tampered with. But from the special equipment vest beneath his coat, Doc removed a small instrument. The device was one of the bronze giant’s own invention. Placed close to the sash, it kept the alarm system from being set off when the window was forced open.
But the bronze man was adept at "escape" tricks. He had once duplicated each feat of the famous magician, Houdini. In exactly one minute and a half, he was free.
At the hospital a desk clerk said, "Sorry, but no one can see Mr. Knight. If you’ll leave your name—"
The clerk had been looking at the bronze giant with a little awe, yet he had been quite emphatic about no one seeing the patient.
"The name," Doc said, "is Clark Savage, Jr."
The desk clerk seemed to have swallowed an egg. His face reddened, he jerked to his feet and blurted, "I—ah—not Doc Savage?"
The bronze man nodded.
The man could not act quickly enough to escort Doc to an elevator. He had often heard of the bronze man’s reputation as the world’s greatest surgeon. Other accomplishments of Doc Savage were known to him.
To the elevator operator he said emphatically, "This is Doc Savage, to visit Mortimer Knight. The hospital is at Mr. Savage’s disposal!"
[This month Doc's about 6' 8"] Doc, when standing apart in the center of a room, did not look big. This was because of his symmetry of development. But framed in the vault opening, it could be seen that his great shoulders reached from one door edge to the other. His head scraped the top of the vault, and the storage chamber was eight inches over six feet high.
For once, Doc’s metallic features showed other than a bronze color. All women fell for the bronze giant, but Doc never reacted to this emotion. He respected women; he was always first to aid a woman in distress. But because of the adventurous life he led, because of the continual danger, he had once vowed never to ask a woman to share that danger with him.
Doc did not take time for explanation. He indicated the unconscious men, said, "They will be out for several moments. Are you afraid of a gun?"
June Knight’s lovely dark eyes brightened. "If I had had a gun earlier—" She looked coldly at those who had captured her.
From a pocket, Doc Savage took a small revolver, passed it to the slender girl. "It might be a good idea to keep them covered," he explained. "I’ll be back in a moment."
RENNY took a last bite and stood up, his towering form making Hyacinth look like a midget in a derby. To himself, he thought, "Crackpot!"
Out loud, he said, "Well, thanks," and went out.
[Johnny had his eyes operated on in book #12, so eyeglasses?] The dozing man was dwarfed by the bronze giant’s size. And since he was a gaunt, half-starved-looking person anyway, right now he appeared no better than a bag of bones. As the man dozed, eyeglasses threatened to slip from his nose. He looked not unlike a studious professor...
The man of the starved-looking features peered out the side of the car, adjusted his thick-lensed glasses
[This is a Renny thing. Error!] Lean Johnny appeared worried—if that were possible. He always looked like a pallbearer regretful because the corpse wasn’t twins.
Doc side-stepped and let the three men hurl into Renny. The engineer never looked more solemn. His monstrosities of fists started swinging at jaws. Many hours later the three attackers woke up and asked vaguely what reef the yacht had struck.
He sighed. He said shrilly, "You’re so dumb it’s a mistake to call you Ham."
"Because a ham can be cured."
"Do you believe in spooks?" she queried.
"No," Monk said with a grin. Then his homely face sobered. "But they scare hell outta me!"
He snapped, "Hey, punks, what’s the idea of settin’ that crate down in our p’tato patch? Want t’ get hell knocked outta ya?" He glared over the lantern.
Monk, like a mastiff puzzledly studying a cocky little toy terrier, observed the man silently for a moment and then piped, "Where’s the girl?"
"What girl, brother?"
"The one who landed in the plane," Monk frowned. "An’ talk like a danged gentleman or I’ll push in your face!"
The bronze man said, "Any trouble that Monk gets into should not surprise us."
He grabbed two of the assailants—burly fellows with square jaws and massive shoulders—and started giving examples of a Cuban rhumba player shaking two gourds. The gourds, in this case, were two human heads, and they rattled nicely when Monk banged them together.
Monk shook his fist beneath the man’s nose. "See this?" he piped.
A flickering of the man’s eyes said he understood.
"Truth serum," Monk explained, indicating his fist.
Monk complained, "I don’t get this. The town’s dead, the people what ain’t in it are dead, and yet as soon as you start somethin’—well, bingo!—up pops a gang of plug ugliest.
[A sword can also stab and slice] Ham, preferring more deft methods of fighting, had pulled a long, thin sword from the handle of his trick cane, which he always carried. The tip of that sword cane contained a chemical drug of mild form, but which would temporarily paralyze a victim who received one of its jabs.
Oddly, one of the assailants seemed to know about the menace of that sword, for he screamed, "Look out for that thing, Joe! It’ll knock you stiffer than a board." He started retreating.
But when Hyacinth set down the pail of water and spoke, he sounded as hard-boiled as a Tenth Avenue kid.
[Calls the 86th floor library an "apartment"] SOMEWHERE a signal sounded. It was one of the devices of Doc Savage that indicated one of the high-speed elevators had stopped at this floor. A moment later a small light in a wall panel told them someone was outside the heavy, specially constructed door to the apartment.
The lined, age-old face split in a grin. "Hey, hey!" the evil-faced old woman said. "They’ve stolen the skeleton."
"The one that used to hang in the belfry."
Doc Savage’s metallic features were expressionless. "It might be a good idea," he said, "to explain exactly who you are."
"I’m the witch," the old hag cackled. "Around here they call me Hannah. You look on that biggest gravestone outside and you’ll see my name. It gets them angry around here because I won’t stay dead."
Another thug said dryly, "Boy, somebody oughta page Fred Allen and tell him there won’t be any Town Hall tonight!"
Each of the four gunmen was cool-eyed, grim, deadly calm. They weren’t the kind of excited mobsters who get hopped up on dope and commit one or two spectacular robberies and then get caught. These fellows, it was evident, knew their business.
Monk had made a speech. First to the townspeople. Then at the sheriff’s, before every law officer that could be found. At first no one would believe the truth about Jesse Benedict. But the chemist named incidents, tied them in with mysterious things that had happened.
And lovely Pat Savage and June Knight helped. They did some barnstorming on their own part. Men did not have to be tempted to listen to two such lovely girls. Soon they were departing to gather others. The posse slowly grew. At eight that night it numbered over a hundred armed men, machine guns, even a short-range cannon located at an armory a few miles away...
AT eleven that night, honest men, led by burly Monk Mayfair, struck at the mansion of crime. With flares burning, machine guns mounted on rumbling trucks, and with well over a hundred men armed and grim, the attack moved across the green, smooth lawns of Benedict’s shore estate.
Hex is a fun book for Halloween or any other religious holiday.
082 - The Dagger In The Sky:
"Three times the dagger had appeared — destroyed — then disappeared! Three times the knife of KUKULKAN hung in the sky, two hundred feet tall, while death struck. The Man of Bronze stalks the dark secret of the blade — a quest that takes him deep into the jungle to the very edge of doom!"
"You’re one of those idiots who spends his time trying to make a better world, aren’t you? Well, we’re offering you the chance of your lifetime."...
"And why not, you idiot?"
December, 1939's Doc Savage dime novel is a very good adventure and I forgive it the one cheap out of explaining the death-dealing daggers with an editorial redaction in the name of national security:
B. A. ARTHUR shut his mouth, opened it, asked: "You saw through the daggers, too?"
Doc Savage named a chemical.
(Author’s note—The names of chemicals and chemical concoctions which might be converted to criminal use are purposefully omitted from this book.)
"That substance," he said, "when kept sealed from the air, is almost as solid as metal. However, after it is exposed to the air for a period of time, it evaporates—just as, for instance, does the material called ‘dry ice.’ The daggers were made of that chemical, kept sealed until used, and shortly evaporated, thus disappearing very mysteriously."
The mysterious dagger in the sky is given a basic resolve but it's not bad and the thing isn't presented as anything more than a simple visual anyway:
THE blade, at a conservative estimate, was two hundred feet long. The hilt was less, perhaps fifty feet, while the cross guard was twenty feet or so in length. It was black, intensely black, even in moonlight, which tends to make all things seem gray.
The resemblance the thing bore to a dagger was instantly noticeable. The long blade came to a needle point; the whole thing lying, roughly, in a north-and-south direction across the sky, the tip pointing to the south.
"The black daggers which appear in the sky," Doc Savage continued, "are simply specially constructed Very pistol, or signal pistol, cartridges. Such shells are usually made to explode in balls of smoke, or different colored lights. You use a shell which explodes in four different directions, in the shape of a cross with one arm much longer, which forms the recognizable likeness of a dagger."
Sanda MacNamara is the lead female day-player and she's fleshed out as well as anyone ever has in the Doc Savage universe. Her interactions with Doc throughout the book are fluid, natural, and substantial. The last line sums her up nicely:
"Did you expect anything else?" Sanda asked.
"You mean—shooting us at dawn?"
"Under the circumstances, they’re behaving logically."
"They might at least have been original."
The expected boring patch of back-and-forth and both scenic and boat/plane exposition didn't materialize and the last third was fresh and fun, also against expectations. President Gatun MacNamara's appearance is a welcome addition of a fascinating character late in the proceedings:
MACNAMARA stood scowling at them, upper lip lifted enough to show teeth, the black gopher eyebrows crouched close together above the bridge of his nose, the gun absolutely still in his hand.
Then he put the gun away.
"Sorry about flashing the gun on you," he said. "I was afraid you would jump me and maybe do something drastic before I had time to explain."
"Explain what?" Doc studied him.
"There is a microphone in your cell," old Gatun MacNamara said, "and I overheard what you said to this fellow,"—he looked at Van Jelk, and his eyebrows gave an uncomplimentary jump—"about a man and his promises. I liked that."
Sanda began smiling. She said: "Dad, no wonder most of your political enemies eventually go to insane asylums. Nobody can predict what you’ll do."
"Hell, I’m perfectly transparent," Gatun said, and grinned.
The treasure at stake is a beatific little country in South America that America's One Percenters of 1939 plan to turn into a fascistic tax haven:
"We will create a sanctuary for wealth," B. A. Arthur said grimly. "There will be no income tax, no inheritance tax, no tax on any business enterprise of any size. There will be no regulations. Operating from such a country, we will soon make it the financial center of the world."
"What about the natives of Cristobal?"
"Oh, them? They will be shown their place." B. A. Arthur suddenly pounded the table. "There will be none of this damned rights-of-labor stuff! No unions. The first time the fools go on strike, we’ll have them shot down. That’ll teach them!"
They held to their seats and taxied to the hangar, the doors of which could be opened by tapping out a combination on the short-wave radio in the plane, this door opener being a gadget similar to those long used in telegraph-relay offices.
"The soles weren’t crepe rubber. They were a chemical composition which slowly wears away, and in doing so, leaves a footprint which can be made visible by chemical treatment. Monk perfected those shoe soles himself, uses them all the time, is very proud of them, and wears out a pair of them every two weeks on the average."
Doc Savage flew the plane alone, relaxed in the comfortable seat. The air was sultry, the whole aspect of the world was unpleasant, and he was glad to be heading south on his first real vacation.
It was his intention that nothing should happen to him—except eating and sleeping and fishing—for at least a month.
Recently it had occurred to him that he might be turning into too much of a machine—becoming, in fact, as superhuman as many persons thought he was. He did not like that idea. He had always been apprehensive lest something of the kind occur. The scientists who had trained him during his childhood had been afraid of his losing human qualities; they had guarded him against this as much as possible. When a man’s entire life is fantastic, he must guard against his own personality becoming strange.
He had made scientific discoveries in a dozen fields that were half a century ahead of the times; mention of his name was enough to give the jitters to criminals in any part of the world; he could be instantly received into the presence of any president, king or dictator in the world.
For dinner he deliberately ordered one or two dishes which scientists claimed people would be better off if they never ate. On this vacation he wasn’t going to live scientifically if he could help it. He spent two hours over dinner.
[Take That, Star Wars!] Doc Savage said, suddenly and loudly, "It’s a trap!"
He was not definitely suspicious of the waiter, just making a test.
The "waiter" gave himself away. He jumped wildly for the door.
Monk wasn’t surprised—he rather suspected that he was aware of only about one-hundredth of the plans and precautions of the bronze man, judging from the fact that one seemed to crop up exactly when it was needed. It was this facility for taking precautions that accounted for Doc’s success, as well as for his having managed to live as long as he had.
[This is saying Doc doesn't know words used by Johnny] Johnny answered, using small words. Johnny habitually used his many-syllabled jaw breakers, but to Doc Savage, who probably could come nearer understanding them than anyone else, Johnny was always careful to use ordinary words.
"I see." The girl settled back on the cushions. "I’m beginning to understand something that always puzzled me."
"What do you mean?"
"It has nothing to do with this matter. It happened about two years ago. Our newspapers in Cristobal City published the story that you were to appear in the city—I think it was in connection with some convention of medical-science experts on tropical diseases, which was later canceled. But for six months there was hardly a crime of importance in Cristobal City. Our chief of police told me the rumor of your coming was responsible. I didn’t believe him."
Doc said, "He was probably mistaken. Some other factor must have cut down the amount of crime."
The bronze man climbed to the upper jungle lanes, then proceeded to travel in a fashion that Sanda had considered possible only in comic strips and motion pictures. Time after time, the bronze giant ran along swaying boughs so high in the air that Sanda felt faint when she looked down. He covered, with easy leaps, dizzy spaces.
[Doc didn't seem to notice her much before this paragraph, but OK] He glanced at Sanda MacNamara, then looked away and made a mental resolution. He would have to stop letting his mind wander to the item of femininity, even to as exquisitely put-together a sample as this one. In his profession, he had long ago concluded that women were synonymous with trouble, and here was an example to illustrate how right he had been. He had been thinking girl, and he would have to stop that, even if it might be a hell of a job.
"Oh, I’ve seen the black daggers all right. But there is a sensible explanation somewhere."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because there is supposed to be an explanation for everything, isn’t there?"
The bronze man turned his attention back to his flying.
"That theory," he said dryly, "is one I’ve always had faith in."
"A man’s promise," Doc said dryly, "is something like a dog. If a dog bites you once, it gets a permanent reputation as a biting dog."
[There's an unintentionally dirty line that ends with...]
Monk gazed at Sanda and said, "So am I," after he got his breath.
"Sorry, but you really cawn’t be admitted," he said.
"We’re lookin’ for a guy, so don’t get us riled," Monk advised.
"Listen, pal, take a walk or I’ll bop your teeth loose!" advised the butler.
He had lost his accent.
Monk said, "Start bopping, then!" and feinted with his left. The man ducked—into Monk’s right. Monk had arm muscles which could straighten out a horseshoe—the butler’s heels came perhaps two inches off the floor. Doc caught the man.
Monk, who detested obvious aristocrats, took off his rather sloppy old hat and made the gesture of slapping it angrily against his leg, but released the hat so that it rolled across the floor and stopped near Van Jelk’s expensive handmade shoes. Monk then went over to pick up his hat, but instead, grasped Van Jelk’s ankles and jerked. The man fell, and Monk crawled on. For a while, there was the noise of their heels and elbows and fists knocking the floor. Van Jelk wore an expensive suit, and Monk proceeded to tear most of the pockets out of it without finding a weapon.
[Isn't Monk was the only one to fall forghosts and such?] IT was Monk, the skeptic, who emitted an astounded, unbelieving noise that resembled a bark, then sprang toward the man in the chair.
[Johnny has a clinical personality disorder] He began, "Even peripatetic ratiocination—"
"Haven’t you," Monk interrupted, "got some little words?"
"Little one-syllable ones for Monk," Ham explained.
Johnny said, "What I started to say was that ordinary reasoning wouldn’t lead one to expect the man coming to a place like this. Do you know who lives here?"
[How you know Johnny will wind up at their destination in disguise] "Well, we got aboard—with our trunks," Monk said, and grinned. "All but Johnny. You said he stays in New York, didn’t you?"
"Our seven guests all right?" Doc asked.
"They’re a little peeved," Monk admitted cheerfully.
The car door opened and a pair of fists came out.
[Great opening sentence] THE street should be very clean. The long-faced man had been sweeping it since daylight.
THERE is a saying that when you visit the most Godforsaken outlands of the world, you will invariably find two inhabitants, one of them a Chinese storekeeper, the other a Scotchman operating a bank.
"Joe, you’re as crazy as a bedbug!" said one. "His name wasn’t even listed in the lobby."
"Don’t care. He has his headquarters on the eighty-sixth floor. I know a guy who knows him, I tell you."
"Then why ain’t he listed?"
"How would I know? Because of guys like you and me, maybe—mugs who are just curious. Would you want guys barging in on you just to see what you looked like? It must be hell to be a celebrity."
THE blade, at a conservative estimate, was two hundred feet long. The hilt was less, perhaps fifty feet, while the cross guard was twenty feet or so in length. It was black, intensely black, even in moonlight, which tends to make all things seem gray.
The resemblance the thing bore to a dagger was instantly noticeable. The long blade came to a needle point; the whole thing lying, roughly, in a north-and-south direction across the sky, the tip pointing to the south.
Sid said, "A man named Juan Don MacNamara sold the black stone to me. Juan Don MacNamara is the son of President Gatun MacNamara, of the South American republic of Cristobal."
(Author’s note: The name of the republic, Cristobal, is a fictitious one, for obvious reasons.)...
The operator said, "There may be some difficulty in routing your call. Cristobal is at war with the neighboring republic of Hispanola."
(Author’s note: As in the case of Cristobal, the name of Hispanola is also a fictitious one for reasons which later in this story become quite obvious.)...
Doc Savage named a chemical.
(Author’s note—The names of chemicals and chemical concoctions which might be converted to criminal use are purposefully omitted from this book.)
Certain qualities they all had in common: their complete self-possession—fabulous wealth gives a man that; their obvious alertness of senses and their probable sharpness of mind, these being two facilities naturally ingrained in men having money. And all of them, it seemed, held varying degrees of contempt for others of less worldly station. Not that they were overbearing; these men had too much cleverness and polish for that. Their condescension took the form of a calm acceptance of their own importance. When they entered a conversation among lesser lights, they naturally monopolized it. They were excessively polite to each other.
THE officer spoke an excellent brand of English, except that it was as expressionless as a 1907 phonograph.
[Flames don't drool and the dragging feet of an unconscious person would be very noticeable. Better if he was in a wheelchair] They walked boldly toward the line of planes which stood ready, motors grumbling and coughing, exhaust stacks drooling blue flames. Doc carried Van Jelk with an arm around the man’s chest, so that it was not too noticeable that the fellow was unconscious.
The Indians, however, had a standard word for American efficiency. It was "tectatan." It meant, "I don’t understand."
In justice, it should be added that after Americans had been there a while, they did not understand either. There was no necessity for working, since nature provided sufficiently. So why work? There were Yankees in Cristobal who had managed to become even lazier than any of the natives.
Like Mussolini, old Gatun knew the value of letting a business caller have a long walk before reaching his desk.
Add The Dagger In The Sky to the list of best Doc Savage novels even if just on the strength of the last act and the wonderful interactions between Doc and Sanda MacNamara.
083 - The Other World:
"From the moment Decimo Tercio appeared, it was obvious that everything connected with him was unearthly. His appearance was decidedly bizarre and the goods he carried for sale were astonishingly unique. The strange visitor remained on Earth less than four days, but in that short time he managed to lure Doc Savage into the most nightmarish escapade of his danger-studded career."
From January, 1940, what I thought would be another trip down the rabbit hole to a dinosaur world wound up being, at least according to the Sanctum reprint, a hollow-earth tale in line with 1935's Murder Melody. I found The Other World to be mostly negligible to where I had a hard time finishing sentences and paragraphs as there wasn't much to be gained by doing so. The story falls short on every level. Doc + 5 have no memory of being in the prehistoric dino-world of 1933's The Land Of Terror. Doc's basic strong guy+ and he's not ahead of any curve or on top of any game. Gadgets are few and far between. This other world has a lesser gravity but it only effects the action maybe twice when Dent remembers he wrote it existed. The light of the place is explained this way, which even I recognize as random words put together to make a sentence:
The bronze man had by now formed a theory of how the strange world could exist. The matter of light, for instance—if he was not mistaken, it came from some volcanic crevasse, where vapors escaped with blazing incandescence that reached such a temperature that the light had most of the qualities of ordinary sunlight.
The primitive good looking people and the more primitive verbal cavemen exist in the same general space without the former being wiped out by the latter is as reasonable as the barricades the more civilized primitives put up keeping them safe from dinosaurs. The Land Of Terror was a dinosaur hunting ground while The Other World has a few dangers but is mostly manageable and sometimes cute! All the elements are there but I saw no effort to make The Other World anything more than a paycheck earner. I'd pass on this title if I were you and instead read the manual on the electric vegetable steamer you bought for reasons that still escape you.
Exposition Fail in bold:
You see?" Fancife chuckled again. "Never occurred to him that we would grab the fastest plane we could get as soon as he escaped from us. Grab a racing plane and whirl right up here to Target Mountain and wait for him to show up."
Fancife walked over to Tercio and gave his head a shove. "Forgot you told us Target Mountain was one of the landmarks you had to find on your way back, didn’t you?"
Doc said: "You beat us all here with a very fast plane, and when Tercio appeared, you forced him down? Is that the way it was?"
While I'm glad he's not crippled with doubt from the first page to last, the Clark Savage, Jr. of The Other World is Low-Grade Doc:
They fought. The newcomer, remarkably muscular, made some headway at first, hooking a terrific right to Doc’s jaw. Doc was unable to roll sufficiently with the blow, saw several constellations, and sank to his knees. He got hold of his opponent, however, dragged him down. They fought for a while.
The remainder of the horses had their tails up and were going around and around the pasture. Nothing short of a pony, a lasso rope and considerable cowboy dexterity would trap one of the animals. Doc tried to outsprint a large roan gelding and get the horse in a corner, but the roan won.
The bronze man, looking disgusted with himself, hurriedly dialed another number on the telephone. He spoke for a short time, hung up with a deepened expression of self-disapproval.
"We muffed this nicely," he said in a grim voice.
ASTONISHMENT jerked Chris Columbus into a rigid statue, Doc Savage was equally surprised, having had no suspicion that Two Wink and Fancife were any nearer than St. Louis.
As the giant cat slammed back to earth, Doc was probably more frightened than at any time in his career. It was as if he was undergoing a hideous experience from a nightmare.
The idea of being unarmed in this phantasmagoria of a place was not pleasant. As he crept along—he was as human as the next man—he had a great deal of difficulty with his courage. Fear wanted to overwhelm him. Complete panic surged at his nerves. He had an almost overwhelming desire to surrender sanity and plunge shrieking through the fabulous jungle.
Aulf jumped up and down, ape-fashion. He made faces. He threw back his head and roared.
Doc did the same thing—with trimmings. Instead of merely jumping, he turned several flips and handsprings, an accomplishment which was made even easier because of the appreciably lessened force of gravity. He made faces—they must have been very ferocious, judging from the effects. And he yelled.
Aulf was as amazed as the others. Then it dawned on him that he had been outdone, and he launched into a fresh exhibition.
When it came Doc’s turn, he bested his previous effort. Particularly on the yelling part—he added whistles, howls and several Bronx cheers for effect.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the display, it occurred to him how silly the whole thing would look to a bystander, and he stopped, embarrassed.
[How does one make caveman howling sound insulting?] He was careful to make his howling sound formidable, but not insulting.
Renny's hands are gallon-sized. Doc flashes a number of credential letters and official looking cards to get cooperation. Five dollars seems to be the standard bribe.
His mouth was astoundingly large, his small twinkling eyes were almost lost under bulging eyebrows, and his nose had been broken so often by unfriendly fists that it had about given up the struggle to look like a nose.
[Monk is a degenerate male whore] The girl got up from where she had sprawled and said something not very complimentary while the gate was being closed. Then she turned and saw Chris Columbus.
The girl lost color and stood very still. Then her lips parted and she said something, but it was not audible. She became quite rigid, and the exultation flowing through her was almost visible.
At last, "Chris!" she gasped.
Chris’ face was strangely gentle and completely joyful. He said something, words that they could not understand, but which must be some phrase of love that Lanta had taught him.
And after that, suddenly, they were in each other’s arms, not kissing but just holding each other tightly, with tears in their eyes.
Monk, abruptly realizing what small chance he had with this girl, uttered under his breath, "Blast the luck! Some other guy always beats me to the prettiest ones!"
Renny’s shouting voice was a tremendous thing that rivaled the twin foghorns on the forward funnel of the Queen Mary.
[So, what does this mean exactly?] The situation seemed to worry Renny, who was a professed woman hater.
He produced one of several convenient documents which he habitually carried and said, "Elevator inspection." The document was one certifying he was an elevator inspector, and was a phony only to the extent that it was not issued by the City of St. Louis, but by one of the largest concerns manufacturing elevators.
Doc explained: "We are Federal agents, making an investigation."
The statement was true—he produced credentials and showed them to the farmer. The appointments to Federal service, a great convenience at times, had been given them in recognition for past services. They also possessed honorary commissions in the police departments of New York City, Scotland Yard and several other of the world’s large cities, the bronze man’s work on the side of the law being well-known.
"Can you give me a good reason why I should furnish you with such information?"
Doc identified himself and added that he was a Federal investigator, and that the man could call the police if he didn’t believe it.
Dinosaur Role Call:
pterodactyl, "Saber-tooth!", tyrannosaurus, "Somewhat like weasels", "Brontosaurus",
The thing weighed at least four or five tons. It was apparent, too, that it would soon tire Johnny and overtake him...
The animal had a long neck and a longer tail, and remarkably short legs for the pace it was traveling. Its weight was indicated by the way it shook the earth with its pounding feet.
[Good partners-at-first-sight revelation] "I like your style." He scowled at Two Wink. "I don’t think I would care much for you personally, but you don’t handle yourself bad. I could use you."
Two Wink said frankly: "I was just thinking the same thing. We might do each other some good."
There was a silence. Then, without further speech, with no other manifestation, they shook hands to seal the bargain. Another silence followed, for they were both somewhat surprised, suddenly realizing that they understood each other fully, that their minds worked in exactly the same fashion, so that each seemed to know exactly what the other thought and intended to do. It was almost uncanny.
"We should make a team," Fancife said.
Two Wink put away his derringer, admitted, "Yes, we should."
"What happened to you?"
"I had a fainting spell," Chris explained, "and it must have embarrassed my friend greatly, because when I faint, I thresh around violently and utter embarrassing cries. I presume that is why my friend tied me and gagged me. I presume also that my friend has merely dashed out for a doctor, which leads me to suggest that we depart rapidly, a doctor under the circumstances being inclined to commit me to the goon house, which I would dislike."
The taxi driver grinned and said: "You may not be the best liar, but you’re a long-winded one."
[Really? This worked? Between this and Doc's dares to check his credentials he's one step away from screaming "I'm telling Mom!"] Chris found the hotel manager and said, "I want a look at Tercio’s room, and it’s important enough to me that I’m going to be blunt about it. Either you go up there now with a master key and unlock the room and let me look it over, or I’m going to call the police and tell them Tercio has disappeared, which will get in the newspapers and do your hotel no good."
The fact that Doc Savage helped people without charging them was naturally a magnet that drew many persons who had the wrong idea. Many a bum and no-account, worthless moocher and tramp in search of a handout—they came wanting every sum from fifty cents to fifty thousand dollars—had migrated to the place at one time or another. There were some deserving individuals, of course, and these got understanding treatment and help—but no money. They got jobs, not jobs with big salaries and short hours, but jobs with hard work and possibilities for betterment. The out-and-out moochers caught hell at the hands of a staff of expert hell-dishers-out.
To handle the problems of these people who really required nothing extraordinary in the line of a solution, Doc Savage maintained on the ground floor the reception staff which arranged jobs for the needy, or dished out the hell to the undeserving.
These preliminary reception committees served a double purpose, both of which were defensive. They defended Doc from what could easily become a twenty-four-hour-a-day job of interviewing persons with piddling problems—not a few of them merely curiosity lookers come to get a look at a famous person. They also defended against very real enemies who frequently concocted some ingenious schemes for killing Doc Savage.
Doc Savage went to the telephone office, where he parted with some more money. As a result, he got all the country lines radiating out of that exchange hooked together, and a "general ring" given. The "general ring" was a succession of ten short rings, a sort of summons that would draw all country subscribers to their phones.
[This way the bad guys have no idea it's you! Right up there with his "Doc-1" license plate in The Annihilist! ] The plane they were flying, one of the bronze man’s largest ships, was painted a bronze color which Doc used most frequently, and the hue was not one readily adapted to camouflage against snow.
084 - The Angry Ghost:
"The mysterious menace came out of nowhere to strike along the Atlantic coast. In its wake, buildings, planes and bridges crumbled. The government was worried — soon there would be widespread panic. The Man of Bronze leaped into action to unmask the villain and expose his cunning treachery."
The third William G. Bogart (slash) Lester Dent contribution, dated February, 1940, isn't bad but it's subliminally burdened by a rapid-fire procedural focus that while succinct in extraneous details it comes at you in an insistent barrage. It's busy all right, and the action is well written, but it lacks overall impact, like most free form jazz, and it's ok but it blends into a static. It's a drone of actions and events in need of larger set pieces. The book elicits little emotional response and there's no wavy line progression of storytelling with peaks and valleys. It's an action-packed adventure that somehow reads as a flat line. It's interesting just in that regard. Here's an example:
Monk, dazed but far from kayoed, went into action. They were trying—more than one man had hold of him—to half drag, half shove him into some space that was beyond the room where Ham had disappeared. It seemed to Monk that a dozen thugs must have jumped him.
Fists slugged away at his battered jaw; knuckles raked his scarred features. It didn’t take much of that to get Monk mad. He grabbed assorted legs, arms, heads and did all the battering he could. He heard breath explode from tortured lungs; yelps of pain come from his unseen assailants’ throats.
Monk convulsed and threw off his attackers as though they were so many midgets. He bellowed, and cracked heads together. After a while he drew up short, and he realized that he was swinging at air.
Doc doesn't appear until Chapter 5. It's claimed Doc knows Juju and Jujitsu, but they might be the same thing. The Sanctum reprint details the story's journey from Street & Smith idea meeting to Bogart's assignment and then Dent's reworking to where he feels it would take less time to write it from scratch. His letter to Bogart about his work is either brutally honest or brutally cruel.
Doc disguising himself as fat and old Jason Lynns is a failure of believability, especially when it fools his niece up close. The scene with a pilot on a suicide mission fails because there's no fanatical cause involved. There's only one instance of unreal physical action:
Carrying his two unconscious victims, Doc set out in pursuit of Ambrose. From far ahead, through the passageway, came the echoes of pounding feet; Ambrose, it was evident, had almost reached the outside, through the workshed.
Doc Savage ran along the tunnel-like passageway, up the flight of steps, through the upper room and out into the small clearing in the woods, where warm morning sunlight hammered down through the trees. There was no one in sight.
As a neat feature the story opens with some verbiage and then a Cast Of Characters listing appears. The ones for Doc's gang are standard but the day-players are given snappy descriptions:
Cast of Characters
in "The Angry Ghost"
Others in the story are:
WARREN ALLEN—Who seems like just an overdressed English dude but is much more than that.
AMBROSE—Who acts like a thug but is a pretty smooth guy.
ANNABEL LYNN—A girl that Monk goes for in a big way.
NANNY HANKS—An old babe that goes for Monk in a big way.
COLONEL JASON LYNN—Who in his own special field is as famous an inventive wizard, almost, as Doc Savage himself.
Ham twisted his neck until he was able to grip the cigar with his teeth, pull it out and drop it to the floor. Monk rolled over, found the thing with his bound hands, broke it and felt powder run on to the floor.
Monk explained, "Some stuff Doc invented. It’ll rot these cords as soon as it’s been exposed to the air a second."
[In the long run as realistic as bullet-proof underwear that protects like armor] Earlier, when first folded face-down in the floor, Doc had flicked into his mouth a capsule of a type which he always carried in his vest pocket, a capsule containing chemicals with an oxygen base that enabled him to refrain from breathing the gas-filled air until the place was clear.
[In a Stratosphere Plane] When they hit thirty thousand feet altitude, if it had not been for the oxygen suits both men wore, they would have been unconscious...
They kept dropping rapidly. Variation in air pressure was terrific; it meant constant regulating of release valves in the oxygen units, and it was much like the change in pressure encountered by a deep-sea diver.
At fifteen thousand feet, they were able to discard the artificial aid of oxygen.
"I heard it," said the stout woman, matter-of-factly. She motioned to a cabinet built into the wall. "It’s on that recording machine."
The machine was a device constructed with two electromagnets, between which passed a thin steel wire. The apparatus used a similar principle to the phonograph, only in this case the recording was made by variable magnetizing of the wire instead of on a record. By playing the wire back, the original recording could be obtained.
From the pocket of his concealed equipment vest, Doc grasped a fistful of small pellets. Several of these he tossed out upon the water, in front of the approaching mob.
Immediately, the water must have created some chemical reaction in the pellets, for they burst with terrific detonations, knocked up sheets of water, and blue flame seared the nearer of the yelling attackers. They started to retreat with singed faces and scorched hair.
DOC SAVAGE had been searched, but not bound. He wrenched off his coat, threw it down, stamped on it—making sure his shoe soles crunched certain buttons on the coat, and these broke into sizzling flame and the whole coat began smoldering and giving off evil-looking vapor which came from the chemicals with which the coat was saturated.
The quiet man smiled thinly. "That term—the angry ghost—is childish," he said. "Suppose we call the device by its true designation."
"A sonic cohesion destroyer," the man explained...
"Did you," said the quiet-voiced man, "ever see an opera singer break a wineglass by singing close to it?"
"It is a well-known trick," Doc admitted.
"That explains, in a general way, how our device functions," the man advised. "Every object has a vibrating point, and that is why the wineglass, for instance, breaks. We have gone a step farther—or our inventors did—and discovered that every molecule of matter has a vibrating point. In other words, when subjected to a certain wavelength of combination sonic and electric nature, any molecule can be so disturbed—not shattered, mind you, but disturbed—that it loses its cohesion with other molecules."
"And cohesion is destroyed? The object falls to dust?"
Without elaborating on this rather mysterious remark, the bronze man walked to the plane. He was familiar with the type of craft, having created the basic designs for the ship. He noted that the instrument layout in the cockpit had been altered from his own layout, and improved, he was willing to admit.
"Don’t you ever trust anybody when they ask you to?" Nanny Hanks countered.
"Not if I can get out of it."
There was refinement in the surroundings, elegance; there was one of the best orchestras—no slam-bang bunch of wild Indians called a swing band, but a soft ensemble that played with feeling.
[Poorly done exposition] "How come the bullet didn’t kill you?" Long Tom asked.
"Bullet-proof vest," Doc explained.
[A sociopath] Ambrose gave a grimace that was supposed to be a smile.
[What's a "Talk-Grin"?] The man lifted his head and laughed wildly, but his mirth could not be heard above the propeller roar; instead, there was only the distorted talk-grin on his face.
 Renny, puzzled, asked, "Anybody declared war on us?"
Doc shook his head. "Relations with all foreign countries are the same as usual," he said.
"Which means everybody in Europe’s tryin’ to borrow money from us," boomed Renny.
The Angry Ghost gets better upon reflection. It needs more buildups and releases as the events blend into each other. It's exciting and monotone at the same time. It's definitely worth reading just for the effect.
085 - The Spotted Men:
"The events were bizarre. First, a millionaire industrialist vanished. Then, his workers broke out in red spots and went crazy. The Man of Bronze and his courageous crew sped to the scene of disaster to search for the perfidious plotter willing to gamble the minds and bodies of men to amass a vast fortune. Were they already too late?"
"As long as I get paid, I don’t care if the guy after that formula is Mickey Mouse!"
March, 1940's solo effort from William G. Bogart is a very good story with a marked lack of exposition/recap overload and a last act in the steel mill that's thrilling and creative. The first chapter is very nice and there's not much that needs polishing in an adventure that manages to be engaging throughout. Visually it's exciting and the plot moves along at a nice clip.
The only major point that needs correcting is to change the ending where the police give back to Doc the arrested bad guys. They don't know of Doc's Crime College and would not approve if they did. Because of the lobotomies and creating an army of Doc Savage-worshipping followers and all. Just have them sent directly to the facility sans the police holding them.
I'd also remove Chemistry and Habeas' involvement as they barely factor into the plot and bringing them along on a dangerous mission is both dumb and animal abuse.
To be made as a TV movie/tvshow The Spotted Men would require very little adaptation cleanup - a pleasant surprise from William G. Bogart.
Doc Savage returned to the small woods outside the smoky mill town. He proceeded directly to the equipment case which he had left concealed in brush...
Then he flicked open the latch and opened the case so that it was spread out on the ground. It was the empty case which Doc had left here in the woods earlier. For an equipment case that was obviously empty, Doc showed great interest in its interior. A second later, reason for this was revealed.
Doc’s fingers pried beneath a corner of the inside lining. There was a slight click, and next the entire bottom of the big case had flipped outward. A second, identical bottom of the case came into view. The partition which the bronze man had released was false!
And concealed beneath the false bottom and the real one, was a black, small box about as thick as a sandwich and almost as square.
A round, tiny glass lens protruded from one side of the object, and when Doc picked up the flat object it could be seen that the lens fitted neatly into a tiny hole made through the larger equipment case.
The small object, apparently, was a camera; and the heavy equipment case had been so placed by Doc Savage that the camera lens pointed upward at anyone who might have been inquisitive enough to bend down over Doc’s property hidden in the woods.
[Or, Chastity Briefs] IN times of danger, Doc Savage wore beneath his clothing a chain mail garment made to stop bullets. Hairy Monk frequently called it the "iron underwear." But it had saved the life of Doc Savage more than once.
For the lining of Doc Savage’s wide belt contained a number of small, explosive pellets. The pellets could be set off by a sharp, hard concussion.
[Doc, he strong this month] Each of the cases weighed well over a hundred pounds. Yet the bronze man lifted all three easily, swung them beneath his arms and started out toward the woods surrounding the deserted field.
[Barely a passable disguise because shirtless he's going to stand out like Mr. Olympia at your local gym, no matter how strapping they are] But a few moments later it was apparent why Doc Savage had done this. Working with materials from one of the heavy cases, he was soon dressed as one of the half-stripped steelworkers.
Thus Doc passed practically unnoticed among the workers. All were strapping big men, and Doc was merely considered one of them.
[Always good when Doc goes the Sherlock Holmes route] The bronze man had figured this out from impressions made by the men’s shoes, and from the sizes of those shoes. The one set of prints showed very large, very long shoes. This would indicate that the wearer was tall. But Doc knew that the man was not heavy or stout because impressions of the large shoes were little deeper in the earth than the others.
Next, the bronze man scrutinized the automobile tire tracks. Style and size of the tire treads told Doc that the machine had been a large one. The bronze man, in his many scientific experiments had studied thousands of types of impressions made by all sorts of things. He also measured the wheelbase of the car, then again carefully went over impressions made by the front wheels.
To Monk and Ham, he explained, "Deeper impressions made by the forward wheels show that it was a front-wheel drive type. There are only two or three makes of that kind of car on the market. But only one of this wheelbase."
From early childhood, the bronze man, along with his rigid mental training, had been taught the art of self-defense. This included rough-and-tumble fighting as well as the more skilled sciences of boxing and wrestling. Even as a young boy, Doc—who even then had a remarkable physique—had been pitted against two or three lads each equal to him in size. An hour every day had been spent in training Doc Savage how to protect himself. And this had been only a part of a scientific education that covered both development of his body and his brain.
[Just like it would for a Mr. Olympia winner] But before leaving the plane, Doc changed his attire somewhat. He was wearing an ordinary suit, but he added a hat to his dress. Strangely, this simple act greatly changed the bronze giant’s appearance.
For Doc Savage never wore a hat. Wearing one, with his unusual bronze-hued hair concealed, he looked strikingly different.
[The "Gentleman's Homely"] He was dark and not unhandsome, with sharply defined features.
[All things considered a hugely stupid move on her part] Pat’s voice came back on the speaker. "See here," she said crisply, "Molly Mason and I have figured out Doc’s purpose. He hates to see me go up in planes. That was just a stunt to stop me. So we’re taking off immediately."...
Doc Savage’s lovely cousin continued: "We took up this new plane. I . . . I guess Doc was right after all. Ham, there’s something wrong with one of the steering control cables!"
[Is this a divorce or violence reference?] To Tink O’Neil, Monk explained, "In an unguarded moment, this ambulance-chaser"—and the chemist indicated smartly attired Ham—"got into the organization of Doc Savage. He’s a shyster lawyer that represents husbands who kick their wives downstairs."
Tink O’Neil nodded. He gunned the motor, and the soft purr became a roar. There was the smell of castor oil, some of which is used in all racing cars.
[Always a favorite] He said, "Look, I haven’t any change here, operator. But it’s urgent that I reach a person named Doc Savage, in New York. You’ll have to reverse the charges if you can. Maybe the New York end can help you find the address of Doc Savage. Or perhaps—"
The operator’s words shocked Tink O’Neil. For she said, "Oh, it’s no trouble at all. I can get Doc Savage for you in a moment. Just hold the line."
[He later died] Crash of the tons of sheet steel shook the whole foundry. The floor quivered and trembled beneath the bronze man’s feet. And a man lay beneath that piece of armor plate, crushed so flat that not even an inch of clearance was between the huge steel plate and the floor.
[Fat shaming was a major feature of Doc Savage] He kept watching Doc from where he lay sprawled in the comfortable swing. Doc was aware that the man’s eyes were alert enough for one so fat. For all the bulk of him, the formation of Walter’s features said that he could have a pretty good brain. Doc recalled that many fat people are the most sharp-witted.
Chapter XII. DEAD MEN NEVER SQUEAL!
Chapter XIII. HELLO, SUCKER!
Chapter XVI. AND NOW YOU DIE!
[Action!] Though hundreds of men had already quit their jobs because of the red-spotted madness, others still wanted to work. They were willing to take the chance. They needed the money for support of their families.
And so men fought in the streets and stormed the closed gates of the huge plant. At dusk, crowds roamed through the town carrying flares and clubs. They sought out any who might be afflicted with the madness. Everyone so crazed would be killed. A desperate, mob-frenzied attempt was being made to stamp out the terrible menace.
The heavy piece of metal caught fat Walter Mason in the back, between the shoulders. It sent him forward in a sprawling heap—to fall into the very trough of running, molten metal that he had just released in the next furnace.
Walter’s face went down into that gutterlike trough of white-hot steel. His fat hands flung outward and beat at his sides for horror-filled moments. And then movement of his bulky body and his hands stopped.
[This is wrong because the police don't turn over criminals to him when the story resolves itself] Wart’s mobsters were taken out one at a time, to be turned over to police. Later, the men would be sent to the bronze man’s criminal "college" in upstate New York. It was at Doc’s college that crooks underwent delicate brain operations, that removed all memory of their shady past. In time, they would become useful citizens again.
086 -The Evil Gnome:
"A circus performer, a state governor and a respected banker -- all murdered in the same mysterious way. As the Man of Bronze and his courageous crew rush to uncover the fiendish mastermind responsible, they are drawn more tightly into a web of awesome terror."
April, 1940's The Evil Gnome (by Lester Dent) reminded me of 1947's Target For Death (by William G. Bogart). Both open with an extended sequence focusing in isolation on a strong female lead. Soon enough both stories relegate said strong female to afterthoughts. It's a shame because with little effort they could have been worthy day-players in the Doc Savage oeuvre. Women were granted the right to vote in 1920, if that helps with the evolutionary timeline of gender equality.
Both books feature Doc Savage as normal range peak human with an optimal human personality attached. Monk and Ham don't act like idiot children in their frenemyship and the tales are nicely paced, engaging, and to the point. As it is The Evil Gnome falls short in comparison because its failings are glaring. The story can be repaired in a re-write so all is not lost with what's otherwise a rip-snorting Doc Savage adventure! Doc needs a call to arms, so bypassing the obvious trilling (Kuh-Kaw!!!) how about "Bro-Bronze-Huzzah!"
There's loads of stuff for Doc Savage fans, with smooth descriptions of Doc Savage elements new and old. Doc does odd things for reasons not explained until later and it adds to the story a nice tone of ongoing mystery. This month's female lead is Lion Ellison. She's a big cat circus performer and "Lion" is her given name since "My father and mother were circus, and so were my brother and myself, all our lives." Given her background it would have been cool and easy to have her contribute in some way to a story that talks about the circus a whole lot without ever being in or near one. Taming lions must make you at least calm in a crisis, and it would have been sweet to have her knock out a bad guy with a haymaker at some point.
A typical bit of Doc Savage as regular guy peak human doing what he does best:
Lion cried, "I saw a flashlight!" and ran for the spot where she had seen it.
Doc Savage did nothing very drastic; he merely stood and listened. His sense of hearing was acute. He caught a faint thump of a noise, got down and put his ear against the floor.
He decided that Burdo Brockman, instead of rushing wildly out of the house, had gone into the basement.
Doc's HQ had a dirigible landing pad, which Dent goes out of his way to mock:
She’d read about this particular building, so she’d been prepared to be awed. But not prepared quite sufficiently. It was exactly what they’d said it was. Stupendous. Eighty-six stories it towered, not counting the dirigible mooring mast that some dreamer architect had added to the top, and which had proved about as useful as a pair of tonsils.
The elevator dealio in Doc's building "evolves" and in April, 1940 they settled on:
The elevator, she discovered, was an automatic one. There was no operator. There were merely two buttons, one labeled "Up," the other "Down." And a small plaque over the "Up" button said, "Clark Savage, Jr.," with modest letters. Lion shrugged and gave the button a poke.
The door shut silently and the cage raised upward so swiftly that Lion had to swallow and pump at her ears with her palms to equalize the pressure. Then the cage stopped. The door, however, did not open.
Lion jumped when a voice addressed her from overhead.
"If you will remove that knife from your purse," the voice said, "you will be admitted."
LION glanced upward, saw where the voice came from—there was a small loud-speaker, hitherto unnoticed, in the cage roof. But just how the unseen speaker had known there was a knife in her handbag was a dumfounding mystery.
Doc's a chill dude-bro who knows not everyone gets their money from free Mayan labor:
Lion got her six dollars changed into quarters, dimes and nickels. When she took down the receiver, however, she smiled grimly.
To her complete astonishment, the operator eventually reported that the office of Doc Savage in New York would accept a collect call.
Collodion Glass is part of an obscure photographic process but here it's said to be bulletproof glass:
The car, without giving that appearance, was bodied with armor plate, had windows of thick gelatinous-collodion sandwich glass which was the nearest thing to bulletproof that science had yet developed, and the tires were filled with sponge rubber instead of air. The little man was careful not to roll the window down very far.
This has to be one of the best short Doc scenes:
One other cell was occupied, the inmates being petty criminals, who had been picked up for local crimes. These small-time crooks had been watching with silent interest, but now one of them spoke grimly. "If this is a break—it won’t stop halfway," he snarled. "Turn us loose, or we’ll raise such a hell of a roar that you won’t have a chance of lamming."
Doc said, "We’ll have to do something about that," and walked to the cell. He unlocked the door, stepped inside.
There were blow noises, a yip or two of agony, and then quiet. The bronze man stepped out and locked the door again.
"They’ll probably revive about the same time as the jailer," he said.
All descriptions of Doc's size fascinate me because I try to take Dent's word for it on proportional perspective but you figure a giant man is a giant man no matter what:
Only when Doc Savage was close to her did Lion realize his size. He was a giant, but of such symmetrical muscularity that there was nothing abnormal about his appearance; one had to see him standing close to something to which his size could be compared to realize how big he was.
This Johnny description is classic:
A voice arose from the street that ran along one side of the jail. The voice was that of a very tall and very thin man—in fact, this individual came nearer to being a walking skeleton than it seemed possible of any man. His clothing fit him about as gracefully as sacks draped on a framework of broom handles.
For once Monk gets to prove he's not a dese-dem-dos idiot:
Monk grabbed the prints, eyed them closely. His knowledge of chemistry extended to photographic printing papers; once he had worked several weeks developing a high-speed bromide projection paper of high contrast for press use.
"This is a bromide paper," Monk said, "and it is American paper—not English, as you’d expect to find used in India."
Doc & Co. periodically get pushback by Da Law and this time the punch line is exactly how I'd say it in his shoes:
Ham walked over, shook the heavy door indignantly and shouted, "Listen, you guys, don’t you know who you’ve locked up?"
"Said he was Doc Savage," the sheriff answered, unimpressed.
"Doesn’t that mean anything to you?" Ham yelled.
The sheriff filled his pipe and struck a match without any show of concern. "You fellows trying to tell me how important you are?"
Doc's peak human without being other-wordly and The Evil Gnome makes him an anchor of calmness, control, intelligence, planning, execution, and the correct speech and personality for Doc Savage as optimally realized. Here's two examples of Doc being awesome in real situations that effect everyone, even Doc Savage:
Getting into the water was like entering a bath of sharp needles. The bronze man’s routine of exercises—the regular daily two-hour period which he devoted to scientifically developing his physical and mental faculties—had conditioned his body to intense shock; nevertheless, he had to keep his teeth clamped tightly to prevent them from rattling.
The cold wind pounded his clothing against his body; it pushed at him, and made a doglike whining around the carved facets of the ornamental coping above. There was ice in some of the cracks where his fingertips had to grip; at first, when his fingers were warm, it was easy to tell when they were resting on ice, but soon the cold and strain made it nerve-shatteringly difficult.
Doc's gadget that works -- the powder would indicate if the chemicals on the target's shoes had touched the floor:
Since the day was rapidly turning into a blizzard, they were using the revolving doors. Sidewalks were crowded. Doc was close to the man—thirty feet or so back—when the fellow entered the revolving door, and all set with what resembled a small rubber ball in his hands.
He threw the ball; it struck in the compartment of the rotating door with the man near his feet. It burst, as it was designed to do, and released a small spray of chemical that splashed on the fellow’s shoes and trousers cuffs.
The man glanced down, but the rubber container, having collapsed, resembled a pencil eraser; he shrugged, went on.
Doc took another cage, rode to the sixteenth, got out and produced a sealed metal canister which looked like a talcum-powder can, and in fact was labeled as such.
He sprinkled powder on the floor in front of the door of the elevator which the long-armed man had taken. Nothing happened, so he took the stairs to the next floor.
Doc's gadget that doesn't work -- only because I don't believe in the situation Doc would have access to what he was looking for, considering they were thin glassed marbles which necessitate hazmat storage. If he held the dogs at bay for long enough to find it on his person it would work:
Both dogs hit him together, and he was upset. The animals were big and well trained. They took hold of him, and their teeth hurt.
The noise the dogs made was loud enough to be heard fully a mile away.
Typical sample of his precaution was the assortment of small grenades which were packed in flat metal cases and used by himself and supplied to his aids. These bombs were tiny and of great variety.
The grenade—it was not very much larger than a marble—which he crushed between his fingers was made of thin-walled glass and contained a combination of chemicals which had been concocted to frighten almost all animals. The principle of their concoction was simple. All animals have some odor which frightens them—bear smell, for instance, being terrifying to most breeds of dogs. Doc had duplicated the odor with chemicals, added those frightening to other common animals—he had even added an acid typical of a deadly, stinging sea growth which was the thing most feared by sharks—and the result was the little grenade which he now broke.
The dogs let loose, growled in fright and backed away.
I vaguely remember newspaper articles printing the home address of people in the news. It shows up here:
This photograph of the murder of the governor was taken by Dan Meek, 902 First Street, a candid-camera fan who happened to be passing the governor’s office at the time.
Hey, kid, ya like circus talk? Step right this way:
The parade came. She watched. First marched the windjammers, the band, in sartorial glory and melodic uproar. Then the bulls, the elephants. And all the gaudy rest of it. The convicts, or zebras. The big turkeys—ostriches. Two hogs—hippos—in a cage. A cage of old folks—monkeys. And another cage of zekes—hyenas, also called gravediggers. They were all there, all the great stupendous and unsurpassed wonders and marvels of the civilized and uncivilized world that make up the stock in trade of a fairly good circus. All thundered past in spectacle and glory, spangles and silks not very noticeably frayed.
There are two sides to circus business, one of them good and the other not so nice. There are the legitimate animal and aërialist acts, the things that the crowds come to see, which are good; on the other hand, there are the grifters, the lucky boys and their cappers who go after the strawberry shortcake, as the easy money is called. The right side and the wrong side of circus business. A man with a weak character sometimes has difficulty distinguishing the right from the wrong in everyday life, and in the bizarre existence of a circus where life is distorted, the distinguishing of right from wrong becomes doubly difficult.
I found this a little creepy in that the Crime College implanted Doc Savage himself into the minds of the reformed as the "Symbol" of their new belief system. 1984-ish maybe with a reversed Two Minutes Hate into Doc Savage Cult Worship?
To this remote spot, Doc Savage sent such criminals as he happened to catch; there they underwent delicate brain operations at the hands of specialists trained by the Man of Bronze, operations which wiped out all memory of the past. After this, the "patients" received a course of training calculated to fit them as useful citizens. Monk and the others frequently referred to the place as the "college."
Bill Larner was a graduate of that college; once he had been the associate of a notorious criminal, but Bill Larner himself did not know this. He only knew that he hated crime and criminals, and that Doc Savage was the symbol of his own belief.
On to where the story falls short. As usual I never accept (in this case) Ham's disguise fooling his bad guy cohorts. And Doc's disguises require acceptance with grains of salt because he's distinctive in so many ways. It's like having Arnold Schwarzenegger doing the same thing and expecting not to be recognized:
It was fortunate, Doc reflected, that he had used a tube of darkening stain on his face and hands, and turned his coat inside out. The coat was lined so that it reversed a different color and cut. Also he had changed the color of his eyes by using the little tinted glass optical caps such as he had employed in disguising Lion Ellison much earlier. He had done this in the taxi.
Did citizens just up and rent their plane to be flown waaaaaaay over there with no guarantee of it being returned? Jeez, just have them rent a commercial plane in the normal fashion:
"We got a lucky break. Got to a town named Brookfield, saw a plane on a little airport there and rented it off the guy. We landed it on the edge of Kansas City, and we just rented a car from one of those Drive-It-Yourself places."
The bad guys frame Lion instead of killing her and Dent feels the need to explain why:
"IT then became necessary," continued the speaker inside the penthouse, "to put Lion Ellison where she couldn’t do any harm. Some of the boys were squeamish about killing a girl, so we decided to frame her. We didn’t know her address; we just knew she lived in St. Louis. And we knew she was a circus performer. So we advertised for a circus performer that fitted her description, and sure enough, she turned up."
What squeamish guys? These are same chuckleheads who decapitate one man and cut the throat of another. You think women are off the menu? Better to come up with a reason to frame Lion for a murder. The gangs reasoning for not killing Doc's crew when they had the chance also fails.
The denouement of the mystery of how time stood still was decent but it doesn't explain how everyone frozen in place stayed exactly as they were. There's no mention of a stiffening element. Without it everyone would have dropped where they stood. Better written some people would have fallen down being out of balance while others in balance would remain on their feet. Here's the science mystery explained:
It was the perfect anaesthetic. That much, he knew. Science had sought this thing for generations, and doctors had hinted it would be one of the great contributions of all time.
The perfect anaesthetic. Odorless, colorless, producing an instant state of insensibility, with no sensation whatever. No pain, no nausea afterward—not even a consciousness that the patient had entered an anaesthetized condition.
A gas which doctors could use with such smooth effects that the patients would not even know when they had been gassed.
A boon to surgery. And a sinister weapon in the hands of crooks.
This big fail is just weak. Five cents says Dent knew he was fabricating this and didn't care. He could have had the gnome yell for help from an associate in an outer room:
This stuff accounted for the weird murders. It explained how the wizened little man—Danny Dimer—had escaped from the basement garage vault in the New York skyscraper—he had simply had some of the anaesthetic concealed on his person where Monk and Renny had failed to find it when they searched. Dimer had ejected some of the anaesthetic from the vault, possibly through the ventilator in the door so that Monk and Renny had been gassed. The vault door had not been locked at the time, and Dimer had experienced no trouble in walking out.
The room was in effect a vault. The threat of the little man was ridiculous. Both Monk and Renny suddenly began laughing.
Monk slammed home the big bar which secured the steel door on the outside.
"I’d like to see him disappear now," Monk said grimly.
One last improvement would be to make the Evil Gnome guy more of a certified weirdo at the end of the story instead of just pulling off his symbolic rubber mask.
The Evil Gnome can be fixed and be a great story.
087 - The Boss Of Terror:
"Men by the name of Smith were being knocked off all over town. And they were all killed by lightning — lightening that entered a room without leaving any marks, on a day when there was no lightning. As the Man of Bronze penetrated ever closer to the heart of this mystery, he was scared. For he knew he was closer to death than possibly at any other time in his hair-raising career."
"The stork that brought you," he said, "should have been arrested for smuggling dope."
May, 1940's The Boss Of Terror is a minor book that works hard to be "bigger" - at least in terms of seriousness and settings. Buildings and homes are large, substantial, and filled with furniture to match. Cars are expensive. The locked-room mystery deaths by "lightning" are handled with substance and the last act is a bit more engaging than usual in its small actions of running and fighting. The problems with the book involve simple things that don't make sense. Why did Monk have to beat up a limo driver so Doc can replace him in disguise? The man was minding his own business and Doc could have come into the mansion as a worker along with Long Tom who was there to fix the air conditioning. Why does Monk ask to stop at a peanut vendor who is Annie Spain in a disguise she had no reason to be using, and where did she get it? Long Tom writes a check to a bad guy to have handcuffs moved from his hands to his ankles. Why? Oh, just read the book and you'll figure it out later.
This either works for you or it doesn't:
The bronze man frowned. "One thing we have not straightened out—why did he confine his first terrorizing entirely to Smiths?"
"His mind worked that way," the girl explained. "He figured there were enough rich Smiths to start out on. Also, he thought it would help confuse matters."
[1940 spy tech] "Rigging a microphone in the ear of the moose," Long Tom explained. "Makes a first-class spot for it. The ear of this moose was acoustically designed by nature for the purpose of picking up sound. With that microphone deep in the ear, and the wires run under the moose hair and through a hole in the wall—there’s a closet nobody uses in the back, and I’m taking the lead-out through that—I should be able to make a phonograph recording of everything that anybody says in this room."
This gas remained effective for more than thirty minutes, in which respect it differed from another type of anaesthetic gas which Doc often employed, and which became impotent after it had mingled with the air for less than a minute.
To enter the house, Monk and Ham now employed hoods. These were simply transparent sacks which they pulled over their heads, and which sealed around their necks with an adhesive tape. The sacks were large enough to contain considerable air, but at the best they were only effective for a few minutes. They were, however, the most portable type of mask for emergency use, taking up no more space than a tobacco pouch.
"That case," Doc said, "probably contained more electricity than has ever been condensed in one container before." The bronze man turned to Annie Spain. "That is right, isn’t it?"
"That," said Annie Spain, "is about it. It works like a storage battery and a Leyden jar, only different, and more so. Instead of storing eighty or a hundred ampere hours of current, as in an automobile storage battery, for instance, this thing will store hundreds of millions."
"My stockings!" Annie Spain complained. "They’re a wreck. These trees!"
The stockings were a minor detail, considering the situation, Doc reflected. But he had noticed that women attached more importance to such things than they sometimes did to robberies and murders. He suspected he would never understand women...
ANNIE SPAIN gave a start and frowned unpleasantly. "Truth serum? Say, what is this?"
Doc said, "A long time ago, we discovered that it was practically impossible for us to tell when a woman was lying. They must have been equipped by nature as expert liars."
"The plane," he said. "We are leaving immediately."
Annie Spain sprang up. "So you’re finally going to South America!" she ejaculated.
"Do you want to go along?" Doc asked.
"Fine. We would have taken you anyway."
Annie Spain stared at the bronze man. She hadn’t liked his remark. "Just what did you mean by that crack?" she demanded.
Doc said nothing.
"WHAT happened to you?" Ham demanded.
"That girl," Monk said grimly, "hit me with an ash tray."
Ham grinned widely. Any minor misfortune to Monk always intrigued Ham.
The driver came near being as wide as he was tall. Standing on his feet, he could scratch his knees with his fingers without bending over. There was a good deal of reddish hair, of the nature of rusty shingle nails, on all exposed parts of his person. His face was something to frighten babies with; yet babies usually weren’t frightened by him. There was something pleasantly fascinating about his homeliness.
Monk was a chemist, an industrial chemist—this was a little different than being a plain chemist, because it necessitated an extra knowledge of modern machinery, mechanical and electrical, and manufacturing processes—but Monk had never seen anything remotely resembling the apparatus below his eyes now.
He fooled around the stuff, not touching anything at first, but feeling the urge to do so. It seems to be an inborn trait of the human male that when he sees a complicated machine, he wants to push a button or turn a lever to see what happens. Monk had that impulse. It became overpowering. He started half-reaching for things.
"Pipe down, sister," Long Tom ordered.
Annie Spain whirled on Long Tom. "Don’t you tell me what to do, you mushroom-complexioned shrimp."
"Shut up, or I’ll upset you," Long Tom said coolly. "I ain’t very gallant."
LONG TOM ROBERTS fully understood that he was alive only because it was more convenient to take a live man from place to place than it was to transport a dead one.
THE ambulance was traveling about fifty when it took a corner and missed a lamp-post scarcely more than a quarter of an inch.
The passenger spoke to the driver.
"The stork that brought you," he said, "should have been arrested for smuggling dope."
But Radiator Smith he was. He was Radiator Smith in the John Smith Club to which he belonged. The John Smith Club had as members only men whose names were John Smith, and the John Smiths were designated with nicknames according to their professions—there was Insurance Smith, Bank Teller Smith, Broker Smith, Sailboat Smith, and a lot of other Smiths in the John Smith Club. John R. Smith was Radiator Smith because manufacturing radiators happened to be his principal business.
The man who sat at the desk was likewise vast. Probably he could have lost a hundred pounds of weight and felt much better. His chins hung over his collar and his stomach pushed against the desk. When he put his hands down on the desk, they spread out like toy balloons filled with jelly.
Rather, the serum simply dulled the mental processes to such an extent that the victim could not function enough gimp to think up a lie.
[Alternative names for the Flea Run] The bronze man kept his planes in a huge brick combination warehouse and boat hangar on the Hudson River waterfront. The structure masqueraded as a warehouse, and was reached by an underground tube of an affair through which a bullet-shaped car traveled, a contraption that Monk called the "angel wagon," or the "go-devil" depending on the mood he was in.
[One and only time a motorcycle is used (I think)] Doc loaded a motorcycle aboard the plane.
The bronze man and his assistants had worked together for some time—a very long time, measured by the excitement and danger they had encountered—and they had evolved operating methods to meet most ordinary situations. The inclusion of a code word—always being sure the third word was "today" and the sixth word "feeling" (They varied this code from month to month)—in cablegrams and telegrams was one precaution they had settled upon.
There had been occasions in the past when they had found it necessary to drop bits of cloth as clues. Pieces of cloth lying on the ground are not entirely unusual, and to simplify matters they had agreed to tie a knot near the end of any bits of cloth they dropped which were important. It might be inconvenient to do so, but it avoided confusion.
THE ventriloquist known as the Great Lander had taught the bronze man more than the art of "throwing" the voice, which was nothing more than speaking so that the voice did not sound as if it came from the speaker; he had taught Doc to imitate other voices, and make them seem to come from very far away.
The Boss Of Terror is not a bad story but the parts of it that don't fit are quite obviously wrong. Without these shortcomings it might even be great.
088 - The Awful Egg:
"From the frozen heart of the American continent comes a nameless prehistoric terror of unspeakable savagery, leaving a broken trail of mangled victims that shocks and baffles the world. Only the superhuman Man of Bronze can meet this horrifying menace on its own bloody ground — and uncover the even greater evil that spawned it."
"Listen close, you knot-headed bag of noise"
The Awful Egg is a story that does a number of things well while sadly not following through on a number of these things that it does well. Fixed up this could be one of the best stories of the series, and especially 1940, in this case June.
There's good descriptive action and subtle situational humor and insight, and until Chapter 6 it moves along quickly and things happen one after the other. Once the setting shifts to the Badlands of South Dakota, Lester Dent decides it's time for a lecture on the region, dinosaur paleontology, and the evolution of species. This effectively stops the forward momentum of what was a brisk hike of action and murder. Chapter 10 provides this extreme piece of clumsy exposition:
"Hell, don’t act so innocent. I suppose you’ll try to tell me you don’t know anything about Sam Harmony and Calico Parks getting out that night when everybody else was locked up. And their agreement to come back and get the stuff, and share alike. Don’t know anything about it, do you?"
"No," said Renny. "I don’t."
"You liar! You’ll probably deny that Calico Parks beat Sam Harmony back there and cleaned everything out. And then he came back and went down with Sam, as innocent as a lamb in a tomato patch, and pretended to go into a hell of a rage when he saw everything was gone. I guess you’ll claim Parks has been hunting Harmony since then for revenge, and not to shut his mouth so the whole story would never come out." The man made a snarling noise and clenched his fist. "Well, we know better, my friend! We know Calico Parks has been hunting Sam Harmony and the rest of Sam’s pals so he could shut us up."
The ending section's hashing of events past and present are written like a radio script with only lite music interjecting in the background. It's relentlessly wordy and the visualization of the story, which The Awful Egg handles generally well, turns to a dark screen while words spill out like a waterfall. The story needs to dispense its information more organically. Johnny says "superamalgamated" too often. This month Doc's visitor screening room is on the 20th floor, manned as usual by Ham and Monk, who must have nothing else going on.
The dinosaur not being a dinosaur works well as far as it being a ruse by a psychotic serial killer-type named Dr. Samuel Harmony, who enjoys his work much too much and isn't above claiming it wasn't his fault:
AFTER Nick had died, making some rather unpleasant noises in the process, noises which Sam Harmony managed to muffle to some extent by pulling Nick’s coat over his head and standing on the dying man’s neck, a problem presented itself. What to do with the body. There was too much of a red lake on the floor to move the body itself and expect the deed to go unnoticed. And nothing at hand to use as a mop...
Then Sam Harmony put his own billfold and a few personal letters in Nick’s clothing. The billfold contained a picture of Sam, and he left the photograph there. So that it would not be used to undo his plan, he took the razor-sharp knife and did a butchering job on his victim’s face. He cut long slices in the body, slashing through clothes, skin and flesh. He was careful to cut one gash that passed partially through the billfold. That would certainly make it seem that the billfold had been on the body when the knifing was done. He wallowed the remains around in the red lake so that it would appear that the gashes had run crimson.
"What about the two murdered men?"
"I had to kill them," Sam admitted. "I . . . the tramp on the train tried to rob me. I . . . er . . . knifed him in self-defense. Then I thought of making the body look as if a—something horrible—had killed the man. It was the same way with the man at the airport. He tried to shoot me. The fellow must have been crazy, or something. Without warning, he tried to kill me, and I had to knife him, also in self-defense."
The teasing of the dinosaur as a giant monster that grew that size within a day or two fails on the science level so it fails on the page:
His flashlight had picked up a shape that was lifting above the treetops some distance away. It was a grotesque thing—perhaps not twenty feet tall, as Leo had said, although Monk, at the moment, would have been willing to bet that its height was not twenty feet, but forty...
The hideous thing they had seen above the trees was going through convulsions. It sank from view.
Hickey Older's description of it also doesn't work since the thing winds up being a balloon that somehow manages to push in a large picture window and knock over a piece of furniture even Doc can barely lift:
"I don’t know what else you’d call it. The thing was big and kind of black, and had the ungodliest shape. It was kind of an insect, and still it wasn’t." Hickey Older stopped speaking, stared at the window and shuddered. "It came in through the window. Just kind of pushed its way in, smashing the sash and everything out of the way. We . . . we didn’t have a chance."
Also, there was a torn collection of thin rubber, stuff out of which a balloon might have been made. There was a reel, a large fishing reel which had a multiplying spool and contained a considerable length of stout line. There was a short, blunt fishing rod of the type used for catching the very largest big-game fish, a rod that was equipped with a shoulder harness and cup arrangement so that the thing could be manipulated with great force.
"That monster was a balloon of a thing!" he muttered.
Overhead, Doc Savage made a brief gesture from the cockpit of the gyro. The plane—it was a small one—differed from the conventional type of ship in that it was equipped with a very large six-bladed rotor instead of wings. The rotors, mechanically driven and equipped with an arrangement of vanes which was the bronze man’s design, enabled the craft to arise and descend almost vertically. The ship, as far as vertical ascension and descension were concerned, was several steps more efficient than the autogyro type of plane.
[Interesting variation] The truth serum, in fact, was unreliable. The bronze man’s chemical genius, as great as it was, had not been able to discover any mixture that had the magical effect of removing the conversational brakes from the consciousness of the person to whom it was administered. The best it could do was somewhat stupefy and lower the ability to consciously resist. It helped a great deal, Doc had discovered, if the truth serum could be administered without the victim having any suspicion that the stuff was being used.
He removed the ammo drum—it contained mercy bullets, slugs which produced harmless unconsciousness—and substituted one which held high-explosive pellets. The little explosive slugs were powerful; and one of them could demolish a small automobile.
[New] The bronze man drove a hand into a pocket, brought out a small marble-sized thing of metal which had a suction cup of rubber attached. He pressed the cup against the varnished wood and the thing stuck there; he flipped a small lever on the metallic marble, then retreated quickly, got under cover. It was a grenade, and when it exploded, the blast shook the house, ripped the door apart.
Returning to the house, Doc watched the windows for a while. There was no light. He attached a small device which he had brought along from his car—a supersensitive microphone, amplifier and headset—to the door. The contrivance picked up such sounds as were in the house and magnified them several thousandfold. The only noise was an intermittent grinding, and Doc concluded it was a rat gnawing on wood.
"Listen, Ben," said Parks. "You can’t tell me anything I don’t know about this Doc Savage. He is poison. He will amble along and you’ll think he isn’t doing anything or learning anything, and then—bang! bang! bang!—like a machine gun, he’s got everybody’s goose and cooked it. Before you know what happened. That’s the way he is."
"Police?" the attendant asked.
"A private investigation," Doc said. "But we can get the police if you wish."
The attendant frowned at the big bronze man, and finally said, "You’re Doc Savage, aren’t you? I guess we won’t need the cops. What do you want to know?"
[Peak Human, not Super-Doc] Doc hit the door. It was of heavy wood, very strong, bolted on the other side. Smashing through by physical strength was out of the question.
[Simple, definitive clues like this are rare in Doc Savage. This clue is also never explained as to what it is.] The object of interest was a doughnut-shaped piece of agate, bound with a shiny metal ring. It was no more than half an inch in diameter. On each side of the metal binding, there clung tiny bits of solder.
"What’s that?" Monk asked.
Doc Savage put the object in his pocket.
"I think we have a good idea of what this is all about," the bronze man said grimly. "And we can start cleaning up the mess."
The bronze man moved a few yards, and suddenly seemed to blend with the darkness. He had stepped into a patch of shadow, and Hickey Older made the mistake of thinking he had remained there. Hickey finally muttered, "Why don’t the guy go on and do his looking?" and walked over to the dark clump of shadow. He came back muttering under his breath. "He wasn’t there," he said.
[Nice visual] Doc Savage got his neck and mouth before the man knew trouble was near. Simultaneously, Doc lifted the fellow upward, so that he would not be able to kick against the deck and make noise. They stood and strained that way for a few moments, the bronze man holding Leo aloft like a child, then Leo became limp.
The bronze man lowered him, tested his pulse for a moment. He had made Leo senseless by exerting pressure on certain spinal centers, and, while the method was effective, it might be dangerous if Leo happened to have a defective heart or some other constitutional weakness.
(Author’s Note: The detailed methods by which Doc Savage gets many of his effects, particularly upon the human body, are omitted deliberately. The reason: Many of the processes are exceedingly dangerous in the hands of the unskilled; others might be converted to criminal use.)
The first man to enter, the one who carried the shotgun, came over and struck at Doc Savage’s face with the barrel of the weapon. Doc rolled with the blow, so that it was not much harder than a normal punch from a fist, but he made it seem more damaging by falling to the floor. He sat there, acting dazed.
"We’re looking for Doc Savage," said Hickey Older.
"You’re on the right track," Monk said. "All you got to do is convince us it’s something worth bothering Doc about. We’re the filtering committee."
WHEN the man screamed, the sound was so sudden, so like a knife stabbing, that Monk lifted inches out of his chair without appearing to use either his arms or legs for propulsion.
Hickey Older never got to shoot Monk, because the homely chemist picked up Sam Harmony and charged. Monk had no qualms about using a man like Sam Harmony for a shield, and he made a very good shield indeed. The blast of pellets from Hickey Older’s shotgun broke his spine and played havoc with his insides, but Monk was not harmed.
Monk hit Hickey Older once, and the blow did something so drastic to Hickey’s spine that, five months later when they tried Hickey for murdering Sam Harmony and sentenced him to the chair, the defendant had to wear his back in a plaster cast and steel brace.
"Listen, Ham, you overdressed shyster lawyer," said the apish man grimly. "I didn’t ask you to eat breakfast at my apartment. Anyway, I been cooking them breakfasts for years, and nobody has complained before."
"Probably," said the dapper man, "because dead men tell no tales."
"Listen," Monk said angrily, "a girl could do a lot worse than fall in love with me."
"Yeah, she might marry you," Ham admitted.
"Well, you be careful."
"Don’t be a fool. I know when to be careful."
"G’bye, you ultratrichogenous anthropologicality."
Monk laughed. "I’ll look that up," he chuckled, "and if it means what I think, I’ll push your ears down."
[Nice try. It made Johnny a secondary character] It gave him a great deal of satisfaction to be able to wrap his tongue around a big word, after being forced to refrain from the use of them over a period. Big words were his vice, his hobby and his source of secret amusement. Early in his career, when he was very young, he had realized that a man should have something to tag himself, something that others will remember, and he had started using big words to draw attention to himself. Later, when he had become the recognized greatest in his line, he had retained the habit for purposes of amusement.
Suddenly, in a moment when his rage reached an insane peak, he snatched up a pen and struck at the picture, using the pen as if it was a dagger. The utter fury on the man’s face kept the gesture from being childish. The pen broke. The newspaper was knocked onto the floor. A deep scar remained in the desk top.
"Hello, hon," responded Nancy. After some more sirup-coated preliminaries of the same vein, Nancy got down to business. "Do you know a man named Doc Savage?" she asked.
"Has some guy been makin’ passes at you?" Hickey yelled. "I’ll knock his block off!"
"Oh, don’t be silly! Have you ever heard of him? His name is Doc Savage, and the newspapers call him the man of mystery."
"Oh," said Hickey. "That one!"
"Well, do you know him?"
"Oh, sure. I have breakfast with him every morning, lunch with President Roosevelt, dinner with J. P. Morgan, although sometimes I have to go out with John D. Rockefeller, too, so he won’t feel slighted."
"I’m going to assign a man to work with you," Doc said. "Which one would you prefer, Monk or Ham?"
Hickey Older looked at Monk and Ham. He wasn’t thinking which one would make the best guard. He was wondering which one of those two clucks would be the least likely to try to steal his girl.
"Monk," he said. "Monk looks the strongest."
He neglected to add that, if any girl of his was dope enough to fall for a fellow as homely as Monk, he might as well know about it now.
"Yes, the smart crooks have started carrying rifles instead of revolvers whenever it is convenient. You see, a man caught carrying a revolver is obviously under suspicion, and subject to the State antifirearms law. Where the man with the rifle might be merely going deer hunting."
[Something you can't do on a plane now] Instantly, he sneezed once more. This time, he whipped his right arm, and the sheath knife on the rubber band came down into his hand. It had a button which, when pressed, caused the blade to fly open. The blade was very sharp, for Sam Harmony had spent some of his time honing it during the flight down from Philadelphia.
However, they soon lost their interest in Nancy. She was several things, a gold digger and nitwit being among them.
Hickey Older is the female day-player's boyfriend and he winds up being a lead bad guy, which in itself isn't the worst stretch of convenient, but as she's exceedingly beautiful it's plot-flimsy to have him hit on her and she falls for him. It would be more believable if she's not as good looking and he's a handsome manipulator.
It would take a fair amount of work to make The Awful Egg everything it could be, but what Lester Dent gets right is above and beyond so a consistent work it would be a great story.
089 - The Flying Goblin:
"The Headless Horseman rides again in Sleepy Hollow — this time streaking down the sky with flashing speed causing destruction and horror wherever he lands. Here is a puzzle worthy of the penetrating powers of the Man of Bronze — a deception so devious it would have to be solved on two continents."
"See you all in hell some day!"
William G. Bogart isn't be a bad writer as much as those around him allow him to be a bad writer in print. Should he shoulder most of the blame or does that fall on the editors of Street & Smith? Did they beat July, 1940's story into the shape it's in or did they mostly leave it alone and let Bogart stumble and fall into mistakes large and small?
Willy G. does some things well. His descriptive language is less stream of consciousness and "tour guidesque" than what Lester Dent cranked out like an office machine running on coffee, so it doesn't invite your mind to drift off elsewhere. He's good at being vividly blunt. He handles Monk well as a sadistic and effective problem solver, and there's enough explosions, gunfire, and punching to meet any pulp fiction quota. He just doesn't know what he's writing sometimes and has no qualms about making up anything to serve the larger purpose of moving on.
Bogart didn't invent instant disguises fooling close associates of bad guys, but it's never pretty:
Ham and Birmingham Jones were about the same height and build. It was only necessary for Ham to use the glass eyeshells to make his eyes look like Birmingham's."
Neither was he the only one who wrote things and then never got around to explaining them:
It might have been a long, lean barrel. Astride it was a vague form that appeared like a scarecrow with flapping arms.
Unlike Lester Dent, Bogart doesn't push a Halloween angle to the flying goblin events so it's unclear whether it's supposed to be seen as a witchy scare or just a missile that whizzes and explodes.
Getting back to Ham disguised as Birmingham Jones, Bogart gives it away quickly that it's Ham by having him disappear and everyone's asking out loud where he could be. For a moment I considered what happened in 1937's Repel where Buddy and Bess Baldwin are given insta-lobotomies at Doc's crime college and put back where they were to assist Doc - their new god. When I read this I wondered if Doc gave Jones a field lobotomy with Ham's assistance:
Pinky's scarred features sobered. "Look," he said. "What did Doc Savage want with you and that slick-looking gent named Ham? Saw the three of you headed up to the bridge a while ago."
Bogart gets Long Tom wrong by assigning him Johnny's "long bony body" and has Johnny wearing regular glasses with thick lenses. Where were the editors?
How do the bad guys know about Doc's Crime College? I guess everybody does and it's a major failure on all fronts to have Doc talk openly about it:
Doc came swiftly to the point, outlining briefly the incident that happened at his "college" in up-state New York. He referred casually to the crook named Birmingham Jones, spoke of the mysterious explosion that had taken place here at Duval's plant early this morning.
[Slow golf claps for Deus Ex Machina] Monk interjected, "But goshamighty, Doc? How did you loosen those blasted ropes and things?"
Doc indicated his still moist hands. "A penetrating fluid which was in a vial in my coat pocket. It eats into anything except human flesh. Managed to squeeze the vial and break it while they were tying me up. The stuff spreads like kerosene."
[You know. The ray machine. Hitting the flying thing] "Quick!" he ordered. "The ray machine. Set it in position!"...
He said tensely, "The ray should hit the flying thing within the next moment. If it doesn't—"
[Convenient science magic] "Valentine," Doc went on, "was using a type of perpetual-motion machine employing an atomic or perhaps a molecular force. Once started, the torpedoes traveled faster and farther than any known speed ship. They were operated by remote radio control. They could be exploded in like manner, at any point where Valentine wished them to do so."
Something about the bronze figure's compelling eyes made the girl forget everything about rules and regulations. At that instant, she would even have gladly revealed her correct age.
"Oh, my gosh!" he cried. And then, "Say, Doc Savage, I didn't know that fellow Monk was in your organization, or I wouldn't have—"
"Monk," Doc said quietly, "sometimes runs into difficulties. Perhaps we should see him."
Monk tapped one of the men on the chin. The man fell on his back, sprawled across the one who was already unconscious on the leather seat. The chemist's powerful hands quickly scooped down and dragged the fellow up by the collar.
But the man's eyes were still closed. There was no fight left in him.
Monk swore. Unable to restrain his impulsiveness, he hit the big guy again just for good luck. Monk was like that. He always believed in doing a good job.
GETTING information out of hard-boiled thugs was often one of the bronze man's problems. He had various scientific ways of doing this, when necessary. But a more simplified method—the one that usually got quick results—was Monk.
Monk didn't use much science. He employed his fists and a lot of fancy cuss words.
[Doc's surgery didn't take because Birmingham's brain was previously damaged] "That tricky brain operation which that Doc Savage guy uses on crooks at his college didn't quite come off in Birmingham's case. Sure, he's forgotten all about what he ever did in the past; but that's all. We're springing him right at a time when he'll make a swell front for the boss. I understand he's just like a trained seal. He'll do anything you tell him—and no questions asked."...
Pinky nodded. "Birmingham got conked on the head by one of Dillinger's boys some years back. Seems, therefore, this Doc Savage outfit couldn't quite cure Birmingham of being a crook. Also, he still likes to kill people. That's how Doc Savage first happened to send him up to his college."
[Too simple] It appeared that after they had been seized by the six gunmen in Sleepy Hollow, and left locked in the stone-walled prison, a man had been sent back to question the girl about her interview with newspaper reporters.
Ham had managed to knock the fellow out, and he and Honey Sanders had escaped, to later follow the other gunmen in the night and overhear a conversation that involved Doc Savage.
[Reasons are often fabricated to keep Doc & Co. alive, but at least they follow through with something] "Now listen," he rapped. "You've been doing all right. The boss thinks you're good. But we're not to rub out the bronze guy—yet!"
Birmingham Jones shrugged. "Why not?"
"Because we gotta use him to get those assistants of his here, too—aboard the boat. We're shoving out at midnight, and the big boy has ideas how he's gonna wipe out this Doc Savage crowd all at once. At sea!"...
Pinky, at a nod from Birmingham Jones, was suddenly directing, "O. K., Savage. You'd better make it good. Whoever answers from your New York headquarters, you tell 'em you got everything figured out up here at Sleepy Hollow. Tell 'em all to get up here right away. Tell those birds you'll meet them at the bridge on the Post Road, just a mile south of that service station where you were tonight."
Honey Sander's boyfriend Tod Smith pops up halfway and out of the blue. He doesn't do anything to earn a credit. Birmingham Jones barely earns the effort of busting him out of the U Of Doc. Any higher end thug for hire could have filled his shoes. His lack of memory was held to names and events but I would have loved it if he was asked to put prisoners in the Buick and he responded "What's A Buick?" The ending is confusing and exciting. William G. is horrible with science and gadgets and escapes. That stands out most of all. Besides that (wink) he only needs help with clarity and knowing some basic facts about the characters he's writing for. Good editing will help with the latter but it takes a sharp mind to come up with clever solutions to creative problems. William G. Bogart was not that man.
The Flying Goblin is 50/50 readable and unreadable William G. Bogart.
090 - Tunnel Terror:
"It came out of nowhere and turned men into mummies. It threatened the construction of the mighty Yellow River Dam. But when it came after Hardrock Hennesey, the tough little mucker summoned the Man of Bronze — the sensational mind who could smash the diabolical forces behind the mind-boggling mystery."
Part of me wants to say this is your average Doc Savage story, but that's a lie and a half-truth. It's what your average Doc Savage story should be. Doc is who you want him to be, the mystery is good, and everyone's playing their part in making this month's episode (August, 1940) another reason to be a Doc Savage fan. There's nothing epic in the book, but that it doesn't leak profusely (as a later novel) in six places makes it better in comparison. A fun read is to be had in Tunnel Terror.
Stupid ape and dumb pig are in this short work, so you'll save time by skipping any reference to their existence. A plus and minus wash. William G. Bogart and Lester Dent are credited as authors so I'm assuming Bogart did the heavy lifting and Dent acted as coach and final draftsperson. There's one obvious element that stood out as silly overkill, found here:
Doc Savage carried heavily-built Monk as though he might have been a child. Standing alone, Monk looked like a pretty powerful fellow. But compared to Doc Savage, he now seemed almost puny in stature.
For the bronze man was a physical giant. Veins in his bronze-hued hands stood out like taut cords. The muscles in his neck showed a remarkable strength found in few men. Though his face was shielded by the breathing mask, a glass front showed the unusual bronze features. Doc's hair was of the same color, only somewhat darker.
He ran as easily and as swiftly as though he might have been carrying a rag doll.
Thankfully this Uber-Man ridiculousness doesn't pop up again. Monk realistically has to weigh at least 250 lbs. and no matter how peak human Doc Save is you don't run with the equivalence of six big-boy gym plates like it's nothing. Indicate the physical effort and acknowledge the speed drag, or have Doc help Monk move along on his own two feet at an impressive pace. An unforced error easily fixed.
Suspension Of Disbelief should be standard equipment when reading Doc Savage, but when you see something even a layperson should catch, a part of you makes a mental note just so the universe knows you know you're smart or not dumb, whichever fits your ego. The first bit is a set-up and the second its resolution. Note on a timeline basis that Hardrock Hennesy not dying is fairly impossible:
Because the fog stuff was right there behind him; floating like tendrils of clawing, ghostlike fingers through the open doorway. Hardrock Hennesey could apparently see through the strange stuff, and yet couldn't. It was uncanny.
He leaped out of the chair where he had been seated, stared frantically around the small space. His face already felt as if it was frying in the steamy heat. The stuff was slowly enveloping him with ethereal, opaque fingers.
With a gasp of horror, Hardrock Hennesey jumped toward the rear of the room. He sought a window. But before he could locate one, the floating, peculiar fog was upon him. He sank down in a shuddering heap, and as the strange veil dropped over him he let out a frantic yell.
"Renny! Help! It's got me!"
He took a hitch at the overalls that were too large for him, said, "Pinky and those mugs of his grabbed me just before I almost burned up from the heat of that stuff. They put my clothes on that dead farmer's body and left him there in my place. They wanted to make it look like it was me."
Smaller problems crop up, such as how do the miners know the two men fighting on the high ledge are evil - and so evil they have to endlessly fire their weapons at them? Shouldn't a fog that removes all water also dry the leather seats of the car? The Clark Savage/Doc Savage/Mr. Savage choice should be handled more professionally in the series as a whole but I do acknowledge the title of the run is "Doc Savage", so that's the clarity default. Here's two times it's clunky and easily fixed with "Mr. Savage":
He did, however, stare at Doc Savage for a moment. The bronze man's remarkable physique caused Hardrock Hennesey's intense gray eyes to widen imperceptibly. But all he said was:
"Thanks for the help, Doc Savage."
Flynn, the superintendent, also had a question.
"How," he wanted to know, "do you happen to be involved in this thing, Doc Savage?"
I couldn't figure out why Doc was having people wear gas masks when the "fog" burned flesh like a furnace on contact:
Each man carried a gas mask, held ready in case the uncanny-looking fog should be seen again. But they saw no trace of it.
I need it explained how a mega-smoke bomb would lead hardened criminals to think bombs were about to go off:
None of the men seemed any longer interested in Chick Lancaster. The only thing that apparently worried them was to escape with their lives.
A moment later, black, dense smoke billowed out of the woods at the point where the five men had emerged. It was blinding stuff that shut off Chick Lancaster's view of the spot.
As she stared, a figure appeared out of the black cloud.
It was Doc Savage.
The girl opened the car door, exclaimed. "Mercy! What has happened?"
"They thought the smoke things were bombs," Doc said.
Those are my quibbles, along with my growing disgust with Monk & Ham's creepy behavior around women. Tunnel Terror is fast and fun with concise and clear scene descriptions that make visualizing it as you read a breeze. There's a few neat fantastical elements like the burning fog, an ancient race of giants, and a creepy old man in a creaky rocking chair, and all the day-players hit their marks. We learn Renny is 6'6" (today at least) and
Except for Monk being a rag doll in Doc's hand, Doc's at the top of his game, either ahead of the game or smart enough to know what to do to get there. Here's one example but Tunnel Terror is filled with Doc doing things that either make no sense at the time or indicate he knows exactly what he's doing:
Monk told about the old fellow who had tried to trick him. He described the skeleton hidden in Zeke Brown's barn.
But Doc Savage seemed more interested in Monk's description of the ageless-looking old man whom they had met at the farmhouse.
"Find him," Doc ordered. "Look for me back at the shaft some time before tonight."
I like any good bit about Doc's size as seen by others:
Big Pinky and the others started choking. A couple of the gunmen fell down. Another happened to stare toward a far corner of the large room. His eyes goggled. He let out a cry of terror. It was the first time the fellow had ever seen Doc Savage. He was never going to forget it in all his shady life.
At first, the bronze man did not seem unusually large. It was only when he moved toward the confused, staggering mob of gunmen that he seemed to grow in stature. This was made more noticeable when the apelike fellow appeared beside the bronze man.
I loves me a good Doc is pals with the law exposition. It's what he works for and deserves:
DOC looked up at the girl. "The police were given the license number of their car two hours ago," he explained. "It was located in this neighborhood just a little while ago. A few minutes ago I caught Joey entering the car."
"And the police?"
"They were merely requested to let me know where it was last seen."
The girl stared. "Then you have connections with the police here?"
Doc merely said, "We have worked with the police of various large cities at different times."
He did not explain that he was an honorary member of the F. B. I. and the New York City police department; that in practically every city through the country, he would gladly be given a free hand to do what he chose.
Doc and women. It should be this way and left at that:
Chick Lancaster's pretty face was suddenly flushed, and she was looking at the giant bronze man out of admiring eyes. All women fell hard the first time they ever met Doc Savage. All learned, later, that Doc avoided falling in love with a girl.
It wasn't because he wasn't human, or because he didn't have a heart. For Doc, with all his scientific training, had as much feeling as the next man. But he controlled those emotions. He believed that because of his dangerous career—that of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers—he should never ask a girl to share that existence with him.
The highlighted line as what burly manly men of honor took to heart in 1940:
Doc mentioned the fight between the two men behind the mystery. "At the very last, Lancaster must have turned against Bishop. He had realized his mistake. And so now, and for all time, it is best that his sister know nothing of his connection with the real villain. Since he is dead, no good can be gained by making her suffer further."
There were shouts of "Bravo!" from the tunnel men. All liked Chick Lancaster. She was the kind of a girl who inspires admiration in brave men. All agreed to Doc Savage's suggestion.
All things considered, Tunnel Terror for the win!
091 - The Purple Dragon:
"Graduates of Doc’s college for criminals who revert to their former identities. A master trickster who will stop at nothing to further his evil plans. A ferocious monster that turns men’s minds to mush. All are part of a cunning scheme which the Man of Bronze and his loyal companions must smash — or die trying."
Staying with the story's horse racing gimmick (which is all three), The Purple Dragon hit the trifecta of Expedient, Ridiculous, and Nonsensical. It has at its core a reasonable story but the execution is haphazard and random. This is Harold A. Davis' eleventh Doc Savage and he made decisions that either added to and/or contradicted Lester Dent's established Doc Savage world. All thirteen of his contributions are co-authored by Dent, and it wouldn't surprise me if Davis did most of the grunt work but wasn't trusted to complete one on his own, so Dent earned co-authorship by ripping each apart to make them more presentable. Editing his own creation Dent must have found things antithetical to passable quality. Did he keep it to himself sometimes because he either didn't care or it didn't matter in the bigger picture of monthly publishing?
The Sanctum reprint provides background on the evolution of the story. Davis wanted a time machine but this was first accepted and then rejected by Street & Smith as old hat. The safety deposit box element is also brought up, and in the finished book it's handled nonsensically. The story gestated for a while and I wonder how many times it might have been submitted and rejected. I'm getting the impression ghostwriters were more trouble than they were worth but Dent needed help and also wanted to branch out professionally - Doc Savage being an anchor both secure and limiting. The book saw the light of day in September of 1940.
The Purple Dragon was a popular-demand return to 1934's The Annihilist, a far superior work. The new book doesn't involve the Crime College and it's still a secret. It does involve certain graduates who ran with a deceased Prohibition crime boss named "Pal Hatrack", his last name literally "Hat Rack". The reprint says The Purple Dragon was successful, but it suggests the scene where Monk and Ham are rigged to look like prehistoric man-apes is a high point of the series. It's cute but also highly ridiculous and serves the nonsensical stated purpose of trying to embarrass Doc's men into dropping their pursuit of The Purple Dragon out of public humiliation. They could just as easily have been killed to accomplish that:
Publication of that newspaper photo also had been designed to make the pair ridiculous, to really laugh them out of the chase.
Evidently, Monk and Ham had been underestimated.
To get the good aspects of the book taken care of, it's nice that Harold A. Davis expands the facilities on the 86th floor and adds to the real estate portfolio. The 86th floor being only a library, lab, and reception area seems impractical and incomplete. The opening chapter is nice and the next two are easily one of the best sequences of events found in a Doc Savage adventure. The Jekyll and Hyde vacillations between Hiram Shalleck and Joe Mavrik are the take-away of the novel, not Heckle and Jeckle swinging from fake tails on a stage set. An "Alienist" is an archaic term for psychiatrist or psychologist.
Meta Alert! There was a Doc Savage magazine for sale in the fictional Doc Savage world:
Mavrik-Shalleck glanced about him wildly. Directly opposite the car was a bookstore. There was a picture in the window, a picture of strong, bronzed features.
The sign above the picture read:
GET THE LATEST DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE.
How Doc Savage bankrupted his father. Doc didn't get access to an endless supply of Mayan gold until 1933, as read in The Man Of Bronze, where it's established Clark Sr. was low on funds. Doc had built his Fortress Of Solitude in the middle of freezing arctic nowhere, and that must have cost a ton. Davis takes the liberty of dating the Crime College back to at least 1929, so that's another money pit dad had to fill. Opening the bills must have been Pop's worst part of the day.
Dumb Ape Chemistry is a full co-star while Stupid Pig Habeas doesn't even earn a passing reference. Chemistry is now nearly as big as the massive Monk, and he wears a camera around his neck to snap pictures of pretty ladies and manages to keep said camera for some expedient camera snapping later on. Pro-Tip - if you're trailing someone and don't want to stand out, avoid walking around with a large monkey and a camera slung around his neck. Filed under Animal Abuse, Dumb Ape is now fighting for his supper:
Chemistry's fighting methods were different. His two long, hairy arms swept out, grabbed a struggling victim in each arm, then butted their heads together. The method was perfectly efficient—except that it left him no defense from the rear. He was the second casualty.
I've left a number of smaller crimes against fiction below under "BS" but three things stand out. The treasure is Prohibition earnings kept in safety deposit boxes around town. Mr. Hat Rack came up with a nonsensical system to remember where they were:
"Falcan was smart," Doc continued calmly. "He also had heard that Hatrack had told different members of his mob to remember what they thought were tips on the races, such as 'Fred Fisher in the First.' What that actually meant was that Hatrack had taken a safe-deposit box in the First National Bank under the name of Fred Fisher."
This is why former members of Hat Rack's gang are being kidnapped and having their memories pumped by drugs and the "hypnotic light" in the eyes of a cheesy theatrical stage prop dragon. Meanwhile there's no reason to not just lock up a written list in a safety deposit box. Telling idiot bootlegger thugs to remember tips for races is as practical as telling a teenager your credit card number and then cutting it into tiny pieces.
Split-second ridiculous, nonsensical expedience:
"I saw at the last instant that an explosion was coming," Doc continued. "I also saw one possible chance of escape. Tiler, as you know, once was one of the great builders of magician's equipment in the country. His home, as I suspected, had many trapdoors and trick devices. I saw signs that led me to conclude there was a slide from the living room into the basement. I could only hope the slide led to safe shelter of some kind. It did."
There's a big to-do about criminals confessing their crimes to the police and the Purple Dragon being a twisted tool of vengeance against all criminals:
"He is determined to rid the world of criminals who in some manner have managed to cheat the law."...
"I mean that in some way he has perfected a method that carries criminals back to the time and scene of their crimes. And when this happens, he decrees death."
Bodies are found to be long-dead skeletons when they've just died:
Here it was that bodies of slain men had been brought. Dropped into the quicklime, their flesh had been eaten away, their skeletons bleached until it appeared they had been dead for years. When the killers had wanted their victim identified, they had worked it so that a part of a fingertip would be left not too badly damaged.
I don't recall a reason for any of this happening. The bad guys wanted criminals to remember their horserace tips and used drugs and hypnotism to get the information. The rest seems like a storyline that maybe might be going somewhere before it was dropped.
[Anesthetic gas replaces gas twice] A moment later, and a very fine, thin haze seemed to be settling in the room. None of the gunmen noticed it.
The haze fell lower. Fine grains of powder dropped down on the faces of the three would-be killers...
Renny knew what that powder was. He had merely forgotten for a moment that Doc might get a chance to get it from the equipment belt the bronze man always wore about his middle. A highly concentrated anaesthetic, it brought instant unconsciousness to anyone who breathed it. Doc's one word in Mayan had told Renny what to expect.
"We have been watched," the bronze man said. "In fact, a watcher has been on the job for three full days. But until now I did not know why, so I made no effort to stop him. Now it appears it is in connection with this case."...
"But how—" he blurted.
Doc gestured toward a small device on the desk before him. "A light refractory detector," he explained briefly...
All light reflected from glass at an angle is broken into varied wave lengths. Light from an ordinary windowpane would give a far different result than that from a prism of any kind. It was apparent the detector Doc was using had been built to spot reflected light rays that came from any type of curved lens, such as that used in either a telescope or field glasses. Thus he could easily learn if anyone was watching his office.
[Used often in the story] The "wrist watch" really was a communicating device, often used by Doc and his men since an adventure long before. Each "watch" could send and receive microwaves that transmitted messages in ordinary code by pulsations of heat against the skin.
All the bronze man's aids wore specially made socks. In the heels of those socks a small piece of metal was cleverly hidden. Experience had shown that even the most careful searchers seldom removed a man's socks, when a glance would show no weapon was hidden there.
The machine Doc was operating broadcast a powerful, penetrating vibration, one that would pierce leaden walls even radio waves would not answer. It set up vibration only in the particular type metal concealed in the socks.
And when that vibration was felt, Doc's men answered, no matter where they were, or what they were doing. They raced to the nearest telephone or cable office, or grabbed the fastest plane they could find to get them to where they could report in. It was a summons none would ignore.
A WARNING light showed suddenly in the panel above the doorway. That light did not flash when visitors came by the usual method of the elevator; it showed only when someone approached the suite of offices by the stairway.
That there were three of them was apparent at once. The photo-electric eye that guarded the end of the hallway where the staircase was located flashed that information. And the men were coming softly and guardedly.
He knew what the device was, knew also that it had been perfected by Doc. It was the only known instrument, so far as Renny had ever heard, that would detect and give warning of a photo-electric ray—a ray that, broken by a passing object, would sound an alarm.
He produced a small object. In appearance it was something like a bicycle pump, except that a small tube extended from the end, and on the side was a small container.
Doc worked the piston of the pump several times, very rapidly. Flames appeared from the tube at the other end. The flame did not extend far, but it was white hot.
The bronze man held the flame toward a blank space in the wall. The flame did its work. Magically, it seemed, a hole was cut through iron sheeting and the wood beyond.
In the same instant that Monk fired, the bronze man's second hand swept upward. A powdery red haze poured from that hand, floated on the still air. But only for a moment. Then a match flared. The red haze was transformed into a thick, choking screen of black smoke.
"Tiler is clever," the bronze man whispered softly.
"W-what was it, Doc?" breathed Renny.
"We evidently are not the only ones near," Doc explained briefly. "The cry of the wolf was a mechanical one, so evidently it is the alarm sounded when a photo-electric ray is broken."
[A longtime favorite scene with an awesome disclaimer. This is located on the 86th floor and there's a small dressing room next to the freezer shower. And sleeping quarters. Adjust your CAD floorplan accordingly. This is also how Doc treats himself for sexual tension] DOC SAVAGE probably should have been shivering. Certainly, anyone else would have been, in his place.
Doc Savage was taking a shower. At least that's what he called it. The average person would have called it torture.
The shower seemed to have been located in a giant icebox. Thick layers of ice clung to the sides of the room. The atmosphere was below freezing.
Water jetted from a spray overhead. The water couldn't have been warm to start with. It froze almost as soon as it struck the floor.
Doc Savage stood directly beneath the spray. The ice-cold water bounced from the bronze skin, plastered down hair that was only a shade lighter than his body. He seemed to be doing his best to turn into a human icicle...
And the cold shower was part of the training he submitted to, part of the long rigorous process that had inured his body to both heat and cold, had made it possible for him to stand conditions that would have been fatal to the ordinary mortal.
(In these accounts of the exploits of Doc Savage are recorded many things accomplished by Doc which should not be attempted by ordinary individuals. This ice-cold shower is one of them, and we wish to point out the possible danger in it to readers, who should not attempt it, at least, until checking with their physician.—The Editor.)
[Add a "Back Room" to that floorplan] "Instead of which, they may help," Doc said. "Take them to the back room and tie them securely. "
The bronze man was polite. Seemingly he answered each question fully and frankly. It was only later that the reporters realized how little information he had given them.
[BS] Renny obeyed swiftly, carrying a limp figure under each arm, with the third tossed over one big shoulder.
[Ham is a fop because the book says so] "Ah! Perhaps you feel slightly romantic toward that overdressed fop," he said silkily.
A stocky, broad-shouldered man, blue-eyed and fair-haired, Hiram Shalleck had appeared in Lamar, carrying a battered suitcase, his arrival creating no comment...
There wasn't a single personal item in the room to show Hiram Shalleck had a living friend or relative—or enemy—outside of Lamar.
[Dear Leader cult] There was one strange thing—but the sheriff didn't pay much attention to it.
Shalleck evidently was a great admirer of a man named Clark Savage, Jr., and known as Doc Savage. He had clipped a great many newspaper and magazine articles relating to Doc Savage, and had several books the latter had written.
The bartender was a short man with a big belly. He had a round face that had been soured along with his disposition after many years of listening to other people's troubles. He didn't change expression in the least. Still looking sour he reached down, came up with a battered baseball bat, one ordinarily used to pack down ice.
"It's still a dollar five, chum," he repeated.
"Nineteen forty. It ain't. It can't be. It was nineteen twenty-nine last night. Twenty-nine. Forty. Twenty-nine from forty leaves eleven."
Mavrik felt himself all mixed up. He knew that he was Joe Mavrik, that he was a big shot in this town, and that he was being taken for a ride. Two men he had thought dead had caught him without his gun and he was going to pay the penalty for carelessness.
At the same time, another part of his mind seemed to be telling him that he wasn't Joe Mavrik at all. He was Hiram Shalleck. He ran a small lunch wagon somewhere, enjoyed a quiet, law-abiding existence...
He shook his head desperately. Everything was going round and round. One moment he was Joe Mavrik. The next he was Hiram Shalleck. That didn't make sense, but he seemed to be able to recollect events in the lives of both.
That is where the "college" came in. Dangerous criminals whom he captured were taken there. Doc's skilled fingers performed brain operations upon them.
When they departed from the institution, all memory of their previous life had left them. Certain nerves had been cut, isolating parts of their brains.
Then they had been re-educated. They had been sent back into the world under new names, freed from all connection with their past.
Doc Savage himself established these men in business. He usually located them far from the scene of their original crimes, safe from the danger of casual recognition by former associates.
And, feeling himself responsible for them, he endeavored to keep track of all who had undergone the "regenerating operations."
A clipping bureau aided in this. All clippings referring to the men either under their new or old names were sent to him at once.
[Drug reference] The sergeant leaned forward, smelled of the other's breath. All he could smell was garlic. He caught hold of the cabby's coat, yanked it off, pulled up the sleeves beneath. The cabby's arms were dirty, but there were no betraying scars of hypodermic marks such as would have been the case if he'd been using dope.
[Loaded with irony considering they were lobotomized without their consent] Renny turned toward the three prone figures. "I really ought to throw these scum out of the window, turning on you like that, after all you've done for them," he said vengefully.
[Doc's secret hanger is now public knowledge and taxi drivers know where it is by name?] Doc did not answer at once. Instead, he hailed a cab and gave an address, "The Hidalgo Trading Co. wharf."
"I saw at the last instant that an explosion was coming," Doc continued. "I also saw one possible chance of escape. Tiler, as you know, once was one of the great builders of magician's equipment in the country. His home, as I suspected, had many trapdoors and trick devices. I saw signs that led me to conclude there was a slide from the living room into the basement. I could only hope the slide led to safe shelter of some kind. It did."
The news-dealer on the corner wasn't blind, and those who aren't usually have an eye for a pretty ankle.
[BS as if only the eyes would give away a make-up job] Falcan cooled down suddenly. "And that convinces me it is Doc Savage. Check at once. Here is how you can tell—"
Perspiration streaming from his face, Dude returned to his plane. It was only a few minutes' job to take off the top of the coffin. Then he did as Falcan had ordered. He pulled back the eyelids of the man inside.
Falcan had been right. Those eyes were gold-flecked. The man was Doc Savage.
[BS. Doc had a make-up kit with in in the coffin?] When he fled the coffin, Doc slipped into a nearby hangar. After that he was busy for a while, using his make-up kit.
He looked like a professional man, a lawyer or a doctor, as he emerged. His bronze hair was gray; there were wrinkles in his forehead and around his mouth. Glass lenses had been fitted over his gold-flecked eyes so that they now appeared a dark-blue.
[Real Estate update] Naw," he repeated. "This guy didn't take her to Doc Savage's office. She said somethin' about being afraid that place might be watched. They're in a hideout up here on Eighty-first Street...
The apartment was one all of Doc's aids used occasionally for sleeping quarters. So far as they knew, its existence was unknown to outsiders.
[BS of expedience] The bronze man traded places with the guard.
It wasn't quite as simple as that, but it almost seemed so. Monk and Ham never had seen Doc work so fast.
He shifted clothes, he applied make-up swiftly. There wasn't time to do a thorough job. He didn't even try to do so. His face appeared to change expression even without make-up, so adept was he at the art of acting. The guard's cap covered his bronzed hair.
[BS] "Do not look! Fall on the floor!"
It is doubtful if anyone but Doc Savage would have been obeyed. The secret of those eyes never was discovered, although it undoubtedly was a hypnotic light of some kind. Those in the chamber of the Purple Dragon fell to the floor.
[BS. Why would the many gunmen agree to be locked in a room and I assume their weapons taken away from them?] A time bomb was found near the cellar door where the gunmen were imprisoned.
If The Purple Dragon is a classic I'm not seeing it, and if H&M in monkey tails is the reason for that I feel bad for Doc Savage in general. There's a workable story underneath all the poor execution of it. Most of it can be cleaned up but the horse race tip gimmick is a non-starter. There has to be something else the bad guys need from Hat Rack's old gang that can be learned through the Purple Dragon drug and hypnosis cocktail.
092 - Devils Of The Deep:
"A mysterious 'sea monster' is sighted by fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. Then a pirated submarine, using a powerful secret weapon, begins to terrorize shipping along the entire Atlantic seaboard. Hundreds die as warships of all nations join together to find and destroy the deadly menace. The chief suspects: Doc Savage and his loyal crew!"
Co-authored by William G. Bogart and Lester Dent, October 1940's Devils Of The Deep is a mess of a story that reads well enough but makes little sense. I spent the entire time trailing off lines like "But why not just...", "Wait, then why did..." and "Wha?...Huh?...Weh?...". It's not a failure in that it moves around enough and manages to be entertaining. Still, the mistakes just kept coming.
Tomato/Tamato, I never accept that Doc can disguise himself to where he's interacting with his own assistants for hours and they don't catch on. The bad guy says a submarine is hard to find, yet Doc can barely get The Helldiver any distance anywhere without being bombed by planes and boats. I have no idea how Doc's sub evades other subs but he knows where they are. Alice Dawn must be the murderer because "The smell of powder fumes still was strong inside the small space." yet, she didn't do it because the guy behind the desk did it. The captured subs could have radioed for help. I know this because the story didn't address that. Which it could and should have.
Doc as Public Enemy #1 because of an anonymous tip or flimsy evidence ism always a groaner. Can't someone pick up a phone and get this stuff worked out before the world's armies vow to wipe out Doc Savage? The third bit kills me because it's Doc capturing a British sub by mistake. He talks at length with the Brit Captain but doesn't give his side of events so hopefully the armies of the world will stop trying to murder him?:
The bronze man’s standing with the government had been excellent. But someone evidently had tipped off Federal men to watch Doc in connection with the terror that had struck the Atlantic. With public hysteria at the breaking point, the Feds were taking no chances. They had set up such a watch.
It was then they learned just how bitterly they were being sought. And just how much America’s love for Doc Savage had turned to hate.
There was no longer any doubt, even in the minds of Doc’s strongest admirers. The bronze man was connected with the terror that menaced the entire Atlantic coast.
In the good olde days all you had to do to get information from someone at a business or government office was to either slip them a few bucks, say you were a Fed, or outright ask as if no information is confidential. Here Doc pretends to be a reporter, which makes the detective spill all he knows because who can you trust to not get you in trouble if not a stranger who's also a newspaper reporter. It's like going to confession:
The detective’s jaw dropped. The other let go, dug out a police card. It was a New York police card, issued to "Jack Warren, of the New York Press."
"Give," Warren advised briefly.
The detective drew in a deep breath, prepared for a new outbreak. Then he looked at Warren and changed his mind. He started talking.
Warren listened sympathetically. That really opened the floodgates. The detective talked at length and in detail.
File these under conveniences. The Directional Explosive Pellets might be the greatest impossibility of all time:
Three small balls appeared in the bronze man’s hand. He smashed the first on the floor. Instantly a thin mist appeared to fill the room as condensed moisture saturated the air, destroyed the danger of a blast.
That suit, of special, transparent composition, enabled the bronze man to move freely. And inside, it contained sufficient supply of oxygen tablets to last for hours.
A moment later, Doc yanked Ham to one side, threw a second ball toward the far wall and third at the door through which they had just entered.
This caused the explosion Roland Stevens heard.
The small, glass pellets were a type of directional explosive Doc had invented. They caused an outward blast, did not injure those behind them.
[Never explained how this works] He took a compasslike object from his pocket, held it in his hand as he made a tour of the boat. The needle in the "compass" rested on a small drop of mercury, held in a tiny cup. The point of the needle looked like platinum.
Only once did the point of the needle waver. That was when Doc neared a small closet filled with rope and other gear.
Doc did not enter the closet.
"This will aid us in identifying any ship we may hear overhead and save the use of earphones."
The bronze man got out a Lloyd’s Register and a copy of Jane’s "Fighting Ships," flipped through them rapidly. Figures, written in ink, had been added to the description of almost each ship.
"The propeller beat of every ship is distinctive," Doc explained. "By consulting the number shown on the dial of this-’propelcheck’ shall we call it?-we can identify any ship that comes near us."
The value of the "propelcheck" was proved when Doc’s submarine was scarcely a hundred miles south and east of New York harbor. But even that would not have saved those aboard the sub had it not been for the bronze man’s astounding knowledge and quick action in an emergency, his willingness to see all possible chances and to take the only one that offered any hope.
Doc didn’t explain. He went to the small laboratory he had on the submarine. When he returned, he was carrying more than a hundred yards of small but powerful rope. The rope was of a pale, almost oily, color.
For a second time the bronze man donned diving equipment and left the sub. He was gone scarcely fifteen minutes.
"Release them," he said briefly as he came back.
Long Tom’s expression revealed his doubt.
"They will not pursue us," the bronze man explained briefly. "Their propeller and diving planes are fouled in the rope."
"B-but won’t that mean they’ll eventually perish?" Renny asked.
Doc Savage shook his head. "The rope is of the type that dissolves in water. It will retain its strength for only about thirty minutes before they will be able to escape."
Before he could move, Doc’s arms snapped out. One hand caught the little man about the neck, pressed a nerve at the base of the skull.
The little man went limp. He was conscious, but the nerve Doc had pressed had rendered him incapable of falsehood. The bronze man’s gold-flecked eyes stared hard into the eyes of the other. They created a weird, hypnotic effect.
The line in Bold is great:
It was simple, but it was effective as far as it went. What he was using actually was a modified "lightning" bolt, a terrific discharge of controlled electricity, which tore through the water and slapped against the side of the other ship, staggering it.
Amusement-park owners had experimented with similar weapons. Doc had merely pepped up the voltage and amperage.
Comedy defies all laws of God and Man, and full nudity in 1940 was no laughing matter. Making a scarecrow requires pants and a shirt, not underwear:
They had agreed upon their course of action long before.
Without hesitation, they took off all their clothes. Then they took straw from the mats that had been provided for them and stuffed the clothes until they had dummies that at least should be good enough for their purpose.
The manacles and chains were draped realistically about the dummies’ "wrists" and "ankles."
"W-we ain’t fightin’ a man. We’re fightin’ a girl," Monk moaned frantically.
Sobbing, gasping cries came from their victim. The girl tried to get up as Monk and Ham both turned loose.
A wail of terror came from the chemist. He leaped forward, caught the flashlight the girl had dropped. The flashlight had rolled to one side, but its beams gave a dim illumination. Monk snapped the light off.
"Dang it, girl, close your eyes!" Monk pleaded desperately. "W-we ain’t got no clothes on."
The girl’s gasping cries stopped. It seemed to Monk she gave a strangled burst of laughter, but he couldn’t be sure.
There was no question about Ham’s mirth. The dapper lawyer was just as modest as Monk, but he could hide that fact better.
Moving on to general comments, Monk has no issue with eye rape but he's befuddled and flummoxed when called a "Masher!":
"Masher! Masher! This man is annoying me!" she cried.
Monk thought he had never seen so many men arrive at one spot so fast in his life. They appeared so swiftly it might have seemed they were waiting for him.
He never got a chance to explain. He was landed on from all sides.
Monk liked to scrap. Usually he was at his best in a rough-and-tumble. But not this time. He had never been accused of being a masher before. It upset him.
He knocked out only three of his attackers before they got him down and went to work on him. He didn’t even resent the arrival of a patrolman who broke up the scrap.
This review is sponsored by the fine makers of Klystron:
Doc had seen the approaching engine of destruction through use of a special underwater light.
Even in tropical water it is difficult to see any distance beneath the surface. The light Doc used was an adaptation of the klystron rays, the new development of focusing invisible electrons into a steady beam.
Discoverers of klystron are adapting it for use in television. Doc made use of its invisible-light features in a new way. He had perfected it so that it caused illumination when it struck a metal object.
The U.S. entered WWII on December 7, 1941, so this is in context:
The German ship, from all accounts, had been first. It had darted from a Florida port in an effort to elude the British blockade and get home with a valuable cargo of machinery.
Maxwell Smart - call your office:
Doc had several ways of getting in touch with his aids under ordinary conditions. One of these was an infra-ray signal that worked through a wrist watch. Another was a "hot foot" device built into the shoes they wore, and operated by a short-wave radio signal.
The bronze man then made several telephone calls. In each case his conversation was the same.
In a very short time calls flooded back. Doc had asked the co-operation of New York City’s taxicab companies. There was hardly a driver in the city who did not know the bronze man and his aids.
The calls soon provided a perfect record of trips Monk and Ham had made. The last trip any taxi driver reported had taken the pair to an uptown apartment house.
Another day, another set of procedures on guest and mail
screening at the
Empire State Building place where Doc
maintains his offices:
The mail came direct to Doc’s office from the main post office by pneumatic tube. That was because Doc daily got such a huge volume of mail.
Monk looked at the big man with frank disgust. The hairy chemist didn’t think much of those who showed fear when Doc was around to protect them. He wished Long Tom could have been with them to see his fellow expert. But Long Tom had been left at the office.
A rare continuity sighting:
"Reminds me of that dungeon we were in when we were hunting the ‘Crimson Serpent’," Ham had remarked. (Crimson Serpent, Aug. 1939)
Notable fight thingies:
The fight that followed was good, judged even by Monk’s standards.
[All Renny fights should be like this though it's impossible to pick up a shack and punch it, and that other part] He set out after the man who had run into him. Renny could run as well as bellow. The fisherman sent one terrified glance over his shoulder and saw he wasn’t going to get away.
So he dived into a watchman’s shack at the head of the pier, slammed and locked the door behind him.
Renny didn’t even stop. His big frame smashed into the shack, knocked it over. Instantly his huge arms shot out, lifted it up again, then one of his big fists cracked out.
The door broke. Most doors did when Renny hit them. The fist went right on through and caught the cowering fisherman by the coat collar, yanked him out.
"What were you doing in there?" Renny roared.
The fisherman didn’t get a chance to answer. His fellow anglers, whether through the spirit of good-fellowship or another and deeper purpose, had rushed to his aid. They piled on Renny’s back.
The big engineer swung one huge fist. It happened to be the fist that held his luckless captive. When Renny let go the man sailed on out into the river.
Renny spun to do some more fighting. To his surprise, he saw his attackers of a moment before in full retreat. Then he saw the reason.
Doc Savage had arrived.
Pete Mills’ scarred face vanished as an explosive bullet struck it squarely in the center.
An instant later the gun spoke. Its explosive bullet caught Stevens in the middle of his huge paunch. That paunch seemed to disintegrate.
Alice Dawn had dodged out of the way of the first onslaught. But she didn’t remain idle. She grabbed a blackjack from the hand of one of those Monk had knocked down.
After that, she stood on the sidelines. When one of the attackers would go down, she would step forward and make sure that he stayed down.
Camaraderie, Fellowship, and what counts as a win in Doc Savage circles:
His aids swooped toward him, shaking his hands, shouting questions. It had only been two weeks since they had seen him, but they acted as if it had been two years.
It was some time before peace was restored.
The bronze man played back the last message received:
-so tell that bronze devil that unless he stops looking for our submarine, we’ll kill those two aids of his right now, the ones he calls Monk and Ham. I mean business.
The little man was watching closely the faces of Doc and his aids. He expected to see fear, or at least some faint sign of apprehension. What he did see made him doubt his own sanity.
Renny’s huge palms beat jubilantly on Johnny’s back. Long Tom jumped up and down, yelling gleefully.
Even Doc Savage’s gold-flecked eyes seemed to reflect pleasure.
"Oh, boy!" Long Tom chortled happily. "They’re still alive. Those mugs aren’t dead!"
50/50 on the Good Vs. Bad Klystron Meter. Enjoy the good parts and scratch your head over the rest.
093- The Awful Dynasty
"When a deadly scarab starts visiting a curse from ancient Egypt on wealthy financiers, Doc and his bold crew face a terrifying death in the mysterious crypts of the most dangerous pyramid on earth."
"Hieroglyphics," explained the college boy.
William G. Bogart wrote The Awful Dynasty with a clean up and assist from Lester Dent. It offers some humorous charm in the beginning but doesn't add up to much. Doc is on an ocean liner as the story opens and he's later seen on a street corner by two bad guys, but he doesn't get actively involved until Chapter 5, and just in time because the story goes along well enough on its own until the close of Chapter 4 when another set of characters are introduced, and that became too much of that. The action then should have relocated to Egypt after Chapter 9 but it outstays its welcome until Chapter 13. I groaned when a few of Doc's assistants are again taken prisoner in Chapter 11. The last three NY chapters should have been incorporated into the previous ones to make them less repetitive. The last four chapters take place at a pyramid and it's basic tomb raiding material with nothing memorable to show for it. The bad guys lose, Doc & Co. win, and the ancient treasure is worth a million dollars! Street date November, 1940.
The glowing fat beetle death is a scare tactic to cover up more practical deaths, and thankfully when they're used the authors don't make them real when they're not in the resolution. Princess Amen-Amen is first helping the bad guys but then she's not, and it's never explained:
"Stolen," Menzala repeated. "It was stolen by some of our own countrymen and brought to this country. The princess trusted John Black. She thought he was an honest, righteous man. In that, poor child, she was wrong. I must admit that she has done some things that have appeared suspicious. But she did not know, because she was confused. You must forgive her."
The book's funniest/dumbest convenience is having ancient Egyptian scrolls giving latitude and longitude readings for the location of a Pharaoh's tomb:
Black indicated the scroll again, ordered, "There’s one thing I want to know—even if this damned thing is worthless. Give me the locations mentioned in Egypt."
Johnny studied the copy again. He said, "It is in the Libyan Desert, an arm of the vast Sahara—"
location!" snapped John Black. He took a slip of paper and pencil from his pocket, and waited.
Johnny read: "Latitude approximately 29 degrees, 58 minutes and 51 seconds North. Longitude 31 degrees and 9 minutes East. That’s—"
For a while The Awful Dynasty manages to be interesting in its human observations, and Monk and Ham's relationship more charming than hateful. Idiot Pig and Dumb Ape are along to qualify as animal abuse, and once again criminals capture them like they're hostages instead of killing them or leaving them where they are. The overall story outline of a treasure and two groups after it isn't bad even if it's generic, and the albino John Black is a memorable character. Condense Chapters 1- 4 into three chapters, scrunch Chapters 5 - 13 into ten chapters, and make the last act in the pyramid more clever in its execution. It's by-the-numbers without creative flair.
[1940's Speakerphone] Instead of taking it, Doc whirled to a built-in cabinet in one wall of the library. He flung open a door and flipped down a small switch.
The apparatus was one for shunting any incoming phone call into a loud-speaker arrangement that magnified the caller’s voice many times, so that all in the room could hear.
[The Fortress Of Solitude was booked] For the bronze man—from time to time—went into seclusion when he had his remarkable brain centered upon a particular problem. In this case, it was a treatise on a new type of brain surgery that was going to startle a good part of the world. It was Johnny’s job to see that no one disturbed Doc Savage.
[For some reason this is hysterically funny] He dialed that number.
When the connection was made, a voice—a squeaky, small voice was saying, "An’ here’s another one for you, shyster: Confucius say—"
There immediately followed a roar that sounded like, "Ye-e-ow!" The voice faded away from the phone. John Black held the receiver, puzzled.
And then the voice came back, the squeaky, small voice. It seemed more subdued. It asked, "Hello? Who’s calling, please?"
His full name was Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, but you didn’t call him that if you wanted to keep in good with the insurance companies.
Monk beamed and said in his strangely childlike voice, "My dear lady, come, come in! If there’s something we can do for you—"
Ham elbowed Monk aside. He bowed gallantly.
"This oaf," he said, indicating Monk, "is only employed here to scrub floors. May I help you?"
On the way out, Ham said to the girl, "Chemistry is really a distant relative of Monk, only more intelligent."
For the man was very tall and so thin that most passengers had to stare up at him. He had a high forehead, the aesthetic face of a thinker, and it was a bet, when he started to walk, whether his clothes would fall off his long thin body. From his lapel dangled a ribbon to which was attached a monocle with a thick lens.
For the woman walked with short, smooth steps that carried her trim small form along as though it were being moved on some sort of conveyor. Johnny had never seen anyone walk so smoothly, so effortlessly as this beautiful creature.
John Black’s name hardly suited his description. For he was an albino.
He had skin the color of skim milk, hair as light as oat straw, and eyes that seemed to be a shade of pink. He was a little stout man that made you think of a kewpie. But a very sanctimonious kewpie.
Because John Black had a habit of standing with his hands held in a holier-than-thou sort of gesture across his round middle, and of smiling piously and of saying, "Bless you," quite frequently.
LUCIUS ETHELBERT PETTIBONE was a strapping big fellow with worried eyes and a nervous manner. Shaking hands with him was like taking hold of a piece of soap that has stood too long in water.
He packed the cylinder in amongst soiled linen that he jammed into the suitcase. If anything did happen, he could pretend he was taking his laundry to the Chinaman’s.
A moment later there was a squeal of brakes as he swung sharply right, cutting off the first cab and running it up onto the sidewalk. The first driver leaped out, cursing and making a lot of noise. In New York, cab drivers never come to blows. They merely make noise.
But you just didn’t ride up there and barge in and talk to Doc Savage. The bronze man was a difficult person to interview. First, you had to state your case to one of Doc Savage’s aids, and then—if your problem was something very, very vital, a situation that meant the punishing of evildoers and the righting of a wrong—you might get past the reception committee.
TWO men rose up in the rear seat of the girl’s car after it had proceeded a block or so. They looked like classmates of the gunmen who had seized Monk and Ham. Judging from appearances, their alma mater might be Sing Sing or San Quentin.
A creative writer can fix The Awful Dynasty and make it decent.
094 - The Men Vanished:
"A mysterious man with a face like a pre-Columbian stone image lures Doc and his crew to a madman’s secret empire deep in the Amazon jungles — where seven of the world’s foremost explorers have inexplicably vanished. Is Doc next?"
"Kill Dink Masket?"
A literary potpourri of the good, the bad, and the two-faced fugly, December, 1940's The Men Vanished is a kiddie roll-coaster ride of things that keep your interest, tosses it aside, and makes you wonder what might be up with that. The takeaway is a character whose face is split down the middle with one side handsome and the other not so much. He's not called Two-Face or anything, but the speculation is if this character influenced the Batman villain who popped up two years later. Probably not.
The story's strongest section is what is usually the weakest - the middle transition from the structured opening to the (hopefully) planned out resolution. Here it's simply a case of cool things happening one after the other instead of moving from place to place in improv without coming up with worthwhile distractions. I liked that the mastermind reveal, at least in name only, is provided earlier than usual. This jettisoned the need to talk and prance around it with costumes and funny voices. Niji's faked death was nice and the mastermind uber-reveal a pleasant bonus.
The book opens like a mid-1930's grand adventure but that's secondary once Doc shows up in Chapter 3 disguised as Dink Masket. Lester Dent drops the ball in having him fool, or at least seem to fool, Pat and his assistants. This is a ruse quickly revealed but it's confusing and clumsy. Also in need of a line of explanation is a nice scene where three men are tied to dock pilings and Doc's threatening them with drowning. The text should indicate they can't see Doc's face. Junith Stage recognizing Doc in full disguise might be an error, and Doc using the gas-in-heel trick twice is one time too many. "Pocket lettuce" is money.
The last section where Doc fights a big cat and dazzles primitive peoples feels dated. Imagine how bad it would look to have an actor wrestle a large jaguar.
Doc Savage leaned back on the cushions and squirmed a little; he seemed to be relaxing. His feet were close together, and one of them rubbed the other. A moment later, the heel came off his right shoe without making enough sound to be noticed above the exhaust mutter of the engine. Doc stepped down on the heel rather hard.
Then the bronze man’s body became slack, his eyes closing. He lay that way, his head rolling to the side...
"It was a trick. He had some kind of gas or something in the heel of his shoe. He pulled the heel off his shoe, and we didn’t notice it."
[Admission of the limitations of mercy bullets] Ham leveled his machine pistol carefully, and it made another big noise. But the mercy bullets, mere shells, did not strike with enough foot-pounds of energy to break the windows of the car. The machine drove away with great speed.
The gyros—they were not true gyros with the ability to rise straight up, but neither were they the common autogyro plane that required considerable forward speed to keep in the air—lifted off the water after very brief runs.
[Peak human] Most of the things the newspapers"—the speaker glanced at the press row again—"print about Doc happen to be true. They call him a mental wizard, a physical marvel. And this happens to be true. Within, of course, human limits. Doc is no fantastic, inhuman creation, as we, who are well acquainted with him, know.
[Doc "Dink" Masket] Pat’s rescuer flung open the limousine door. He was huge, wide, very freckled, very red-headed. He had four gold teeth in the center of his mouth, and he was showing them. He seemed as happy as a bulldog with a strange cat.
He reached down, felt around in the darkness, and jerked off the adhesive tape which gagged Tiny.
"You have not, by any chance, decided to tell me all about it?" he asked.
"Listen," Tiny croaked, "you ain’t running no whizzer on us. We know you don’t kill anybody."
Doc Savage’s chuckle was grim.
"I won’t be doing it," he said. "The tide might, however."
"The hell with you!" Tiny snarled.
"The tide," Doc said, "is still coming in."
The bronze man watched her. He was almost positive she was scared, but he wished he could be certain. He wished he was a better judge of women—or any judge at all, for that matter. He had long ago discovered that his judgment of feminine character was not to be trusted.
"Taxi!" he called.
Two taxi drivers appeared hastily. Doc studied them, selected the more competent-looking of the two. "How fast will your cab go?"
"Ninety-five for certain," the man said quietly. "Maybe more. But I don’t pay the fines."
"There won’t be any fines," Doc said. "And you will get a dollar a minute."
"Yeah. What do I do?"
"You wait here for a few minutes while I make a telephone call," Doc told him. "No. Better go out and get your machine filled up with oil and gas, the tires checked and the motor warm."
The taxi driver looked at Doc appraisingly. "You Doc Savage, ain’t you?"
"I’ll be waiting," the man said.
[Early hint at Doc's later full-blown Alzheimer's] DOC SAVAGE was not sure exactly how long he had been in the back of the plane. His watch had stopped, and upon investigating, he had found that nothing was wrong with the watch, that it had simply run down, and the fact worried him somewhat, because he had schooled himself not to overlook details, not even the smallest ones.
[Coach says no dates before weights] Ordinarily, during a period of confinement such as this, he would have managed to take, at least daily, the two-hour routine of exercises which he had not neglected for years, and which were largely responsible for his unusual physical development. But confined here, he had no food, and did not want to work up an appetite, so he toned down on all but the mental phases of his exercise routine. He took those.
[Bonus points for the archaic phrasing] Doc, Ham and Johnny went among them, and collected several blowguns and a supply of poisoned arrows, but in spite of that, Doc shortly felt a sharp impact against his back. It was a poisoned blowgun dart that, except for the fact that he was wearing a chain-mesh shirt that had stopped the thing, would have been unpleasant. He plucked out the dart, chased the native who had blown the thing at him, caught the fellow, and gave him a trouncing in the presence of his fellows.
Pat sounded quite calm, and her quietness irritated Doc Savage. Pat enjoyed this kind of excitement, and that was a perpetual source of irritation to the bronze man. He got a kick out of it himself, he had to admit, but it was a grim kind of thrill, and he often wished he did not have a taste for adventure.
[Monk, the idiot savant] Phil got on the telephone, put in a call. He recognized the squeaky, childlike voice that answered—it belonged to the apish-looking Monk Mayfair, who, Phil happened to know, was one of the country’s leading industrial chemists, in spite of the fact that there didn’t appear to be room for more than a spoonful of brains in his head.
"Doc ain’t here. I dunno where he went," Monk said with ungrammatical carelessness. "What you want with him?"
"I want to talk to him," Phil said. "I have an enormous admiration for Doc Savage."
"So have I," Monk said. "So has everybody who knows him. Who did you say you are?"
"Mr. Philip O’Reilly."
"Oh, yeah. That young squirt with a lot of money who is trying to be an explorer. I remember."
Phil, angered, said, "I am an explorer."
"Oh, sure. You crossed Africa in a Rolls-Royce and a trailer, complete with refrigerator and lace curtains. I heard about it."
"I hope you do not mind telling those lies."
"You know me," Monk said cheerfully. "Liar is my middle name"
[Two-Face, 1940] Then he took another look, and his mouth became round with shock. It was a little appalling, his first look at the face of the man who had just said he was a photographer. The man’s face was really two faces—that is, the left side of it was radically different from the right side. The right side was an ordinary face, rather young, almost handsome. The left side was heavy, thick-lipped, darker of cast, with an aboriginal cast to the features. The line of demarcation—the line where one half face left off, and the other began—was sharply defined, like a line drawn down through the middle of the forehead, down the nose, and on down the middle of the chin.
"Monk was the fellow who sat on the front row and applauded, and Ham Brooks was the well-dressed man who punched him in the ribs."
[Nice visual] The man with the ugly face came to a big window in the back of the house, wrapped arms around his face, and ran through the window as if it wasn’t there. Glass cascaded to the floor, leaving a big hole in the window.
He knew Phil O’Reilly had been collegiate champ in several branches of athletics. Phil was also quite handsome—it was Phil’s secret and horrible suspicion at times that he was pretty, and he dressed in a rough, tweedy fashion to overcome this.
"Where is this Fortress of Solitude?"
"Search us," Monk said. "We don’t know, except that it’s in the polar regions somewhere. You see, Doc keeps a lot of valuable scientific discoveries at the place, and one time some guys found it, and we had a heck of a time. After that, he moved the Fortress. We don’t know where he moved it to."
Doc loaded the trio into the limousine. He drove with them to a small garage far uptown. The garage was closed for the night, but the proprietor, a rather quiet young man, lived in an apartment above the place. The young man came down, looked in the car, and, without a word, opened the door of his garage.
Inside the garage was an ambulance. Doc Savage and the garage man transferred Tiny, Lon and Bat to the ambulance...
Nothing more was said. The young garage man had done this thing before—taken unconscious men to a strange institution in the remote mountainous upstate section of New York. He knew something of what it was all about. He knew that the men he hauled were criminals.
JUNITH STAGE was a little too tall to have a figure, yet she had one, and a very noticeable one, too.
[$84.68 per gallon in today's money] Chief Eagle nodded. "That’s all right. Will you sell me some gas?"
"Five dollars a gallon."
Niji shrugged. "I am a crook," he said. "But first, I am a man with a certain code. When a man does me or mine good, I return it. The same for wrong."
"You mean," Doc said, "that you are my friend."
Niji shook his head. "Not your friend. Crooks are never your friends. What I mean is this: If I can help you in any way, I will."
[Se-Pah-Poo went on to be the title of the 157th Doc Savage book] The ceremonial rooms. Circular, with six supporting pillars cut into the edge, a ventilating hole and a deflecting stone like this one, and a see-pah-poo in the center."
"A what in the center?"
[WHY bring the stupid animals?!] Monk and Ham had gone off on a private mission of their own—they were hunting Habeas Corpus and Chemistry. The pig and the chimp had been neglected somewhat more on this adventure than on most occasions. Both animals had become lost when the gyro was forced down—Habeas and Chemistry had been riding in the gyro occupied by Monk—and had been chased into the jungle by the natives.
The Men Vanished deserves a better ending. I'm picturing typical Gilligan's Island production values as I think back on it.
095 - The Devil's Playground:
"Night after night the Indian drums boomed their terrifying portent of evil and destruction. And each night another victim of “the thousand cuts” lay dead in the forest. Doc Savage grapples with the eerie and sinister Michabou, the great spirit of the primitive Ojibway tribe, in the Herculean attempt to cease the senseless blood bath of the Devil’s Tomahawks, and to quiet forever the mysterious drums of murder."
"Wow!" Monk yelped. "Lamp the beavers."
Ghost writer Alan Hathway possibly graduated from the "Jot Down Anything" school of speed writing, where you can scribble your way in or out of anything! The Devil's Playground was his first of four Doc Savage stories, and it is as bad as it is slow moving, creatively random, and bogged down in stage direction. Doc Savage was written with fifteen year old boys and "working class" men in mind, the latter implying their education might not have extended into or through high school. This is no excuse for poor writing, and glossing over it by figuring it was consumed by a constituency who knew or cared little about these things opens the door for adults today to see Doc Savage as bad kid lit from a quaint but irrelevant past.
The low point of this tale from January, 1941 is mind reading whimsy:
Long ago Monk and Ham had carried on spectacularly successful experiments in telepathy. Monk didn’t know whether they would work at the distance probably between them now. Nor if being under water would have any effect. But it was worth a try.
"You danged fourflushing shyster!" Monk thought at Ham. "The next time I go into mourning for you, I’ll make doggoned certain you deserve it."
Monk swam on, glowering. Then he bellowed in renewed rage.
"Tssssk, such a pity," a thought wave came back to him. "You look so charming in black."
Next up is Doc Savage's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang canoe, also a complete chemistry lab containing lockers for clothes that fit Doc and five diving helmets. I might have glossed over where it transforms into a drill and digs deep into the earth and is later used as a rocket ship with full beverage service:
Monk reached behind him, yanked at a lever. The canoe shot ahead with a speed that was unbelievable. The canoe was equipped with a chemical rocket propulsion of Monk’s invention. It could travel at an incredible pace for miles...
Hairy Monk’s face fell. He and Long Tom had developed a thin wire mesh that went over the birch-bark canoe like a kind of hood. It was practically invisible, but highly charged with electricity. The current separated the elements of water, hydrogen and oxygen, by electrolysis. The hydrogen was released and the oxygen fed to the occupants of the canoe by special inhalaters. When the plane machine-gunned the canoe, bullets had not sunk the craft. Monk had opened a valve that sunk it. The canoe—which was actually a highly complete floating chemical laboratory—became a tiny, efficient submarine...
First, he stripped the fine wire mesh that constituted the electrolysis hood from the craft. Then he used a waterproof zipper to open a slot along one entire side of the canoe. A pressed lever brought a thin, almost-invisible cellophanelike globe around the canoe. The stuff, a chemical combination known only to Doc, was a sort of glassite that had unbelievable strength for its weight and thinness.
The glassite globe became a superstructure over the canoe, both watertight and transparent, with the strength of so much steel. Monk sunk the canoe then, and hurried after the others.
File under These Were In His Gun At That Exact Moment?:
Monk let the bull-fiddle roar loose upon the night without waiting for so much as a challenge. Two things happened. The engine of the motorboat quit with one dying gasp. And a whitish fog sprang up around the motorboat. Monk chuckled gleefully. The slugs were of a new composition. They were intended to silence any gasoline motor within shooting range and create a whitish smoke screen at the same time.
The story's core is average leaning towards dull, but it perks up in not-good humorous ways for things from left field that only a ghost writer can provide. Ongoing stage direction notes indicate Hathaway was better at that than plot:
Lakonnen strode to a water bucket kept for fire prevention. He dashed water onto his face. The big Finn was scared and showed it. His huge frame trembled violently. He started to say something more, but was interrupted by a banging on the door. Marquette Heller opened it.
The tall, ramrod-straight form of Paul P. Keewis was outlined in the glare of the unprotected electric globe in the tiny office. Keewis still wore the war paint of an Ojibway brave. His face was grim and set, gave little indication of any emotion...
As the light cast its glare more closely on the features of the brave, it seemed that his tanned, naturally-pigmented skin was pale. His eyes did not flinch or falter, but there was a tensity of attitude that was inescapable. Keewis’ diction was as smooth and perfect as it always was. A white man’s university had given Keewis all the outward attributes of civilization.
To resolve an earlier scene in New York where a bad guy wears a plastic mask for no reason as he's not the mastermind and a mask would only draw more attention than if he didn't wear one, Hathaway chooses one of the gang and gives us this, a man walking around in the middle of nowhere wearing a plastic mask:
The man was dressed in nondescript clothes. His face was obviously not a face at all. It was some sort of a plastic mask. That was apparent even in the dim light of the flash. He seemed to think some sort of an explanation was in order.
"I am a botanist," he stated. "I have lost my way."
Doc and the rest are handled well enough so the story has that going for it, but otherwise the only qualitative thing The Devil's Playground gets right are the fifty-cut Devil's Tomahawk devices. Iron Maidens disguised as rocks, trees, and a Detroit sanitation box made for clever mystery deaths. There being no footprints around the dead men was never explained so it existed for effect. Bombers roaring out to destroy Doc's Fortress Of Solitude could have led to something special but it was nullified by Doc instead being in a plane far away when he used his radio (triangulated by the bad guys as the location of the Fortress). Renny's off-page resolve of an earlier action cliffhanger passed muster:
THE big-fisted engineer explained that about fifty cops had pounced on the plane he was riding when the man in the mask forced it down in the field outside of Flint.
A lot of unimportant gangsters were killed, Renny said, but the man in the mask got away. He also said that Marquette Heller disappeared at the Flint airport but had come on later to Sault Ste. Marie in a private plane.
More lesser aspects of the story are below, highlighted by Monk being pinned to a fir tree by an arrow to be immediately forgotten. Monk is also an expert on native culture and a number of languages because exposition demanded it.
But Monk wore a hat that was a gadget to end all gadgets. It had a removable visor, a screen that tucked into the neck and could be made waterproof by application of a patented oil.
[Robots in 1941 were advanced technology] "Flew five hundred miles from Fortress of Solitude for second contact with Renny," Doc dictated. "Contacted by radio-televisor from transport plane. Assumed triangulation would be made, so set transport on robot control to go into battle maneuvers when penetrated by bullets. Placed dummy figure at the stick."
Renny used what is known as a throat microphone. Tiny in size, the thing was concealed beneath the collar of his throat. It picked up voice vibrations through the skin. It is of a type used on some airlines.
Then Doc Savage did a peculiar thing. He sat erect upon his ledge and sneezed. The first sneeze did not suit him. He sneezed again and louder. As he did, he kept his hands cupped before him...
Doc’s right nostril held a tiny capsule of tremendous value to him at that moment. He caught it skillfully in his cupped hands. Clutching it between a forefinger and a thumb, he broke it, let the contents drip over the chain links of the handcuffs. In half a dozen moments, they parted. The stuff was a highly powerful solvent that worked on any metal.
Doc took a jar of greenish paste from one of the lockers in Monk’s canoe. He smeared the stuff on his arms and shoulders. Nothing happened then. He handed the jar to the others.
"Rub it on as I have," Doc advised. "When the stuff comes in contact with water, it will glow and make enough light to see where you are going. When you leave the water, it will lose its luminescent quality."
[Dear Diary] Doc sat up then and began to speak into a peculiar sort of a dictaphone. The device recorded magnetically on a highly sensitized steel tape instead of an ordinary wax cylinder. It was a system of recording Doc sometimes used when danger was sufficiently great. If anything should happen to the bronze man, there were certain things his aids would need to know to carry on.
[I'd like to say you can't make this stuff up, but I guess you can] Then the battle took on a weird, unwordly atmosphere. It seemed as if time had gotten somehow out of kilter. A painted brave swung a heavy tomahawk at Doc Savage’s head. It struck Doc, but didn’t seem to do any damage.
The entire action took on the appearance of a movie film shot in slow motion. Doc Savage reached down and pulled three Indians off Monk’s prone form. There was nothing slow motion about Monk’s squalling. Nor about the manner in which he raced out of the room into the cold night air...
"Whooee!" Monk wheezed. "That slow-motion gas is sure something."
Doc did not reply. He had dropped a tiny globule of a new gas he had invented inside the room. The gas, instantly effective, slowed up all motor processes of those who breathed it. He and Monk had held their breath.
[BS. Fake teeth but not this] He had even had false teeth incasing his own perfect ones that contained explosives powerful enough to blast solid walls of masonry that stood between him and freedom.
[James Randi call your office] Renny knew Doc had been interested in the first reports of the return of the Devil’s Tomahawks. The bronze man was always interested in apparent manifestations of spirit control and supernatural influences. Doc had exploded the claims of many fakes by his careful scientific investigations.
Doc had spent many hours swimming with hands and feet manacled.
The man obviously should have been in a hospital. He was slim, and of scarcely average height. His complexion suggested that he had been raised in darkness, or had spent most of his life in a sickbed. Long Tom Roberts always impressed people that way on first introduction. He looked like a walking example of successful pernicious anaemia.
[Not true, but sure] To those who knew him well, or to persons who could outrun him, he was normally known as Ham.
[Fops Magoo] Ham was resplendent, as usual, even in his fishing togs. The latest thing in waders incased his feet and legs. The waterproof extra-heavy broadcloth breeches were the last thing in style. The jacket, with smart pockets, was the nobbiest thing his tailor could devise. Bright trout flies were stuck in the band of his soft felt hat.
Ham looked at her judiciously. He could not make up his mind whether she was a good actress and lying, or telling the truth. Ham was notoriously inaccurate in his judgment of women. But Monk was worse.
[That must be one thick wallet] Big Renny growled in realization as he stamped up the aisle. The stewardess rose from a front seat to check his progress. Renny quickly showed her an identification card. He and other of Doc’s aids held honorary posts in the Civil Aëronautics Authority of the Department of Commerce.
It was impossible, for example, that a man could die of a hundred brutal slashes from a hundred tomahawks in half a dozen seconds. It was impossible that such a thing could befall a man entirely surrounded by his friends; happen in a soft cranberry bog marsh without an unexplained footprint approaching the victim!
Of course that was impossible. But Mattson Kovisti had seen it happen.
Even in the fastness of the North Woods, the name of the man newspapers termed a physical phenomenon and a mental marvel was one to strike hope in the heart of an honest man; terror to a crook. Mattson Kovisti knew more of the bronze giant than most woodsmen. The huge Finn had spent many long winters in northern lumber camps. In the winter nights the jack in the bunkhouse can either read or take part in the long-winded arguments that go on endlessly. The Finns are not a talkative race. They either sleep or read.
"My father was an individualist," she said simply. "He believed in solving things in his own way. If this thing was big enough for him to realize that he needed Doc Savage, it is certainly too big for us!"
[I assume Alan Hathaway never read 1938's Fortress Of Solitude] When Doc was engaged in research that demanded utmost concentration, he often flew to the hidden estate tucked away in the far Northland. Not even his aids knew the location of the Fortress of Solitude. Only by prearrangement or under certain specified conditions were they to disturb Doc’s operations there.
[Mayan is a lost language without words for modern things, so how does that work?] Renny spoke rapidly and in a loud, booming voice. He had no worries about anyone eavesdropping on the conversation. The big engineer spoke in Mayan, the ancient, almost extinct, tongue of Central America. There were probably not half a dozen white men in the so-called civilized world aside from Doc and his aids who understood that tongue.
[Renny was with the pilots when the gunplay started and now he's in the bathroom?] "Am in Boeing transport making forced landing near Flint. Gang leader has plastic mask. Has been apparently friendly with Mark Heller. Cannot tell whether it is genuine or not. Am calling from washroom to conceal conversation."
[These horrible injuries were never mentioned again] "Hah!" Ham snapped. Then he stopped. An arrow whizzed through the air, took Ham in the fleshy part of one arm. A second arrow whipped through Monk’s trousers, pinned him to the fir tree like a beetle to a biology specimen card.
[Sure] Ham commanded Chemistry to come over and untie his bonds. The ape had been taught to tie and untie knots.
Nosy had a secret suspicion that when the mobsters had exhausted their value to the boss criminal he might turn the thing on them anyway. But the double-cross was a chance all crooks took—or gave.
The Devil's Playground took forever to get through because of the thickness of the stage directions and less than riveting storytelling. The same questions didn't need to be asked over and over. It's a story that can be beaten into a decently average Doc Savage adventure. I never knew which drums were from the Natives and which from the bad guys, so I'd clear up who's doing what and what it is they're doing, and better develop the local Native American involvement into something more comprehensive, organized, and impressive. Marquette Heller should have contributed more to earn his high standing at the end, and Igor Lakonnen's 25 years of service as mine supervisor to Pig-Iron Heller failed because there's no explanation for Russia planting him in a dinky iron-mine operation in the Great North Woods starting in 1916. Bombers are involved so the Moscow involvement was on a much larger scale than a hidden foundry and mining operation, yet Igor's death is the end of the story/threat so that's left hanging as unresolved and unaddressed.
096 - Bequest Of Evil:
"One of Doc's friends inherits a Canadian estate, but they all get more than they bargained for, including kidnappers, torture, an Arctic colony of slaves -- and a diabolical madman with a plot to rule the world!"
"I’m really a Canadian, you know, and none of us Canadians like crooks!"
William G. Bogart's February, 1941 Doc Savage contribution is surprisingly good. Surprising as a Bogart-ghosted story and also that it gets better and makes more sense as it goes along instead of the usual other way around. The "fake" Monk is nothing new to the series and it never fails to fail, but the charming Earl of Chester character earns enough goodwill to make it not that big of a big deal in the long run.
The bits where Ham tries to pull a Eliza Doolittle on Monk are fun, along with Monk's newfound abbreviated classiness. The fight scenes throughout are good and everything seems to be in their right places.
Ghosted Doc Savage stories contain elements such as these and it's a battle deciding if you should take or leave them:
Doc Savage’s hearing was as remarkable as the rest of his rigidly trained senses. It was said that he could hear a watch tick at fifty yards.
[Doc does not use guns] Taking advantage of this fact, the gunmen spread in assorted directions and were fast swallowed up by the crowds. Doc had scooped up a discarded weapon. But there was no chance to use it. There was too much danger of hitting an innocent bystander.
[Was contact possible?]"There is no need for me to accompany you," he announced. "But if there should be anything of importance, you can contact me at the Fortress of Solitude."
[Implies there's a mix of bullets in the gun and you can choose the ones you want] It was one of the machine pistols used by the Doc Savage aids. The weapon fired, as well as real bullets, demolition slugs and also a type of "mercy" slug that merely brought temporary unconsciousness to its victims.
Renny used one of the demolition slugs. He fired a single blast.
[Is it really a dead language?] For the bronze man was speaking in ancient Mayan, a dead language that Doc Savage and all his men used when they wished to speak to one another without being understood by others.
In a moment he was on the phone. He spoke personally with the city editor of a leading newspaper. As a matter of fact, Doc Savage had a controlling interest in several papers. The message he gave to the first was relayed to others.
For all his apelike appearance and constant tomfoolery, Monk was quite an intelligent fellow. He was one of the world’s leading industrial chemists, a fact that his appearance belied. Monk always looked as though he slept in his clothes.
[Really? He would punch someone into unconsciousness for calling him by his full legal name?] The chemist’s full name was Andrew Blodgett Mayfair—but no one ever called him that if they wanted to remain conscious.
Men got up out of the chairs from where they had been seated in the darkness. There were at least seven or eight, and they had the kind of faces that don’t appear in magazine ads.
"With this form of radio transmission," Lucky Napoleon said, "only the country possessing it would be able to use the air waves. They could communicate with their own armies and navies—and disrupt communications of every country they were fighting! They would have a world control of that most vital thing necessary in war—communication. While other countries would be cut off the air completely."
Bequest Of Evil is not a big story but they all don't have to be and many of them aren't. It wasn't bad at all.
097 - The All-White Elf:
"A weapon of incredible hypnotic power has fallen into evil hands. Doc Savage must uncover the secret of the paralyzing peril — or face a fiery death at sea."
Gold! The treasure is a boat carrying gold! Gold(!) draws my interest as much as a pile of toaster ovens. Am I too fabulously wealthy, or have I read too many Doc Savage books? The All-White Elf is an above-average, solid story with a few let-downs in follow-through. For March, 1941 it's better than expected.
The pre-reveal scenes with the monsteresque white elf are effectively creepy and possibly the best of the pulp run, but the chances of it being a thug in a poorly made costume were 99.993%, so my hope Lester Dent would go the extra foot to come up with something more satisfying was doomed.
[Set-up] If an elf is supposed to be a little creature, the name did not fit this thing. The figure was hard to define as to size, for none of the pedestrians were close enough to compare sizes. It was wider than a man. Not as tall, possibly, although the grotesque shape made it hard to tell.
In general, the figure was rather shapeless, although it was more human than not. The color was unusual. Startling. It was white, and yet a strange kind of white. Not the hue of white in the sense that a sheet or a piece of canvas is white, but white with a brilliant, intense, mirrorlike quality. White almost as a frosted electric-light bulb is white when lighted, although there was no definitely luminous quality about the figure...
The grotesque figure of the elf, dazzling in its whiteness, was standing in front of the window. A sheet had been twisted into a long rope, and this rope was being used to strangle the nurse. She fought weakly, but it was obvious that she had lost most of her consciousness.
The white thing whirled. It started to make some kind of a gesture, the nature of the movement indefinite. Probably it expressed surprise...
"I’m not quite insane enough to stand here and tell you a mysterious monster from another world had me prisoner," the nurse said dryly. "But I will say this: There wasn’t anything human about the thing."
[Reveal] He dug into the sail bags, got out the packages he had brought—five of them—and opened one. The garment he removed from the package was like a suit of coveralls, with an all-enveloping head hood added, made of an utterly white substance.
The white garment was heavy. It gave out a sound like chain mail as he unrolled it. He took off his shoes, coat, and worked into the thing. It fastened with a double zipper, the zippers being made out of the same metal as the garment. He closed these...
Three or four minutes later, the guard came back. He wore a white garment, somewhat more crudely made than that of the bronze man, one that gave the fellow a misshapen, hobgoblin aspect.
For action, Chapter 6 is very good. Dent goes to great lengths to set up that Jerry Million isn't a bad person, but the payoff is, in another form, a random guy in a costume:
The newspaper item was a confession. A confession by a young man named Earl Graves, stating that his own cowardice had been responsible for the laboratory fire which had disgraced Jerry Million. Jerry, said Earl Graves in the confession, had not even been present in the laboratory at the inception of the trouble, but had appeared later.
In the confession, Earl Graves said:
I was Jerry Million’s close friend, and we were both in love with the same girl. The girl, Jerry believed, loved me. So he took the blame and disgrace for the fire, for my cowardice. I was coward enough to let him do it.
The All-White Elf is better than most as far as exposition and recap goes, but in Chapter 9 Dent falls back on his love of boatnik filler and serves up a tutorial that ends with a threat of continuation cut short by something story-related:
"They sneaked up on that bugeye," Renny said.
He added an explanation of what he knew about bugeye boats, explaining the craft were peculiar to Chesapeake Bay, having been originally for the special needs of the oyster-dredging business, before the days of power. The boats were very shallow draft, drawing only a few inches of water, but with their slanting clipper-type bows and masts which raked back in streamlined fashion, they were among the most attractive sailboats in the world. Originally, Renny explained, the bottoms of the bugeyes had been made with three or five logs drifted together with Swedish iron, an unusual type of construction, and one which would at first seem to be clumsy, but that was actually of deceptive speed.
Renny went back still further in the history of bugeye boats, telling about the log canoes which were really the first craft of the type—when Kinner and Charles disappeared into the bugeye which they had been inspecting cautiously.
The day-players and how they interconnect are well handled, and the story moves along smartly with action, mystery, and Doc doing odd things to stay on top of events. The use of fire and the imperative to use fire is exciting, and the subtle gadget of a gas that makes a person sneeze a few times so you can hear where they are is a nice touch. Soft and pink Arnold Haatz opens the book on a high note as an unexpected Terminator - "He's hell on wheels!"
[Usually it's mostly harmless] The bronze man’s first act was to test the victim’s pulse and respiration. The anaesthetic gas contained in the "marbles" was—as its sudden action indicated—powerful stuff, so that there was always some slight danger that a victim with an abnormally weak heart, or some chronic physical difficulty, might succumb. There was no danger of this fellow dying, however. His body was functioning like a machine.
[Odd one-time gadget] Doc drove a hand inside his clothing, brought out a metal cylinder that resembled a bicycle pump. He twisted a small valve on the end, and the thing whistled like a peanut wagon, threw a stream of liquid a little thinner than a darning needle. Doc swung the nozzle as if he were wetting down a lawn with a hose...
He had developed this gas recently. This was his first attempt to use it, and he was not too confident of its effect. It was tricky stuff, a fiercely agonizing irritant that acted upon the skin. It had the unusual quality of being almost instantaneously nullified upon coming in contact with cloth or other porous material which had been impregnated with a chemical mixture.
Preparing for use of the new gas, days previously, Doc and his aids had soaked their clothing repeatedly in the nullifying chemical mixture, which left no outward evidence except a slight stiffening of the fabric and a fading of some dye colors. The fabric rendered the gas impotent before it reached their skin. Thus a common suit of clothes, if treated with the proper chemicals, became effective protection.
[Combat vest instead of daily wear vest] Finally he stood, thrust his arms and legs into parachute harness, and strapped on a garment resembling a hunter’s vest, except that the pockets were larger, more numerous, and crammed with gadgets of the peculiar type which he preferred to use.
IT took Doc Savage another seven minutes to locate the guard. Because it was infinitely dark, he used a gadget to locate the guard. He pulled the cork out of a small vial, and tossed it away from him, toward the bugeye. The wind was also blowing toward the bugeye. The vial contained an irritant type of gas which, in extremely small quantities such as this, caused no effect except an inclination to sneeze. It was not even noticeable as an odor. In a closed room, however, or crushed in a handkerchief and held to a man’s nostrils, it would cause violent agony and nausea.
The bronze man then retreated a few yards and unlimbered his portable radio. The set was very small. The microphone and some of the apparatus was built into a cup-shaped container which was edged with sponge rubber and fitted over the lips and nostrils, so that a conversation could be carried on without being audible more than a few inches away.
[White Light machine] "The machine?" Ham demanded.
"What will it be like?"
"Complicated. A little like a radio transmitter, perhaps. Vacuum tubes and coils. Probably a radiating antenna. Small enough to be portable by automobile. A machine that generates an ultrashort wave, either of hertzian or sonic type, possibly of both. A wave that travels through most substances, and causes a paralyzing effect on the visual nerves."
[A rare signature] The cab driver, coming up with a piece of paper which he had hastily unearthed, said: "You’re Doc Savage, aren’t you? How about autographing this for my kid?"
Doc Savage complied.
"I saw a grocery store across the street on the corner," Doc said. "They probably sell bottled soft drinks. Monk, you and Ham go to that store. Buy a dozen or so bottles of soft drinks. Empty the bottles, fill them with gasoline, and cork them. Wrap rags around the bottles, tie them on with string, and soak the rags in gasoline."...
"Can you get hold of gasoline in any quantity?" the bronze man demanded.
"I . . . I don’t know," said the astonished superintendent. "Y-yes, there is a tank which we use to refuel the ambulances."
"Run gasoline on the sidewalk outside, under all the windows," Doc ordered. "Run it in the gutters. At the first sign of excitement, set it afire."
The superintendent, pop-eyed, made a bewildered noise.
Doc gripped his arm. "Do as I tell you," he said urgently. "The lives of a great many people may depend on it."
[Rare type of Doc interaction] "You’ll have to buy me another suit!" he snapped. "This is a very good suit, too! It cost eighty dollars."
Doc had decided the suit had cost, at the most, thirty-two fifty. He reached out suddenly, opened the coat and looked at the label. It was a chain-store label.
"Have them send me the bill for an exact duplicate to that suit," he said, "and I’ll pay it."
[I never like when Doc says "Eh?", which he did infrequently. It's an illiterate grunt] "Water only," Doc Savage said. "Eh?"
[While still a personality defect this is still better than rotating the job of interpreter] Johnny said, "I’ll be superamalgamated! An unparagoned bit of suscitation."
Which meant roughly that there was indeed some excitement, and that he approved of it.
[It's because Johnny knows he's a pretentious person and doesn't want to shame himself in front of Doc, who could also correct his verbal pretentiousness] Johnny, for some reason or other, never used his big words in conversation with Doc Savage, although Doc was one of the few individuals who probably understood the meaning of most of the jawbreakers.
Monk said several words which he had not learned in church.
She smiled at him shakily. Monk’s homely face, instead of frightening young women, as Ham insisted it should, usually had an opposite effect. Monk was so ugly that he was pleasant.
"I favor working on him first. I don’t trust him."
"Doc seemed to," Ham reminded.
That silenced Monk’s objections for a moment. Then he ventured, "Yeah, but you can’t tell about Doc. His methods are devious. Try to figure Doc out, and you have about as much luck as a monkey taking apart a watch."
"How did you find him?"
"I asked questions," Monk said, "of that bird, Smitty."
Doc Savage eyed Monk’s large set of knuckles. There was not much skin left on them. "I hope Smitty is not seriously damaged," he said.
"He’ll live long enough to get electrocuted," Monk said cheerfully.
"Who were the other four men?"
"I had never seen them before."
"How did they look?"
"About like guys who start shooting at us on sight generally look. "
Haatz wanted to know why. What was going on? At heart, he was a man who liked excitement, although he looked meek and, he well knew, a little like a pink pig. His fondest memories were of his army days, the war, of a hitch he had served with the Villa revolutionists in Mexico. These things were in his youth, and he did not talk about them much any more. People did not believe him. No one could think, after looking at him, that he had done deeds of daring and peril, and would like to do them again...
He would enjoy some excitement. His daily employment, the hunched-over-a-desk job which he had held during recent years, was monotonous. For a long time, his life had been dull to the point of despair. Now he felt a sudden consuming desire to take another whirl at the kind of life he had once led.
The operator asked, "Did you say Doc Savage?"
"Simply call New York City, and ask for Doc Savage."
[Today this interaction wouldn't be so casual] Grimly, Haatz returned to the place where he had left his rifle. It was still standing behind a showcase where he had left it, and he tucked the heavy weapon in the crook of his arm and sauntered out.
He took a taxicab.
"Going hunting?" the cab driver asked.
[Drug reference and name of my next band] The dagger was a relic of his old days; he had taken it from a hashish-crazed brown maniac on a Cristobal street.
Doc Savage went back to the advertising office, took pencil and paper, and quickly drafted an advertisement. It read:
Anyone seeing a weird and strange all-white "elf" of a figure should throw fire upon the thing. Their lives may depend upon it. Any kind of fire will do—a lighted match, a piece of flaming paper, but better still, balls of cloth soaked in gasoline or kerosene and lighted.
IF SURROUNDED BY FIRE, THE
"ELF" CAN BE MADE TO
$20,000 REWARD FOR ITS
[Ten Minutes? They skipped the part about taking the Flearun] The doors of the building—the structure resembled a warehouse, but it extended out into the river some distance—opened when he actuated a radio control. The doors closed again when he was inside.
Ten minutes later he was in his headquarters laboratory on the eighty-sixth floor of a midtown skyscraper. The laboratory was vast, occupying the major part of the floor space, and its equipment had been rated by experts as probably the most advanced in existence.
[How you know Kinner's alive and the mastermind] The captain paused to snap an order at a subordinate, then continued, "I know the bullet got Kinner between the eyes, because he clapped both hands to his forehead, fell backward, and blood shot out of his nose and mouth. Then everything seemed to turn to white fire. I was blinded. Everybody was blinded. It was that infernal white elf again."...
"Those are my handcuffs," he said. "I know them positively. They were on Kinner’s wrists. Kinner was shot between the eyes. You can see the bullet hole."
"Maybe," Monk suggested, "the man wasn’t Kinner in the first place."
The official produced a fingerprint card from his pocket. "These are the prints of the man. I took them myself. I checked them with Kinner’s record in the government files. Employees in his governmental department are fingerprinted. He was Kinner, all right. And he is dead."
[Bizarre mistake as they're talking in Mayan] "I don’t know." Renny looked distressed. "Say, there’s a guard on deck who can understand this. We better mislead him about this conversation."
"For more than twenty years," he said, "I was completely blind. Blindness that comes at birth is bearable. But when a man has seen all that is beautiful in the world, then has to step into blackness, it is a thing more awful than death. But to see again afterward—there is nothing quite as wonderful as that."
"The sight was returned to my eyes through the wizardry of a great surgeon who had developed a new operative method. I am not the only blind man who has been able to see again because of that surgeon."
"Come on, old man. We’re wasting time," the leader growled.
"That surgeon’s life is worth many of mine," Milan Zinn said. His voice lifted desperately. "And the surgeon happens to be Doc Savage."
Lester Dent gave more consideration than usual this month to the gadgets, characters, and pacing of The All-White Elf. Too bad he drops the ball on the elf reveal and Jerry Million's storyline. The ending is also too quick and pat in its happy resolutions, topped off by Ham being "displeased" by Monk taking the beautiful Audine Million on a date - something tacked on out of nowhere as a gag as the door slams shut.
098 - The Golden Man:
"A golden man rises miraculously from the sea with the power to peer into the future and challenge the Man of Bronze. Doc Savage and his crew follow the mystery man's fabulous trail from South America to New York where they uncover his Dark Sanctuary -- and come face to face with an evil cult of blackmail and murder!"
"Follow them and RARHQ," Doc wigwagged.
I rather enjoyed the 98th Doc Savage novel, dated April, 1941. The setup of the mystical and much-knowing golden man found floating naked in the sea with a red-tinged black star high overhead is well done, and often that means the explanation of it will be handled poorly. I accepted the reveal as a series of coincidental yet not all unreasonable occurrences, and the Golden Man earns itself a pass because it's strong from start to finish, and the resolution is much more interesting than expected, and more feasible than other novels where all you can do is smile at the silly shortcomings of quickie pulp fiction (Exhibit A: The Purple Dragon).
There's no explanation for the golden man's golden skin, and the locked-room mystery where a dummy is dropped out a window to be replaced by a real dead body doesn't pass final muster, but besides that I enjoyed the slightly relaxed yet exciting storytelling, detailed in the Sanctum reprint with a quote from writer Robert Turner:
"The trend was away from the fast-paced, hard-boiled, action-for-action's sake type of thing and was leaning more and more toward better characterization, less pulpy writing, and more emotional impact, involving real people in crime rather than the stock private investigators, although these were still in demand if they had something special to distinguish them."
Competition from comic books is mentioned as another reason they moved away from comic book strengths (pictures trumps words). I can see how the Ubermensch would be out of fashion after WWII, but I need proof sentiment in that direction popped up in 1941. Maybe the writers themselves were looking to branch out into other and more seriously accepted forms of fiction. Whatever the case, Doc and Co. are all fine in this less melodramatic telling that's more clever and nuanced than your average Doc Savage thriller. Monk is given a normal voice and personality, and Ham is open to spirituality and enjoys doing funny voices.
In two parts rather than the usual three (the middle commonly transitional filler), the entire second section in New York is frenetic and germane to the larger story with action and sleuthing, with an ending that ratchets up what it's doing with tortuous and invasive procedures done without the golden man's knowledge or consent:
The portable X-ray was one of the first instruments he used. That and a fluoroscopic viewer so that it was unnecessary to take photographs. Probably fifty times, he shifted the X-ray about the golden man’s head and body. He took blood samples and put those through a quick analysis; he did the same with spinal fluid. The fact that the golden man was under the influence of an anaesthetic handicapped to some extent the checking of the nervous condition.
During the two hours following, there was no one but Doc Savage in the room where the floodlights made intense glare, and Doc was glad of this, because what happened in the room was not pleasant to see or hear. Doc’s metallic features were inscrutable in the beginning, but toward the last they changed and his neck sinews turned into tight strings of strain and his cheeks became flatly grim and perspiration crept out on his bronzed skin.
He was busy most of the time, at first being in great haste finding stout sheets and blankets and ripping them in wide strong sections which he folded into flat bands that were as strong as canvas straps. With these he tied the golden man. The bed was strong, but he made it stronger by removing a heavy door from its hinges and placing it on the bed and arranging a pad of quilts, then lashing the golden man to that.
By then the golden man had become hot, feverish, moist with perspiration. He twisted restlessly. He made muttering noises. His condition grew rapidly more delirious. His body twitched uncontrollably and at times strained against the confining straps, the effort making knots of muscle crawl under the skin of his arms and legs like animals.
When his screaming became loud, Doc Savage applied a gag.
There were hours of that, until past midnight, when the golden man became quiet, except for some nervous shaking in his hands. Eventually he opened his eyes.
Doc said, "That was the treatment. You underwent what is sometimes called the shock treatment for mental disorder."
(The method of treatment for insanity to which Doc Savage is referring is well known to mental specialists under various names and methods. One of the most widely used being the treatment of insanity by inducing high fever in the patients—a sort of kill-or-cure process which, as less stringent methods are developed, is gradually falling into disuse.)
[A logistical failure (#1) posing as convenience] Doc, after he spoke, and as if afraid of the menacing guns, lifted both arms slowly so that his hands were above his head. His arms were not straight up, and the right one was doubled and tight as if it was making a muscle. The bulge of biceps sinew swelled up against his forearm until there was crunching sound as a fragile container inside his sleeve was crushed. It was a small noise, and no one noticed.
[(#2) nobody holds their breath for a minute if they're scared, and (#3) a minute is too long for most people anyway. Dent should have made it 15 seconds from the get-go] Opsall still stood rigid in the same tracks he had occupied when it all started. The anaesthetic gas had not affected him—he must have been so scared that he was holding his breath.
THE automatic recorder which receives messages in Doc Savage’s skyscraper headquarters had abilities that were almost human. If a stranger called the bronze man’s establishment, a mechanical voice from the device said, "This is Doc Savage’s office, but no one is here at the moment. This voice is coming from a mechanical device. If you wish to leave a message, whatever you say will be recorded automatically, and Doc Savage will receive it upon his return."
Doc said, "There was also a glowing material in the water. It followed the Virginia Dare after the liner picked you up."
The golden man smiled faintly. "That happens to be a war secret of my country, so I can tell you only in general terms what it was. It was a substance which has the chemical property for glowing, like phosphorous, and which is also magnetic, in that it will cling to any metal, providing that metal is not nonmagnetic. It is a substance for trapping submarines, in other words."
"The glowing material," Doc said, "can be put in depth bombs and dropped near submarines, and it will then follow the sub and reveal its location. Is that it?"
[New Doc still brutally strong] Doc tried a door. It was locked. He put force into twisting and a shoving, and wood groaned and the lock tore out.
The bronze man was quite motionless for a time.
Then: "Captain Kirman," he said, "is dead."
The woman seemed to tighten all over. "How?"
"By impossibility it would seem," the bronze man said...
"Murder," Doc said.
"But how?" Ham demanded. "How did he get killed?"
The bronze man said, "We might call it a case of death by impossibility, for the time being."
Doc Savage turned partly away. He was good at ventriloquism, but no one is ever perfect at it, particularly when imitating an unfamiliar voice while at the same time getting a ventriloquial effect. Doc imitated Captain Kirman’s voice, and made it low and excited. "Run, Elva! Run!" he said imperatively. "It’s a trick!"
Doc, amazed, said, "You know me?"
The golden man seemed not to hear the inquiry. He studied Doc for a few moments, then said in a deeply impressive, solemn voice, "Since that stormy night when you were born on the tiny schooner Orion in the shallow cove at the north end of Andros Island, you have done much good, and many things that are great."
Doc was floored, figuratively. Not by the praise—praise did not impress him, and it was always embarrassing—but by the fact that this golden man knew the exact place of his birth. It was astounding. Doc himself had known of no living man who had those facts. His five aids did not know. It was in no written record.
Doc Savage, trying not to be impressed, was impressed.
Monk rubbed his jaw, and felt of his necktie as if it was tight. It was a gaudy necktie, one he had chosen to offend Ham’s taste.
[Weak exposition as Monk would know all about Doc's lip reading abilities] When Monk glanced at Doc Savage, the bronze man was watching the two women through a small pocket telescope which Monk happened to know was powerful for its size.
Doc said, "They told the taxi driver they are going into the black building, then through an alleyway to a side street, where the driver is to pick them up."
Startled, Monk was about to demand how Doc had found that out. Then he understood. The telescope—Doc Savage was a skilled lip reader.
[Nice] By the way of preliminary precaution, Monk took his trouser belt up a couple of notches, so that he would not lose that essential garment if the action became brisk. He altered his necktie knot, tying in a knot of his own invention which was not fancy to look at, but which had the very good virtue that, if a foe grabbed hold of the necktie in a fight, the necktie would come off Monk’s neck instead of choking him.
"Who’s afraid of this Doc Savage?"
"I am." The man got up from the table and put his hat on his head. He said, "Well, good-by. I may see you again, but I doubt it, particularly if you go up against Savage."
His three companions also got up and put on their hats. They walked to the door.
"What in the hell are you doing?" Pollo demanded angrily.
"Savage scares us, too," a man explained. "We think we’ll leave with Jed, here."
"But damn you," Pollo yelled, "I’m paying you big money."
"They don’t make money that big," Jed said.
He left, and the other three with him.
The truth was: Monk and Ham were irked because they were leaving Europe by request. Not at the request of anybody in Europe; they would have ignored such urging. The request had come from Doc Savage, who was their chief, and who meant what he said.
[The least cutting insult of all Doc Savage time] "Bum? Meaning me?" Monk became indignant. "Listen, why should an old moneybags like that high-hat me? I’ve got plenty of culture."
"The only trouble with your culture," Ham told him, "it’s all physical."
"You notice a new newsstand across the street?" Doc asked.
"Didn’t have time to notice anything."
"The newsstand proprietor is an observant ex-detective who lost both legs in an accident," the bronze man said quietly. "We have him on salary."
"You mean this sleuth in the newsstand is hired to stay there and keep his eyes open for what looks like trouble around the building? It’s a good idea. This ain’t the first time we’ve been waylaid near headquarters."
Doc Savage nodded. "That is what caused the delay in finding you. We had no idea what had become of you. We finally put a worldwide detective agency to work trying to find you. Just a few days ago, they located both of you in that South American jail."
Monk muttered, "I wonder why she fainted."
"Guess it was just shock over finding out her boss had gone out of the window," Ham said.
Elva Boone tried to have them arrested. "Officer, these men are kidnaping me!" she gasped.
Doc Savage drew the patrolman aside and produced from his billfold a card which identified him as a high-ranking police official. The patrolman examined the card, and in addition recognized Doc Savage, so he was satisfied. He grinned at Elva Boone and walked away.
The girl got the wrong idea of what had happened, for she had seen the billfold.
"You bribed him!" she said angrily.
Doc found the usual woman-litter in her handbag—and one other article.
Men with guns—there were four of them—had been standing, two on each side of the door, and they now fanned out quickly so that, if necessary, there would be room for bullets.
The golden man lay still, breathing deeply. "My name," he said, "is Paul Hest. I am chief of intelligence for"—he looked up slyly—"let’s call it an unnamed nation, not the United States. We learned that an American liner, the Virginia Dare, bringing refugees from Europe, was to be torpedoed. The torpedoing was to be done by the U-boat of another nation, disguised as a submarine belonging to my country. The idea was to build up ill feeling in the United States against my country."...
Paul Hest continued, "We wanted to warn the Virginia Dare, and at the same time lay a trap for the submarine. We could not radio a warning to the Virginia Dare, because the message would have been picked up. So I flew out by plane to drop the warning on deck. But there was a bomb in my ship. A counter-espionage agent put it there. I think I know who it was—a man in Lisbon. But that is not important. What is important is that the bomb blew up, and the shock gave me amnesia."
The motivations of day-players good and bad are all nicely handled, especially how Sam Gallehue truly believes in the golden man as a holy being. Rich people falling into cults is poked at by Lester Dent but there's no con on the part of the golden man, so the story is more about human factors than crime itself. Based on a few reviews I feel The Golden Man is underrated and underappreciated. It's one of the better and unique Doc Savage stories.
099 - The Pink Lady:
"A terrified young lady tries desperately to contact Doc Savage, but she’s burned to a crisp in a hotel lobby before she can reach him — thus launching Doc on one of his strangest escapades ever!"
After finishing a Doc Savage book and organizing my thoughts I like to skim the reviews found at DocSavage.org to see how they match up. For May, 1941's The Pink Lady we're strongly in agreement about the essence of the thing:
"It is somewhat unsurprising throughout, though full of action and capable of much much more than it delivers...
Overall this book was one of those that could have been great, should have been a million times better, and only failed when it shouldn't have. Seems like it didn’t get the care and attention it deserved to turn it into an exceptional adventure. but still worth a read."
"The whole pink-people-angle is quirky enough to be interesting and there is loads of action, but no “magic.” It seems uninspired… I think Dent was able to crank these later stories out, but there was no joy in it for him any more."
The Pink Lady begins with another great Lester Dent opening chapter and it keeps going on a idiosyncratic high note for the next two chapters when it's just Doc Savage and his involvement with a mystery surrounding a lady colored pink from her teeth to her skin to her eyes. The involvement of all the aides doesn't shift the momentum to another type of storytelling as is standard and it keeps moving forward, but something's missing, and it's a passive-aggressive lethargy on the part of author Lester Dent, who must have been staring out the window watching the other children play as his hands typed out an acceptable word count for his latest pay check. After a while the tale moves along pleasantly enough but even the explosions seem muted at an unconscious level.
Doc and murderous and torture-happy bad guys decide at the same moment they no longer care:
Men pounded on the door.
"Who is it?" Doc asked in a harsh voice.
"C’mon, open up!" a man snarled. "We ain’t got no time! The rest of your pals have given up!"
"Wait a minute," Doc said. "What do I get out of it if I don’t put up a fight?"
He kept working on the lock.
The man outside said, "You get a junior share in the proceeds."
"What do you call a junior share?"
The lock came open. Doc freed it, lifted the girl with his usable arm. She could stand, and also move. "I’m all right," she whispered.
"Two percent of a fifty-fifty split," the man outside said.
Doc indicated that the girl was to flee toward the rear.
"All right," he growled for the benefit of the man outdoors. "We won’t fight about this."
When Doc got to the rear of the barn, the girl had opened a small door there. She beckoned. Doc looked out. The way was clear.
They ran away from the barn and they were neither yelled at nor shot at.
It doesn't help that Doc is a bit hapless as "Doc Savage":
HAVING entered the river, Doc Savage swam down into the depths. The water was around fourteen or sixteen feet at that point, and it was cool and fairly dark on the bottom. An elastic band held the respiration cylinder to his chest, and his teeth gripped the mouthpiece. Truthfully, it was not a very efficient self-contained diving unit, since one had to watch the respiration, breathing rapidly and in small quantities, for a huge breath would exhaust the capacity of the cylinder, and also give an overdose of oxygen which might cause an effect similar to drunkenness.
ENOUGH time passed for Doc Savage to become somewhat stiff where he was lying. Twice he moved cautiously, kneading muscles which were inclined to go to sleep.
He headed then for the truck, the machine with an imaginary tailoring company name on its body. The truck was parked well in the open, so that it was necessary to run at least thirty yards without any cover whatever. He put his head down, called the utmost out of his leg muscles, and made it.
DOC SAVAGE dived to the right, landed in a small ditch. He pulled out a smoke grenade, flipped it. That one was waterlogged, failed to detonate. But the second one functioned, loosening a dark pall of smoke which sprang up like some animal out of hiding. The wind carried the smoke toward the fence.
[So they wouldn't get kidnapped maybe?] "What’s wrong?" Ham demanded.
Doc said, "I should have told Renny and Johnny that Chet Farmer was a crook."
"Crook?" Ham was dumbfounded.
"My guess," Doc Savage said, "is that he joined up with us merely to make use of what we learned."
The second man had courage. He dived, got hold of Doc. He had strength, it also developed speedily, and knowledge of how to do things with his hands that hurt. He got hold of the bronze man in a way that made Doc get down on one knee in agony. The man tried to yell for help. Doc hit him in the throat. Thereafter, no sound the man made was louder than a small dog barking, and not much more coherent.
One of them got the bronze man’s left arm, did a convulsive feat of some kind, and Doc knew the arm was out of joint...
He scowled at his left arm. It was out of shape, and hurting. Disjointed, at least.
[Doc doesn't know and needs a smiling assurance from Long Tom] Doc asked, "Can three of us—four including Miss Harland—do any good?"
Long Tom hesitated. He looked at Doc Savage. He smiled slightly.
"We won’t know for sure until we try it," he said.
On the plus side Ham and Monk's idiocy is missing and their few zingers are funny and not hateful:
"Got a splinter in my finger," Monk muttered.
"He was scratching his head," Ham explained cheerfully.
Monk, stripped, was a remarkably apelike figure. His muscles stood out in cables and bars on his arms, in rugged ledges across his chest. He balanced over the water, expanding his chest with a deep breath, then cut the surface cleanly.
"Marvelous physique," an officer commented.
Ham said, "Enough hair on him to stuff a sofa, too."
On the negative side the ending was a bear farting sadness and the resolve of the pink mystery a boring industrial process with exponential potential that logistically sounds like a dull snoozer.
The hostilities end when Doc in effect lays out explosive caps and the bad guys step on them and shriek like children:
"As long as the pellets are damp with certain chemical fumes, they won’t explode. But the second they dry off, and it don’t take over a couple of seconds, either, they’re as touchy as rotten eggs."
There were more explosions, more shrieks. Men came rushing back in retreat. Other blasts stopped them. "You mean they’re stepping on that stuff and it’s exploding?" Renny demanded.
WHEN their departing sound had died away, Doc Savage went to the passenger car. It was one of his own machines, which Ham and Renny had used. He tapped the door handle three times rapidly, paused, gave it another tap, then twisted sharply in the direction opposite to normal, and the door opened, The lock was a combination one, operated by shock.
Monk fished around in his mouth. In one of his numerous fights in the past, some of his teeth had been knocked out, and he wore a bridge of the type which was braced with a slender alloyed gold rod. He got this out. With no compunction whatever, he twisted two of the teeth out of their holdings, put them in one pocket—he was wearing a suit of coveralls which had been substituted for his garments—then removed the teeth on the other side of the bridge and put them in a different pocket...
He got out his four teeth, and twisted and grunted over them until it developed that they were shells which could be unscrewed. He dried them off carefully, then unscrewed the caps on three of them. Each held a small quantity of substance—two had paste, another powder, and another a liquid—which he carefully mixed.
"Look." Ham indicated a small mark beside one of the tires. It was a rather shapeless mark that might have been made by a weed, or could have been the distorted track of some animal. In fact, it was a mark that had no meaning other than that it was one which Doc Savage used when necessary to indicate that he had been in the vicinity.
[A nice image] Doc Savage came up in another car. It was an ordinary black machine, one he had rented somewhere, so it had no special equipment. He slammed on the emergency brake, and while the wheels still seemed to be sliding, dived out.
[Wisdom teeth grow in from ages 17 to 21. Didn't Doc have fake ones in his thirties?] "My own invention," he explained. "I made one for Doc. He used to wear it in the back of his mouth in place of a wisdom tooth before he grew a wisdom tooth, but now he has no place to wear it and—you gotta work fast."
Renny hit him. Renny’s blow was as quick, but it was louder, heavier. There was as much difference between the blows as between the smack of a fly swatter and the thump of a sledge on a circus-tent stake. Chet Farmer fell sidewise, burying his arms half to the elbows in the sand and not moving afterward...
[I always saw him as a city boy] Later, Monk found a mark on the floor of a ramshackle shed. He called Ham’s attention to it, and Ham understood immediately what it meant.
It was a zigzag mark of the type commonly used in drawings to indicate electricity or lightning. It was Long Tom’s brand, one he used on a small cow ranch which he owned in the Jackson Hole country of Wyoming.
She was very pink.
It was an unusual shade of pink. Not a fleshy pink. Not a salmon shade. Not any skin shade of pink. Not the pink of a spanked baby. This was an utterly glaring, unreal, impossible shade of pink. A clown pink.
The cop shoved him. He beckoned two other policemen. He said, "We got a wise guy here. He has been making unpleasant noises with his mouth."
[A 1941 thing to say] The fact that the men had used radio for communication had shown him that they were inclined toward scientific methods.
[The recurring joke in Doc Savage] Chet Farmer broke into the exchange of insults. He said excitedly, "I’ve learned something. I’ve got an idea."
"An idea?" Monk peered at him. "It’s in a strange place. Treat it gently."
[The moment the bad guy gives himself away] Chet whirled for the door. "Come on, then. All of you."
Monk, Ham, Johnny, all started for the door. But Renny rumbled, "Wait a minute—orders were to wait here for instructions."
"What’s the sense of that?" Chet Farmer stared at him. "Doc Savage is dead . . . or if he’s not, he’s in very serious trouble."
Ham said, "Renny’s right."
"But if he’s in trouble," Chet snapped, "the thing for all of us to do is pitch in and help him out."
The Pink Lady needs a rewrite from an enthusiastic personality popping caffeine pills at four in the morning. Books like this one and 1948's The Swooning Lady open with a fun and breezy brand of storytelling that's whimsical and entertaining, and it wouldn't hurt Doc Savage to have an adventure or two start, continue, and finish down that road. Will Eisner was a master of that with The Spirit and there's no reason not to work that magic on Doc Savage since it's already there (for as long as it lasts).
100 - The Headless Men:
"A mad scientist has invented a way to decapitate people and let them live as his headless slaves. The Man of Bronze and his crew pursue this deadly genius to Central America, where they are all trapped and captured. Only Doc Savage can prevent the headless horde from taking over the world — but he is strapped to a sacrificial altar and is scheduled to lose his head at midnight!"
"Say, ain’t that Lynda Ladore, the oomph gal of the movies?"
The Headless Men is either one of the dumbest Doc Savage books or a classic adventure story for the young and mentally challenged alike. Ghostwriter Alan Hathway may have operated under the assumption expedient stupidity was normal if not expected. The Sanctum reprint indicates Street & Smith liked the novel so everything about it must have been hunky dory. This June, 1941 mess is progressively silly, dumb, and bad, but other ghosters have done worse. The first few chapters are nice but all bets are off once deadline swings over Hathway's head like a noose. Its only virtue is grand scale adventuring.
Voted "The Worst" by readers of Over 90 I.Q., The Headless Men's worst crime against literature is writing that Doc's vest, filled with bottles, bombs, tools, mirrors, and anything else the plot calls for, is so thin it would require science to detect it:
The killers had missed Doc’s thin equipment vest. The garment was made to look so much like his own flesh that a microscopic examination would have been necessary to detect it. From one tiny pocket now a glass vial began to slide. It fell from the pocket and dropped to the stone altar.
A close second are buzzard-camoflaged gliders that can stay in the air for hours with machine guns attached to them. After that it's your pick of Chemistry passing off as Monk, a doomsday burning machine that only emits heat forward, Ham and Monk's telepathy hijinks, short guys disguised to be headless, Doc vanishing his own head with mirrors, Doc turning the headless men against their boss with a grand speech, a machine pistol Doc carries for emergencies, instant disguises...
Every single day-player character name is contrived a little more than usual:
Needlenose Swenson, Norgrud L. Watts, Yellow Eyes, squarehead, Wings Dedham, Lynda Ladore, L. Pennfield Stumpp, General Smedley Worthington Watson, Sneedfield, One-ear, Fingers, Tongueless, Wampum.
Inset in the glass top of the huge walnut desk was a flat, oblong section of a slightly different hue. Monk pressed a button and looked into this. An image at once appeared on the glass. The device was an improved inter-office television outfit that Doc had perfected.
It enabled Doc and his aids to converse and see each other as they did. The images thrown up were different from those of ordinary television. True colors met the eye in such realistic fashion that they seemed to be actual reductions of the objects the device transmitted.
Renny had a compact short-wave transmitter built into his shoes and clothing. His nervous finger-tapping had been the transmission of an S O S to Doc.
[This seems irresponsible] High above the city, Doc’s robot-controlled gyro droned over a fixed spot.
Doc Savage saw the thugs crowded into the small entrance foyer. He raised one hand as if to brush hair out of his eyes. A tiny mirror silvered onto his thumbnail showed more thugs massed behind him.
[According to Shmoogle the fastest airship traveled at 69.6 mph in 2004] There were speedboats. And there were other planes. But the craft to which Doc gave his immediate attention was a dirigible of streamlined proportions. Shaped something like the German Zeppelins, this craft was sturdier, more compact and smaller. It was of all-metal construction and could out-speed many heavier-than-air craft that were considered suitable for pursuit and fighting ships.
The dirigible rode proudly at her moorings, tugging mightily, as if anxious to soar up into the clouds...
The great bag floated serenely into the cool air of the night.
Long Tom did not reply. He leaped immediately to one wall of the laboratory and pulled two levers. One of them threw into action a newly developed magnetic field that would paralyze anyone stepping on the floor.
The other lever dropped across the center of the reception room an invisible flexible curtain. It was somewhat akin to the glass substitute recently developed in commercial laboratories. Any hurled object or projectile would merely bend it like a baseball hurled at a rubber sheet.
[I weep for Doc Savage] Doc maneuvered his ship quickly, whipped out a superfirer gun he carried for emergency. Ordinarily, Doc seldom used weapons of any kind. He wouldn’t use the gun now to take lives—if the glider fliers abandoned their own deadly mission.
His foot tripped on the magazine Needlenose had dropped getting into the car. Wings picked it up.
"The Life of Doc Savage," the periodical was titled. "Some keys to the bronze man’s amazing physical and mental development."
[The Five Stooges is as good a name as any] "Savage!" he muttered. "He’s the one guy big enough to stop us. He and them five stooges’ll have to be bumped if the big guy gets wise!"
[Why would Long Tom be saying this instead of Doc?] Then Monk began to squall in a voice that sounded frightened. That was highly unusual for Monk. "Lookit!" the chemist shrilled. "The thing is movin’!"
And Monk’s statement was not an exaggeration. The headless figure of Needlenose Swenson snapped jerkily to its feet. Needlenose Swenson, without his nose or the head that had held it, took three steps forward on the thick-carpeted floor!
Then the thing collapsed. With a whoosh, a lungful of air gushed out of the larynx which terminated at the base of the neck. The body of the unfortunate janitor fell to the rug...
"Unusual post-mortem reflex action," Long Tom commented. "The suddenness of the decapitation made it possible. Like a chicken running around a barnyard after its head had been cut off."
[Guaranteed to cure Female Hysteria] "After he took it over he developed the Stumpp Electrical Massage Vibrator. It’s making a wealthy man of him."
[Is it really my duty to take booty?] "These handy, dandy, simply grandy gadgets are the best, the tops, the finest vibrators you’ve ever sold," Stumpp proclaimed to his audience. "It’s your duty, just like taking booty, if you sell them instead of any other’s. Don’t let any bug, any unfeeling mug, sell you off them."
[This gets old quick] "Dab it! Nab it! Grab it!" he shouted. "Get out. I’ll pout. You’ll give me the gout."...
"You’re bad. I’m mad," "This is indeed sad."
"O-o-oh, I’ll be dead . . . lose my head . . . it’s with dread . . . dammit!"
General Watson kept running a finger around his size-nineteen neck. He couldn’t help it. Every time he found that his head was still there, he looked vaguely surprised.
[Fancy hotels employed Floor Matrons] Doc halted briefly at the floor matron’s desk at the end of the ninth-floor hallway. The desk was in plain sight of Room 928. The matron was positive that no one had entered or left that room in the last thirty minutes.
[An iconic Doc Savage trope] A DEPUTY inspector of police strode over to the bronze man. The inspector was considerably distraught. At first he acted as if the thing that had happened was Doc Savage’s fault. Then he realized that such a thing was foolish. It occurred to him that Doc was probably the one person who could bring justice to those who were responsible.
[The willingness to destroy perfectly good and expensive things to fake death when it's not needed gets old fast, and the highlighted bits are randomly convenient] When Doc had noticed that the gas had been changed from helium to hydrogen, he had sent the ship out under robot control. Doc not only had used a frequency-modulation radio device of his own to simulate their own voices aboard the ship. He had also utilized an ingenious television projector to create the visual effect of their presence aboard.
[Unintentionally bad/funny writing] "The mayor has requested that any persons who are threatened by the headless death, co-operate in the following manner," the announcer stated slowly. "Spring 9-0002 has been set aside to receive any such calls. This line is being closely guarded to prevent any eavesdropping."...
"This menace is growing, and it can only be combatted with the co-operation of the public. The mayor states there is no reason for panic. He asks me to urge the public to be calm."
[Bad writing as the technology is being used in NYC so the police can find it in NYC] It was logical to assume that the force responsible for the headless deaths would be kept in some place remote from New York City. The master criminal would realize that New York’s vast force of law-enforcement officers would make that city a hazardous place to hide such a thing.
Doc saw the buzzards. He didn’t pay them very much attention. Buzzards were extremely common in this desert area of Central America.
The first real notice Doc paid to the buzzards was when lead and flame began to spit from their wings!...
It wasn’t until they were almost upon him that the bronze man saw what they really were. Doc, for once, had been taken completely by surprise. The things were gliders, built to resemble the great birds Doc had thought they were...
These gliders were equipped with twin machine guns in their wings.
[How is this possible?] Monk now could see the dummy plane that had been made to look like Doc’s.
[They let Doc keep his vest] Doc used the Indian’s knife to cut their bonds. He told them he had overcome the big Indian when the tongueless one had come into his cell for a routine check-up of prisoners. A quick transformation, from materials Doc carried in his equipment vest, disguised him as the big prison guard.
[My weeping for Doc Savage is now a river] The fact that these two "headless" men were somewhat taller than the rest, might have given an observant watcher some cause for concern. Their actions certainly would have. Ham and Monk had been made up carefully to play their parts among the headless legion...
The two men could see through their ingeniously devised disguises. Doc had made the things with materials he had been able to locate while assuming the role of the tongueless Indian cell guard.
[My head is slowing swiveling to indicate "no"] The two had long ago begun experiments in mental telepathy. In fact, they had become quite proficient about it. Ham had just been describing to Monk in thought projection, what a miserable specimen the chemist really was. Ham implied that Monk looked much better without a head than he had before.
"Even One-ear can’t tell you from the monkey," Ham thought at him. "No wonder the girls all give you the go-by and pick me instead."
[Please stop] "That damned Monk guy got away from us!" he stammered. "There was a fight at the airport just before we took off. Somehow he had that big monkey switch places with him. We was halfway to the coast before we found it out."
The running man reached up and took off his neck as if it were a hat! Then the secret was out. The headless legion consisted of short men who were made up much as Monk and Ham had been!
The secret of the young man’s apparent unconcern with Doc’s condition was that he had been behind the bronze man part of the time. L. Pennfield had fallen for a gag as old as Houdini. Houdini used to vanish a whole horse with the two-mirror trick. Doc Savage just vanished his head.
The bronze man had not unloaded all of his nonexplosive equipment when he went into the heat ray. These two mirrors joined in front of the nose of the bronze man. Anyone looking straight into his face actually saw the side walls of the dungeon. It seemed that he was seeing right through to the wall in behind.
If The Headless Men is your first Doc Savage novel it will most likely be your last. To milk any enjoyment from it you'll have to suspend your disbelief that an adult was paid to write it while other adults agreed to print it. Via Guilt By Association I also blame the printer, the guys who drove the delivery trucks, and the street peddlers of this uncontrolled substance.