The New Doc Savage Movie Idea Page
Archived Doc Savage Pulp Reviews
Page Five Of Seven
101 - The Green Eagle 102 - Mystery Island 103 - The Mindless Monsters 104 - Birds Of Death 105 - The Invisible Box Murders 106 - Peril In The North 107 - The Rustling Death 108 - Men Of Fear 109 - The Too-Wise Owl 110 - The Magic Forest 111 - Pirate Isle 112 - The Speaking Stone 113 - The Who Fell Up 114 - The Three Wild Men 115 - The Fiery Menace 116 - The Laugh Of Death 117 - They Died Twice 118 - The Devil's Black Rock 119 - The Time Terror 120 - Waves Of Death 121 - The Black, Black Witch 122 - The King Of Terror 123 - The Talking Devil 124 - The Running Skeletons 125 - Mystery On Happy Bones
!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.
101 - The Green Eagle:
"The Man of Bronze rides the mystery trail in a totally new kind of adventure. What is the strange fainting sickness? Who is the shadowy, white-haired McCain? Why would a starving man rather die than eat? And how many men must be brutally destroyed before DOC SAVAGE can solve the riddle of THE GREEN EAGLE?"
July, 1941's The Green Eagle is a good book that winds up being arguably not that good only because Lester Dent reverted to a standard formula instead of making it great. The first six chapters are fantastic, then it gets a bit repetitive in exposition and storytelling, and later it moves to various small adventures in the cowboy country of Wyoming with the usual good guys defeat bad guys resolution. The accomplishments of the set-up should have continued to the end. I'll 'splain.
The Wyoming dude ranch hand Ben "Donald" Duck is a wonderful character , and while an ethical and nice guy Dent goes out of his way to detail his prideful grudges and thin-skinned opinions on his place in the universe. He started off and should have continued throughout to be a full co-star in The Green Eagle. Once Doc and his full crew get involved, Ben's kidnapped and out of mind until the end when he's limited to being shown still alive. Johanna "Hicky" Hickman is potentially an equally wonderful character, and in a better story she wouldn't be shunted to the side to where you barely remembered she was there. The Green Eagle should have been an adventure love story for these two characters with Doc + 5 simultaneously doing their thing. To fix this you basically strengthen the attraction and peril of their initial time together, come back to Ben periodically as a captive to keep his thoughts and actions alive, and keep Hicky actively involved as a protagonist doing everything she can to save Ben. You had this line but set up better it could have been special:
"Probably he was not in as serious a condition as was Hicky for a few moments, until she found out Ben would survive. Hicky did not become hysterical. She did grow pale and look so utterly concerned and worried that there was no doubt in the mind of any observer that Hicky was in love with Ben Duck."
There's a lot of good writing in The Green Eagle and I come back again to the idea that it falls short by shorting what it did well. Johnny never gets into his big word pretentiousness, so that's a plus. Monk and Ham aren't as childishly horrible to each other, so there's that. The Green Eagle puzzle is a nice gimmick with high visual appeal. The ingredients for a great story are all there and the execution isn't bad -- there's just something about missed opportunities surrounding this title.
There's one thing that makes no sense. It's a nice mysterious touch that winds up being easily explained, which isn't that big of a letdown, but why would Pilatus Casey walk and then crawl through the desert for three weeks with "a large canteen of water and enough food to last a man at least two weeks" he knew was poisoned? Throw that dead weight out! Oy... Ape and Pig are annoying as usual and it stuck out as dumb when Monk and Ham want to bring them along on what they know will be a life or death fight. Oy again.
Here's some good stuff:
[Doc's fine in this book so this doesn't hit me as the dreaded diminished Doc Savage] The bronze man’s face was showing more emotion than Monk had ever seen it display before. There was anxiety. Utter self-disgust. Monk knew the reason. Doc had made a mistake. He had failed to use the code check about Elmer when the whisper that had said it belonged to Johnny had first come over the radio. It was a small error. It was likely to cost several lives.
Monk came over and touched Doc’s arm. "A man can’t bat a hundred per cent all the time."
The bronze man shrugged miserably. "There is no excuse for a mistake being made at the wrong time."
Doc Savage, lunging wildly, reached D’Orr. His fist, coming in, actually whistled a little—Monk testified to this—before it struck. D’Orr dropped, his jaw in such a condition that it later took a skilled surgeon six hours to wire the pieces of bone back into shape.
The man who came in—Monk—fitted the name, but pleasantly. He was a grinning simian individual with enormous arms and a round, homely face that had a big mouth and small twinkling eyes. His clothes were expensive, but none of the colors were right, the fit was off everywhere, and the garments looked as if they had been slept in.
AFTER Doc Savage had left the room—he was obviously going to use a telephone to check the girl’s story—the young woman stared at Monk. Monk was such a homely fellow that it was easy to be friendly with him.
[Monk walked up to each man and beat him into unconsciousness] "Disarm them!" Doc said. "And tie them."
Monk made that simpler. He walked up to each man and knocked him senseless with a hairy fist.
"I need the exercise," Monk said cheerfully.
DOC SAVAGE came back into the room. He was accompanied by a man who was of medium height, with good shoulders, a thin waist—and a remarkable outfit of apparel. The man was not garishly dressed; he was just perfectly attired. So perfectly attired that there was no doubt about the perfection. He carried an innocent-looking black cane.
Long Tom Roberts smiled emaciated approval of Hicky, which was surprising. Long Tom ordinarily did not approve of women. Women were trouble, he usually insisted, whether they were pretty or homely, long or short, thin or wide, brunette, red-headed or blonde. He rarely had a date, possibly because he was sensitive about looking as if he had one foot in the grave.
Ben "Donald" Duck. Dent defined him in great and varied detail:
Because Ben Duck was a genuine cowboy, it was hurting his dignity to work on a dude outfit. He particularly resented being called Donald Duck by guests who were almost strangers. Donald Duck! It gave him a slow burn...
He sat on a hilltop and frowned at Wyoming in the night. In the west, the Teton Mountains were snow-covered and jaggedly majestic and white in the moonlight.
"I’m gonna tear into the next dude," Ben said, "that calls me Donald Duck."
And get fired. And be without a job. And jobs were scarce, even for a top hand. That wasn’t the remedy. Ben shook his head slowly.
If he even looked like the movie Donald Duck, or sounded like him, it would have been different. He might have excused the dudes. But, although he had no great admiration for the entertaining Donald, he had no desire to emulate him in action or appearance. Furthermore, he didn’t look in the least like the movie cartoon Donald Duck. Or did he?
If those dudes wanted to call him Donald Duck, he’d have to take it. The dudes paid eighteen dollars a day. For that money, they could call the hired help Donald Ducks if they wanted to.
Precious little of the eighteen dollars a day found its way into Ben’s pocket.
No salary would be worse, however...
Between the time they laid Old Man Duck in his grave, and the time Ben was big enough to do anything about it, the nesters took over the country and homesteaded all the Duck range. A bank eventually got the ranch, and an uncle got young Ben. Uncle Spud. About all Uncle Spud had been able to teach young Ben was to ride, fight, and be honest. Uncle Spud had trapped beaver for a living. Three years ago he had frozen to death in a March blizzard. Young Ben had gone out into the world and discovered it was hard to make a living punching cows...
Ben felt of his six-shooter. It was one of the dude-ranch props, and wearing it had embarrassed him. It was loaded with blanks, but genuine .45-caliber cartridges studded Ben’s wide stamped leather belt.
Ben started to put genuine bullets in the six-gun in place of the blanks, then changed his mind. He was one cowboy who couldn’t hit the side of a bunkhouse with a hand gun. Genuine cowboys of this day didn’t wear six-guns. He had shot lots of coyotes on the run with a rifle. He didn’t have a rifle, though...
Ben got up and dusted off his tight fawn-colored whipcord breeches. Such movie cowboy pantaloons was another thing he detested...
"You might as well give it up, Donald," Panzer said.
"My name ain’t Donald," Ben Duck said...
Ben cupped his chin in his palm and smoked thoughtfully. He watched a dude walk into the nearby horse corral and catch and saddle a pony. The dude, a man, treated the horse roughly, and as soon as he was in the saddle, the horse threw him, which gave Ben some satisfaction...
Ben found D’Orr. There was a strip of adhesive tape down the left side of D’Orr’s face, another down his nose, and two pieces of tape on his chin.
Ben remarked, "That door must’ve been part wild cat."...
Ben licked the cigarette, lighted it, frowned at the dying match. He did not recall ever having seen a crazy man. Cowmen were always claiming sheepherders were crazy, but of course they weren’t. Ben did not believe a man could get so crazy he would die of thirst and starvation when he had food and water in the pack on his back...
He wasn’t all right. He was in a jam, and knew it. Three men against him, and his muscles still as stiff as boards from cold and inactivity. Someone got hold of his hair and put a thumb in his eye and began to gouge. Ben dragged the thumb down into his mouth and did his best to bite it off. The yelling of the owner of the thumb was gratifying.
[See, Doc wore a tie. It's 1941!] He had also managed something that they had not noticed—he had torn the lining, or a fragment of it, out of his necktie and wrapped it around the ropes which held his ankles. Then he had moistened his fingers with saliva and dampened the necktie lining.
The lining burst into flame now. Suddenly, the result of the chemical action of the moisture upon the treated tie lining. As water ignites the flares used on life preservers, the thing functioned. And the flame was abruptly violent, blue-white and fizzing, as it burned through his leg bindings.
[Being a punk rock connie-sewer I found this early reference intriguing] "It’s kind of punk poetry," Albert Panzer said.
The Broken Circle Ranch might be a phony dude outfit, and the cowhands phony dude wranglers, but at least this was the genuine West where the coyotes howled.
Carl D’Orr appeared. He owned the Broken Circle. Carl D’Orr was a man with the clothes ideas of a movie hero, and the figure of a pot-bellied financier. He was no cowman, not even a Westerner. Ben had overheard him call a heifer a steer, and Ben had thereafter held his own opinions of a boss who couldn’t tell the sex of a cow.
Unnerved—he had never been around a dead or dying man before—Ben dashed back to Patches and untied his canteen. He forced water between the cracked lips. The old man’s mouth merely filled with water and ran over. The throat was evidently swollen shut, and Ben used his pencil to make a channel down which the water could flow.
Later that night, he locked himself in his bunkhouse room and examined the puzzle. Made by hand, he decided. It was a strange item for an old man to be carrying around in his saddlebag. One sure thing, it was handmade, not a factory product. It had obviously been made painstakingly by hand, the work showing vast patience, rather than skill. The little feathers had been carved painstakingly out of lead. Ben noted some machine markings on one of the feathers that led him to decide they had been whittled out of bullets.
Ben bought the sheriff a cigar in the stage station, the place also being a soft drink, tobacco and general merchandise store. They stood there contemplating a stuffed elk head over the back bar. The stage was about due.
Ben was never quite sure what he was hit with. The other man did the hitting. It was very hard, whatever it was. And there was an empty black space.
She spoke earnestly. "I know I was a fool. But I was broke and out of work, and I was an actress. When they came to me and offered me fairly good money to impersonate a girl named Mira Lanson, I couldn’t resist."
"Is that your story? Don’t tell me you were dumb enough not to see there was somethin’ crooked in it."
"When you’re hungry, you’re inclined to take chances."
Her fright instead of ebbing, had grown stronger. Tiredness seemed to sharpen her ability to think. Behind this thing, she knew now, must be something big. They had spent money and hired her to come out from New York, just to trick a piece of information out of a cowboy. They had wanted her to find an innocent-looking childish puzzle where you shook lead feathers into holes in a green eagle. She wondered why she had not realized there must be something terrible behind it. Her need for money, she supposed, had made her stupid.
She felt sorry over the fate of Ben Duck. She had frankly liked the young cowboy. His honest qualities had appealed to her. They must have appealed to her a lot, she thought now. She had risked her life in an effort to save him. She wondered what had happened to Ben Duck. Growing in her, now that she could think back more clearly, was a sickening conviction that Ben had not escaped from that canyon.
Then, mysteriously, they were not supporting her. They were—all three of them, which was what made it weird—down on the sidewalk. They sank slowly. They made no outcry. They did not seem in agony. There were no hand or leg movements, no mouth shapes, that could mean they were in pain. They seemed to go to sleep on the sidewalk.
The girl stared at them and became very tired and very comfortable, so comfortable that she did not mind lying down on the sidewalk; in fact, she had an overwhelming desire to do so; and she did, and seemed to go to sleep.
One thing she did notice before she slept. The figure of a man. A big man. He had appeared suddenly; she got the idea he had dropped from a nearby window. But the fantastic thing was that he was the man she had met on the range near the Broken Circle ranch, the man who had pursued her horse with such unbelievable stamina.
The spokesman sneered at him. "You ain’t puttin’ anything over, bud. We can take anything you put out, up to a killing. And it happens we know you got the reputation of never killing anybody."
Doc Savage asked grimly. "What gave you the idea we never kill anybody?"
The man sneered at him. "I been around."
The words seemed to infuriate Doc Savage. The bronze man seized the prisoner, hauled him over to the window, and jammed him down on the sill, half outside. The man looked down. He became somewhat sick of expression. But his courage held, and he snarled, "This kind of bluff won’t get you anywhere."
"You think it’s bluff?" Doc Savage asked ominously.
The prisoner screamed then. His scream lifted even above the blatting of the radio. He made frantic efforts, pawing with his numbed useless arms at the window sill, breaking his fingernails and skinning his wrists in his effort to hang on, spray flying off his lips from the force of his crying out in horror, trying to hook his chin over the sill to save himself, but falling and slipping off into space.
The girl screamed then...
"What else do you know?"
"Nothing," the man said. "I really don’t. My name is Leo Marticer, and my pal here is Chuck North, and the guy you"—the man shuddered—"chucked out of the window was Tony Parst. We have worked together for a long time."...
There were two spliced timbers in the room, and an arrangement whereby they had been thrust from the window and braced against the ceiling. There was also an ample net of the type used by building contractors as a safety measure when men are working in high places.
The man Doc Savage had thrown from the window above was sitting on the floor. He was unharmed, except that he was bound hand and foot.
[Who Ya Gonna Call? The bureau of vital statistics!] The bronze man drove a few blocks, and stopped at a drugstore to use a telephone. The bureau of vital statistics of the city furnished him with the name of the undertaker who had handled the funeral of Hubert Brackenridge...
There were trees in the cemetery that needed trimming, and the grass was dead in patches. The caretakers had not taken away flowers from the graves when they had faded. The effect of the whole place was elderly, and its slovenly appearance, instead of being depressing, was rather pleasantly lazy.
[File under "Dur!"] Monk was flying the plane when it landed. The ship was a big streamlined job that glistened in the sunlight like new silver. Doc bad formerly painted his planes a distinctive bronze color, but had discovered that it made him too conspicuous, and had discontinued the practice.
"Tie Renwick next," D’Orr ordered.
Tuck got up and came toward Renny and Renny said, "You lay a hand on me, my friend, and I’ll put a foot through your insides."
Tuck stopped. He stared at Renny. He must have fully understood the expression on Renny’s face, for he turned and threw down the rope he was carrying.
"He don’t like me," he said. "Somebody else better tie him."
He had, a few days before when pursuing Johanna Hickman, all but outrun the horse the young woman was riding. But that had been over a long pull, a great distance, and it is a commonly accepted fact that a man can outrun a horse at great distances.
Panzer lifted a revolver deliberately, and was aiming when Doc threw the machine pistol. Panzer’s face lost some of its shape.
The Green Eagle. Not bad for a missed opportunity.
102 - Mystery Island:
"Something sinister causes a whole island to vanish! If Doc can’t uncover the fiendish plot behind this startling act, he might be the next to disappear!"
"Mysteriously barking dogs! For the love of little goons!"
Lester Dent does something interesting with Mystery Island in that he simultaneously fills it with great ideas and characters while also going out of his way to possibly prove how little he could care about putting in the effort to construct a winning product. Consider this August, 1941 book an adventure in passive-aggressive storytelling.
Hitting newsstands two years into WWII the idea of collapsing the UK into the sea must have been terrifying. Somewhere along the line the threat switches to stopping the Gulf Stream and bringing about a new Ice Age in Europe, which while also scary it doesn't pack the same punch as Britain dropping into the Atlantic. Germany or Russia wouldn't benefit from a permanent deep freeze either so the Gulf Stream plot is befuddling.
The final battle consists mainly of Police Academy's Michael Winslow fooling the bad guys into thinking an entire army is attacking them:
Doc circled them, got between them and the beach.
He made a great crashing, as if he was charging up from the beach. He used the voice which he had assumed earlier.
"The whole English navy!" he roared. "They’ve captured the bugeye! There’s a million of ‘em!"
The terror he managed to get in his voice had an effect. Someone bellowed out in anger. "I’m through!" the man shouted. "You kill some of those sailors, and they’ll hang us!"
Doc called, "Come on, men! Close in on them!"
He used his own voice. His aids heard. Probably they would have known it was the psychological moment, anyway. They came in quickly, firing short bursts from the machine pistols. One of the rapid-firers, charged with explosive slugs, created a deafening uproar.
Doc roared, "You fellows! You’ve got one chance to surrender. And frankly, we don’t care whether you take it or not."
Two men took advantage of the offer. They broke away from the others, rushed forward, howling, "Var forsigtig!" in a Scandinavian tongue, in their excitement. "We are surrendering," one yelled.
Doc sabotaged part of the evil machinery in a way that brought doom to his foes (in the standard Doc Savage passive-aggressive violation of his Do Not Kill decree) so the scene above was in a way an extra negative-bonus.
Monk sends out an all-points bulletin to anyone and everyone in the city who hears dogs barking:
Monk said, "Hello, police? Listen, this is Monk Mayfair, right-hand man to Doc Savage. I am offering a reward for barking dogs. Not a reward for the dogs. The reward is for any information leading to a spot where a dog, or dogs, is barking mysteriously. The reward is twenty dollars, cash."
The telephone receiver made rasping noises.
"What do I mean by mysteriously barking dogs?" Monk demanded. "Why, just that. There must be something mysterious about the dogs barking. They must bark for no reason, see. . . . Oh, they always seem to bark without a reason, you say? Listen, wise guy, I don’t care whether you think my bearings are loose or not. I’ve got cash money, and that talks. Twenty bucks for any information leading to dogs that are barking strangely. They may be barking at a house, a car, a guy walking on the street, or anything. You pass the word along to your patrolmen and detectives. . . . Never mind what you think about the idea."
$20.00 in 1941 equals about $315.00 today. This seems like the easiest way to jam every switchboard in town with calls from every crackpot demanding $20 because they heard a dog. The winning answer was dogs barking at a boat.
Then there's Monk's floozy love interest Hester, planted by the bad guys to be the switchboard operator at Doc's hotel. Monk hits on her without provocation, they go on a date, and Monk asks her to marry him right away because I guess that's a standard pick-up line in 1941:
"I always propose to ‘em at least once the first half-hour," Monk admitted. "It’s part of my technique. Only I never got took up before."
Hester then chases Monk like his verbal contract is legally binding and stows away on Monk's boat because she's desperate/psychotic, and then Ham gets in on the fun:
"I was trying to help you," Ham said desperately. "I was telling her I was sure you wanted to marry—I mean—that is, all I said was that she was such a pretty girl I would marry her in a minute myself." Ham lifted his voice. "I ask you," he yelled, "was that a proposal?"
This might work as archaic madcap comedy but as believable plotting it functions as well as offering a reward to anyone hearing a dog yap.
Mr. Lively's pilot being a bad guy doesn't work until it's explained Lively is the mastermind to begin with. Bullet-proof vests appear from nowhere late in the story. And did you know Doc Savage was Ella Fitzgerald?:
"Vibrating in synchronism with the violin string," the young man assured her. "Some people can do it with the sound of their voice. Remember the story about how Caruso, the singer, used to bust wineglasses with his voice. Now watch this one break."
The singing of the wineglass began to reach Doc’s ears above the whine of the violin.
The bronze man was not particularly interested. He could do the trick with his voice. He knew the wineglass would break shortly, shattered by the violence of its own vibration. And it did.
Mystery Island starts off well but it loses interest in itself somewhere in the middle wit the aides on a boat - Dent's favorite locale for dawdling:
The craft which the chemist indicated was a type often seen along the Atlantic coast, but most frequently found in the Chesapeake Bay section. It looked like an old-time clipper ship, except that it was flatter, and the two masts slanted back rakishly, while the sails were fore-and-aft rigged, which meant they were roughly triangular in shape. It was a Chesapeake Bay bugeye type, a boat that was unusual in design because of its flat-bottomed construction, enabling it to sail in very shallow water. Originally they were developed for oyster fishing in the Chesapeake, and the bottom was made out of solid logs drifted together with Swedish iron rods.
[A clip of bullets lasts how many seconds?] "Hello, folks," Monk said. He showed them the business end of the weapon he was holding in his hand. "This ain’t an automatic, as you may notice, if you’re familiar with guns. It’s a machine pistol. It shoots seven hundred and eighty-six bullets a minute."
[A notably succinct exchange of mutual respect and cooperation. The light bulb gag is memorable] "Oh," said the officer. The name of Doc Savage obviously meant something to him. His eyes moved around, located Doc, and he went over to the big bronze man. "Mr. Savage?" he asked.
"Yes," the bronze man said quietly.
"I just found out who you were," the policeman explained. "Do you want the police to go ahead with this, or would you prefer to take care of it yourself?"
Doc Savage shook the officer’s hand. He explained, "Why, there was shooting, so it is work for the police, naturally. And if we can be of any help to you, we will be glad to co-operate."
"You can count on us doing the same thing, Mr. Savage," the officer said.
"It is a rather strange business," Doc told him. "Three strangers were sitting in the hotel lobby near two of my men. My two associates were carrying on an argument which disturbed a third associate, who was working up on the balcony. Hoping to stop the argument, this third associate—Renny Renwick, the noted engineer—unscrewed two light bulbs and dropped them over the railing. It was a joke. But the three strangers thought they were being shot at, evidently, so they unlimbered guns and started shooting at my friends. Then they fled."
[Rare mention of Doc being also raised by "physical-culture experts"] "It seems that Savage was trained from childhood by scientists and physical-culture experts and guys like that, the idea being to make a kind of physical and mental marvel out of him, so that he could follow a career of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers outside the law, or ‘way off in the out-of-the-way parts of the earth where there ain’t no law."
"I wanted you to know just how important this Doc Savage is. The man is quiet, and he don’t blow his own horn. But they don’t come much bigger than he is, I’m telling you."...
"The point I’m making," said the officer, "is that this Doc Savage is important people, and don’t ever think different!"
[Assaulting someone already unconscious] The unconscious man seemed to be the sole result of their raid. Doc gave him another rap on the jaw to insure his remaining unconscious.
[That will I do] "You must never tell the newspapers, or even your government, about this thing."
Doc Savage shook his head. "I will make no such promise. I will promise this: According to what in my judgment is best, that will I do."
Ham asked, "Did you miss the steps, Monk?"
"I missed the first one," Monk said, glaring, "but that was the only one I missed."
"I don’t know about Smith-Stanhope," Ham said. "I’m not sure I trust him."
"A guy like you," said Monk, "would look for bones in animal crackers. He’s all right."
Renny gave the man a belt with his fist. "You want to speak English?" he asked. "Or you want to get along without your teeth?"
[Johnny the Geologist] "Indeed, indeed," said Mr. Lively. "I particularly admired your improvement on the Sorby method of making thin sections of rock suitable for the microscope."
Johnny began to show interest.
"And I was much impressed by your book on movements with a horizontal component, involving some of the most difficult problems of modern geology," added Mr. Lively....
"There probably is no greater geologist in the world than Johnny," Doc Savage said quietly. "In certain specialized lines of knowledge concerning subterranean earth strata, Johnny is probably a century ahead of his time. If you could imagine a man living a hundred years ago and knowing all about modern radio, that would be equivalent to the position Johnny occupies in geology."
IT was some time before the sedate hotel lobby recovered from the effects of what happened during the next few minutes. The room clerk at the desk never did fully recuperate. He was a sleek clerk, rather a panty-waist, and inclined to be supercilious to such of the customers as he did not think were millionaires. Really, the first thing he knew about the uproar was when a bullet parted his hair. It was sort of a cross-part, beginning at the left and running back to the right, and it just mowed off the hair and creased the scalp. Actually, that was all of the fray the clerk saw, because he sat down behind the big mahogany desk and began to call loudly for the manager, the police and his mother.
[In the Doc Savage world you must accept as faith that glass doesn't break until it needs to] Something now occurred to Monk. He pulled a glass bottle out of his coat. He looked at the bottle; he had forgotten he had it.
Monk stepped out from behind the pillar, drew back his arm, and threw the bottle at one of the men. It was a good pitch. A big-leaguer could not have done better. The bottle hit the target in the middle of the back. It was a thin bottle; it was thrown hard; it broke. The contents, a liquid, spread over the man’s back, and some of it splashed on his two companions.
"You fellows had better prove you are cops," he said. "Do you know who that big bronze fellow is?"
"They were calling him Doc Savage," a patrolman said.
"Is that all you know about him?"
"You’re pretty dumb," said the sergeant.
[The Mayan language sounds like coughing, and maybe like vomiting when yelled] Monk’s coughing Mayan words were very explicit.
"There are two guys on each side of the door with guns," was the general text of Monk’s Mayan. "Four guys in all."
[The word is "Psychotic"] "I am sorry," Miss Wilson said. "When excitement gets too strong for me, I seem to become an entirely different kind of a person. An . . . er . . . rather uncouth person. It is a very peculiar thing about me."
[Miss Wilson is bludgeoning unconscious men to keep them unconscious] "Someone has to watch the boat."
"And it has to be me?"
"Yes. We don’t want these prisoners waking up and spoiling things."
Miss Wilson took a belaying pin out of the pinrail. "They won’t be waking up for a while," she said.
Mystery Island is worth fixing as its strong points are strong. Jettison the Gulf Stream threat for another book where it would make a great menace yielded by a mad scientist. Replace the filler with substance. Involve Hester by having her work herself into the group. Have Doc win the entire end battle using the bad guy's technology against them. This book can clean up real nice. The pulp cover has the extra bonus of Doc as a wingless blonde fairy wearing nothing but off-color tidy whities.
103 - The Mindless Monsters:
"Senseless, machine-like humans of incredible strength and little humanity are scouring the city, and even Doc Savage is no match for them. Doc races to find a way to destroy them- but the world thinks he's their leader."
I sought a non-Lester Dent entry and found a Mr. Alan Hathway wrote three Doc Savage novels in 1941 - The Mindless Monsters, The Devil's Playground, and The Headless Men. While he presents a nicely Uberman Doc Savage and the story is grand enough in ambition and scope, a lot of good potential ended up being surprisingly half-baked when not outright stupid. This one said hello to the world in September of 1941.
The Sanctum reprint is useful as it states the book was influenced by the burgeoning comic book industry, poised to bludgeon pulps just as television would supplant radio in American homes. Comic books and television passively dumbed people down by deleting the requirement to visualize events, and if not that maybe it dampened a certain type of creativity. It took me a few tries to listen to old time radio programs (Johnny Dollar, Dragnet, and The Shadow - all cheap on eBay) because my mind resisted the mental imagery commitment. Not that I picture anyone in a real setting but I do imagine the voice actors standing around microphones while Foley artists do their work. You can't truly appreciate Charles Russell or John Lund until you've experienced the inept line readings of Edmond O'Brien.
In print, pictures were replacing words and Street & Smith wanted to make the pulps more comic book friendly. The Sanctum book also references the Doc Savage comic book debacle that began in 1940 and continues unabated today. The Mindless Monsters is no more comic bookish than many others in the series, and soon enough Doc Savage devolved into more straight action detective stories, but if a tale about men with super strength is close enough to comic books then at least they tried to marry both worlds.
Street & Smith thought of their readers as commoners and children, which while mostly correct this had to be a condescending and unfulfilling way to live your professional life. Just ask Stan Lee, who still smiles through the pain. While the monsters are fun like zombie Frankensteins the plot outline wasn't dumbed down. I can barely follow this myself - and I went to college!
"The master mind was right back in the cave when he said he feared my hypnotic trance may have weakened his power to control my mind," Doc said. "I found that I could successfully fight off obeying his will for short periods, even while conscious and not in the trance of hypnotism. But the danger was great. I so weakened my own will, fighting the thing, that I could not bring about autohypnosis again. I would become a mindless monster."
The Mindless Monsters would be a great story if the dumb and not-thought-through aspects of it were corrected. There's a few big ones, the first being the monsters themselves and the means by which they become monsters. It's random with no consistency. They follow orders. They don't follow orders. They're mindless meat robots who remember detailed, situational instructions. They walk like golems but can also run. Some live, some die quickly of old age, they can be mostly normal, or mute - except when they need to say an expository word. For the sake of comic book mentality I guess the substance I'll call Zombie Meth will also strengthen bones and muscle to where this is possible:
The workmen clenched and unclenched their fists as they came toward Renny. A small tree with a trunk four inches or so in diameter impeded the progress of one of them. He plucked it from the ground as if it had been a small weed.
Thin fingers gripped the marble slabs that made up the lower half of the cage. They peeled off hunks of the stuff as if it were cheese. Then the stout bars above the marble parted like splinters of some rubbery wood.
It's simple enough to work out all the details of your drug and how it effects humans at various doses. You can also estimate the strength of regular people on Zombie Meth and make them your monsters. Their inability to feel pain, accelerated speed from the Z Meth, and maximized strength would be good enough for an unbeatable force. It's difficult to let this all pass while reading the story.
As an example of something not working, if the monsters don't speak, how does Doc know they can all swim. Just have him order them to swim and they all swim as if they know how to swim:
The banker agreed, even though he did not see how it could be done. Doc Savage had already ascertained the fact that each of the mindless men could swim. He ordered them all from the scow. The squarish vessel was a scant half mile from the Fire Island shore by that time. Doc’s purpose quite apparently was to get the men off the barge before assistance could come to them from the master mind.
There's no reason to frame Doc as the leader of the Mindless Monsters, or to commit crimes of low amounts to set up Doc, or make bankers think they're doomed if Doc is behind a crime wave to empty their vaults. Why even attract Doc's attention? Commit the crimes with your Meth Zombies and steal as much as you can. It's win-win for the guy creating them. And why would the police think Doc's responsible for the zombies if he's a zombie too? Doc's already had the city Medical Examiner examine a monster corpse. It's not like The Man doesn't know Doc's fighting the monsters, and by being made a monster Doc's now the master mind? It's dumb.
Stupid ape and and dumb pig. They should be nonanimals and never spoken of again. Chemistry passes in disguise as Monk, again.............. Then there's this:
"Wait a minute," he argued. "Habeas heard someone say something that makes him think you shouldn’t go down that path."
The commissioner was indignant.
"Humph! An educated pig, I presume."
Monk admitted that. He told the official that Habeas understood a lot of conversation. The commissioner was about to push on anyway, when Chemistry came scuttling out of the bushes where he had disappeared a few seconds before. The monkey carried an armful of rocks. He put these down and began pegging them one at a time down the trail on which the commissioner had been walking. A land mine exploded.
Couldn't they have Habeas be trained to sniff out explosives, and then have him work down the trail indicating where the landmines were hidden so the good guys could walk around them? So you don't have something stupid like this:
THEY determined that there were no members of the gang in the woods. At Monk’s suggestion, the group headed for the cave where Monk and Ding Ding Corvestan had found Doc Savage bound to the stone slab. They made their way cautiously, laying down a barrage of stones before venturing on untried ground.
Three more land mines were discovered that way. Each went up with a tremendous roar and a shower of rocks, trees and shrubbery. The master of the mindless monsters did not display a disposition of exactly humanitarian qualities.
These bits in the hallway of the 86th floor are nothing better than sad. "Doc had developed this machine to ascertain what reactions certain visitors would have when they believed themselves out of the building." Really? Why the crap would anyone waste their time wanting to know THAT?!:
"Doc said he was experimenting with a new haze gas," Long Tom told Ham. "It distorts distance tremendously. The automaton thought he was right on top of Doc when he shot. But he wasn’t."
Doc spoke a few short words in Mayan. They instructed his aids to say nothing. Doc was going to attempt to rescue this mindless monster from the weird force that gave strength but stole reason. The dead-eyed workman again started to force his way through the electrical field. Doc Savage pushed a lever on one wall. A section of pliant, composition floor began to move like a treadmill. The automaton kept moving. But he did not make any progress.
Doc Savage looked quickly at his watch. He asked questions of the automaton, tried to wrench his mind from the set path that held it, somewhat like post-hypnotic suggestion, to a given course. The mindless one paid no attention. Doc whipped to one wall, flicked three different switches.
Instantly, a moving panorama loomed on the farther wall of the room. The occupants of the room were seeing a three-dimensional movie formed by spaced, synchronized cameras. They underwent all the sensations of leaving the bronze man’s office, taking an elevator down to the main floor of the skyscraper.
Doc had developed this machine to ascertain what reactions certain visitors would have when they believed themselves out of the building. Usually a drug was administered that dulled certain brain centers in performing the experiment.
This time, Doc used a slightly different procedure with the high-frequency field and the treadmill. He spoke a couple of words in Mayan as the synchronized cameras projected the moving image of the building’s lower lobby. Their eyes told them that they were now out in the street. Cars were parked at the curbs.
Doc pulled two switches. One cut the high-frequency ray. The other stopped the treadmill. Without hesitation, the automaton of a man turned left, headed for a car-picture that seemed to be parked two hundred feet up the street!
"Monk! Ham! Get down in a hurry to see if there is a car parked in that spot."
Aside from these major failures that can be corrected with effort and a sober mind, The Mindless Monsters is fairly epic. It vibrates with tension and doesn't skimp on action. It opens with a strong narrative voice:
THE man was a good eight inches under six feet. He was so gaunt his bones seemed trying to poke through his skin. But there was something about him that made the noonday crowd split, leaving a path in which none touched him.
The scrawny one moved with machinelike precision. He gave the impression that he had been wound up by some gigantic mechanical spring. That in itself was somewhat queer. But it was the eyes that made people shudder as they stepped from his path.
They were pale, colorless. They did not seem to focus on any given point, but looked through other pedestrians, rather than at them. Across the street from the bank, he turned methodically, as if some unseen hand guided his steps. His own skinny hands clenched and unclenched as if some Herculean task lay before them.
Doc, being Uber Doc, doesn't waste time on field testing:
THE workman was a well-set-up young fellow. When Doc had left his sedan and crossed the street to the drugstore, the young laborer’s features had been pleasant and friendly. The expression now was scarcely human at all.
Doc Savage did not falter. He met the workman in the center of the street. Inasmuch as events had led up to this meeting, it was as good a time as any for Doc to learn at first hand the strength of the mindless monsters.
Bank tellers packed heat, and the second bit is probably why bank tellers aren't allowed to do so today:
The teller began to yell. He jammed his foot on an alarm button, sent a siren wailing from the alarm box outside. With one fist, he whipped up a gun, began to blast lead at the unbelievable figure crowding in upon him.
The bank was in a turmoil. Customers milled about, got in the way of other bank employees who were trying to shoot down the intruder.
The story utilizes a load of gadgets and known city locations, and is filled with fun trivia tidbits:
MONK had scarcely gone out of the door when the muted phone bell throbbed softly. Ham scooped it up and identified himself. As he listened, he made rapid motions to Long Tom with the fingers of one hand. He used a deaf-and-dumb sign language improved by Doc for complete expression with one hand.
AS Doc Savage completed his conversation with Long Tom, he braked his long sedan to a halt in front of the vacant lot in which Rocky Emben had been murdered. There was nothing flashy about Doc’s machine. There was little to indicate that it was made of bulletproof armor, with bulletproof glass; nor was there anything to hint that the powerful custom-built motor could whirl it over the highways at upward of a hundred miles an hour.
DOC SAVAGE was in the laboratory behind the reception room of the skyscraper offices. The bronze man heard Monk’s report over the short-wave set on a shelf. Doc did not reply. He merely snapped a button which closed an automatic signal directing his aids to come back to headquarters.
Doc Savage and his aids wore bulletproof garments that resembled long union suits.
Doc and Long Tom went over the side then. Their descent was checked with transparent parachutes of a substance that would dissolve instantly upon contact with salt water. This prevented the no-longer-useful chutes from impeding their progress once they were in the bay.
He used demolition slugs. They were tiny. But the charge was a nitrate concentrate with three times the explosive power of TNT.
The cab screeched to a stop on a side street scarcely a mile from the Jamaica bank. Monk told the driver to wait. Then he got out, followed closely by Johnny. On the second floor of an unimpressive building, Monk maintained an experimental laboratory in Queens. Many times during their attempts to solve some criminal menace, Monk’s regular lab in downtown New York had been the target of gangsters’ guns. The existence of the little laboratory in Queens was a secret which the bronze man and his five aids shared with no one else.
Doc executed a peculiar move then. He straightened, came out in the open. The monsters drew closer, in a tight circle. Then one of the bronze man’s hands moved swiftly. He reached into a secret equipment vest he carried, flicked out a small silver capsule. He tossed it into the air. Instantly, a blinding sheet of white light roared into the air. It was dazzling, eyeball-searing in intensity. The masked leader screamed, dabbed at his eyes. Ingrid Nordstrom did likewise. As the brilliant flare subsided, both found that they were temporarily blind.
The tiny bomb was a magnesium flare of concentrated power known only to Doc. When it exploded, Doc closed his own eyes tightly so they would be unaffected. Others, taken by surprise, were almost always blinded.
Bank tellers pack heat, and the second bit is probably why bank tellers aren't allowed to do so today:
The teller began to yell. He jammed his foot on an alarm button, sent a siren wailing from the alarm box outside. With one fist, he whipped up a gun, began to blast lead at the unbelievable figure crowding in upon him.
The bank was in a turmoil. Customers milled about, got in the way of other bank employees who were trying to shoot down the intruder.
This Month's Monk's Why-I-Oughta:
"Daggonit, Ham!" a shrill, childish voice threatened. "If you touch a bristle on Habeas’ back, I’ll compress you into a single volume book on what ought to happen to all lawyers!"
The Mindless Monsters is great, but also crap, but fixable.
104 - Birds Of Death:
"Doc’s musical accomplishments are almost as well known as his scientific genius — but even he can’t match the peculiar talent of the strange yellow canaries whose sweet music is the song of death!"
"They all have calloused feet, and some of them have canaries, and they’re all full of lies"
Birds of Death from October, 1941 is the first of two Doc Savage books that feature Canaries - the beloved songbird from the Macaronesian Islands. 1948's The Angry Canary is the other. They're equally good - meaningless until I add that they're decent stories that could be better. Birds Of Death is above average until it relocates to Africa and falls into the pattern of most of the adventures that leave the USA for places in need of elaborate descriptions and a lot of walking around before ending in a run and fight battle.
Exotic locales and strange and alienesque lost cities are a staple of Doc Savage but they do very little for me as a reader. Blue peopleoids in loincloths and aboriginal Egyptian tribesmen living in deepest Africa don't seal any deal when the stories sputters along, slow down, trudge through scenic exposition, and resolves itself with however Doc and the gang can break out of confinement or pop out of big holes in the ground that serve the same purpose. Primitive peoples have also aged incredibly poorly as acceptable content.
Putting aside the entire Africa section as rote storytelling, Birds Of Death is a good story with memorable scenes and pieces of Doc Savage information. The Africa section also fails by 1) Having Doc become Super-Tarzan and flying through the trees with 250 lb. Monk hanging on his neck, 2) Bringing along Ape and Pig for no purpose beyond animal endangerment, 3) having someone say bare feet are safer than wearing shoes, and 4+) Miscellaneous.
"Oh, so he composes music, too! I had heard of him as a scientist. One of my mining companies is using an invention of his for using very short ultraviolet rays to locate deposits of fluorescent minerals at night. Such minerals as scheelite, which is seventy percent tungsten."
The bronze man got a few things from the laboratory, small articles which he placed in the pockets in the fabric of a bulletproof vest which he donned. The vest was not of steel plates, the usual construction, but was made of a chain alloy mail which was lighter, more flexible, and fully as good.
Doc Savage reached under the dash and twisted a small valve in a copper pipe line of small diameter. The engine then made a faint frying noise as the chemicals from a tank poured through the line into the hot exhaust line, were turned to vapor by the heat, and came out of the exhaust pipe a grayish fog, as if the motor was burning a little cylinder oil.
He took out of a coat pocket an object that might have been a kitchen match box, except that it was black, had two dials and a tiny grilled opening. He held the box close to his lips and told it essentially what he had just told the girl. He added, "Get in the car and get here as soon as you can. Bring O’Brien O’Callaghan with you."
"All right," the box said, and Liona realized it was an extremely compact radio outfit.
"Yes, it is," the bronze man agreed. "But Renny was wearing the same type of clothing as the rest of us, garments treated with metallic salts which are highly fluorescent under ultraviolet light. He may regain his senses, tear off bits of clothing or any personal object and drop it in the road. It is a slim possibility, but the only one we have at the moment. I will keep in touch with you by radio."
A few minutes later, O’Brien O’Callaghan was a slumbering hulk of a young man sitting in a closetlike aperture in one wall of the laboratory. The niche had a comfortable chair. Doc closed the door, which became an indistinguishable part of the laboratory wall, with a seemingly very heavy piece of apparatus in front of it. The niche was ventilated.
[More realistic than usual] THE bulletproof vest stopped the slug, but the blow knocked Doc sprawling. His flashlight landed somewhere in the mud and sank. For moments, he wallowed desperately, trying to get to his feet again. The chain-mesh armor of the vest, while infinitely lighter than the plate type, had the disadvantage of not scattering shock as much. It was like being kicked by a well-fed mule.
He gulped in several deep breaths of air, then put a metal clip over his nostrils, and placed between his lips a chemical "lung" gadget which resembled nothing so much as a toy balloon complete with metal mouthpiece for inflating. The thing would filter breath and add depleted oxygen. Its effectiveness was limited to considerably less than half an hour.
(It has been the practice of the publisher of Doc Savage to eliminate the exact chemical formulae of gases, poisons, and other mixtures which Doc employs from time to time. This is not done because the chemicals which the bronze man employs are fantastic, impossible, or non-existent. Rather, it is not the wish of the author to furnish aid to criminals or others not entitled to it. Knowledge of many of these chemical formulae, in the wrong hands, would be dangerous. Hence the exact ingredients of a gas or a chemical concoction employed by Doc are seldom published. We hope that this lack of exact information, in the few cases in which it is eliminated, does not detract from the interest of the Doc Savage adventures.)
"Mr. Savage composed a series of selections particularly adapted to the violin," Julian replied. "There is a touch of genius to the work. They are going to become famous in future centuries."
Doc Savage nodded. His flake-gold eyes had traveled over Benjamin Boot completely, from head to foot, with such a thorough intentness that Boot felt as if his mind had been read.
[We found it convenient to punch you in the face a few times while you were unconscious from being punched in the face] Doc Savage said, "The soreness is not serious. We found it necessary, or at least convenient, to clip you several times on the jaw.".
[Again with the face punching of an unconscious person] Doc Savage headed south on Central Park West, then took the west side to avoid the theatrical district which, although the night was getting on, was still brilliantly lighted and crowded. He reached back and rapped Julian again on the jaw.
[Doc does not normally set people on fire] Doc got the lamp, threw it at Saff. There was a pistol in Saff’s hand, and he held up gun and hand to ward off the lamp. It hit him. The brass chamber of the lamp hit the gun hard enough to split. The gasoline in the chamber was under pressure. It spouted out, sheeting into flame.
Saff, suddenly a pillar of fire, screeched. He went back, had luck, and found the door. He went over the side into the shallow water and mud.
Pat, who had worked with the bronze man before, was a little surprised. Doc was talking more than usual. Normally, neither persuasion nor dynamite would move him beyond a cryptic remark now and then. It had been Pat’s experience that the less the bronze man said, the more progress he was making. She was wondering why he was talking so much, explaining his moves before he made them. She suspected he had some object in doing that.
"As Pat says, some or all of you are lying. All of you have calloused feet, and no one of you cares to explain why. All of you have canaries, or some connection with canaries. So I am afraid you must regard yourselves as prisoners."
[Out of the blue Tarzan meets Superman strength and abilities] Monk obeyed. The bronze man, seemingly not greatly hampered by the homely chemist’s considerable weight, leaped, grasped a limb, went up. He followed a dangling vine through space for fully eighty vertical feet, then the vine began to break loose from his leafy anchorage above, and let them down. Monk squawked in horror, but the bronze man, seemingly unconcerned, fastened to a passing limb, and a moment later was walking through space on a narrow, swaying limb.
He made a leaping drop of more than a score of feet, caught another limb, shot through space again, and after that took shelter in a great leafy forest giant.
Monk croaked twice, managed to whisper, "Jug-just let me go. This is worse’n being chased by them natives."...
"Hang on to me again," Doc said.
Monk was not enthusiastic about it, but he did so. He was less enthusiastic as the bronze man calmly stepped off into space, hit a limb with a breath-taking jar, went off it as if it was a spring board. Monk closed his eyes. He did not open them until they were on the ground.
"Whew!" he said. "I think I’ll get me a nice quiet job making dynamite."
Pat Savage looked extremely cheerful. Pat was a slender girl, but her slimness was deceptive. "Doc, you’re wasting time," Pat said. "Let me do it. I’ve been taking jujitsu lessons and I’d like to try them out."
Doc said, "Go ahead."
Pat advanced on Miss Moldenhaeur, a hand extended, saying, "Come on darling, don’t be nasty about this." Liona Moldenhaeur tried to slap Pat, which must have been what Pat expected, because there was some motion, violent and intricate movement, hard for the eye to follow, and when the swirl of skirts subsided, which it suddenly did, Liona was flattened out helpless and Pat already had one of her slippers off. Pat stripped at a silk stocking.
He rushed forward, obviously to drag Pat off Liona.
What then happened to Mr. Boot would have been highly entertaining had anybody been in the mood for humor. Pat used a grip on his necktie for initial leverage. During the first part of what she did to Benjamin Boot, she inserted an extended pair of forefingers into his eyes, temporarily disrupting his vision. Boot left the floor and turned over in the air at least twice. He hit the floor. Dust flew up from the carpet.
Doc Savage shook his head, said, "Pat, you are too rough with that. You’ll injure somebody."
"I need more practice," Pat said gleefully. She sat on Boot’s back, held him flat and gasping with a variation of a wrestling toe hold.
Renny’s face was even more woeful than usual, which, contrarily enough, meant Renny was pleased with the situation. Not that he was elated over the misfortune of the Moldenhaeurs, or anyone else who was in trouble. The satisfaction was personal. Renny liked trouble. The kind of trouble he liked most of all was the mystifying kind...
If Renny would have been any sadder, he could not have helped bursting out laughing.
There was one favorable thing about Johnny’s big words. He never used them on Doc Savage. No one knew exactly why.
[Rare episode of obliviousness on the part of a Doc Savage assistant] Doc Savage imitated a dog barking in the distance. It was not a difficult trick—the hard part of learning the deep-in-the-throat art of ventriloquism; once that was mastered, it was fairly easy to do tricks with various sounds.
He heard an answer. It was not a good one. So bad, in fact that he hoped it would not be repeated. He made for the sound.
It was Johnny, the long, lean archaeologist of big words. He was proud of his effort. "I should have been an animal imitator," he declared.
Monk groaned. "I fell right square on my whatchacallit," he complained.
He was the big man, the one who was crudely dressed. Not cheaply attired. Crudely. The crudeness was in the size of the checks in his suit, the raw, ungentle color of his shirt. No one would ever call his necktie a cravat. It was common necktie, forty-nine cents on Broadway.
[Benjamin Boot] Concern and delight mingled on Benjamin Boot’s homely face, and the result made the face something with which to haunt a house. Young Boot’s face was not exactly ugly. Stupid was more the word. The face was a dumb, illiterate, foolish, simple, shallow, dense, donkeylike, wooden one...
BENJAMIN BOOT entered a skyscraper in the center of the city. He was exceedingly well dressed, twirled a cane, and hummed thoughtfully. Seen from the rear, he gave the impression of a male movie star, but viewed from the front his homely, stupid, asinine face so dominated his appearance that he looked like a harmless half-wit out for the afternoon...
"I am Benjamin Boot, and I am a rather wealthy man, owning a number of enterprises. I am not saying I am wealthy because I am proud of it. In fact, the contrary. I happen to be wealthy because I was born into this world such a homely, stupid-looking fellow that there was nothing for me to do but devote my time to making money. Girls would never have anything to do with me, and I have few men friends, because they invariably make cracks about my looks, and I do not like that. So I’m a lonely man, and a rich one. I love beautiful things. I spend much time in my greenhouses with my flowers, or in my aviaries with my birds, or listening to fine music and admiring fine paintings."
Julian ventured, "Begging your pardon, sir, but I do not think Miss Moldenhaeur is aware of your deep affection. Perhaps if you made some slight move toward letting her know—"
Benjamin Boot shook his head vehemently. "Nothing doing. I told a young woman I loved her once. She looked at my face, and didn’t stop laughing for a week."
"I’m sorry, sir," said Julian.
"I was sorry, too," said Boot. "I also ruined the laughter-filled young lady’s father in a business deal, and the laughing damsel had to become a waitress in a greasy-spoon restaurant. I was sorry I did that, too. I was sorry all around. I’m always the one who is sorry. I was a baby lying in my cradle when I started being sorry about being born so homely."
[This is fun] "I have heard his headquarters are on the eighty-sixth floor?" said Boot. "Is that correct?"
"Take the elevator around the corner," said the starter.
Benjamin Boot took an elevator operated by push buttons. On the control there was only one button, and that one was labeled, Doc Savage. He punched the button. The cage rose only a few floors—no more than five—and stopped, the door opening.
Boot found himself in a brightly lighted room, undergoing an inspection from two men...
"I came here in the hopes of seeing Doc Savage."
"You’re in the right place," Monk informed him. "This is the going-over station. We look you over, and find out if your business is important enough to interrupt some experiments in electrochemistry that Doc is conducting."
Liona Moldenhaeur shuddered. "Two weeks ago, he told me he was afraid something horrible would happen to him. He made a peculiar request. He said that if he should die, he would not be dead. He said that if he did die, or appear to do so, I was not to call a doctor, or let anyone see him. He told me a doctor would not be able to help, and that he would be pronounced dead by the doctor, and buried, or turned over to an undertaker and embalmed. I think that is what horrified him the most—the fear of being embalmed."
The order brought half a dozen men out of the shadows. They were not masked, except that tension was holding their faces tight. Tension and, in a case or two, open fear.
"Some wallop," she said. "I saw sparks fly when his teeth came together."
"All right, take over," said Lane. "And good luck, Mr. Savage. The thing seems wildly fantastic to me, but, if I may speak frankly, you own enough of this airline that your requests must necessarily be granted, regardless of what I personally think of their sanity."
[Safer for bare feet than to wear shoes?] "I don’t give a damn if your feet are tender," he was saying. "You go barefooted and like it. It ain’t safe to wear shoes, or clothes, neither."
"Well—Mr. Boot is a chemist. He experimented with it. He said he thought the taste could be eliminated."
"He was mistaken," Doc said. "When you expose meat to that stuff, there is a slight taste remaining. You know the taste, and you know it is not pleasant. These natives do not mind it, because—well, they eat ants, and such morsels. But the civilized palate would not accustom itself to that taste. And there is no way of eliminating it."
I like how Doc tells someone he won't investigate his case and then immediately starts everyone off to do just that. It's atypical that Doc sets someone on fire. The suspended animation gimmick is good. The treasure is the "stuff" that creates such a state for use in preserving foods. That's also a smart idea. I read these primitive peoples Doc Savage books fully expecting not to like them too much. Your results may vary. Genre literature is a bit of a fetish where quality is less important than quantity and that it exists in the first place. Birds Of Death is very good until it stops being very good by my own definition of what can be good. Your results may vary.
105 - The Invisible Box Murders:
"When Doc is accused of serial murders, Pat and his aides must unearth the deadly secret behind The Invisible-Box Murders!"
I'm guessing that's Joseph "Doc" Cotten on the cover dressed for a tropical vacation and wearing white after Labor Day. 1941's November entry is heavy on plot but also suspenseful, gritty, visually exciting, immediate, and intimate. There's more sequential exposition than usual but it's done well and yowza(!) did I need it to keep score. I grade it somewhere between good and better 'n' good, held back by a few things that didn't work well. The deal with Doc being mistrusted by the law or accused of something because of a "hot tip" never sits well as it comes across as ungrateful and ignorant. The Invisible Box Murders balances this out better than other novels with people who side with Doc and a truly incriminating piece of evidence, but Doc's track record is solid (except maybe for the lobotomy farm thing) and it's great when he's shown the respect he deserves from peace officers way in over their heads in cases Doc tackles every month like clockwork, except when it switched to bi-monthly.
The second thing of negative note is the Lieutenant Blosser father-son team. After a big no-way-in-hell setup it's explained why one pretends to be the other and gets away with it, but there's no father and son who not only look the same but also the same age, thereby "fooling" co-workers. This is an unforced error on crooks who've done everything right so far with timepiece precision and a chess master's view of the board. Have them be brothers or even cousins and hold your breath on the suspension of disbelief.
This is beyond even science fiction. A plastic face covering will not stop a bullet from killing you at least once:
Doc went forward quietly, drawing a species of hood over his face, a thing that was something like the chain mesh hoods worn by medieval knights. This one was lighter, and the face-piece was of transparent plastic which would arrest any slug carrying less than a thousand foot-pounds of energy. That included most revolver bullets.
Trilling is stupid, Part 57:
Doc Savage continued to stare at him.
"What are you going to do about this?" he asked tensely.
"We are going to order your men arrested on sight," said Einsflagen. "And we are going to presume that they are not in danger, have not been kidnapped, and that they are in a position to know more about this than they will, or have, admitted."
Doc Savage made his trilling briefly. It had biting, fierce quality.
This is patently false:
DOC SAVAGE did not, ordinarily, go out of his way to hunt trouble, but the present case was an exception.
This sounded good but there was no reason for it to happen, and why it did is never explained:
He aimed the gun at Ham and fired. And part of the top came off his head, not off Ham’s head.
"This weapon," he said, "had been deliberately tampered with so that it would kill anyone who fired it."
Ham’s eyes widened.
"Say, Doc, that makes it look as if someone gave him the gun so that, if he got in a jam and tried to use it, he would kill himself. Kind of an automatic elimination, as it were."
The bronze man nodded.
I don't recall Doc's mom being gung-ho about turning her son into a lab rat, but what I don't know could fill a book. And when did the series' rare attempts to assign "humor" to Doc Savage ever make sense or seem natural? The highlighted parts I liked:
The big bronze man had been trained from childhood—a weird sort of upbringing, with his being placed in the hands of scientists from childhood onward for development—for the business of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers. The training was the idea of his parents; and the results had been remarkable, as far as making a physical marvel and a mental genius out of Doc.
It was a plan on the part of his parents which could easily have gone wrong and warped the bronze man’s character, his disposition, even his soul.
Privately—and the psychologists agreed with him on this point—Doc considered the thing a dangerous experiment which could easily have failed. Or worse, it might have created a kind of human monster.
Fortunately, Doc had inherited a love of excitement and a sense of humor. So the training had been eminently successful. Many people had come to him for help, and he had aided some; while others, undeserving, or who had sought to use his genius to help line their pockets, had received a painful education.
Faults aside The Invisible Box Murders grabs your interest and knows how to keep it. As a 90 minute film it would seem shorter. Doc and the plot are always moving forward and he's front and center in small rooms and cramped spaces with bright lights and dark shadows.
Under miscellany Pat has learned to read lips, the Doc Savage crew ingest tear gas on a regular basis to build up resistance, cheap securities were called "cats and dogs", and if a jail guard can smoke on the job then so probably did cardiologists during surgeries. Not really, but damn did everyone smoke (except Doc, of course).
There's a Superman reference:
"Renny, at exactly midnight, I want you to walk into the advertising office of the Daily Planet and insert an advertisement for a man who has slept three weeks at a stretch."
This is a nice gag used at least three times in the series - here, The Giggling Ghosts, and by Doc himself on Pat in I Died Yesterday:
What happened then was not excusable because it was unexpected. Ham was looking for trouble. He got it. Violently!
A truck in front of them was big. It had good brakes and it stopped on a dime, almost literally. At least Ham jammed on the hydraulic brakes full force and barely escaped ramming the truck, which had a huge box car of a body.
There were other cars, one on each side. One a coupé, the other a coach, and looking entirely harmless. Too late, Ham realized their looks were deceiving.
He realized this when the truck pulled ahead a few feet, and Ham took his foot off the brake, thinking traffic had cleared and they were going on.
The back end of the truck body dropped down from the top. It formed a kind of ramp.
Ham was astounded.
Another car, a big and heavy one, hit him a hard blow from behind. In the fractions of seconds during which Ham could not get his amazed foot back on the brake, their car was knocked up the ramp and into the truck body.
Like a sheep being shoved into a box.
The thought in Ham’s brain was: "This is crazy! I’ve seen it in the funny papers! They’ve done it in movies! And it happened to us once before!"
But there they were.
I applaud Street & Smith's refusal to make the Doc Savage magazine an early Anarchists' Cookbook:
The bronze man watched the guard walk away. He held his breath. The drug was a result of experiments with hypnotism and artificial aids toward inducing it. It was quite effective, but only briefly, in reducing the victim to a state where he would do anything anybody told him. But he would be in that condition less than five minutes, after which he would drop off in a sound slumber. So the drug, except for such uses as this, was quite useless.
(Following the usual policy of Doc Savage magazine, the actual chemical formulae used by Doc are not revealed, for the reason that such information in the wrong hands could do a great deal of harm. Furthermore, many of the chemical concoctions, improperly used, would possibly have fatal results.)
A reminder that Doc dressed like everyone else in 1941:
Doc Savage was without his necktie, but that was because of the custom of taking neckties off prisoners, so that they will have nothing with which to throttle themselves. There were no strings in his shoes, either.
He knew the layout of the building, now. He broke a window which admitted to an iron fire escape. This, in turn, deposited him in an alley, and it emptied him out on a street. He kept running. He was barefooted, tieless, hatless. Men do not go around in that condition on New York streets. Not as fast as they could run.
Real estate and transportation:
Doc Savage came out of the reception room into the hall. He took one glance. Then he went back inside the reception room, leaped to the inlaid desk and pressed several curlicues of inlay which were buttons.
As a result of the buttons he pressed, all elevators in the building stopped, the stairways were flooded with a gas—not tear gas, but one that would produce unconsciousness through its ability to be absorbed by the skin pores—and the armed elevator starters in the ornate lobby received a warning flash of signal light.
[Doc's secret crash pad] A DEBONAIR, if big, old gentleman with a thorn cane walked out of a subdued apartment house on upper Madison Avenue.
The building was as shabby as any on Amsterdam. Doc dropped down a basement stairway, manipulated a lock, at the same time holding a palm against a brick at the side of the door in what could have been an innocent gesture, but wasn’t. The hand on the brick operated a capacity-type device which unbolted the door. He went in.
This was the laboratory of Long Tom, the electrical wizard of Doc’s organization. Because Long Tom liked seclusion when he worked, few outside the group knew of the place. Doc felt sure the police would not have a guard over it, and he was positive there would be a portable radio direction finder in the place. There was.
Also a great help was the car which Long Tom kept in an adjacent garage. The car was an elderly rattletrap containing a tank-type motor, which meant an airplane motor, liquid-cooled.
Doc and guns:
He heard, shortly, a motorcycle engine start up, then roar away. He got one glimpse of the machine, its headlight, a spike of white which it pursued. It was far away. He fired once, using one of the guns he had captured. It was too dark to see gun sights. He missed it. It was one of the few times in his career that he had used a gun on a person and—he thought of this grimly—the first time he had ever missed with a shot when it was vitally important that he should not miss.
An example of the good ongoing mystery of Doc Savage's methods, and Pat's realization:
Take, for instance, said Einsflagen, the matter of the bronze man’s interest in contacting a man who had slept three weeks, a radium miner, and people who had dealt in monkeys recently. There was an example, Einsflagen suggested. Three things, all three bizarre, all three bearing no apparent relation to each other. That was an example of how Doc Savage’s brain worked. All three things—radium miner, sleeper, monkeys—were doubtless very important, but it befuddled an ordinary brain to try to see what connection they had with the matter in hand.
Pat was lost in thought for a while longer. Then she did an unexpected thing. She leaned back, a light of relief overspread her attractive face, and she laughed.
When the others stared at her, startled, Pat said, "Brothers, get rid of those long faces. Doc has got the whole thing figured out right now, I’m willing to bet you."
Jen Bridges frowned. "What makes you think that?"
"When Doc starts doing things nobody can understand," Pat assured her, "he is really making progress."
Gadget of the month:
He used his belt buckle on the glass in the door. The belt buckle looked cheap. He used the end of the tongue, or, rather, the tiny diamond that was set in the tip of the tongue. The diamond could groove the hardest alloy steel, so the glass did not give it any trouble. He waited until a car went past, tapped; the glass came out, and he reached in and unfastened the lock.
Misc. bits w/ Doc Savage:
Word went through the jail that Doc Savage was in the place. It had a rather queer effect. Ordinarily, there could reasonably have been expected a demonstration of some kind. Instead, there was a complete silence. An appallingly complete silence.
It was as if a hawk had appeared over a flock of rather evil birds.
The guard pulled the unlocking lever. There was a rattling. Doc immediately shoved open the door of his cell.
It was a tribute to the criminal world’s fear of the bronze man that no one tried to leave any of the other cells.
He said, "I have been a fairly satisfactory prisoner thus far, I hope?"
The district attorney nodded. "I understand you have." He turned to Commissioner Strance. "He has, hasn’t he?"
"Smart. Naturally, he’s model. Doesn’t mean a thing."
Doc Savage came to his feet grimly.
"From now on," he said, "you can expect something else."
It was car theft, but he was not in the mood to worry about that. For one of the few times in his life, he was angry.
Oh that Monk!:
Monk Mayfair had explained that the secretary wasn’t very pretty. That undoubtedly meant she was as homely as a mud fence with the hide of an octopus tacked on it. Monk Mayfair was easily affected by women; and when he thought one was homely, she was homely indeed.
Of the whole group, Monk was the only one who had removed his coat. Monk did not give a particular hoot about what people thought of his looks; he had long ago realized that nothing he could do would make him much more homely.
Monk had a little trick or two which he liked to demonstrate to friends, one of these being to take a silver half dollar between thumb and forefinger and bend it until the edges touched. The man’s screaming was more horrible than loud.
106 - Peril In The North:
"250 people are abandoned in the Arctic wilderness at the mercy of a murderous madman. Only Doc Savage can prevent wholesale slaughter on ice. Following a gun- and bomb-blasting battle on the New York docks, the Man of Bronze and his crew face northward to smash a sinister plot — and to expose the cruel secret of a bloodthirsty foreign dictator!"
"You . . . you woman-frightener!" yelled the fat girl.
47. That's how many times Lester Dent references two characters in Peril In The North as "fat". The novel's opening ruse also involves fat metabolism in rats, and Pat Savage's salon "worked miracles at slimming fat women". Thomas J. Eleanor is not only given a woman's first name as his last, he's introduced with "A huge blob of the adjacent darkness became a man. He was enormous. The fact that he had short legs had little bearing on the impression he gave of size. It was fat size. Bulbs and balloons of flesh that bounced and shook. A human blimp." Fern Reed weighs in at over at over 200 pounds in December, 1941 poundage, so with Fat Inflation that's at least 250 today. Even fat Thomas J. Eleanor calls fat Fern Reed fat. Lester Dent must have really hated the heavy.
4. That's how many times Lester Dent adds editorial comments in brackets. Peril In The North is a nice little book and a good read all around. Its opening and closing passages are quite memorable. It begins with Doc signing autographs left and right, something you don't picture him doing, when a man runs in and starts this dryly comedic exchange:
"Mr. Savage!" panted the hurried man. "We’ve got rats!"
Doc Savage looked at him.
"Rats?" Doc said.
The man nodded. "Rats," he gasped. "Dozens of them."
The man was round, red-faced, perspiring. He trembled.
"What about these rats?" Doc Savage asked him.
The man pounded his chest to help get air into it.
"My pal is sitting there with a gun!" he exclaimed.
"With a gun?"
The panting man said, "He watches the rats."
Doc Savage considered the point.
"You mean," he said, "that your pal sits there with a gun and watches the rat holes for the rats to come out?"
"Oh, no! That ain’t it." The man shook his head violently.
"How is it, then?"
"The rats are in glass bottles," the man explained.
Doc Savage said, "Why does your associate not pour water into the bottles and drown the rats, if he wishes to be rid of them?"
"That ain’t it. You don’t get this right."
"He’s afraid. My pal’s scared."
"Afraid of what?"
"I don’t know."
Doc Savage said, "You are not making this very clear. By any chance are you wasting my time? I am sorry, but there is a reception for foreign notables and army commanders here at the hotel, and I am supposed to be in the receiving line. If this is not important, I will have to ask you to excuse me."
"Oh, gosh!" the man gasped. "Wait!"
He jammed a hand into a pocket, fumbled and brought out a piece of paper, which he unfolded.
"Here!" He thrust the paper forward. "Maybe that will explain. My pal wrote it."
Typing on the paper read:
Have given my diabetic rats arteriosclerosis and returned them to normal several times. Now complications have come up. Would you be interested?
Doc Savage shoved the paper in his pocket. "Can you take me to this pal of yours?"
"Do it, then," Doc Savage said. "And quick."
The novel ends with good guy Bench Logan getting revenge on his arch nemesis bad guy:
"Said he was going to rescue Mr. Eleanor," Pat explained. "Said he did not want any harm to come to Mr. Eleanor. I thought that was very thoughtful of him."...
"Whether Eleanor is or was Mungen, will depend on how Bench Logan has gotten along with his rescuing, I bet," he said.
Pat put a hand to her lips. "Logan went out to find Eleanor—or Mungen—and kill him?"
Monk, whose sensibilities on a point like this were about as calloused as the heel of his foot, only grinned.
LATER, when Bench Logan came back, battered and showing signs of having been in a terrific fight, Monk greeted him casually. "How did the rescue go?" asked Monk.
"Satisfactorily," said Bench Logan.
And that was all he ever did say about it.
Bench, one of the top manly names of all time, beats fatty fat Thomas J. Eleanor to death and says it went "Satisfactorily" as the curtain falls.
Here's an example of when it's let known on the sly that someone isn't who they claim to be:
Doc remarked, "It was my impression that Thomas J. Eleanor always avoids publicity."
"He does. But Mungen didn’t. You remember Mungen—a great hulk of a devil with a gold snake for a tongue. He never shirked publicity. In fact, he was the biggest limelight hog of the dictator crop."
"Mungen went out of his way, then, to draw notice to his hate for Thomas J. Eleanor?"
"Yes. But Mungen wasn’t bashful about letting people know he hated them."
"Mungen hated plenty of them, too."
The story in Peril In The North is simple, complete, and shrouded in mystery for as long as can be managed. The last act is quick and thankfully so as most scenes with snow and ice move slowly as if in snow and on ice. The "treasure" of the tale is a human tragedy waiting to happen and it's given all due seriousness and respect. There's a shaggy blue dog story that ends up being just a dog that somehow looks bluish, and Monk speaks for everyone, including you and me, when he verbalizes the Doc Savage code of chivalry:
He said, "For some time now, we have made a business of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers. It sounds kind of silly when you say it in so many words, but we haven’t found it that way. In fact, we’re proud of what we’ve done; we’re proud of Doc Savage and glad we have had the privilege of working with him. We’ve liked taking chances, and we’ve taken plenty of them. We’ve always known what we were doing. We haven’t gone into anything blindfolded. Puzzled, maybe, but never without knowing that there would be risks. We have accepted those risks as part of the game."
Monk glanced up at the grimly circling plane.
"Always in our minds, I think, has been the knowledge that we would have to accept death sometime," he continued. "And I think we will do just that without hesitating. I know that’s the way I feel, and I know the others see eye to eye with me. You take Ham, up there; Ham has insulted and browbeaten me, told my best girl the awfulest lies, and we’ve had our spats. But I wouldn’t be afraid to have Ham speak for me, even if the word was death. I know I can speak for Ham the same way. And for the others, as I say. And so I’m saying for them—we ride straight ahead! There are two hundred and fifty people yonder on the ice. We may save them; we may not. But we will try. The trouble Pat, Long Tom, Renny and Johnny and Ham are in, up there in the plane, and the trouble Doc and I are in down here, is all part of the bargain. We won’t welsh. So—and maybe I should have just said this and nothing else—to hell with any trade for our lives."
[Thank you!] The anaesthetic grenades had to be carried in a metal case because they were so breakable.
They did another thing; they protected themselves against tear gas. Each of them tore the lining of the outside breast pocket out of his coat. The pockets were actually elastic, rubberlike material that was transparent and merely basted in place. Like toy balloons, the elastic pockets would stretch. They pulled them over their heads, and the elastic snapped tight below chin level.
[Paint is fattening] THE plane was vast and shining, graceful even sitting on the Hudson River surface. It was the color of the natural alloy with which it was covered. Paint on a ship of such size would add hundreds of pounds of weight and give nothing but color, so paint had been eliminated in the interest of efficiency.
Sprinting madly, Doc got his hands on the cold, slick metal back of the machine. There was no spare tire. He located the gadget which held the license plate. It was fragile. But under that was the handle which locked the turtleback, and the handle was stronger. And the bumpers projected some distance.
He got on the bumper. It was no small feat in gymnastics to do so. And he could not remain there long, particularly if the driver went over rough streets.
He tugged out his handkerchief, swung down and jammed it into the end of the exhaust pipe. Almost at once, the car began to slow as the exhaust gas crowded back into the machine and choked the motor.
Thomas J. Eleanor frowned. "What do you mean when you say you rarely help individuals?"
"When one person only is in trouble," said Doc Savage, "it usually means that he or she got into it because of greed, selfishness, or some other unpleasant motive. Usually, when one man is in trouble, it is his own fault. Not always, but usually. When a number of people are in trouble, it is usually the other way around. Some one man is usually responsible for their predicament."
[Doc's a neck grabber] Without another word, Doc Savage took Bill Browder by the neck.
Browder was instantly horrified.
"Wait! Wait!" he squawked. "I’ll go home! Don’t do that to me again! I’ll go!"...
Bill Browder emitted a howl of fright an instant before Doc Savage got hold of his neck. That was the only vocal sound he made. His other noises were futile blows and a clatter as he kicked over a packing case in his struggles.
When Browder was unconscious, Doc placed him on the table. The bronze man walked back into the front of the store.
Doc Savage did not ordinarily talk a great deal. Now that he thought of it, he had talked more tonight than was his custom. He had felt, for some reason or other, more free. It might be because it was his birthday. But the truth was that he had completely overlooked the fact that this was his birthday.
[You mean not a costume of jodhpurs and a white shirt to be ripped to shreds?] Doc changed clothes. His full-dress suit was, to say the least, conspicuous, and even more so because it was now dilapidated. He changed to a discreet business suit, and put on a bulletproof undergarment that might have been called a vest, although it was made of alloy-metal mesh. It covered his entire body and portions of his legs and arms, and would turn anything up to a slug from a military rifle. It would stop a military slug, too, but the blow would do almost as much damage as the bullet in that case.
(The amazing quality of Doc Savage’s memory—his whole mental equipment, too—is a never-ending source of wonder to his friends and associates. Those who have followed the bronze man’s past adventures know of the scientific training which he received, and which is responsible for his unusual development. Doc was placed in the hands of scientists at childhood, by his parents, and received unending training for many years. Naturally, he became a mental genius and a physical marvel. When you train and study like that, you are bound to become good. Naturally also, this life has had its handicaps. Doc is really a fellow who has missed a lot of fun—as you and I know fun.)
[Thankfully not seen in the book] THE scientific training which Doc Savage had undergone from childhood had given him a remarkable control of his nerves and of his emotions. Because of this, all but close associates were inclined to claim that he had no nerves or emotions, and few human qualities. This was an error. He could, for instance, become as astonished as the next man.
[Examples of the book's many nice small touches] Doc Savage gave that up. He let himself quietly into the hall and, at the crack below the door of Bench Logan’s room, carefully emptied a bottle containing the anaesthetic gas of the type which he had used on Logan earlier.
He used the gas a very small bit at a time, so that Logan would think he was growing sleepy naturally.
In order to escape the effects himself, the bronze man held his breath and retreated to an open window in Renny’s room, at intervals, to get more air.
It was a tedious job, but eventually they heard Bench Logan pile down on his bed and go to sleep...
Bench Logan was not asleep, but eventually he did go to sleep.
Doc Savage also slept. He kept the headset over his ears, so that any noise from the other room would awaken him.
Colonel John Renny Renwick had a voice that sounded somewhat like a subway train going through a tunnel.
Renny looked at Doc Savage. He was looking very sad, which meant that Renny was feeling rather good.
"I’ll be superamalgamated," Johnny remarked to Eleanor. "The Homoousian hypostasis under perscrutination."
Eleanor smiled and said, "So you have been investigating me. You found my deeds have been satisfactorily dark, I hope."
Johnny was surprised. Strangers usually did not understand his words.
"Mansuetude indicates aphonics," he said.
"Contumeliousity is not a propendency," said Eleanor.
Pat said, "Great sails on the sea! We’ve finally run into somebody who can choke Johnny on his own words."
[Long Tom meets the fabled 10th out of any ten men on the street he can whip in a fight] Long Tom tried to box bare-fisted with a man. The man hit Long Tom between the eyes. Long Tom sat down on the ice and remained sitting there. He said afterward that it was fifteen minutes before he understood just what had hit him.
They stopped, because of the obvious fact that a cheap gun will shoot just as violently as an expensive one.
[And now a word from our lawyers] Browder said, "You did something to my neck. Made me pass out." He frowned. "Yeah—that’s what you did. You’re a surgeon and doctor, and you would know how to do such things."
(The causing of unconsciousness by such means is not new. It is, however quite dangerous in unskilled hands. There was one case recently, at an Atlantic coast bathing resort, of a lifeguard who produced this unconsciousness for amusement, in various victims who agreed to submit. He was not experienced. He held the pressure too long, with the result that his "hypnotism," as he was calling it, became a death. He faced charges of manslaughter.)...
[Word Play] THE man who was barking like a dog did not lead them into a trap...
Then an automatic pistol blasted itself empty! Its bullets knocked bark off trees, dug at the ground not far from Doc Savage and Bill Browder. Browder made a barking noise of his own and dived behind a tree.
"Pat," he said, "what are you doing at headquarters?"
"Oh, I just like to sit around the place," Patricia Savage told him. "I sit here and think of all the exciting things that have happened in the past and hope more of them will happen."
"What a wild story," she said. "Say, Doc, what do you want me to do? What is my part?"
"You are to go home, go to bed, and dream about making fat dowagers grow thin," the bronze man said.
He smiled the smile of a fat man...
Pat said, "You’re using a lot of words to get into this thing."
Eleanor smiled at her. "Once I was young and impetuous, too."
Pat said, "You’re not old, now. You’re just fat."
Peril In The North is a very serviceable middle-period Doc Savage book, and while not a blockbuster it makes no errors and rides along smoothly.
107 - The Rustling Death:
"A powerful weapon of destruction has been unleashed — a device which can disintegrate the defenseless population. Can Doc and his crew save their country — or will this tool of doom become a madman’s terrifying toy?"
Doc grinned foolishly. He picked up a pebble and showed it to Monk. "Pretty?"
The Rustling Death was Alan Hathway's fourth and last Doc Savage adventure. In another review I called his work "slow moving, creatively random, and bogged down in stage direction", and this one continues down that path. It's not as bad as the other two I've read (The Devil's Playground & The Mindless Monsters) but it's like a dull person telling you an interesting story in a boring way while being sure to not leave out details. The Rustling Death moves from here to there, then to there, where this happens and then that thing. It makes more sense than a Harold A. Davis mind-screw but no matter how hard it tries to lay action on top of mundacity it reads in a monotone with little to warrant dramatic music cues, like a radio play you can't and don't want to keep up with. It helps to read this quickly and not worry about missing out on something. There's too many characters anyway. January, 1942.
I started a list of failings and oddness. The Rustling Death starts off as a wellspring of such material but after a while it settles into a mildly well told story with a few thorns sticking out. The original list is:
Why did Ham feel compelled to go to the shack? / "I heard every word you said," Nada Morrell said in clipped tones that did not remind him of a cottage with vines and a garden. "You must have bumped into the lever of an interoffice communicator." / "But when Monk looked out in the hall, he decided that she had taken off her shoes to fool him." / "Our mirror direction scrambler made someone think we were between those posts," Doc told him. / "Doc Savage moved in a weaving crouch. His hands made motions as if he were bouncing a ball." / Monk's clothes are removed but they put his shoes back on when he's tied up?
It's a major failure whenever Chemistry is used as a stand-in for Monk and for a while the bad guys fall for it. This visual is silly:
"Shoot to kill," Fox rapped. "We don’t need these birds any more."
Monk dropped to the floor. He began to roll rapidly backward. He yelled to Doc’s other aids.
"Run for it, fellows! It’s our only chance."
This attempt at historical discretion escapes me:
A slight frown of worry crossed the bronze man’s features. He replaced the flat skull which was really an expert piece of make-up. Doc decided that the real identity of the master spy who called himself Flathead Simpson had better be for the confidential ears of Washington alone. Hysteria might mean national tragedy following the public indignation that would result from too wide publicity of his identity.
The array of gadgets are mostly pretty good but there's too many and Monk's magical shoes are a bit much. The Rustling Death ray seemed cumbersome, high-maintenance, and easily inaccurate, and existing means of killing people and destroying planes and such might have been just as effective, if not more so. The battlefield application made the most sense.
Ham did not reply to Lyons. Instead, he twisted a fancy pin on his tie, switched on the hidden transmitter of a compact two-way short-wave set. Then he began to give a detailed account of what had happened to him and what he had found. Ham was using a throat microphone, similar to those used by some air-line pilots, which is hidden underneath the collar. It picks up sound by vibration from the outside of the throat...
From the tiny receiver that was inserted in Ham’s right ear came a shrill, metallic voice.
Monk gasped. He staggered back against a table, moving it. The girl backed slowly through the door. The chemist made no move to stop her. The door swung closed and she was gone.
Monk went into action then. When he had stumbled against the table, a lever had been pressed which released a thin chemical sheen on the floor outside the door. That sheen would impregnate the girl’s shoes with a chemical that could be easily followed with the aid of infrared glasses; which would make the stuff fluorescent.
The bronze man and each of his five aids, when in New York, wore a compact metal ring that was thermally reactive to a certain wavelength stimulation. The wave length in each ring was different. The ring Doc wore had become heated, informing the bronze man that Monk was calling him.
The device was a television relay which called attention to and photographed any metal object larger than a coat button that a visitor to the office had on his or her person.
[Screamingly bad] Fox had not noticed the motions of Doc’s hands that were somewhat like a basketball player dribbling the ball down the court. Doc had used a new diffusion gas that he had recently developed. It filled the air with fine refracting particles of moisture that acted much like the prisms in a periscope. The whole scene shifted in such a fashion that the gunners were firing far from the real direction of their target.
This was one of the few times in which Monk’s constant attempts to play practical jokes on Ham had turned out to be a lifesaver. Monk had smeared all of Ham’s clothing with a chemical that the human nose could not detect. The pig’s nose, also, was insensitive to it unless smeared with a complementary chemical. But when it was treated that way, Habeas could not only smell the other chemical but was irresistibly attracted by it.
The New York headquarters was equipped with an automatic message-recording device that worked on a secret short-wave band. When they left the office, Doc adjusted it to relay any incoming messages to the plane. He took a spool-wound ribbon of steel from a container, now. The recorder utilized a magnetized steel ribbon to store messages, instead of the more conventional wax recording.
Doc Savage had developed an idea that was once suggested for American commercial planes. As long as the safety belt was in place, his aids were safe from any plane disaster in his ships. Unless a switch were thrown to disconnect the device, the chairs on which the plane occupants sat were automatically ejected with parachute attached as soon as the ship dropped below three thousand feet.
Doc Savage’s hand slipped into an equipment vest he always wore when possible. Three compact pieces of apparatus came from the vest. One was a flat induction coil that looked something like a small heating pad. A tiny earphone and mouthpiece combination plugged into that. The two were in turn plugged into a small battery. The device was an induction pick-up circuit which enabled the bronze man to cut in on the phone line without being closer than fifty feet from it.
Monk reached the shoe and scratched it vigorously. The entire sole came off. The other shoe yielded a similar false sole. The chemist rolled on his back, got his fingers on flat tubes of chemicals that were pressed into the false soles. There was a smell of burning rope. In another moment, Monk was free.
[This begins to get out of hand] Monk’s hands gripped the false soles as he rolled. He rubbed them violently together. There was an instant explosion. Red flame and pitchy-black smoke billowed up into the underground chamber. The smoke had an acrid, tear-gas effect.
[A neat low-tech solution] Doc Savage was stretched prone on the floor. Beads of perspiration stood out on the bronze man’s forehead. The flake-gold eyes were open. But they were still and dull. Doc’s face was contorted with lines of intense concentration. The mighty brain of the bronze man was battling to resist the numbing force of the rustling death. Doc rolled. One hand came out of his pocket. The fingers clutched a peculiar two-bladed key. The blades were similar to the prongs of a light plug that would fit a baseboard socket.
Doc’s corded muscles were knotted with tremendous effort as he rolled toward one wall. His hand moved like something in a slow-motion movie. Finally, the pluglike key touched a wall socket. The prongs sank into it.
There was a sudden, blinding flash! The lights went out. The rustle of silk and crinoline ceased. So did the terrifying impulse of the soundless hum. There was silence in the big office for several moments.
[Chain-mail underwear is magic] Fox Strang knew of the bulletproof undergarments. Half a dozen automatics roared. The unfortunate crook in Monk’s grasp slumped. He died a victim of his own confederate’s shooting. Monk and Ham simply turned their backs and ducked their heads.
The mobbies held the triggers of their automatics back and the magazines emptied themselves. That was a fine system for one fusillade of lead. But they soon ran out of bullets.
But as Doc turned slowly, two things became immediately apparent to the hairy chemist. One of those two things made his blood run as cold as the bubbling spring water that the bronze man was drinking. There was no recognition in Doc Savage’s eyes. The flake-gold pupils were dull and flat. Doc’s jaw hung loosely. His movements were slow, completely without drive or interest. Doc grinned foolishly. He picked up a pebble and showed it to Monk.
[First reference I've read of what happens with his cane's scabbard] The lights of the shack flickered strangely, then went out. Ham leaped to swift motion; he began to race toward the shack. He whipped up the shiny black cane he carried, pressed a hidden button. The black case dropped away, fell to the ground. It left a long, slender blade of spring steel that was tipped with a sticky substance. This was a sleep-inducing drug, instantaneous in its action.
[Doesn't this mean you have to hold the paper against your nose to see through the hole?] When he had finished, he stepped out into the lobby. He bought a paper at the newsstand, sank into one of the biggest easy-chairs in the lobby, apparently to read. But first, he punched a hole in the middle of the newspaper with one finger so that he could see what was going on in the lobby without anyone noticing that he was watching.
The Rustling Death contains within it an averagely decent small story. Nazis, backstabbing, greedy people, funny looking people, a pretty woman, a weapon that makes a noise, Doc temporarily becoming a simpleton, the bad guys alternating trying to kill and capture the assistants - you know, Doc Savage stuff. Hathway didn't know how to present the material in a dramatic and exciting way. It really does read in a monotone while people and events randomly come and go. As a writing exercise this would be great material to lay out beats and properly handle characters and scenes.
108 - Men Of Fear:
"What turned Doc's tough, hard-fisted crew into quivering cowards? To find out, Doc races into a strange mystery and the bizarre secret of a foreign power!"
"This vitamin," Doc Savage said, "is what you might call F E A R."
Men Of Fear is a odd book. It does a number of odd things and reverses the normal structure of the last section being far less planned out than the opening. What starts as a weird mess ends with surety and attention-grabbing action scenes. February, 1942's New York to Caribbean excursion gets better as it moves along but it still leaves a number of unanswered considerations.
The beginning is written as if by someone besides the credited author, Lester Dent, and then as if it was translated inexactly from another language, as seen in nonsensical depictions of simple actions and somesuch:
LONG TOM ROBERTS had capacious pockets, and they were well filled. He emptied them fast. His method was simple. He tore the pockets bodily out of his coat and let grenades spill into his hands as fast as he could pull the firing pins from them.
[Written poorly as it's for a very specific chemical, not any chemical] "I turn this on," he said, "and any chemical that comes in range of the thing will burst into smoldering flame. The range is not great—about a block at the most. But it will work through the walls of buildings, just like radio."
[Saying attacking Doc, firing a gun, and taking him hostage might be all right?] The bronze man had about time to reach the elevator, and there was a yell. Blows! Fight sounds! A shot! A scuffling and gasping. Clang of an elevator door closing...
"The trip seems to be off," he remarked. "There wasn’t anything very important about this jaunt to South America, anyway. You know, on second thought, it might be a good thing."
"It might be. Doc needs a vacation," she said. "He has never taken one, has he? Never, actually, what you would call going away for a period of relaxation. I guess it would be good for him. No human being can keep up the pace he has maintained."
Renny snorted. "Theoretically, nobody could keep up the pace, but Doc has done it," he reminded them. "In fact, I think he gets better all around as he goes along. But you might be right at that. A vacation never hurt anybody. I could stand one myself."
Things are left hanging too long before they're explained to make sense, like when Long Tom knows the bad guys are headed back to the city to kill Doc. Pat's instant dislike for Miss Jellant is later explained as a semi-correct premonition but there's no need for her to start off as she does. Doc is fairly on top of his game with one bout of self-loathing for forgetting something, and Uber-Doc makes a few appearances as Doc Tarzan, in fantastical scenes that come across as such. Ham and Monk insist on taking their pets along during an attack, making no sense even on its own level as they contribute nothing. Long Tom calls Renny a "Double-fisted clown".
[Long Tom] "Doc, I am taking along a new device I have developed for locating minerals by fluorescent activity, combined with so-called radio-locator operations. I have found that certain minerals change their response to a radio locator when subjected to fluorescence under black light. If I can index the alterations, I can work out a reliable method of identification."
"Too dangerous," Doc Savage said thoughtfully. "As a matter of truth, this is probably the safest venture we have undertaken in the course of our association. It is not a fever section we are going to. There are no fierce natives. It is safer than New York, because there are no taxicabs."
[Always appreciated fan service] Henry was becoming more indignant. He put his face close to Doc Savage’s and said, "You know what I think? I think you’re a phony! I been hearing what a tough guy you are, and here I walk all over you. I outsmart those supposedly high-powered assistants of yours without any trouble at all."
"Is that all?" Doc asked.
"That’s all!" snapped Henry.
Doc Savage then removed his hands from beneath the robe and grasped Henry by the throat. The bronze man’s legs also seemed to become magically free!
[Good intentions, 1942] IT was one of Doc Savage’s strongest convictions that a day would come when society would take a realistic view and treat its criminals the way the "students" in the bronze man’s unusual criminal-curing college in upstate New York were treated.
The bronze man was also canny enough to know that this time was not yet. The public was not yet ready for the idea of criminals being operated on so that all memory of past was removed from their brains, after which they received proper training. That was too strong for public consumption.
They had taken the subway. This shocked him. Not because it was anything unusual for the men to do, but because it was the natural thing and because he had not thought of it. In fact, he had completely forgotten there was a subway exit from the interior of the café. They had simply gone down and taken the subway, and it had never occurred to him.
He felt more self-disgust than he was showing when he got back to headquarters.
[Uber-Doc] He carried the man he had knocked out, lifting him up among the trees. Actually, the higher lanes of the jungle were faster going to one of the bronze man’s physical development. He traveled in simian fashion, swinging along through the interlacing boughs, at times covering long spaces with unearthly ability, considering that he was carrying at least a hundred and fifty pounds of unconscious man.
[Makes no sense. Monk could have taken a regular elevator] Monk walked in. He was puffing. "What happened to the private elevator?" he asked. "The instrument box in the darned thing is all smashed up, and it stopped on me fifteen floors down. I couldn’t get it started. I had to walk up."
Monk Mayfair’s likes and dislikes were well-known to Renny. Monk liked to eat. Better still, he liked a pretty girl, particularly if he could take her away from the lawyer, Ham Brooks. He liked to quarrel with Ham. But more than any of these things, he liked a fight. Excitement! Trouble! Danger! Mystery! These were the pork and beans in Monk’s diet.
[Bluffing] "I’ll be repaid," Monk said, "when I start pulling his eyes out and letting them snap back."
[Racism Award Winner 1942] Pat, who had not seen the three rebels, shrugged. "You can’t tell me this is anything but some kind of a gag. Those three like excitement the way a pickaninny likes watermelon."
PATRICIA SAVAGE listened to Henry Brooks say, "Young lady, I’ll pay you fifteen thousand dollars to let me go," and smiled.
"I ought to bust you one," she told Henry, "for being so cheap about it. Get the ante up to half a million, and I would start talking. I wouldn’t let you go, but I would have more respect for you."
[Odd because there's no reason for Pat to be angry] "I am Professor Jellant’s sister," she said. "My name is actually Turkis. Turkis Jellant." She smiled again. "The name Turkis means turquoise in my language."
Pat said, rather unpleasantly, "I imagine Doc speaks your language better than you."
Pat calmly speared at his eyes with two fingers, after the fashion of rough-house comics in vaudeville. The man ducked. He met Pat’s fist, which landed expertly against his windpipe. That brought his head back. Pat’s other hand landed against a spot where nerve centers were most exposed. The man dropped as senseless as if he had been shot.
"Jujitsu," Pat said proudly. "I’ve been practicing."
TROUBLE had been the business of Doc Savage for a long time.
Like anyone else who was very good at his profession, the bronze man did not have to go hunting business. It came to Doc, usually. And the approach was not gradual, as a rule.
"Long Tom, contact Doc’s organization of private detectives," he said. "Put the word out that Doc has been grabbed by someone. Ask them to do what they can."
The last order actually meant more than the first. Doc’s detective organization was a peculiar one. It was composed of "graduates" of his criminal-curing college, the unique institution which he maintained in upstate New York. This "college" was an unknown quantity as far as officials, newspapers and the general citizenry were concerned. To it, Doc sent such crooks as he captured. In the place, they underwent delicate brain operations which wiped out all past knowledge. They were then trained to hate crime and wrongdoing and taught a profession or trade. As a matter of practical common sense, Doc had molded these graduates into a loose organization upon which he could call for aid when the necessity appeared.
[Renny should be very suspicious and know exactly why] Henry smiled. "Henry Brooks," he said. "Won’t you come inside?"
Renny was a little suspicious. He did not know why.
["Doc" works better as they all know him fairly well] "We better get down to the cars," Renny pointed out. "Long Tom may be on the trail of those fellows. We’ve got to get after them, on the chance they may lead us to Doc Savage."
"Don’t try yelling for a cop, either. You might get the attention of one, but you’d be dead about that time. Cops can’t help dead men, you know"
"When you think you’re getting the best of Doc Savage—watch out!" Renny said. "Right then is when you’re doing your worst."
Monk, Ham and Johnny were sitting in chairs at the other side of the room, looking as if they might have been freshly spanked.
[How you know it's a Doc Savage aid in disguise] "All right, Henry," he said. "I’m a new man. The boss hired me tonight as a trouble shooter. The first shooting was to get you away from Savage."
"Oh!" Henry said vacantly.
"I didn’t have time to get the set-up. The boss said to get it from you. You are to tell me what it is all about."
[Photographs do give solid clues to what a person looks like] Pat nodded. "Doc, do you know this Jellant by sight?"
The bronze man shook his head. "I have never seen him. I have seen only his pictures."
[Ableist!] TRANSATLANTIC craft entering New York harbor are required by Federal regulations to take aboard a pilot, well outside the harbor. The pilot boards from a small motor craft. In rough weather, it is necessary for him to grasp a rope ladder and swing aboard, so that it is no job for a one-armed man.
[Finally something about boats I found interesting] Doc Savage handled his speedboat carefully. The little craft was very fast; but in a sea as rough as this, it was inclined to take some of the waves like a torpedo.
"Vitamins!" he bellowed. "You mean to say Monk and Ham and Johnny are—what’s wrong with them—because of vitamins?"
"It was concerning the matter of the vitamin reactive compound. We can use the name you just gave it, Vitamin F E A R, that name being as appropriate as any...
"Only when we can manufacture it on a large scale," he said, "can it be used to do the enormous good of which it is capable."...
"Just imagine the results of the material being administered to the leaders, the army leaders, of war-mad Europe."
[Death camp reference] Doc added, "So they brought in a fake sister, who is Turkis, here. Turkis, what happened to the real Miss Jellant?"
Turkis dropped her eyes. Her lips trembled. "She died in a concentration camp six months ago," she said.
The scenes in the Caribbean are great and a pleasant surprise when expecting another generic run and fight show and feeling set up for it by a surprisingly disjointed opening. Bits like Doc taping envelopes to the backs of three aides keep it interesting. Men Of Fear is worth reading just for the shuffling of the normal Doc Savage deck. The shortcomings of the book can be easily corrected by fixing the obvious - that scream like an air raid siren off the page.
109 - The Too-Wise Owl:
"Doc is lured to the criminal hideout of an evil genius and an experiment with the incredible Vitamin M — a nutrient that can make a man incredibly smart — or terminally stupid!"
From March of 1942, this was a good one. I was hoping to find out how many licks it takes to get the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, but coming up short on that I'm happy to report this is a better effort by Lester Dent from the post-Uberman Doc Savage mystery detective era. I honestly have no idea when Doc stopped being omnipotent but I do know that after an initial ascent from 6' strong man to 6' 7" (or so) almost supernatural being, Doc Savage consistency fell by the wayside with an optimal Doc Savage popping his head up here and there and maybe a few times in a row. The Too-Wise Owl strikes the best balance I can remember of all the Doc Savages Street & Smith allowed to appear in their pages. He's great without being mystical and human without being overly introspective.
I'm surprised Dent wrote this because I thought his enthusiasm had left the building by this point. The Too-Wise Owl is smart, eccentric, concise (Dent sure could stretch things out), and odd in a good way. The story opens strong with a single line:
TROUBLE comes to men in strange shapes. It came to Doc Savage in the form of an owl.
Dent's insights are more subtle and therefore more effective than the breathless hyperbole of earlier novels:
Monk had long ago discovered that
his homeliest grins worked best with femininity. There was something fascinating
about his complete homeliness. Ham claimed it was a type of snake-and-bird
fascination, but Monk did not agree. He claimed there was honesty in his
countenance, or something else of which women approved; he didn’t know what.
Lola Huttig’s past life had been
for the most part a poverty-stricken one. She had never held a job which paid a
great deal of money. She had personally secured her education with hard work and
persistence, and she had fallen into the habit of envying others their easy life
and smooth manners. The next natural step was to wonder if she didn’t lack
something that other more successful people had. Courage, perhaps. Or
confidence, or whatever it was.
Doc avoided the mental portion of his exercises. The regular routine was divided into a number of sections designed to cultivate the sense of hearing, sight, touch, taste, and so on, as well as straight muscular ability. The whole routine was too complex for the plane. Also, the bronze man had a definite purpose in what he was doing, and mental exercise was not what he needed at the moment. His mental machinery was in enough of a whirl as it was.
The physical exercise did what physical exercise will almost always do—gave his nervous system relaxation.
The others were convinced he was insane.
This one reads well at first but it makes Doc out to not care about people because he himself is a good person who cares about others. It can't be just human-computer programming:
Doc Savage did not follow his unorthodox profession for any impractically idealistic reasons. If there were an idealist, it had been his father, who had placed him in the hands of the world’s leading scientists in specialized lines for training. The idea had been to create a superb human machine for fighting the battles of the weak. The project had been a success.
Actually, no normal man is likely to be a professional Sir Galahad, unless he has good reasons. Doc Savage was normal in that respect. He had his reasons.
His reason was excitement. He liked it. The fire and crackle of danger in far places, the impact of the unexpected. He was one of those men—and they are few—who thrive on things that keep other men awake nights and give them gray hair.
He had gathered together a group of five associates—Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks were two—who shared his liking for excitement.
Dent twice inserts an editorial comment that pretends what being read is an account of a real event:
(The exact formulae for chemical
mixtures employed by Doc Savage are purposefully deleted. In the possession of a
criminal, for instance, the one Doc Savage has just used would be a distinct
asset-to the crook.)
(It is the policy of Doc Savage never to reveal the nature of gases and other equipment familiar to him, for fear that in untrained hands these things might be harmful.)
Is there really a type of bullet that can't shoot through a bagel?:
Three more bullets hit the owl! They were well aimed, wonderfully aimed! The owl lost some of its shape, so evidently the bullets were high-velocity slugs which mushroomed. The type of bullet with shocking power to kill a grizzly, but which would not shoot through a loaf of bread.
The story's intricate and most things make sense in context. I still don't see anyone agreeing to pretend shoot someone six times because a stranger on the street asks them too, or Monk saying F-It and abandoning everyone to get smarter than he is, or the dumb formula not existing at all just to resolve a punchline. All that aside this is a great effort and well worth your time, which has no value if you're not working. Stop putting a price tag on the hours you spend on the couch.
110 - The Magic Forest:
"The mysterious disappearance of Renny and a series of tiny grotesquely carved totem poles send Doc and his hard-fisted crew on a deadly race deep into the Alaskan wilds in search of a strange hidden land."
As I've mentioned before I don't think there's such a thing as a Doc Savage spoiler 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 to be the heavy. It might be better to know beforehand so you can see how well Dent and Co. handled said ne'er-do-wells from the start like in Columbo.
I read April, 1942's The Magic Forest after Googling the worst Doc Savage novel ever. This came back and I took up the challenge to either yea or nay the review. This one is surely poorly written and dies a slow death after Chapter 1. I've read worse. This one mostly drags with a healthy portion of dumb sprinkled on top. The opening pages move well as a detailed yet engaging procedural, and then it's a bear farting sadness. The story was written by William G. Bogart with an assist from Lester Dent, and I wouldn't be surprised if Dent worked on the opening chapter and then was off like a dress on prom night. It's obvious Lester didn't Bogart that joint novel [wait for applause... and continue].
Doc's not bad in this. He's basically who you want him to be in the situation. The problems begin when the story shifts from Doc and Renny to Long Tom, Heckle and Jeckle, Stupid Pig, and Dumb Monkey, who go around doing not much to not much effect, with Long Tom being grumpy and Monk and Ham squabbling like losers while the pets are dead weights on the narrative. You can literally feel your attention span drift away while reading most of The Magic Forest, which should have been called The Hidden Forest as that's what the thing is called throughout. There's no magic in the forest, but someone might have been trying to build up the relevance of what winds up as the book's MacGuffin - a small carved wood totem pole that freaks out anyone in the know who sees it. It's presented as pivotal to the plot but by the end they're simply worthless trinkets. Like I like to say, sometimes the opening chapters of Doc Savage novels write checks the asses of the reveals can't cash. There's also a heap of exclamation point abuse. It's weird when people whispering or speaking in lowered voices will say things with exclamation points tagged on the end.
We learn that Doc keeps an apartment in the Empire State Building. The lead female day-player sleeps there in her own room, so I'm thinking a three-bedroom unit overlooking the Hudson.
It's a recurring motif in Doc Savage novels, and maybe this was SOP in the pulp era, but can you imagine the horror today of someone punching or bludgeoning the crap out of already unconscious people?:
They had nothing with which to tie up the victims. So, for precautionary measures, Monk went around and tapped each man on the jaw again. He was taking no chances.
While taking notes I found myself constantly writing "Dumb" in the margin. Here's that list:
- Long Tom is described as rather tall, which he wasn't. His personality is summed up with "'I don’t trust dames!' he said emphatically." At least he didn't whisper it emphatically (!). Long Tom is also the pet's babysitter, which someone that angry and grumpy would never agree to.
- The sedative on the tip of Ham's cane sword is a bad thing because it assumes he has the Zatoichi skill to just slightly break the skin on his foes. When I read this I pictured veins spewing blood like Monty Python:
Ham’s fast-moving hand whipped the thin sword from its innocent-looking
sheath. The sword tip caught one assailant across the wrist just as he was
aiming one of the peculiar-looking air guns.
- Monk's rarely been this stupid, and the capper of Ham chasing Monk with his cane is sad comedy:
The argument between Monk and Ham, strangely, had started over Long Tom’s suggestion that they try to contact Doc Savage by radio. Long Tom remembered that one of the small portable sets had been packed in Monk’s pack, and he had asked the chemist to get it out.
It was then that Monk had given his two partners a funny grin. Making no comment, he started unpacking his knapsack. Monk had ten cans of beans stacked out on the ground and was still bringing out more cans, when Long Tom demanded, "What the dickens?"
Monk had grinned.
"Was afraid we might get hungry," he announced. "You see, I left the radio back there at the lodge—and brought beans instead!"
That was when Ham had gone after the hairy chemist with his cane.
Monk fights like he's in the Three Stooges:
Monk worked out a little system. He picked up a man, whirled around and around with him until the fellow was dizzy.
Then, setting him upon his feet again, Monk sent a single haymaker to the jaw. The man went staggering backward like a drunk looking for a place to sit down.
- Spa Day lobotomies for everyone!
- Oh those stupid, stupid animals:
THROUGHOUT the night, the three Doc Savage men had found it necessary to wear the fur parkas. The garments felt good, because it had grown intensely cold during the night.
But now, as the morning sun rose
higher, the furs became unbearable. They were soon taking them off again and
Monk, protesting, was elected to carry them in his pack. The pets, also, had
been wearing special small suits, and now they were removed.
Habeas, the pig, was not even sniffing the ground now. He had a hopeless expression, also, as did Chemistry.
The Magic Forest is pretty bad and I'm thinking William G. Bogart didn't mail copies around to promote himself to new publishers.
111 - Pirate Isle:
"A murderous madman is holding a South Sea atoll in terror. His aim? Nothing less than pirating the secret of turning sea water into gold. His obsession? Set a deadly trap — then obliterate the Man of Bronze and his bold crew!"
May, 1942's Pirate Isle is a truly piss-poor Doc Savage novel. If a grand Doc Savage movie clocks in at two hours and your average decent story ninety minutes, Pirate Isle rates sixty. It's claustrophobic enough as an adventure on a boat but it's further constricted by confined writing into a submarine-type piece. It makes no sense, Doc's not peak human, and it rips off the science conceit of 1934's The Sea Magician and then chucks it aside by assuming the evil genius is an idiot.
Getting the good things out of the way, Doc's physical presence is associated with a stalking lion. There's no Monk & Ham, which in itself isn't a plus but if in this mess they'd be annoying to no end. The bits with Captain Hardgrove's parrot are great because the bird devotes his life to tormenting the Captain with the names of his unfaithful wife's adultery buddies:
He grabbed absently for his own uniform cap, missed it, then started for the foredeck without it. His parrot squawked warningly and said a fairly understandable, “Mabel loves you, big boy!”...
“Take my advice and leave a parrot in home port with your wife some time. You hear what that so-and-so bird just said? There was a Freddie, too. So far there's been a Bill, a Maurice, two Johns and a Charlie. And now, Freddie.”...
Captain Hardgrove looked at the bird with no taste. “Get the hell out of here,” he told the bird, “or I'll scald and pick you and fry you for supper.”
The parrot, unconcerned, said, “You'll always love me, won't you, Clarence?"
Nesta asked Captain Hardgrove, “Is Clarence your name?”
The burly skipper's neck got red with emotion. “Not,” he said, “that I ever heard of.”
“Then who is Clarence?"
The wave of red on the skipper's neck turned to a shade of tense gray. “I left this damned parrot at home with my wife when I went to sea,” he said grimly. “I don't know who Clarence is. I don't know who Homer is, or a dozen other guys he knows the names of.”...
After a while, Captain Hardgrove's parrot made a noise outside the window. “Joseph, I love you,” it said. “I think you are a wonderful man. So much hair on your chest.”
The endless callbacks to the mystery of Johnny tossing snowballs from the ship's mast is handled surprisingly well, and it's the only thing in the story that adds up:
“This winds it up,” Charlie Custis remarked.
“All,” said Nesta, “but the snowballs.”
“The snowballs were plankton samples. Johnny just threw them at the sailors, thinking—and he was largely right—that the sailors were Lord London's men.”
“But they melted!” Nesta reminded him.
Charlie Custis grinned. “Don't you remember hearing that the dock was being flushed down with a hose when it happened? The plankton samples dissolved.”
“You mean dissolved in the water washing over the deck, so that everybody thought they had melted?"
Misc. good things:
Doc Savage hit the gate of the tennis court, knocked it open, went on toward the bridge. He arrived on the bridge with all the peace of a tornado looking for a haystack.
[Classic comedy wordplay] Captain Hardgrove kicked the unconscious sailor. “This scraping off the keel of a garbage barge,” he said, “shipped aboard me in Australia. I remember him. Told me he was fresh from County Cork. I'll County Cork him.”
“Mr. Weed,” he said. “It says a hundred and two, fahrenheit. Hell is two degrees less hot.”
“I looked up this fellow from the crow's nest, William Harper Littlejohn, in 'Who's Who,'“ Mr. Weed said. “He has a write-up as long as your arm. But this Clark Savage, Jr. has a write-up as long as your leg.”
They came to their feet. Like Doc Savage, they also carried in their shoe laces the little flexible serrated blade of steel that, with proper manipulation of the feet, would saw through the cloth that covered it and through such stuff as the parau bark with which they were tied.
In the bad category Pirate Isle has all the bases covered. The mastermind reveal invalidates the opening chapters. The "treasure" is invalid. Doc, Renny, and the story's female day-player passing as black by rubbing burnt cork on themselves is a horror show of political incorrectness. Here's the gold-from-the-sea bits that implode. A defense of this might be that The Captain is a bit nuts, but it's tacked on and random:
They had built a system of dikes and headgates which, at first, was mistakable for a plant used to evaporate the salt from sea water. But a second glance showed it was no salt plant—if one knew anything about salt plants—even if anyone would be fool enough to think there would be a salt plant in this remote part of the South Seas, with hundreds of square miles of raw salt ready for the taking on Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah and in other places in the world...
“Gold out of sea water?"
“That's right.” Excitement was making Dr. Cunico's breathing almost a steady noise. “For a long time, they've known about gold in sea water. Scientists have, I mean. There's a percentage of gold dissolved in the sea water. A small percentage, but still it is there. The trick is to get it out.”...
“Mr. Borzoi,” Doc explained, “has not been taking gold from the sea water. He has been taking plankton.”
They had put old John Mike on the soft jungle earth. Lying there, he made a faint and rather grisly cackling that was a heartfelt chuckle.
“I told them it was plankton,” he said. “They had never heard of the stuff, so they did not believe me. Gold was all they could think about. So they thought it was gold. So what could I do? I just shut up and let them go.”...
“The plant is still there,” Renny told him. “Hey, let me get this straight. The English want plankton food. They can take it from the sea, by your method. They hired you to work out the method. What went wrong?"
“That fool, Lord London, thought I was taking gold out of the sea,” Borzoi told him weakly. “So he raided the place. He kept all of us prisoners and tortured us. He wanted to know the secret of getting the gold and wanted to know where the gold was. Naturally, we couldn't tell him, because there was no gold. He never believed that.”
Don't tell Al Sharpton!:
Doc Savage asked abruptly, “Are there any colored stewards on board?"
“Several,” Nesta said. “Why?"
“Could you,” Doc asked her, “get into the drugstore on the first-class-cabin deck—presumably there is one on a boat this size—and get several bottle corks, some matches and a small bottle of glycerine?"
“There's nothing to keep me from trying,” Nesta said...
The afternoon sunlight slanted through the few portholes to make one end of the lounge fairly bright. Doc Savage and Renny kept away from that end, with Nesta Reynolds. They were in shadows and with the members of the crew. They had tied white towels around their waists to give themselves an appearance of belonging in the status of servants. The burned cork and glycerine mixture on their faces—the basis of minstrel grease paint—had been carefully applied...
Nesta nodded. She nudged Renny. “Hey, cheer up that face of yours. Whoever saw a sad-looking Negro?"...
Charlie Custis chucked her under the chin.
“Darling,” he said, “you make a lovely Negress, did you know?"
Doc's Doc but not really Doc. I wonder if the shell of this story comes from something else Lester Dent wrote and he didn't fully convert it to Doc Savage. Or it might be another post-peak human Doc savage tale by design:
[Doc hides instead of moving forward to confront danger] A HAND grabbed the doorknob suddenly and threw the door open. Because no friend would enter a cabin like that, like a hound after a rabbit, Doc Savage moved fast. He jumped through the most convenient door. It put him in a bathroom. Before he slammed the bathroom door, he saw enough to decide that at least two men were entering the cabin. Piling into the cabin, more exactly.
Doc Savage tried to imitate Nesta Reynolds' voice. He made a flop of it. He had developed a skill at mimicry that could have earned him a living of sorts on the stage, but it failed him now, probably because he was very tired. He had been without sleep since leaving New York, and he had left as soon as he got the news of the call from Dr. Cunico which had indicated Johnny Littlejohn's whereabouts. He had been very concerned about Johnny's disappearance almost three months ago. To drop out of sight in such a fashion was not like Johnny.
Doc managed a few rather unfeminine squeaks and gave the imitation up as a bad job. He hoped the men outside would be charitable enough to think the sounds were made by a scared girl.
DOC SAVAGE looked slightly uncomfortable. It was his habit to let one of his aids do the questioning, while he sat back, listened and studied the victim of the questions. With that system, he could get more satisfaction out of an interview. Facial expression and reaction often told him more than words.
[Explaining himself to a stranger] “What happened?” he asked.
“They shot at me,” Doc explained.
Thinking of these things, Doc was absent-minded enough to make one of his rare mistakes. He all but walked into the arms of two grim gentlemen with rifles. The grim pair were conducting Renny Renwick and Nesta Reynolds!
[Doc can't rip apart small cords like he used to] The scissors were very small, but the cords which held Renny's wrists were not large.
After that, she watched Doc Savage. She saw plainly the struggle the bronze man was making to stand there and make no move to help Long Tom. She touched his arm anxiously. “You can't, now,” she warned. “Later, maybe we can get to him.”
He stood there with a tight body. Perspiration came out slowly on his forehead. He muttered, “We cannot just stand here and do nothing.” He was silent a moment. Then it was plain that he had decided to try to help Long Tom, regardless of risk.
“Please!” gasped Nesta, and held to his arm as if to restrain him.
Doc Savage used a pair of binoculars which Charlie Custis had filched from the bridge. He studied Jinx Island. He tried to place the island in his memory but could not. The unfamiliarity of the place was aggravating. Doc had spent a lifetime acquiring a memory that was one of his most remarkable facilities, and it was letting him down. Jinx Island was a complete puzzle as far as he was concerned. He could not place it at all.
Doc hit the door; more out of desperation than any other emotion. The panel was made of candlenut wood and bamboo lashed with rattan. Not as strong as steel, but as far as Doc was concerned, as impregnable.
He turned back.
[Insane Rage Doc has never killed anyone!] Doc Savage got hold of Captain Hardgrove's throat. Doc said nothing and made almost no sound. But the fixed thing on his face was not like him. Captain Hardgrove began thrashing in Doc's fingers, helplessly, like a rabbit being strangled.
Johnny Littlejohn was tied. He fought his bonds. “Stop him!” he yelled at Charlie Custis. “Don't let that happen—get them apart!”
Charlie Custis gripped the bronze man, tried to loosen his grip. Johnny managed to heave off the floor after a fashion, and between them they got Doc loose from Captain Hardgrove before Hardgrove was more than thoroughly choked senseless.
Doc Savage stepped back. The weird expression of fury was very slow in leaving his face.
Charlie Custis scowled at Johnny Littlejohn.
“Captain Hardgrove is Lord London,” he said. “Why the hell did you stop Savage?"
Johnny said, “Yes, but Doc has never killed a man.”
[Renny knows fauna and flaura like Monk manscapes]Renny Renwick, who knew South Sea fauna and flora, noted that the man came from behind a mako-mako shrub, which had yellow flowers. The other name for mako-mako was snake plant, and the coincidence seemed very appropriate.
[WTF] The parrot was talking. It was not cursing. It was speaking only now and then, excitedly.
The man was speaking also. His voice had a rather mad sound.
“You're a honey, Johnny,” the man said. “You've been everything to me in this mess.”
The bird said, “You're a honey, Johnny.”
The man said, “I love you. I love you to death.”
Charlie Custis began turning white. He gripped Doc's arm. “That is Lord London,” he whispered. “The fellow must be nuts when he gets ready to kill a man. Notice how he talks—love and that stuff.”
The bird said, “I love you Johnny.”
Pirate Isle isn't interesting bad. It's just bad. It's a quick read so if you want to take in a poorly designed and executed Doc Savage book for the experience this will fit the bill nicely.
112 - The Speaking Stone:
"To unlock the secret of a mysterious talking stone, Doc travels to an ancient utopia high in the mountains. A vicious army of vipers are hot on his heels, racing him to the city in the clouds. To get the secret, Doc’s awesome talents are soon tested when he must protect the lives of his crew — and the lives of everyone in the city"
June, 1942's The Speaking Stone isn't that bad of a read but it doesn't follow its own rules on lowlanders being up that high, and author Lester Dent allows himself the luxury of making things up as he goes along because science fiction has neither rules nor regulations. Its casual and brutal violence is possibly its best feature while aspects like this occupy the lower levels:
“Those vests,” she said, “are bulletproof.”
“Huh?” Long Tom was profoundly startled and stared at the girl's vest in amazement. He had not imagined the garment was anything of the kind.
“Also,” said Tara, “the material . . . is an excellent antiseptic and germicide. Merely applying the fabric . . . to a wound . . . is the best treatment . . . you could give it.”
Arriba is the name of the ancient lost city in South America somewhere above twenty-two thousand feet, and Dent might have leaned back in his chair, huffed a snort of paint thinner, and came up with this description of their fantastical race:
Their skins were very clear, and none of their bodies were fat. They had a certain general manner of carriage, indicating that they took the same exercises in the same way. Signs of regimented physical instruction. Their skins were darkly golden. Many of them had about the same complexion as Doc Savage. They looked remarkably intelligent, as a group.
Their features were not exactly Anglo-Saxon, neither were they native. Not Incan, either. A mixture of races, rather, as if a careful blending had been carried out over the centuries. That, they later learned, was the explanation. From time to time, at long intervals, outside blood had been brought to the colony. Arriba was not out of touch with the world. Its people knew what went on outside, although great pains had been taken to keep existence of Arriba a secret.
Actually, there was perfectly modern equipment in the place. Radio apparatus, receiving only, for instance. And modern medical equipment, a well-stocked library of up-to-date literature.
It's sketchy how the ancient people of Arriba get this equipment or how they pay for it. Their secret existence above the clouds also seems to contradict their ability to interact with others. Dent makes their language the new Esperanto that is as easy as laughter:
That reminded Long Tom Roberts of something.
“Hey, this language,” he said. “It has been puzzling me, and I've meant to ask somebody about it. What kind of a language is it?”
Tara answered him. “Arriban.”
“The perfect language.”
“I don't get you,” Long Tom told her. “The language sounds astonishingly easy.”
“It is. It should be. My people have spent . . . two hundred years making it the perfect universal language.” She smiled at him. “You see, every race, every nationality, would find the language . . . as easy-sounding and as easy to speak . . . as you have found it. It is a language founded . . . on the muscular structure of the voice organs of the human body. All of the sounds are . . . easy sounds for those organs to make.”
“This language,” Tara finished, “is like laughter. Everyone can do it.”
Trudging around in snow gasping for breath isn't very exciting so at times the story doesn't move much high up in the mountains, but The Speaking Stone manages to be slightly more engaging at these times than comparable Doc Savage situations. The book's one glaring error is having the chemist Monk being brought in to be an expert on the vibrations and wave motions associated with the Speaking Stones. That's a Johnny thing if not Long Tom's specialty. Dent has Monk explain it to Long Tom where it should be the other way around:
“There you are,” said Monk. “People say, 'Oh, well, sound is wave motion. Electricity is stuff that goes through wires. Gravity holds you to the ground. Love makes you do goofy things.'“ He snorted. “Actually, we know very little of the physics of sound.”...
“An elastic medium is necessary for transmission of sound,” Monk continued. “In other words, the compressions and rarefactions caused by the vibrating body producing sound are passed on from one layer of the medium to another, and transmitted to a distant point.”
Monk said, “Another thing I want to point out: The study of alernating mechanical motions connected with sound is very similar, analogous in many respects, to the study of alternating electrical currents. In other words, there are startling similarities.”
This was done because Monk and Ham are a team, like Bert and Ernie and Sacco and Vanzetti. Everything else be damned. Doc is more mortal than usual but it's not a bad rendering of him as a lesser god. Long Tom is the month's featured assistant.
“My point is Doc Savage. I never saw anybody before who impresses me the way he does. And it's funny, too. He doesn't say much, and he hasn't done anything like shaking the earth. But I just look at the guy, and maybe think of what I have heard about him, and I start feeling that—well, he could shake the earth if he wanted to.”
[Toned down from uber-skill to skill and luck combined] Doc was surprised at the results of his practice of ventriloquism. Following Bear Cub and Wickard to the spot, he had tried the voice-out-of-a-rock stunt as a kind of desperate, last-minute measure that might get results and might not. He was no special kind of ventriloquist. He was good, but no one was good enough to actually make a rock seem to talk in pitch darkness. He had simply used a voice that was low and vaguely like the voice of Monk that had come from the genuine speaking stone, earlier...
Doc Savage told him about the deceit on Jinx Island. It sounded far-fetched when he told it, and he remarked on the fact. “It was ridiculous, but they believed it,” he said. “It was also lucky that I used the trick of making a stone talk with ventriloquism. It was one of those things—one of those right things that you do on the spur of the moment—that later seems so fantastic that you would never have arrived at the idea by any rational process of reasoning.”
[Doc's emotional, physical, and skill range this round] Doc Savage had a sickening feeling of responsibility for the death for, indirectly, he was probably the cause of it...
Doc Savage crawled out of his hiding place in the back of the plane. This was not as simple as it sounded, because he was stiff from head to foot, so stiff that each movement was an individual agony, and some of them almost an impossibility...
He tried a side door. It was locked, but there was no other door available. He worked on it with a gadget which he carried, and because he had studied locks and because this one was simple, it delayed him not much more than half a minute...
Doc Savage could speak fluently over fifty languages, had a spotty acquaintance with twice that many others and dialects, and would have been willing to bet—modestly, of course—that he could identify any spoken language on earth by listening to a few words of it...
DOC SAVAGE was learning how weak he had become. He was also aware of something else that he had not noticed before—that this lake was at high altitude. Breathing was hard. Weakness grew in his legs. The distance to the house began to seem like miles...
Doc caught her. But not easily. He was feeling the altitude. There was no magic in his make-up, only careful training and regular exercise. He was glad when he got a hand on the old lady's bony shoulder. He pulled her down, sank on a rock, and let his lungs pump and his ears ring...
Doc Savage, who had his human moments, was about to make some comment about the old-timers being nice fellows; then he realized it would be asinine under the circumstances. He was rearranging his thoughts when the shot came.
Doc Savage was admittedly a strange fellow, though. He could not be anything else in view of his upbringing. Placed in the hands of scientists at childhood for training, as he had been, and subjected to such a rigorous program of mental and physical development as probably no other man had undergone, in its fully rounded aspects, was understandably a factor that made him different from other men. Outwardly, at least.
The bony, big-worded archaeologist and geologist looked up. “I don't hear anything. Did it really talk?”
“It really talked,” Renny said.
Johnny listened to the stone for a while. Then he lowered it. He frowned. “Now, look—that's too screwy! A talking stone. Don't give me that!”
Renny compressed his lips, turned slowly to Doc Savage. “What about it, Doc?”
“The stone spoke,” the bronze man said.
That, as far as Johnny Littlejohn was concerned, settled the point of the stone speaking. It had spoken, if Doc said so.
“All right,” Johnny said, “explain how a rock can talk, somebody?”
LONG TOM left Johnny Littlejohn on the beach and walked into the jungle. The electrical expert was excited at the idea of getting hold of Bear Cub. It was Long Tom's conviction—the thought was frequently shared by the bronze man's other associates—that Doc Savage's fist was not hard enough when he dealt with fellows like Bear Cub. Long Tom liked action. He planned, frankly, to work Bear Cub over with his fists and see what he could pound out of the fellow.
[Ouch] LONG TOM ROBERTS was gagged and spread-eagled. His agony must have been terrible. They had tied each wrist and each ankle to a separate tree with lines, so that he swung his body a yard off the ground, like a hammock. They had also gagged him with moss which they had pinned in his mouth by thrusting long thorns through his lips. There were other evidences of mistreatment....
There was not much capacity for pain, or even for caring what happened to him, left in Long Tom Roberts. And certainly no capacity to move, or ability to do anything for himself. If death came, which it seemed to be doing, he would have to lie and take it.
“I've seen mean ones in my time,” Long Tom said, “but that Bear Cub takes the nickel-plated weasel skin.”
He would have shot them down then, except that he had forgotten about the intense cold at this altitude. The cold had stiffened the oil in his weapon; the gun was probably over-oiled, anyway. The safety stuck. The man jabbed at it frantically with his thumb, long enough for Long Tom to reach him. Long Tom struck the man a blow that caused Terrence Wire to stare in amazement. “You killed him!”
Long Tom said, “No, blast it! But if I felt a little stronger—”...
Long Tom eyed the victim, said, “For two bits, I'd roll him over the edge.”
“Probably be a kindness,” Wire agreed. “We leave him here, and he'll maybe freeze.”
Long Tom snorted. “They say freezing is the easiest death. Let's be kind to him.”
“No secret,” Renny told him. “But first, there was another coincidence. You remember what Doc said Jones seemed to have died of?”
“Monk's voice said, 'It's five miles in the sky, Doc. Come prepared,'” Renny explained.
“Was that all the rock said?”
“It strikes me,” Renny said, “that it was enough.”
Long Tom was silent so long that Monk asked him, “What's the matter with you, volts and amperes?”
Doc Savage had become involved in the affair, and his hard, bronze hand had ended it on the side of justice, and somewhat on the spectacular side. (See Pirate Isle)
Doc Savage found the man called Bear Cub. The fellow greeted them shortly, without much courtesy. His eyes were small and dark under his remarkable eyebrows. He was not a likeable personality, seemed aware of it and apparently did not care.
[Second time and in short order that the aides express a negative opinion about Doc] DOC SAVAGE proceeded with his investigation with what seemed to be too much leisure. He dawdled, in the opinion of Renny and Johnny, who watched him with initial irritation. The bronze man browsed around without a point, it appeared; and some of the time, it was not even evident that he was after information.
Johnny and Renny became disgusted. Then, quite unexpectedly, they were ashamed of themselves. The shame came when it was apparent that Doc Savage had been sneaking up on the quail, as it were.
[The new journalism of 1942] Wilfair Wickard shrugged. “It's not like it used to be. A lot of people are correspondents who have never been near a newspaper office. It works like this: You build yourself a reputation; then somebody with a chain of newspapers hires you as an expert on what you are supposed to know. You don't even have to know how to write. The poor devils in the home office whip it into readable shape for twenty-five dollars a week.”
[Exciting crash landing] Doc did a good job on the landing. Good enough that he was in all ways satisfied with it. With all flying speed gone, nearly, the ship was in a perfect stall just before it touched.
It was as if a huge tin can had been kicked. Then kicked again and again. And trampled. There was a scream, like a woman, such a horrible sound that it seemed surely to come from death. Doc Savage managed to whirl apprehensively, but it was metal that screamed, and not either of the two women. The plane began going over and over. It did this twice, slowly, losing one wing and part of the tail. The other gasoline tank was split, and the liquid flooded the craft and burned, as if it was a great Christmas package in red tissue paper.
They stood there, not because they were fascinated by the explosion, but because they did not have the power to go on. The fatigue of mountain sickness was overpowering. No matter how much they wanted to go on, they simply could not. It was like hypnosis. Their will power, their intense worry, could do nothing against it.
(This is one of the common effects of altitude. The author, while hunting mountain sheep at high altitude, has had members of his party, men ordinarily of great stamina and courage, simply sit down and quit, refusing to make any effort to even return to camp, when afflicted with altitude sickness. Such instances could result in death by freezing. Many deaths of men working at extreme mountain altitudes, under seemingly eerie circumstances—no visible reason for collapse and death—can thus be explained—Kenneth Robeson.)
In her so-careful English, the girl said, “Start shooting at them, please!”
The man made vague, baffled gestures with his pencil, as if he was trying to think up a good lie.
So El Gorrion hit him. Hit him in a way that did not seem very hard, but which lifted the man so that first his heels then the tips of his toes were off the floor. He fell backward straightly and stiffly. A man—it was Wilfair Wickard—put out a toe quickly and kept the man's head from cracking the floor.
The Speaking Stone should adhere more firmly to its own rules and the questions it brings up about itself should be answered to the satisfaction of all. Not a bad story though, and thanks for visiting.
113 - The Man Who Fell Up:
"A sinister plot to destroy America is unleashed when a man is killed outside a New York skyscraper — by falling up! Doc Savage blasts into action, only to discover that two of his trusted aides have vanished! To save them and the nation, Doc alone must risk his life in a horrifying arena of torture, blood and murder!"
“You fellows have the darnedest gadgets”
The Sanctum reprint details how Street & Smith was not happy with the loose ends Lester Dent left fluttering in this story eventually released in July of 1942. The premises and visual gimmicks are surreal (not psychedelic but odd) when not being silly in that there's little explanation for why things are happening. This one compels you to write in the margins all your concerns in editor's red pen.
On one level it's fun to have bodies floating up, a green fog, a fake Monk and Ham, a fake Doc's HQ done in perfect detail, and a mystery substance called "Compound Monk". It's just that there's neither rhyme nor reason for what's on the page. The opening is goofy, the middle is surprisingly exciting considering it takes place on a boat, and the ending owns the thankless task of explaining it away. Or not. Such as why Doc's big safe is found open, or why a legion of professional spies and thugs couldn't open Doc's safe instead of going through all the trouble they did to make Doc see a green fog so a fake Monk and Ham can trick him in a fake headquarters to turn over the Compound Monk formula. Why fake having bodies float away? The reveal of it is the same letdown as the flying witch in Hex (November, 1939):
THE thing was about seven feet high and fatter than a man because it was full of gas. It looked somewhat like a man, too, because there were four distended limbs that somewhat resembled arms and legs. On the ends of these projections were the devices that made the thing so uncanny.
Ham is extremely childish and obnoxious this month, and his sexual creepiness doesn't shine either:
“This Compound Monk they're talking about,” Monk said grimly. “How come I didn't know the stuff was named after me?”
“I wouldn't know,” Ham said. “There are probably two or three things since the beginning of creation that you don't know. Or did that ever occur to you?”
“Don't try to be nasty,” Monk advised. “I'm asking you a simple question.”
“'Simple' describes most of your questions.”
She kissed Strand then, and nobody was surprised. Her tone had said that was exactly what she was going to do.
Strand's reaction was a little more surprising. He seemed to tighten from head to toes, then give way. His arms went about Erica, and he buried his face against her hair. They saw that there were tears in his eyes.
Ham looked on, utterly disgusted. He knew love when he saw it. What disgusted him was the fact that he had been giving Erica some admiring attention himself.
Dent's lawyer-esque evasiveness doesn't serve the story well as it's a tell on his part that what you're reading is not what it's purporting to be, and as is the Doc Savage way, any death that can possibly be faked has been faked:
The figure, hard to distinguish in the green fog, but nevertheless a figure with Strand's clothing and with the shape of a man, was falling upward and upward until it was becoming lost in the olive haze.
The face that belonged to the voice seemed to belong to Monk.
Doc distinguished a dapper figure that should belong to Ham. It was hard to see the lawyer's features through the thick green haze.
[Never plausible] Monk said nothing. He flexed his biceps. He made the muscle get very big, so that it pressed against a brittle container in his sleeve and broke it. When he felt it break, he winked at Ham, and began holding his breath, Ham also held his breath.
[Hard Core] “What's that junk you gimme?” snarled the man.
Pat said ominously, “You won't care.”
The chemical the bronze man had used was a type of truth serum which he had developed after considerable research. It was violent in its effect on the victim, so dangerous that Doc rarely used it except in extreme emergencies.
He watched the relays and motors which controlled the big outer door. That the foe might gain admission through the garage was surprising. They would have to operate a radio control, and the device had a combination which was changed regularly. It functioned after the fashion of relay office calls on telegraph lines. For instance, this week only a combination of dot-dot-dash-dot-dash-dash-space-dot-dot would make the device function. Next week, the combination would be changed. If they got in, they would be ingenious.
[Didn't invent the idea] DOC SAVAGE'S plane was the large experimental job which he had developed in transparent plastic. Not that it was an invisible ship. Nothing of the kind. But the skin fabric was almost as transparent as glass, and some of the control cables were made of the same stuff, which was almost as tough as duralumin. The motor and the other solid parts were painted a dark color above to blend with the earth, a light color below to merge with the sky.
(The gadgets and chemical mixtures which Doc Savage employs may seem unusual to the point of being fantastic, but scientific investigation will show any reader that the bronze man is ahead of other scientists only in degree of development. Rarely does the bronze man use anything which has not already had laboratory treatment. Because unscrupulous individuals have been known to make criminal use of such information, specific details and chemical formulae are purposely omitted.)
[Compound Monk] a compound which, upon the absorption of motion, ejects two electrons. This compound differs in that the absorption of motion and heat by its atoms leads to the ejection of three electrons...
Pat overheard and laughed. “I thought it was a perfect name,” she said. “This compound is very sensitive to the presence of movement and warmth. It chases movement and warmth. Everyone knows that you chase after any pretty girl who happens along. Both you and Compound Monk chase hot numbers. Get it?”
What Monk meant was that Doc could not be hired. That the bronze man was sole judge of what needed doing, and that his payment for the job was that same knowledge that it needed doing.
He looked what he was—a scientific product. Literally a product of science. Because he had been placed in the hands of physical culturists, psychologists, educators, chemists, and a raft of other scientists at childhood. He never had a normal youth. The scientists might have considered they were making it as normal as they could under the circumstances, but they were wrong most of the time.
The strange upbringing of Doc Savage had been the idea of his father, who had had a fixation of bringing up a son who would be a kind of modern knight and Sir Galahad, with test tubes and scientific gadgets for his sword and horse. The fixation of the elder Savage, long since gone beyond, was the result of some terrible thing that had happened to him; but the son had never learned exactly what it was.
[Figuratively speaking] SIX little devils with hammers walked around on Doc Savage's head in dignified circles, testing the ringing qualities of his skull. When Doc finally managed to awaken, he grabbed at the devils with both hands but got fistfuls of his hair.
The other man scowled at Doc. “Who is this bird? I still want to know.”
Doc said quietly, “I can prove that.” He walked over to the man and held out a sheet of paper that was blank—although this was not important—and when the man started to look at it, he hit the fellow neatly on the jaw.
[The leastest Doc Savage assistant] Long Tom Roberts was a man distinguished for nothing in particular, as far as appearances went, except his mushroom-cellar complexion, a completely unhealthy aspect.
The other man had dropped his gun and was trying to get to his feet and snatch up the weapon at the same time. Renny made a rush at the fellow and created much the effect of a locomotive hitting a cow.
“You said she had gone because you had persuaded her there might be danger for her.”
“That,” said Doc, “was an impossibility. No one could persuade Pat anything was too dangerous.”
[Rare fighting tactic] From the nearby bush came Ham with his sword cane. He held the blade for throwing the way a spear is thrown, let fly, and suddenly eighteen inches or so of the blade was protruding from the other side of Stinky's arm.
[Johnny gives away it's a scam, like a putz, by ejaculating his catch-phrase] “Tell them we surrender,” he said.
The radio operator relayed the information, having difficulty with his English.
The radio, in great relief, said, “I'll be superamalgamated!”
The second Monk—the genuine one, it was by now apparent—gave the first, and fake, Monk one last punch. It was terrific! Monk took it off the ground somewhere near his heels. He made it whistle. It gave the fake Monk's jaw the shape of a wet pretzel and made teeth fly like gravel.
[How grim was he?] The other man was just grim. So grim that his cheek muscles stood out in hard knots in front of his ears, making him look like a large gopher with two walnuts in its mouth.
The green building had been built since the days of George Washington, of course, because it was a skyscraper of sorts. Sixteen stories and a water-tank high. It still had most of its windows, except for the first three floors above the ground. Three stories was about as high as the brats in the neighborhood could pitch a stone. They were not very strong brats in this neighborhood. A surprising percentage of them ended up in tuberculosis sanitariums, and some of the survivors graduated to the stone walls at Dannemora or Sing Sing. One had even gotten as far as the little island in San Francisco Bay. It was neither a healthy nor a wealthy neighborhood.
There was, however, something hard and sharp about him. Not a criminal look. Just hard and sharp. Like a gleaming knife that had cut, and could cut again, and still be polished.
[One Time Only Punctuation Complaint. In context of the scene this deserved a period and not an exclamation point] And with that, Rod walked into the green skyscraper, walked in to his death as he had been warned!
The figure above had fallen off the ledge. Possibly, the term “fallen” was not applicable, because the figure, although coming off the ledge, was going upward! It fell up! It fell up and up until it was small in the sky, finally a dot, eventually nothing that was visible. The form that had been on the window ledge became, in plain, unvarnished fact, if evidence of the eyes was to be believed—and there was no reason to disbelieve them—an upward-falling object that fell out into space.
Four other men appeared. They were not badly dressed, but they did not look like gentlemen who would put things in Christmas stockings.
Monk looked at Johnny as if he were very glad to hear that. “We'll go into it later, my friend.” His statement had an ominous tinge, the same tone a dentist would use in saying, “My friend, we'll have to pull all your teeth.”
[Adjust your CAD drawings accordingly] Doc said, “Step into the chemical storeroom, will you, and get No. 22800.”
“That's the truth serum, isn't it?” Pat remarked. She went to the cubicle where they stored the chemicals. The storeroom was a cubicle only in relation to the general size of the rest of the laboratory. Actually, the place was larger than most living rooms...
The bronze man shook his head slightly. He carried the false Ham to the elevator, went down a dozen floors and stopped at the private apartment which he had maintained in the place for some time.
Doc Savage contemplated the man for a while, said abruptly, “We will not waste time with you.” He picked up a hypo needle and used it, and the man barked once, more in anger than pain.
Freddy croaked, “Don't hit me!” just as Doc Savage hit him on the jaw. Freddy was evidently thinking of a set of false teeth, parts of which flew out of his mouth. He rolled over on his side, spat out the rest of the teeth and was silent, motionless.
[Doc "College" graduates remember little of their education] The bronze man's voice was pleased, and Bob Gaston felt very good about the matter as he left the drugstore and walked back toward the apartment house. Bob understood vaguely that, in some way, he owed a great debt to Doc Savage, although he did not know exactly what it was. Something to do with his earlier life, he suspected. His past was a blank, largely. It did not bother him, except that, once or twice, he had met men who seemed to know him, but whom he did not recognize. Such memories as he had were only very vague stirrings, nothing tangible enough to shape into an actual recollection.
What had happened was plain to the eye, but hard for a brain to accept. It was manifestly impossible. A man falling up was impossible, to begin with. And the fact that a man falling up could overtake a plane, plunge directly into the plane, and blow it to more or less small pieces—at least, into such a condition that it fell helplessly toward earth—was even harder to accept rationally.
Doc Savage made no comment. He went to the telephone and dialed his headquarters upstairs, using the unlisted number which would get a quick response.
The Man Who Fell Up is, if nothing else, audacious, and it's not badly done as far as presenting itself as written by a literate person. It falls apart by having much of its content exist for random purposes that are way too much trouble compared to a simple Occam's Razor shave.
114 - The Three Wild Men:
"The FBI is after the Man of Bronze. The U.S. government believes he’s conducting bizarre experiments to transform the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men into brutal, mindless creatures. From posh New York apartments to murky Virginia swamps, Doc Savage races one step ahead of the G-men as he seeks the true evil genius behind the maniacal plot of worldwide terror!"
August, 1942's The Three Wild Men was pretty awesome. Everyone and everything is well defined and assured, which gives the novel a nicely confident tone. Doc's not Uberman but he's ahead of the game and is presented as perfectly controlled yet also conversational. Monk is allowed to be verbally intelligent and charming - a nice change from the usual editorial assurances he's not a classless lowlife in all areas outside of chemical research. Ham's there as an afterthought and the rest in name only. At least they're mentioned.
The character of Abba Cushing is wonderfully rendered, and Lester Dent did a nice job of fleshing her out to where you can see her thought process as the story progresses. Normally I feel like I'm just taking the narrator's word for it when it's stated what someone thinks or feels.
The action's good, the pacing tight, the scenes engaging, and the science acceptable. The interactions with the FBI are noteworthy for their subtle tenseness. Altogether a great Doc Savage novel.
The Kenneth Robeson authors periodically made a point of saying Doc Savage is more than a human robot, usually accompanied with a limp example or general assurance. I liked how Dent approaches it here:
WHEN Doc Savage did not do what
he had told the girl he would do, Monk and Ham were surprised. They had taken it
for granted he would live up to his word, because the bronze man never said he
would do a thing, either in fun or in earnest, without doing it. In that
respect, he never joked. At the best, he was not a man who was inclined to pull
a joke. When he did, it was to exhibit a subtle kind of humor that missed fire
for most people, or did not dawn on them until several days later. A little
humor of the slapstick kind, Monk and Ham often thought, would do Doc some good.
He was not exactly a sober-sides, but it seemed to them that he passed up a lot
“So I am experimenting on the wild men, eh?” Doc Savage said grimly.
Monk glanced sharply at Doc Savage. He saw that the bronze man was extremely disturbed. There was hardly a noticeable change in Docs voice, and his features were hidden under the bandages, but Monk knew him well enough to be sure that Doc was agitated. Understanding Doc's emotions was more a matter of sensing them than actually witnessing any change.
In later novels I detected the strong probability that stories were written generically and then adapted to Doc Savage. My recollection of these is that Doc is less detective than strong and smart guy along for the ride. The Three Wild Men has a subtle yet confident hard-boiled detective vibe as its base, and here Doc breaks convention and partakes in witty banter:
Doc Savage studied the man. Doc was no judge of women-he had no confidence whatever in his hunches and opinions in that direction-but he could tell something about a man's character. This man had plenty of character. He was strong. He was neither handsome nor a physical giant; he did not dress like a millionaire, neither was he shabby; he was not hard and he was not soft. But there was a dynamic quality about him that most men did not have.
“Any chance of your telling who hired you?” Doc asked.
“Not a chance,” said West. “Protection due a client, and that sort of thing.”
Doc said, “You sent a man to the hospital to get the man you thought was Hooten?”
“Sure! That was a pretty low trick you pulled, taking Hooten's place. Where is Hooten?”
Top West became as alert as a cat at a mouse hole. “You do it?”
“No. He chased a subway train.
He caught it.”
Monk and Ham sat on their log, guarded by the man with the silly-looking balloon on a stick.
They did not say or do anything, except to look idiotic.
Doc Savage sat up finally. That
was after fully twenty minutes.
He sat without moving in the chair for another five minutes.
Then Doc looked at Monk and Ham.
He said, “This foolishness has gone about far enough, do you not think?”
Monk and Ham began looking perfectly sane. They got off the log.
“I think it has,” Monk said. “And right now I'm the wildest man around here. I'm itching for action.”
These bits I found clever:
DOC SAVAGE caught the girl before
she could fall and carried her into a small apartment which was probably
furnished with her own furniture, because it was the kind of furniture a
mouselike girl like her would own. There was a studio couch. Doc put her on
“Once, I had trouble with my eyes, and was blind. I was blind for almost a year. Blind people get to notice such things as footsteps. But that is beside the point. There were four intruders, and they took me. One used a thing I think you call a blackjack. I remember wondering if it would hurt my eyes again as he hit me.”
Here's some sexism out of the blue:
Doc Savage was silent, but he was also appreciative of the talents of Miss Abba Cushing. The young woman had qualities he had not suspected. She had gotten information out of Genie Reaveman with much more skill, he strongly suspected, than he could have managed himself. Abba was a psychologist, which meant she had brains, though she was actually too pretty a thing to have those.
115 - The Fiery Menace:
"A vampire is loose in the streets of Manhattan, and it's dropped off a corpse for a calling card at Doc Savage's doorstep. The Man of Bronze and his crew follow the trail of blood and murder to a remote Atlantic island where they uncover a million dollars in gold, a stolen Nazi submarine, and a shipload of danger, death, and fiery fist-crunching action!"
“Nose,” he said, “you're lucky to be there. That guy was Doc Savage. Nose, you're a celebrity.”
The Fiery Menace is a nicely told tale of Halloweeny goodness that abruptly stops being so at the end of Chapter 10 of a 15 part story, when Doc disguises himself as "Gibney" on the fly to where he fools Gibney's longtime associates while plausibility spirals down the drain. It soon hits a brick wall as the action, or lack thereof, switches to a boat then the ultimate Lester Dent small stage of a submarine, while the build-up of the menace ends in the sound of a bear farting sadness as Monk walks to the stage apron under a single spotlight where he summarizes the entire plot with a knowledge set he has no means to possess. September, 1942.
The story opens with a nice narrative tone as if a storyteller is telling a scary monster story involving a vampire and Doc Savage's group. Take these two bits of character study from the opening:
On Wednesday morning she had the usual headache, so she proceeded according to schedule. She got along fine until she put her head back and opened her mouth to pop in the gumdrop.
Then Betty screamed. She almost tore the lining out of her throat. She had the most unearthly yip-yip-yip way of screeching.
She then fainted.
There was a lot of excitement.
Someone trickled ice water on Betty Free; then she got up and went to work in a nervous condition, made a mistake in typing a bid for her firm and was fired. So Betty married the boy she had been going with. The boy quit his job in the city and they went back to their home town where the boy took a job in the Farmers Exchange, and Betty made a great success of raising chickens and children, thereafter.
Therefore, Betty Free, the stenographer for Best & Stone, had no more than momentary-if noisy-importance in the matter....
NEXT data on the man in the chandelier came from a lady. “Lady” was what the newspapers called her. Some of the papers referred to her as “an old lady.” It was true-but it was not at all important in the chandelier matter, because it had no bearing that the persons who saw the old lady's picture and remembered her ten years back referred to her, most of them, in descriptive terms not ordinarily used in drawing-room conversation. However, the old girl was too shopworn for further mischief and was spending her days of decline as a scrubwoman in the skyscraper.
Monk is more verbally intelligent than usual and his wordplay with Ham more clever and cooperative than petty and childish. The mystery of a vampire and a dead man in a chandelier in the lobby of Doc's building with a hole in his head is handled with both horror and whimsy. As the chapters progress the story involves less storytelling and more straight reporting, and the charm slowly fades like a ferret farting dismay.
Everything the opening chapters set up is disregarded or given short shrift. There is no "madness" or reason why Monk or war veterans who know the secret of the "vampire" should feel abject terror. A group of low-level grifters and ship workers are in no position to do anything from organized attacks to elaborate theatrics to framing Doc. There's no way the dead man can secretly be murdered in a chandelier in the lobby of the Empire State Building.
Doc's still Doc Savage but Dent goes out of his way to say he's no longer held in high esteem by police and government. This could be to forward the murder frame but it might also be a sign of the post-Uber Doc Savage period. Long Tom tortures someone off-page and Pat bites off part of a man's ear. Ape and Pig are involved early for comedic effect but thankfully don't hit the road with the group.
(It has been, and still is, the policy of Doc Savage Magazine not to disclose the nature of chemical formulae used by Doc Savage because of the fact that some of the mixtures are extremely dangerous in the mixing process, and also because many of them would be possible of misuse in the hands of the wrong individuals. The matter of ultraviolet light and fluorescing materials has become common enough, however, that such censorship is hardly necessary. The use of “black” light has become common in testing fabrics and materials, in verifying documents, and so on.- The Editors.)
The photographers got the pictures, using “magic-eye” cameras which took pictures in quick succession by photo-flash bulbs. The bulbs were in new-style rotating holders so that they could be fired rapidly one after another. Three photographers got pictures, and the glare was blinding.
DURING the excitement when he had blown the window out of the room, he had-it was not accidental-pocketed the small metal case containing the assortment of grenades. He used one of these now, one which contained a gas which Doc Savage had developed. The gas had a secret formula-secret, except that it was lying in the war department's vaults in Washington, ready for use should the use of gas in warfare be revived. The gas was one which produced a harmless and very temporary unconsciousness.
[So your dog can live in a constant state of fear in most every room] Doc Savage stood very still and hoped the chemical treatment he and his five assistants gave their clothing would serve its purpose. The treatment consisted of a chemical mixture which had no noticeable odor to humans, but one which animals found extremely obnoxious. The stuff had been worked out by Monk, the chemist. He was marketing it under a trade name, selling it as a preparation for people to use to keep their pets off furniture. The stuff had a peculiar, partly terrorizing effect on animals, and a dog would never bark at it, once he caught the smell. In developing the stuff Monk had touched on something that seemed to arouse a prehistoric fear in the beasts, causing them to creep away in silence.
The troubles of his clients were actually Doc's troubles, because the business of the bronze man-as Doc was called-was taking the weight off other people's shoulders when it came to dangers and difficulties. This was the way a newspaper's feature writer had put it rather sarcastically. Doc Savage was not overly popular with the press, although he was an excellent source of news; rather, his activities were. The newspaper writer penned:
"It is well known that Doc Savage makes a business of helping people out of trouble, provided the trouble is so unusual that the police are non-functioning, or so big that the party cannot help himself. Or so they report about Savage. They also report that he takes no pay; ever. Passing strange, to say the least. Savage has five somewhat eccentric associates who are leaders in their fields. These men help him. Together, they form a mysterious group-mysterious to this writer, at least. Danger is seemingly their only business, and their pay is not profit."
ONE of Doc Savage's most valuable possessions, in his own opinion, was a modest idea of his own judgment. He never trusted himself fully and felt that he thus avoided mistakes. The part of his judgment which he trusted the least was the part which concerned women.
If not right, the thing this was most likely to be was a trap. He had an attitude of his own toward traps. He avoided a few; he knowingly walked straight into more of them. So if he was walking into one now it would be all right; at least, it would not catch him unprepared. He wore a bulletproof undergarment of a special-alloy mesh which he had developed. And on his person were a few gadgets which were no more bulky than cigarette cases and fountain pens, but which were dependable. He had walked into traps before with less equipment and had come out-sometimes not unscratched, and sometimes badly scarred-almost invariably knowing more than when he stepped in.
He walked away wondering if he had exactly lied to the cab driver. Technically, he had not thought he had done so. He had tried to give the man the impression that things were a certain way, which was not how they were, and in doing this he had not told a single untruth-he hoped. It had been his policy always-whether sensible or not was a matter of opinion, but it was his policy-to tell no direct falsehood under any circumstance.
“What is it all about?”
Doc said, “It seems to concern a lost vampire, a dead man in a chandelier, a dead man in a tourist cabin, a sister concerned about her brother and her husband, and a death which consists of a remarkable hole in the victim's head. Outside of that, it is rather confused, apparently.”
[This is fairly classic] Doc Savage said, “The note, please.”
The bartender jumped off the floor, came down, got organized, and said, “What note?” innocently.
Doc Savage, who was in no mood for delay, took hold of the tip of the man's nose with thumb and forefinger of his left hand. He held the nose while using his right hand to get the note out of the man's vest pocket. During the nose holding, the bartender did a little dance with tears coming to his eyes...
He handed the note back to the bartender. The bartender, when his nose was released, had jumped back, shot a hand under the bar and brought out a piece of billiard cue suitably padded with adhesive tape. He had stood there with his eyes slowly protruding, then had put the billiard cue back. He took the note.
“Sober Bullyhide,” Doc directed. “And keep him here for an hour. Then give him this note.”
“Yes, sir,” said the man meekly.
He watched Doc Savage leave. He was wearing an enormously impressed expression. After Doc had gone, the bartender touched his nose thoughtfully where it had been tweaked.
“Nose,” he said, “you're lucky to be there. That guy was Doc Savage. Nose, you're a celebrity.”
Clipping from a fact-picture magazine, showing Doc Savage and labeling him a man of mystery.
Ditto from an editorial page, labeling Doc a possible potential menace to society-a maniac who had smashed a camera of one of the newspaper's photographers when the latter had snapped a picture after being requested not to do so.
[Doc being set up] Chapman turned back to Doc Savage and continued, “She said over the telephone that she could see you changing slowly. She believed the way you lived-few friends, no recreation to speak of, continuous and concentrated study-had caused your sense of values to change. You were beginning to take things from people, things that did not belong to you, and that lately it was murder. She explained it that way. It sounded reasonable.”
Monk Mayfair was about five feet two inches high and apparently about five feet nine inches wide. He had a quantity of hair seemingly made of rusty shingle nails, most of it growing where hair should grow. Inside his head, where apparently there was no room for anything, reposed as much knowledge about chemistry as any man had yet been able to gather.
HAM BROOKS got his pet chimpanzee and they rode down in the elevator. As the elevator passed lower floors it grew more crowded, and the passengers glanced at Monk and Ham with interest and-those who did not know who they were-some amusement. The latter possibly mistook them for a pair of down-at-the-heels vaudeville performers making the rounds with their trained animals. Monk, at least, looked down-at-the-heels, although Ham Brooks was his usual sartorial perfection. Ham was frequently listed as the best-dressed man in the city.
HAM BROOKS actually thought a great deal of Monk Mayfair. There was a strong masculine bond between them. It was a violent friendship. A time or two it had come to blows, and never had it been polite and never had it been referred to as a friendship. Each of them had risked his life to save the other, but they always disclaimed any finer instincts in this and claimed it was either an accident or a mistake that such a thing should happen.
[Pat has a car named "Adolf Hitler"] The bronze man began to watch for the meek-looking dark coupé which Pat called “Clarence.” Clarence was a car devoid of personality, or that was the way Pat explained the name she had given the machine. She had another one named “Tarzan,” one named “Adolf Hitler,” and a truck which she called “Churchill.”
[Rare admittance of torture in Doc Savage] LONG TOM flourished his simple-looking electrical gadget grimly. The thing was an affair of a high-frequency coil, similar to an old-fashioned flivver spark coil, coupled with an interrupter to make the current more agonizing. He had used the gadget to scare-or torture-the man into talking. The only lie he had told Gibney was that the rheostat control could be stepped up so that the thing would put out a current that would electrocute a man.
The fact that the newspapers printed Mrs. Murphy's remark about her son-in-law making a good he-vampire indicated how the newspapers considered the matter. Not exactly as a joke, because murder is not a joke except on the stage. But they did not take it seriously, and they were pixyish enough about it to allow little notes like the crack about Mrs. Murphy's son-in-law to creep into the written versions.
[Reference to other story alert.] The police were in the lobby, but they were not as co-operative as they would have been at another time. Doc Savage and his associates had long held honorary commissions, high ones, on the metropolitan police force. But last month an embarrassing affair had occurred where an enemy managed to point a finger of guilt-a big finger, in the opinion of the police-at them. They had extricated themselves somewhat, but the whole affair had been a fantastic one involving some allegedly wild men. So the police co-operation was still lukewarm, although, officially, the bronze man and his associates had been reinstated. (The Three Wild Men)
“Did you,” asked Monk, “say something about Mussolini?”
“The big one in Italy?”
“Sure thing. That'sa da bimbo.
[...And novels written for teenage girls] They seemed to take seriously the matter of a lost vampire, which was as ridiculous as it was interesting. There was, in the face of reason, no such thing as a vampire. Vampires have always been nonexistent, like witches and werewolves, and belonged to the same period of human mentality. All had gone out of fashion a hundred years ago to a large extent, except possibly in parts of France and a few backward areas of the world.
THE small man ran screaming across the boat yard and out of the gate.
He actually screamed while he ran, which was something of a feat by itself. He did not yelp at every jump, but made a continuous squalling noise in which there did not seem to be a pause for breath. Since his howl had the volume of the whistling buoy out in the Sound, his performance created a commotion.
He had covered about half the distance from the shore end of the dock to the schooner when Abbett began shrieking. Doc turned his head and saw the fiery thing pursuing Abbett.
The thing was as impossible as the rabbit a magician takes out of a hat.
It was a ball of flames-or, roughly, a ball of a thing which had a tail of bundling red tongues. The flames, however, were not completely like flames in that they did not give off much light and no visible smoke.
The object was large enough that it had difficulty getting in through the bulkhead opening. Its movements seemed somewhat without purpose, much as if the thing was guided by a mind, but a mind which was not at all times connected with its body and its purpose. It finally managed to get through the door.
Light from the object was pale, weird in quality, and was an emanation from the thing rather than a reflected light, or a light from within. It was a phosphorescent type of light, and doubtlessly came from chemicals smeared on the garment, which seemed to be a robe. The luminous chemical was applied only in spots, so that the weird effect was enhanced.
[More like poop it out if it isn't destroyed by stomach acid] “I put the map in it-it's a very small map-and tied a knot in the end of the sack, then swallowed it,” Monk explained. “Heck, it wasn't very sanitary. But it was the best I could think of under the circumstances.”
Ham began laughing again. “You had better cough it up,” he said.
A clever and creative writer can rescue The Fiery Menace from itself by extending the storytelling of the opening chapters to the entire tale and keeping it framed in fanciful narration. The other shortcomings of the work can be repaired by taking the time to come up with valid explanations and tightening up their original presentations. This can be a wonderful Halloween story if repaired correctly.
116 - The Laugh Of Death:
"Doc’s trusty crew suddenly disappears. The only clue is an unearthly laughter that arises from nowhere and destroys the will. Doc, alone, must save his sidekicks before they die — but when the laughter attacks him, the Man of Bronze becomes the helpless puppet of evil!"
I read this so I could post the classic Monty Python skit "The Funniest Joke In The World":
October, 1942's The Laugh Of Death is an odd read as it spends more time than usual away from Doc Savage and gets into his head to reveal a less than super man. It's like having Superman stories where he's not really that strong, and also burdened with introspective monologues of self-doubt and fear. It's not so bad in this book but later ones are Freudian nightmares of ineffectual mind noodlings and successes that might as well be dumb luck. If earlier Doc Savage stories were too Uberman for Dent and Doc's readers tastes the step back could have been toning it down without turning Doc into an everyputz with good qualities and abilities on the surface as a mostly effective front. I wonder if Dent resented Doc Savage in this era of being forced to write it.
Doc's five associates and his cousin Pat are in the book
but all are off-stage except for Monk, and even then not so much as the
narration often isolates Doc both physically and in his mind. Dent has Doc talk
to himself a few times, possibly to make Doc more chatty for
radio shows or to lessen the need for the omnipresent breathless narration
of earlier novels. The series could have used more immediate and personal
narration for sure but Doc Savage and what made him great didn't need to be
diminished at the same time. It's a better narrative view of something you
didn't want to see happen.
The story itself is average with much time focused on people you don't know talking to each other about whatever it is they're talking about. The Laugh Of Death is less Doc Savage driven and therefore boilerplate. Some fun things happen but it could have easily happened to pulp characters (I'm fabricating) like The Wincer, Mary Hardwiggle: Lady Detective, or Boy Mystery Solver.
I liked this bit of colorful insight:
"They climbed into the plane. The pilot had one arm and a distinctly evil appearance, which made him by far the most villainous-looking member of the group, whereas he was actually the least reprehensible."
On to odd bits I found: Doc's wealth is on display and he has no problem throwing around cash to purchase a hick town newspaper, buy access to a wire service, hire hunters to pretend something happened, and have a custom machine built to produce a loud noise for this pretend happening. For what it accomplished he could have just paid to have a fake newspaper story go out on the wire via the local paper. Later on Doc gets thrifty all of a sudden:
"Doc Savage gave the thin wires a yank and brought the phony cigarette package over the side. He caught it and stowed it carefully in its waterproof bag. The thing had cost a hundred and fifty dollars, and there were only a few men who knew how to make them. He went under the surface again and swam away. His “lung” device did not work so well; there was water in it or something."
Doc's gadgets and abilities fail him regularly in The Laugh Of Death. When his aqualung fails the explanation is less than scientific, "there was water in it or something". "Something" is another way of saying "I have no effing idea. Stop asking me". Bookend the quote above with:
"Then glass broke with the mushy noise that bottles make when they are full of liquid. The men ran away. Doc Savage let them go. He had several hideous moments while he got out his “lung” gadget, which doubled as a gas mask, and put it on. He was afraid the gas might be dichlorethyl sulphide or some other form of vesicant which would affect him through the skin pores. It wasn't, but it was not pleasant, either. It was ordinary diphenyl-chlorasine, or tear gas. Doc sank flat on the floor and worked frantically getting the transparent hood, which he carried for such emergencies, over his head. But somehow a hole had been ripped in the hood, and he had to hold the aperture shut while he worked out of the apartment and down to 204."
Doc is clearly not the man he used to be:
"Doc Savage suddenly wished he had done this a little differently. He wished he had grabbed all of them, or even one or two, and made them tell what the laughing was."
"He hit Mathis first, or tried to, because the man was the most dangerous. It was his brain behind all this. Doc tried to break his jaw with an uppercut. He missed completely."
"So Doc's current behavior was hardly in keeping.
He had knocked a toe out of joint in kicking the vault door in a rage. He had yanked out loose strong boxes and hurled them against the walls. He had yelled things into the telephone that connected the telephone in the vault with the exterior. He had threatened to buy the bank and fire everybody in it. He had threatened to kick certain parts of the pompous bank president's anatomy up around his ears.
None of which had gotten him out of the vault."
In this last scene Doc's either still under the effects of the Laughing Bomb or he's lost his composure big time. It's not addressed either way.
Here Doc's gun policy gets castrated:
“Help!” shrieked the girl in the street.
“Have you got a gun?” Doc asked Monk grimly. Doc never carried a gun. He wished he had one now.
“No,” Monk said. “Was the phone tapped?”
“If I had a gun I could stop this.” Doc withdrew from the window. “He's got Vivian—as a hostage, I guess. Yes, the phone was tapped, all right, and a henchman was sitting in to take any calls from here.”
Chapter 4: And Over There Is The Kitchen
Women in 1942 loved them some heavy drugs:
Doc Savage did not want a hysterically screaming young woman on his hands. He removed a metal case from his pockets, and examined the contents, selecting a capsule.
“Take this,” he directed.
She took the capsule suspiciously. “What is it?”
“A strong hypnotic,” he said. “It won't knock you out, but it will protect your mind against mental shock just as a general or local anaesthetic protects your body against the physical shock of an operation.”
“Oh!” She hesitated. Then she gulped the capsule.
I had a bunch more but this is running long. Silly things happen in this book, which editing could and should have caught. These were bright people. I believe they let little failures slip through because of time restraints, interest gaps, and odd assumptions on what constituted pulp literature and its audience.
117 - They Died Twice:
"Doc is lured into a strange memory machine and learns that his father had committed a crime. To right that wrong, Doc must divulge his best-kept secret — but it lands Doc and his crew in a lost valley as captives of an ancient tribe of savages … and the sacrificial rites have begun!"
I thoroughly enjoyed November, 1942's They Died Twice. You have to periodically suspend your disbelief but this one moves fast, offers a rich plot of deceit and manipulation, centers on an intriguing science theory, and adds nicely to the backstory of Doc Savage in regards to his father, the (literally) golden Valley of The Vanished in Hidalgo, Doc's efforts to enlist, his scientific process, and Doc's Crime College (Lobotomize U).
Here's what you have to get past to thoroughly enjoy it: The statue of Renaticus looking exactly like Renny is a convenience, and their names are similar! Doc willingly drinking a "vitamin cocktail" before stepping into Albert Jones' machine is a stretch, along with staunchly authoritarian Chi-Ahpuch happily going along with the program at the end of the story. Then there's this fun visual you could film with "Yakety Sax" as the soundtrack:
Renny fought them then, as much fight as there was left in him, which, considering the circumstances, and that he had been licked once within the hour, was considerable. There was ten full minutes of it, part of it getting as far as the elevator and threatening to get down to the street. Finally, they got him doped with the truth serum.
Doc Savage is peak human plus in this story. If he can do this he should be able to subdue Renny in two moves:
He picked up the girl, swung her to his back. “Hang on,” he said. “Cling to my neck and body. Do not hamper the movement of my arms and legs.”
She looked at the trees, the gaps between them and the dizzy spaces above. She understood what the bronze man intended to do, and she was scared. But she did as he directed.
Doc made a run across the rooftop, a leap outward into space. He seemed to do easily what looked to be impossible. He landed, like a tight-rope acrobat, upright on a jungle bough. The bough sprang downward under their weight and groaned, but Doc kept his balance and ran along it. He grasped another branch with his hands, went hand over hand out along it, then higher, and once again, through space.
Lester Dent should have had Doc Savage acknowledge being responsible for
bringing danger along with him to the Mayans, and vow to establish better
protocols in the future. While this story shores up the Mayans as a substantial
people and a force to be reckoned with I found it a missed opportunity to fully
explain why they went through so much trouble mining gold and delivering it at
great risk to a bank for Doc's use. They owed a past debt to Doc and Doc's
father, "Papa Doc"
Duvalier, but to me it's still not all worked out.
Dent hinted at a decent resolution but could have taken it further:
In the quiet, reserved fashion of conversation which the Mayans liked to affect, even when the excitement was intense, Doc told the story of Renny Renwick and Columbus. Chi-Ahpuch had heard of Columbus. In fact, the high priests of the lost clan of Maya were somewhat in touch, mentally at least, with the outside world. They knew of its historical development, even its current troubles.
In my fan-fictastic rewrite I'd have the Hidden Valley (where Ranch Dressing is pumped out of a well) be at its state of primitiveness by design out of respect for the old ways of the Mayans, with the high priests of the lost clan informed protectors and overseers. They use gold, whose value in the outside world they are well aware of, to buy necessary protections to keep the lost city lost for as long as possible and to provide for the welfare of the Mayans if needed. They provide gold for Doc's work as an act of anonymous benevolence extended to the outside world, and receive news and pictures of what has been accomplished, like how Sally Struthers once promised. As a side note, with Doc owning the Empire State Building and a gaggle of factories and corporations, wouldn't you think after a point he wouldn't need more Mayan gold?
That out of the way, They Died Twice is an impressive piece of work, especially with how Mr. Space confidently and cleverly cons Doc and Co. into revealing the secret location of the Valley. The story of how Doc may or may have not lied to his business partner is also pretty neat. The memory machine is of course a scam because whenever possible Doc Savage stories are like Scooby-Doo, but the idea behind it is great. Dent lays out how it can be used for either great good or great evil. Instead of reincarnation you have inherited memories:
THE invention of Albert Jones, stated in its simplest form, was a mechanical-electrical-chemical device, extremely complicated, which brought back the memories dormant in the human mind.
“Dormant memories,” Doc interrupted. “What do you mean by that?”
“Like instincts,” Renny replied.
Doc said, “The dictionary defines instinct as something implanted by nature, an outward impulse, unconscious, involuntary or unreasoning, as the result of an inherited tendency.”
“Just what is a dormant memory?”
“Something you inherited from your ancestors.”
“From your father, you mean?”
“From your ancestors. A father is an ancestor. So is a mother. Both sides of the family, Albert Jones said. But the dormant memories from the male side are the most prevalent.”
Doc Savage said, “In other words, memories are passed down from generation to generation the same as instincts, but they lie back in the human mind, unknown and unnoticed?”
“Out of the reach of the
consciousness,” Renny said. “The consciousness has a connection with the things
which it has experienced, but not with the things which it has not experienced.
Things which happened to you in this life were part of your conscious
experience, therefore your mind can reproduce them at demand, which is conscious
memory. The memories your ancestor had a thousand years ago are not part of your
present consciousness and never were, so you cannot deliberately make your brain
“What does the machine do?”
“It stirs up the dormant memories and frightens them out into the brain, where they are like dreams, yet terribly genuine, because you seem to actually experience them.”
Here's bits on the Mayan-Doc relationship:
For a long time the Mayans had been mining gold-the mining was a very simple operation, not much more than chipping the incredibly rich ore out of the vein-and taking it out of the valley, through the mountains by pack train. Eventually, and by devious route, the gold would arrive in the national bank at Blanco Grande, the capital city of Hidalgo, where it was placed to Doc Savage's credit.
In order to get a shipment of the gold out in an emergency, Doc Savage had arranged a radio receiver, current for which was supplied by a water-operated generator, here in the valley. At a certain hour on each seventh day, someone here listened in, and if Doc needed money he simply broadcast a few agreed-upon words in Mayan-and the money was on its way out of the Valley shortly.
In return, these men of ancient Maya-their customs and life differed hardly at all from the early days-demanded nothing but friendship from Doc Savage. They owed, they had always maintained, a debt of gratitude to the man of bronze. Doc had done them a great favor on two different occasions, when he had saved them from annihilation at the hands of greedy raiders.
(The reference is to the perilous
affairs of Doc's two previous visits to the valley-first, his initial trip which
occurred in “The Man of Bronze,” and the second in “The Golden Peril.”)
“There have been solemnities between you and I, son, and there have been solemnities between you and my people,” the ruler said. “These were solemn promises, the taking of blood oaths, the assuming of deep and everlasting obligations. All of these have been kept, you to us, and us to you, and always thus it will be. Because we of Maya keep such things sacred, even to facing Ahpuch, the lord of death, always and forever. So it shall be between us, as it has been, to the exact word of our promises, oaths and obligations, you to us, and we to you, for otherwise it cannot be.”
Johnny is a problematic character, which is why in my treatment on what a new Doc Savage movie should look like he only uses big words (except once, but I'm holding out for gross points on a new Doc film), is used sparingly, and for comic effect. Johnny is a pretentious weirdo and is treated poorly by the rest, which is a negative the team doesn't need:
Johnny Littlejohn, the archaeologist and geologist, made a statement.
“A subdolous durbar might deoppilate the labyrinthine aspects,” he said.
They looked at him.
No one said a word for a moment.
Monk then said, “Words like them at a time like this ought to get you a kick in the ribs.”
Johnny looked uncomfortable. It was a habit of his never to use a word anyone could understand whenever he could think of one they couldn't. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“Did you have something on your mind beside the dictionary?” Monk asked him.
Johnny nodded. “I was wondering
if anyone had noticed Renny in the company of any strangers before this
“Any news yet?” he asked into the transmitter mike.
Johnny Littlejohn's voice said, “An evanescent semeiotic-”
“You don't need to code it,” Ham said angrily.
I also learned in They Died Twice that the fanciest hotel in NYC during the Depression cost you at least seven dollars a night; Milk Bars were a thing (also see Clockwork Orange); something called "Colorama Cameras" were used to soothe the mentally insane (Google comes up empty on this); "Doc had a voice which contained controlled power to such an extent that it was a slightly unnatural-sounding voice"; Doc wore "a vest that feels like canvas but seems to be made of steel.”; this may have been a thing: "a death-dealing device of his own inventing, a package of cigarettes, each cigarette being a cleverly fashioned, spring-operated gun containing a dart coated with cyanide and other poisons."; Albert Jones is a fat little man with a little-girl face; and Doc's waterfront hanger has a specific location:
THE Hidalgo Trading Co. was a homely blimp of a warehouse on the Hudson River water front, not far from the spot where the Normandie had capsized. The warehouse had no connection with Hidalgo, the Central American republic, other than that it had occurred to someone as a name for the warehouse. There was actually no Hidalgo Trading Co., except in name.
Doc talks retail science with Monk:
Doc Savage turned to Monk and said, “Monk, you helped in the development of this truth serum. Make a notation to do some more work on it. We have got to add a drug which will have an obvious effect on the patient for the same length of time as the truth serum, so we can tell when it is wearing off. This way we can not be sure when the victim comes out from under the stuff and starts lying to us.”
Doc's Crime College Graduates get guaranteed job placement:
WHEN the daily reports stopped coming from Renny, they launched a search. It was a thorough hunt. Doc Savage, in addition to his own group, had connections with agencies which made a business of getting information and finding people. Doc had established one of the best agencies himself, and it was extremely effective.
(Those who have read the adventures of Doc Savage in the past are probably familiar with this agency, which is a detective agency without having that name. Its formation was connected with the unusual treatment which Doc gives to criminals whom he catches. These crooks are sent to a secret institution in upstate New York, a place called the “College,” where they undergo intricate brain operations that wipe out all memory of past, leaving, however, the normal functions of the brain intact. These “patients” are then taught useful trades and turned back into the world with a hate of crime and no memory of their own past. Because Doc has been extremely active, there are many of these “graduates,” and they have spread to the corners of the earth. Doc has organized many of them into an efficient agency for getting information which he may desire. It is particularly effective because the “graduates” have been taught unswerving loyalty to the Man of Bronze, as well as to the principles of right and justice.)
I like this book. So should you.
118 - The Devil's Black Rock:
"A mysterious black rock with the power to unleash deadly explosions is about to be sold to the Nazis — the destructive mineral will change the outcome of the war unless Doc can muscle in on the buy!"
The Devil's Black Rock is a comic book script transposed over a pulp fiction novel format. It's fun to read and the action doesn't let up, but it has the logic and reasoning of comic books so whatever happens happens because it happens. A set of insane dogs with poisoned spike muzzles are let loose and they're either highly trained or they're just berserk but wind up back in their cages when not needed. A bad guy climbs down to an elevator car and tries to manually disconnect the cable mechanism, which while exciting is also suicidal. Monk calls for the police and two bad guys from Arizona show up in New York City police uniforms. The 86th floor gets shelled by an antique French 75 canon stolen from a park display and fired from another office building, eliciting these two lines from Renny:
“Holy cow!” Renny said. “First dogs. Now a cannon!”
“What gets me,” said Renny as they waited for the elevator, “is the cannon. What are they, an army? How'd they get that cannon up there?”
December, 1942's adventure provides a series of detailed procedural scenes that are fairly exciting and paint vivid pictures of what's taking place. It might be more busy than fast moving, but either way it's entertaining. Monk is treated like a sex maniac and he doesn't do much to dissuade them. He's also trying to kill bad guys against Doc's policy. He does have this moment of introspective clarity that leads him to call the (fake) police:
Doc Savage seemed concerned about Monk's susceptibility, for he assigned big-fisted Renny the job of taking Para to headquarters at once. Renny was not a romantic fellow. Particularly not with the tremendous stomach-ache with which he was beset. Monk first looked hurt, then thoughtful. For the first time it seemed to dawn on him that Doc Savage was taking a part in the business of trying to cure him of his interest in femininity. Monk became more thoughtful, even gloomy. The shock appeared to grow on him.
There's a number of small scenes like this that function as filler but they're also interesting in their own way:
A dime-a-dance place hypnotized them for a while, but they resisted, making, however, a note of the place so they could return. They visited another bar. “Might as well have a little fun while we're makin' sure we're not bein' followed,” Hank said. A shooting gallery caught their attention. They were excellent shots and tried out their luck with the guns. To the gallery proprietor's inquiry of where they learned to shoot like that, Hank said, “You pop enough jackrabbits hopping through Arizona cactus, and you get good.” Sad disapproved of this, and warned, “You better not tell strangers too much about yourself.” To which Hank shrugged and said, “Nobody knows us here.”
On the occasion, Doc was in Mile High on business. The visit was no more than a passing through, and the only thing Doc did to arouse Donkey Sam's interest was a thing which Doc probably never knew he did. No less than seven gentlemen of shady reputation—the whole crop of local bad men, in fact—fled town the moment they heard Doc had arrived. The seven left in frantic haste, not even packing up.
THE clerk at the advertising counter of the Morning Tribune got his orders from the advertising manager. “You do exactly what Savage asks and keep your mouth shut about it,” said the advertising manager. “Otherwise, neither one of us have got any more job than a rabbit. Savage happens to own a fat slice of this paper. And don't you ever tell anybody that, either!”
DOC SAVAGE divided his attention between the girl and the letters. He did not like to deal with hysterical, frightened women, and this one was looking for the moment as if she might become that way. He did not like to deal with women at all, in fact. He wasn't exactly afraid of them. He just couldn't make them out. He understood this was a common trouble with men, although he sometimes suspected he had more than his share of denseness on the point.
“Why didn't you hold them until we got here?” Monk demanded.
Renny looked at him bitterly. “We did our best, rainbow.”
“Where do you get that rainbow stuff?” Monk asked.
“Rainbow—never around until the storm is over,” Renny said, still bitter.
“You might start talkin' English,” Monk suggested. Monk seemed a little jealous of the small man's homeliness. Donkey Sam was even a greater baby-frightener than Monk.
DONKEY SAM DAVIS was not a handsome man. Indeed, his face frightened the babies on the street in the town of Mile High, Arizona. There was just one street in Mile High, and not many babies, and these babies were not easily frightened.
Donkey Sam was having himself what the people who live primitive, hard, lonely lives often have. It is a form of hysteria. It is sometimes the only kind of emotional relaxation in which they can indulge. They suddenly jump up, screaming, tearing off their clothes—in case of Eskimos, they rush out bellowing, and roll in the snow. Sometimes they solve the whole thing simply by just fainting. The Eskimos call this going piblokto.
(Explorers often mention this phenomenon. It is probably no more mysterious than you and I getting mad and kicking the furniture.)
At this point, William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn entered their headquarters, which was located on the eighty-sixth floor of the building that was central Manhattan's best bomb target.
The thing was ridiculous, unreal. Two animals came out of the cages. They took a moment to orient themselves. Then they made for Doc Savage.
The thing was so absurd and unexpected that Doc did not move as fast as he would have otherwise. He lost time staring at the animals. Wondering what they were.
Dogs, he saw. Two devilishly mean little cross-breeds. Starved, and obviously doped with something to further madden them. His first reaction was pity for the animals, and curiosity about just why they had been released.
Then he saw the devices fixed to their jaws and understood. Wicked-looking sharp spikes were held with clamps fastened back to the collar. The spikes were razor-edged and green with chemical. Poison. Surely poison...
He dodged the first leaps. The little curs were quick. They had been trained for this sort of thing. Also maddened by whatever they had been fed, probably spasmo-toxine or some similar spastic.
(Spasmo-toxine is a bacterial poison of uncertain nature resulting from tetanus cultures on meat broth, producing in animals violent irrational behavior.)
“Oh, them. They ain't no mystery. One of the crooks Wickard Cole hired brought them along from California. This fellow said he bought them from an animal trainer out there, and he had trained them to tackle anything that moves. If you don't move, the dogs won't bother you. This guy made the poison-carrying spikes himself and the poison he uses is a mixture of potassium cyanide and something else.” Old Donkey Sam eyed them. “That explain that?”
“It's a goofy way to try to kill somebody,” Renny said.
“To kill anybody is goofy to begin with, ain't it?” Donkey Sam countered.
The scenes with the explosive black rock jumping out and back into the ground are spectacular in a way suited for comic books. Doc removing the poison from the dog's muzzles with no explanation of how he managed it is also comic book quality scripting. The Devil's Black Rock is a fun book that's more violent than silly, but it's still silly where you have to take it as intentionally slight entertainment in order to enjoy it.
119 - The Time Terror:
"The monstrous winged lizard swooped out of the sky bringing terror and destruction. Was this horrible creature just a freak of nature? Or did it spell the end of humanity? Doc and his aides didn’t have time to wonder. They had to push forward — into a lost valley of prehistoric beasts and men!"
January, 1943's The Time Terror was written the year before, at the tale end of WWII (1939-1945), so there were no qualms about identifying the bad guys as Japanese soldiers serving the ends of their country's master race ideology. In the lead-up years to open hostilities I found Doc Savage's vagueness policy on foreign antagonists annoying and the worst political correctness being applied to genocidal maniacs. I get it that nobody at Street & Smith wanted Pearl Harbor to take place earlier because of a ten cent pulp magazine's specificity, but still...
The "Lost-World" Doc Savage novels are an archetype and I assume in the hearts and minds of Doc Savage fans the ultimate Doc Savage tale takes place in a hidden valley where time has stood still for millions of years. This one reads well and is nicely paced. The weird science of halted evolution and master-race "vitamins" are not absurd for fiction and they're dealt with in a complete and adult manner instead of a last-second Hail Mary of a resolution. Two bits I didn't accept - the first being the ultra-primitive Sand Men falling in line so easily. It would have been better to include Ga's more advanced people either as a fighting force or as experts on how to manipulate the Sand Men. The second was the impossibility of bringing back a Pterodactyl as proof of the hidden valley. As if anyone involved could capture one and shove it in a plane.
I wish Doc's trilling never existed and was replaced instead with something like him focusing intensely and making a thought-indicating "Hmmm" noise. Tropical birds, musical winds - I wonder if that was as dumb back in the 30s as it is today?
Johnny's alternating use of big or small words needs to be better defined, and in various pulps the other aids take turns knowing the meaning of each word or acting like they're hearing a lost language for the first time. Then there's Monk. On one hand he's one of the most intelligent chemists of his time, while on the other he's roundly dumb and illiterate.
Long before Google News allowed anyone to customize the electronic delivery of specified news item into the device of their choosing, the process was, to say the least, involved:
ONIE MORTON worked for Doc Savage. Onie was a news condenser, which was a term invented for his job. Doc Savage maintained an elaborate set-up of specialists whereby the news from all parts of the world, which came into his office on leased wire printers and by special telephone and cabled missives from special correspondents, was gathered and condensed each day.
The idea of gathering and condensing this news was so that it could be presented to Doc Savage in a form brief enough for his quick examination. Doc Savage was very busy. In addition to pursuing his rather strange profession—distinctly strange, in fact—of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers in the far corners of the earth, or of sticking his nose into other people's business, as his enemies referred to it, Doc Savage was a scientist and experimenter of note.
Doc Savage liked to look at the news in brief to keep in touch with things, and to pick out items which needed his specialized kind of attention. He could go over these items and smell trouble.
Doc Savage, a giant of a man with bronzed skin and flake-gold eyes, which were unusual characteristics, had spent the day sitting on a war-strategy board in Washington. Doc was not happy, as a whole, with his part in the war. Sitting on boards was all right; somebody had to do it.
It had been pointed out—firmly, too—to Doc, that he was doing more good to the country performing the kind of work he had been performing for years. More good than he would be if he walked into battles making a target of himself. He did not agree. But he had been having the same luck as the average guy in disagreeing with generals.
One look at Lieutenant Colonel Mayfair and you knew why people who had never seen him before automatically called him Monk. He also had a ridiculous small boy voice. Hearing him when he was mad was funnier than listening to Hitler speak with a Yiddish accent.
Her fighting was something extraordinary. She was upon the two Japanese like a cat. She got them both at once. She lifted them. They howled in agony. She hurled them bodily over the top of the cabin—the ship was a low-wing type—upon the two Japanese crouching on the other side.
She tossed them easily, as if they were bags of rags. It was a feat which Doc, who was speechlessly amazed, doubted if he could have done himself.
(It has been, and still is, our policy to avoid the fantastic and the impossible in fiction. It is almost invariably true that nothing appears in the Doc Savage stories which has not already been accomplished by scientists, at least upon a laboratory scale. For that reason, all dinosaurs and mammals appearing in this story are drawn with scientific correctness. They are dinosaurs and mammals which existed on earth during the Pleistocene, the Palaeolithic, and other time periods. Years of research by the author and other authorities were expended in order to gather scientific data which is presented in this story.)
“Suppose these prehistoric life forms drifted here during different epochs and remained as they were,” Doc said.
“But they wouldn't remain as they were. What's evolution for?”
“Suppose there was something that arrested evolution?”
Johnny scratched his head. “There isn't anything that will stop evolution that I've heard of.”
Doc made no comment. He dropped the subject.
Doc was thoughtful as he walked. This compound, this evolution-accelerator, was a fantastic thing. It seemed a little unreal, but then new things were frequently like that, like something magical. Vitamins had been like that when first discovered.
The thing had sinister possibilities in the hands of a race dominated, like the Japanese at the moment, by a governing clique hungry for power. The war lords were preaching super race to their people. The German leaders had done that. Just the preaching of a doctrine of super race had contributed to a war that cost millions of lives.
Here, incredibly, was something that would actually build a super race. If the stuff was taken and used on only one people, the Japanese for example, the result would be years and possibly centuries of frightful bloodshed. The inferior peoples would not let themselves be dominated readily. There would be war, unending war. And after that, slavery for ages.
Not my favorite subject matter but The Time Terror is well done Fantasy Fiction working overtime to pretend it's not.
120 - Waves Of Death:
"A freak tidal wave occurs in the normally placid waters of Lake Michigan — suddenly Doc and his crew find themselves on the trail of a mad inventor with the power to hold the world hostage!"
“Hey, he shot Elmer. Why'd he shoot Elmer?”
WWII was all the rage but Doc Savage was still keeping it local in this story about apocalyptic beams of electrified light creating tidal waves on Lake Michigan. Waves Of Death is a strong story with lots of nice personality highlights and quotable quotes. Monk and Ham are a better team and more clever than usual, and this February, 1943 story isn't lacking for good situational comedy and science up the wazoo. It would make a decent, fast-paced TV movie.
The story does need to be shortened and tightened. It's too exposition and recap heavy for what should be a short yet quick adventure, and it could have used another scene using the tidal wave weapon to lighten the hard focus on Roy Hungerford Plate and Sidney Atz, both pretending a little too hard to be friends of the story's day-player protagonist Dave Clay, accidental inventor of said weapon seen near the opening and close. The two competing gang routine is overplayed in Doc Savage so it would have been better to have Plate and Atz act separately but for the same group, which they kind of are anyway so the dueling bad guy angle dies on the vine regardless.
Lester Dent breaks the fourth wall seven times by interjecting comments and notations into his own story, be it to express responsible restraint:
The ingredients were for mustard gas. Monk, Ham, Johnny and their associate—Doc had no idea who the latter was—would have no defense against mustard gas.
(It is policy to refrain from publishing chemical formulas which are dangerous, or which could be used for illegal purposes should they get in the wrong hands. Hence the omission of the ingredients of mustard gas here, although the formula is a widely known one.)
To show he's elbow deep into the bowels of current scientific journals:
The tidal waves were not at all unbelievable now. This was not just lightning striking. It was more. It was the effect of electrical force such as man had never before released. It was something new. It was, actually, matter disintegrated by incredible electrical violence. No wonder the shock had kicked up those small tidal waves.
(The British Meteorological Office collected data indicating the average frequency of lightning flashes during a storm to be about 200 an hour. Such flashes are often miles in length. Since some 32,700 volts are required to jump a gap of .3937 of an inch between a pair of brass balls two and a quarter inches in diameter, some idea of lightning voltage can be imagined. Lightning, actually, is a little too violent for scientific study so far, with any degree of accuracy. Methods are indirect, to say the least, and largely involve deduction. For instance, scientist W. J. Humphreys estimated the current transferred by a lightning flash by the pinch effect produced on a lightning rod which had been struck and crushed by the attraction of the current elements on each other during the discharge.—AUTHOR.)
Or do both at the same time:
“If a beam of light could carry electricity,” said Clay, “think what it would mean.”
(The possibility of using some type of “light” to carry electricity is far from fantastic. Scientists have worked on it for some time. There are, at the moment this is being written, grapevine rumors floating around to the effect that an American scientist has perfected the thing. If this is true, the weapon could conceivably be in effect against enemy bomber and fighter planes before this novel sees publication. The exact method of accomplishment could not, for obvious reasons, be available. The electricity-carrying “light” will not, of course, be in the simple kind of light which comes from, for instance, a flashlight. It will be more complicated, and utilize something in the nature of the thing that happens inside a radio vacuum tube, actually the projection of electronic streams through atmosphere instead of a vacuum, in all probability. And the development itself will in all probability be an outgrowth of thermionics, which is the branch of science which deals with the influence of heat on matter in generating atomic or sub-atomic electrically charged particles, ions and electrons. The principles of the thermionics have been known for nearly two hundred years, incidentally. This, obviously, is general information. Too close and too detailed an exposé of the probable method, in view of America at war, would not be wise at this time. So I hope that this somewhat vague explanation of the Dave Clay apparatus, which certainly will not give aid or comfort to the enemy, will be acceptable.—AUTHOR.)
Doc got out a gadget which he usually carried—a combination of periscope, telescope, breathing tube for under water, other things—and studied the defenders.
[Nice deviation from the anesthetic-gas-cures-all-ills deal] “We just stood them off. All night. The anaesthetic gas we used scared the dickens out of them, and helped. Only trouble was the gas only made them unconscious for an hour or so at a time. And we never were able to gas enough of them at once to give us a chance to lick them. That's the way it was until you showed up.”
She touched another lever, causing a change in the plane sound that made Renny look interested. “Hey!” he exploded. “What've you got on here?”
“Like it?” Pat asked.
Renny grinned. The plane was sounding—they could tell it plainly—much as a speeding automobile sounds. “How'd you do it?” he demanded.
“An arrangement of vanes that take the motor slip stream and alter its path,” Pat explained. “I got it by experimenting. It's simple, really. I guess just nobody thought of it before.”
Long Tom laughed. “Muffle a plane, then treat what sound there remains so that it resembles the noise a motor car makes traveling on a highway! Slick idea.”
“I've given it to the war department,” Pat said proudly. “There's a field where we can land.”
Doc Savage's business was strange things. Things like this. Or perhaps this was not exactly correct. Doc Savage's business was actually the righting of wrongs and the punishing of evildoers, in instances where the regularly constituted law officers and courts were asleep, or outsmarted, or in regions so remote there was no law except the cruel hard one of the armed fist.
But Doc Savage was always interested in the inexplicable, the mysterious. The inexplicable and the mysterious—particularly when connected with death—had a way of demanding his attention...
Doc was interested. He did not look excited, but then he almost never showed excitement. Calmness and control were part of the training he had received when he had been placed in the hands of scientists in childhood.
[Addressing past abuses of Artistic License] Disguise was something Doc Savage found difficult, yet he used it frequently. His size was a handicap. It was the main problem. His unusual bronze hair, the remarkable flake gold of his eyes were less trouble. Dye would work over his hair and skin, and colored glass contact lenses would alter eye color.
With Doc, disguise was almost strangely effective. Probably he was such a distinctive personality that people who knew him by sight never associated him with a disguise.
(The full extent of the remarkable training—which is responsible for the strange combination of mental wizard, physical marvel, and scientific Aladdin which is Doc Savage—is not delineated fully in each Doc Savage novel. Such repetition would be monotonous for regular readers of the magazine. But Doc Savage's past was this: He was placed, by his father—his mother died in Doc's youth—in the hands of scientists for training when he was very young. Doc Savage thus became one of the first “scientific” babies, and probably the only fully successful one. Because of the years of incessant scientific training to which he was subjected in the course of his training, he missed many of the pleasures and playtimes of ordinary youth, and while such pleasures and playtimes may not be necessary to mold a well-rounded personality—there is some argument among psychologists on this point—the bronze man's unorthodox early life is in part responsible for his character. It accounts for his almost inhuman lack of emotional response to disaster and to joy—the perpetual poker face he wears, in other words. Such training was bound to have an effect. Doc Savage has been, for instance, under the wing of a Yale expert on atomic phenomena, a Virginia experimenter in supersensory activity, a Yogi practitioner from India, a jungle chief and tracker in Africa. These are only a few examples of the type of men who were employed in training Doc Savage. The training cost a fortune, a tremendous sum, and in fact was the sole purpose for which Doc's father worked through a period of many years. His sole heritage passed on to Doc, heritage in the way of wealth, was a secret hoard of gold located in a Central American republic, far from where any so-called civilized foot had trod. And even this hoard of gold was one which Doc Savage had to go out and earn for himself. So in truth everything that the bronze man's father ever made was poured into the unique, fantastic, and sometimes hair-raisingly strange training which Doc received. This training was, of course, aimed at the sole purpose of fitting Doc for a career of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers in the far corners of the earth. That was the career for which Doc's father trained him in the very beginning. Why Doc's father should go to such lengths to train him for such a strange life is something the bronze man has not been able to fully account for, no satisfactory explanation for it ever having come to life.—AUTHOR.)
[Doc's one personal failing] Doc Savage seemed not to hear this inquiry. Pat frowned. But she did not try any more words on him. That temporary deafness was an aggravating habit of Doc's when he did not want to answer an inquiry.
[No longer the usual jungle cat vision] Doc went forward with care. His eyes were actually not a bit more efficient in the darkness than any other normal, trained and well-cared-for eyes. But he'd taken a lot of training at this sort of thing. He could have used that infrared gadget, though, he thought repeatedly.
[Doc? Very tired?] Doc went out with the other box, with the coil of heavy cable. Placing the reflectors was actually a job for several men. He was very tired...
Doc, out of breath, wrenched with fatigue, tried to use Atz's voice and say, “It's all right. Keep your shirt on.”
His voice imitation was a flop. He sounded about as much like Atz as a dog sounds like a cat.
Monk became indignant. “What's that? An insult?”
“A statement of fact.”
“You keep riding me,” Monk said indignantly, ignoring the fact that he had started the trouble, “and some day I'm gonna dance on your grave, sure enough.”
“Then I trust I'm buried at sea,” Ham said.
Ham scrambled into the cockpit. He switched on the landing lights. These were very strong and spouted a flood of glaring light. There was a shot, and one of the lights went out. Another shot extinguished the second light.
Ham said, “I would say he knows which end of a pistol the bullets come out of.”
HAM made a sudden dive for the floor and lay there. Monk examined him and commented, “After you've heard them, they say it's usually too late to dodge. That one's come and gone. So why flop?”
“It might have brothers,” Ham said.
Monk inquired, “Listen, why do you part your hair like that for?”
“It looks better,” Ham said.
“It wouldn't be because every block has an alley, huh?”
“Your jokes,” Ham informed him, “are remarkably stupid.”
Monk said smugly, “I have to adapt myself to the company I'm in.”
“I'm not a crook, you know,” the girl said pointedly.
“We're sure you aren't,” Monk said gallantly.
Johnny snorted, told the young woman, “Monk will next show you his pet pig, following which he will ask you for a date.”
“My pal!” Monk said disgustedly.
“Listen, bub,” Monk told him. “You keep pestering us and I'll personally flatten you out so thin they can use you to slice cheese.”
[Monk the enforcer] Doc Savage was not pleased, but he made no fuss about it. He followed in silence. Monk, however, was less restrained. He overtook Atz and clapped a hand unceremoniously on the other man's neck.
“I'm going to give you a gentle tip this time,” Monk told Atz. “And next time I'll knock a permanent crick in your neck. Do what Doc tells you, see!”
Atz, not sounding afraid, said, “Friend, you're bigger than I am and six times as strong, probably. But that doesn't give you control of my brain.”
“It'll give me control of your body, though,” Monk assured him. “And I'll break every bone in it if you don't take Doc's orders.”
“Can't he enforce his own discipline?”
“He won't need to.”
“Hello, Grumpy and Grouchy,” she said to Renny and Long Tom. “Is everything set, ready for us to go?”
Renny told her, “We got it figured out. Or Long Tom figured it out. You're excitopsychic. That explains it.”
“I'm what?” Pat demanded.
“That sounds like one of Johnny's words. What is it?”
“It's not Johnny's word. It's ours. We made it up,” Renny assured her. “It means psychic to excitement. That's you. Let some excitement come within flying distance of an airplane and you're right there.”
Pat, irritated, spoke rather maliciously in Mayan. The Mayan tongue, which Doc and all his aides used for communication when they did not want to be understood by others, was one which Pat had learned. Just how she had learned it everyone professed to have no idea. Pat had talked somebody into teaching her Mayan, which had been against Doc's wishes. No one would admit being the tutor, and Pat had never tattled.
IN New York City, Renny Renwick—Colonel John Renwick—was just finishing with his share of an army planning-board meeting. Renny's share of the meeting had been a noisy one, and he had accidentally split the top of one of the tables when hammering it with his fist to drive home a point. Renny's fists were so enormous as to be ridiculous, and splitting of the table had caused a sudden outburst of laughter, in the midst of which mirth it had occurred to Renny to hold up the fist with which he had smashed the table and say, “Gentlemen, it is having bigger fists than the enemy which wins wars for you.” And thereupon Renny had won his point. There would be more big cargo-carrying planes built.
Ham turned to Johnny and said, “Look. Just once would it be asking too much for you to use little words? Play like this is a vacation or something.”
“Yes, play like you are visiting among the feeble-minded, and have to speak very simply,” Monk suggested.
Johnny said, “I wouldn't be far wrong at that.”
“That's fine,” Monk told him. “Now we understand you. See how we smile?” Monk smiled for him. “Now what the hell was it you said the first time?”
[No, better to throw them in front of death whenever possible] “Those two pets, Habeas Corpus and Chemistry, are always getting you two in trouble,” Johnny complained. “I would think you would leave them at home now and then.”
[Note to self: Be More Weird] It was a very still night. Johnny sat motionless and thought of unimportant things. He'd been slighting his big words, he reflected; he'd have to use more of them. Using the words gave him a certain sly pleasure. He was a man of few pleasures and few real friends, and it had always been so. He did not mind. His work, his pleasure—except for the intense excitement he got from working with Doc Savage—came from his work, archaeology and geology.
“Use a big word and you'll feel better,” Pat suggested.
“I'll be superamalgamated,” Johnny said. “Maybe you're right.”
(The strange training which Doc Savage received, the education which made him such a remarkable individual, is familiar to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have read the bronze man's fictional adventures previously. Doc, as a child, was placed by his father in the hands of scientists and underwent intensive training until he was almost twenty. This somewhat bizarre upbringing is responsible for the sometimes strange, always unusual, often of almost inhuman ability, combination of qualities which is Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze.—AUTHOR.)
The other said, “O. K., O. K., I guess I'm nervous.”
“Well, get un-nervoused,” Stub said.
Monk stopped and demanded, “Where's Ham?” in a voice full of strained anxiety.
Doc Savage went close to Monk, pointed off to the left, said, “Look yonder.” When Monk looked, Doc put a fist hard against the end of Monk's jaw and made Monk senseless...
Johnny Littlejohn was looking at Monk's unconscious bulk. “What happened?” Johnny asked. He never used his big words on Doc Savage. “I saw you hit Monk, but I didn't hear what was said.”
Doc explained, “They got Ham.”
“Oh!” Johnny looked bleak.
Atz, puzzled, demanded, “But why did you hit Monk?”
Johnny answered that.
“Nothing else would have kept Monk from going back after Ham,” he said.
And when I carried him he was not unconscious. An unconscious man's muscles are in a state of relaxation which a surgeon can easily recognize.”
[A weak ploy in context] “How'd you fool him?”
“Simply by moving back from the cabin door a safe distance, putting the dial of my wrist watch, uncovered, on a stick, and letting him get a look at it. It worked. He blew up the cabin at once.”
[The Uncle Charles bit is hysterically random] The shooting had stopped for the minute. Two men, casualties, were making noises in the darkness. One was moaning and calling for someone named Uncle Charles, and the other was just dying.
The whole Doc Savage gang is involved (It's Pat!) and everyone gets a good shot in at being and saying something interesting. Doc's less uber but still in charge - something to be grateful for in the 1940s mine field of never knowing which Doc Savage will show up. As a novel it needs more tidal waves. To adapt it for tv or film you'd have to wrangle with the dreaded exposition monster. All-in-all Waves Of Death is above average.
121- The Black, Black Witch:
"A frantic message from occupied France lures Doc and Monk into a midnight trap behind Nazi lines. First, they must escape from the enemy. Second, they must risk their lives to thwart the horrifying 400-year-old evil of Peterpence — before it destroys the entire world!"
The core of March, 1943's The Black, Black Witch is simple yet comprehensive, indirectly focusing on Nostradamus' prophecies as a commodity desperately sought by both Axis and Allied forces. It's initially a matter of war intrigue in France, but back in the U.S. it's greedy businessmen who seek to control it for personal gain. The Nazis had a weird cult fascination with the Thule Society. Thule makes roof racks.
Via the Sanctum reprint this is the first time Doc Savage heads into enemy territory as a master spy. Uber-Doc of the 1930s is replaced by Half-Peak Human Doc, thankfully in this instance not riddled with fears and uncertainties. The reprint hints at what might be a conscious effort to not imply in any way that Doc could be freedom's savior, a thread left to hang:
Just as Superman could be expected to defeat the Nazis single-handed, in his glory days Doc Savage was capable to ending wars through his own brand of intervention.
In a 1941 comic book Captain America punches Hitler in Der Fuehrer's Face, so Doc being an Ubermensch in Europe wouldn't have additionally angered the Axis forces. Henry "Heinrich" Ford would be angry. Pulps may have chosen the spybuster route to differentiate themselves from their rivals in four-color print.
The Black, Black Witch has a noticeable Existentialist tone that fits the times, with Minimalism and Absurdism peaking out from the wings:
A telephone began ringing then.
MONK jumped completely off the floor, the way he had of jumping when he was astonished. “Blazes!” he gasped. “An alarm clock!”
Sien said, “It is the telephone. I forgot to tell you about the telephone.”
“Once upon a time,” Doc told him, “a black, black witch lived in this part of
“When was that?”
“The sixteenth century, you mean?'
“That was three hundred and eighty-eight years ago.”
“Could it be the same witch?”
“How long do you think witches live?”
“I don't think they live at all,” Monk said. “I think there ain't no such thing as witches.”
“Scientists,” Doc said, “will agree with you.”
Doc's face became expressionless.
“You know,” he asked, “what changed him?”
“You came here to find that out, didn't you?”
“It is,” the other said, “quite a story.”
“There have been signs of that.”
“It needs,” the man said, “some substantiation.”
“In the form of what?” Doc asked.
“Evidence,” announced the other, “to prove a most remarkable tale. I'll have to get it. Will you wait here?”
He backed toward the door.
“I won't be gone but a minute,” he said.
The novel is short with two sequences of real-time events separated by a long distance flight from France to New York. It should be an even shorter Novella. The plot and tone call for it, and if you remove anything approaching filler you'll have left what the story was meant if not intended to be. It's less about changing things than editing down for length and pace. Doc not being a putz buys a lot of good will in making a lesser Doc Savage not necessarily a worse Doc Savage. He's pretty good but not perfect:
There was a fireplace in the other end of the sun room. Doc stood close to the
blaze, finding its warmth pleasant, and trying to put a mental finger on
something that was bothering him...
Doc jumped visibly. He'd been remarkably dumb.
The red-headed man had been acting.
Doc had a little bad luck—inexcusable clumsiness, he called it later—and fell down the stairs with the guard he was choking into unconsciousness, and also using as a shield. He hit the bottom somewhat dazed—or at least he had no impression of having been unconscious. But when he got organized the cabin was quiet.
Doc's less a wrecking ball than a sower of doubt. Instead of storming the room he sticks his head in a window to postulate a query:
Because Doc Savage knocked the glass out of a window, batted off the boards which had been tacked over the inside of the window, shoved the curtains aside, and put his head in the opening.
“You fellows want to hear something?” Doc asked. “About the lights being out?”
Then there's Doc questioning the nature of language and deflecting with the 1943 version of "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.":
“Help?” he said. “Help is the extending of aid and succor, the offering of a haven. There is no haven from the inevitable, so how can you help me?”
Doc studied the man for a moment. “It is always best to deal in tangibles, Mr. Diamat. What do you mean by the inevitable? If you mean that literally, there probably is no such thing as the inevitable. The inevitable is a result, and results are always the product of an addition, whether of numbers, elements or events.”
“Celtic speech of the Isle of Man,” Doc explained. “This example is not particularly old. Eighteenth century. A piece by Joseph Bridson. There is much better in the British Museum.”
Sien Noordenveer looked sharply at Doc. “How did you know that?”
“It is just a hitherto useless bit of information I have been carrying around.”
“Are you an expert on ancient languages?”
“Hardly an expert.”
One of Doc's policies was to always tell the truth, but occasionally the bronze man's conception of truth-telling approached the fantastic. All that Doc had said might not contain a technical lie. But it struck Ham as some elaborate verbal gymnastics to avoid telling an outright lie.
The Black, Black, Witch goes one step further than Nostradamus by creating a contemporary named Peterpence (Peter's Pence), who's odorous herbal blend was the real deal for gleening the future. Dent made the right choice in not having Robert Diamat partake in Peterpence's herbs and then trip out (Doc's gas is used instead to open his mind to suggestions). This is nicely written:
Peterpence, or the black, black witch had reached the height of his career. Peterpence was a genius. An alchemist and scientist. I am fully convinced he was of a mind so freakish that it was unbalanced. At any rate, he was very ambitious, and in his incredible genius, had discovered the mixture of certain herbs which worked on the human mind, increasing its realization—or awareness—of extraordinary impulse. I am no scientist. I will not attempt to explain exactly how it works. But I know it opens the mind to some of the stuff of which dreams are made—some of the subconscious capacities of the brain which are not now understood. You have all dreamed something that actually came true later, or had premonitions of something that would happen. Well, it is that with which Peterpence dealt.”
“Peterpence hated Nostradamus,” MacChesney told them. “And Peterpence was afraid to try his own devilish brew. So he got Nostradamus to try it, rather hoping it would kill him. But the opposite resulted. Nostradamus saw into the future. He saw ahead for centuries. The things he saw were vague, and some of them were scientific wonders which he could not comprehend. So, when he wrote of them in his books of rhymed predictions, called “Centuries,” some of the descriptions were vague.”
Doc and Monk are left naked fairly quickly once captured, which happens almost immediately, and then they're naked under trench coats, like flashers, and without shoes, until they get back to New York. Doc fashions himself a breechcloth in Chapter 6 but Doc's a dirty nudist nuding around town nudling nude naked. The scene where Monk, Doc, and a lady climb up a ladder is fraught with nudist peril!
Lester Dent as "THE AUTHOR" interjects exposition seven times in the story, and while it stands out as breaking the Fourth Wall the information seems more honest and revelatory than what he was adding as narration:
(Because many readers of Doc Savage Magazine have followed the Man of Bronze through his previous adventures, the story of Doc's early life is often omitted to avoid monotony. For new readers, here is Doc's background: First, something happened to Doc's father—Doc has never known exactly what it was—that led him to make a remarkable decision, the decision that: shortly after birth Doc should be placed in the hands of scientists for training. This training lasted nearly twenty years. Many scientists had a hand in it, men who were specialists in everything from electronic chemistry to how to squeak like a mouse. As a result, Doc Savage slowly became a remarkable combination of physical marvel, mental wizard and scientific genius. It was inevitable that this upbringing should leave him with some strange traits. The small and weird trilling sound which he cannot help making in moments of mental stress is an example. However, as a whole, Doc is a rounded human individual with the same likes and dislikes as the next nice guy. His handicap is that his abilities are so unusual that people seldom treat him as an ordinary man.—THE AUTHOR.)
(The volume of Nostradamus' rhymed predictions, titled “Centuries,” has amazed scholars for centuries because of the accuracy of its predictions. If access can be had to a good library which has a translation of the work, it is worth study, if one doesn't mind a scare. Motion-picture shorts have been made of it within the last few years.—THE AUTHOR.)
The thing wasn't adhesive tape, but an imitation-skin preparation which make-up artists sometimes use. It looked like skin. It felt like skin. The object it covered was a flat aluminum box somewhat smaller than the smallest of old-fashioned pill boxes. The scar pit had helped hold it unnoticed.
Doc dumped some of the box contents into the door lock. He wet a finger and dampened the stuff with saliva.
Moving fast, he put the remainder of the box contents—a powder, bright red—in a crack beside one of the window bars. He wet this deposit also, using just a bit of saliva on the end of his finger...
That powder, as crimson as a cardinal, was about two thousand times as violent as trinitrotoluene—TNT—or any other known toluene-derivative explosive. Monk had helped Doc develop the red powder, which they had hoped would be a revolutionary war explosive. It had proved to be a flop—they had never been able to discover a way to keep the stuff from blowing up when it got the least bit damp.
The plane, unlike most of the craft which Doc owned—he had several—was a land ship only. Hence their use of LaGuardia Field instead of the Hudson River and the waterfront warehouse-hangar which they normally employed.
JOHNNY LITTLEJOHN had appeared at the airport in his private automobile, an elderly and extremely dilapidated vehicle which Monk had often called a fugitive from an assembly line. This ancient land ark could actually travel a hundred and fifty miles an hour, if everything kept out of its way, and the occupants were safe from bullets coming from less than an antitank gun providing the windows were closed. A spectator would have said it was an impossibility, but it could be made absolutely airtight, hence safe from gas attack. Along with its other qualities was that of noise. When in motion it made such a racket that conversation was difficult.
They had searched Doc Savage. As police searches went it had been a thorough one. Actually, they had missed a number of gadgets which the bronze man habitually carried. Gadgets which actually were constructed into his garments.
The cotton in the shoulder padding tailored into his coat was chemically treated, the buttons were not ordinary buttons at all, and the fabric of any one of his garments would serve some specified purpose in an emergency.
Doc himself held a much higher army commission than Monk's, and Doc was also on detached service, detached service for Doc consisting largely of doing the same thing he had been doing for some years—righting wrongs and punishing evil-doers in the far corners of the earth, a profession for which he had received an unusual training.
[Hey, Trilling, how 'ya feelin'?] What he learned caused the bronze man's strange, small trilling sound, like the noise of a puzzled wraith, to hang weirdly in the room for a few moments.
[Ham is no longer wealthy] THEY pulled up before an apartment house which made it evident that Robert Diamat was a man who had a lot of money to spend on living. Monk said, “Ham should be impressed. He once had an apartment in this neighborhood.”
Ham nodded, said, “And had to give it up because I couldn't pay the rent. You know what these places rent for? Some of them as high as twenty thousand a year.”
“Heck, I threw away the rip cord,” Monk said sheepishly. “In the army they laugh at you and then fine you five dollars for doing that.”
“We're likely,” Monk said, “to find ourselves looking up at six feet of earth.”
However, it was Monk's secret hope to some day catch Doc making a mistake, so Monk had investigated MacChesney most thoroughly.
Monk grinned. “Oh, I just said over the telephone we had escaped and were going to kidnap the little man with the mustache.”
“That,” Doc said without much approval, “was childish.”
[Oh, Monk...] Sien said, “First, I want to make it clear that I am somewhat an authority on the sixteenth century.”
Monk told her, “A girl as pretty as you would more likely be an authority on jive and jitterbugging.”
Monk staged a rebellion, assisted by Ham. Monk began with the unusual gymnastic feat of jumping into the air and kicking two men in the face simultaneously. What his feet did to the two faces was one of his pleasant memories.
It was the one order of which he expected no violation. He himself never directly took a life. Nor did the others, although in the case of Monk Mayfair, there was room for a little doubt. Monk had been afflicted with a series of accidents—as he called them—in which his enemies unfortunately got killed. He had been warned about this. Nobody expected the warning to do much good. Monk had been warned about involving himself with anything attractive in skirts, without noticeable effect.
Sien Noordenveer asked, “Who is Johnny?”
“Johnny Littlejohn, archaeologist and geologist,” Ham explained. “The longest one hunk of man you ever saw.”
[Affectation or personality disorder?] The call was over the regular radio land-line service. It was Johnny Littlejohn in New York City.
“A laetificantly empyrean transubstantiation,” he remarked.
“What is on your mind?” Doc asked him.
“Oh!” Johnny said. “I thought it was Ham on the wire.”
Johnny liked to use his jawbreaking words on everyone except Doc. For some reason or other, he never employed them on the bronze man.
“The blankety-blank so-and-sos!” Johnny said. Johnny was not addicted to the use of profanity, and he used the words blank and so-and-so. “Trying to grab me!” he added.
“How'd they get you? Monk asked her.
“I'm ashamed to tell you,” Pat said.
Sien put in, “She didn't follow orders.”
“You shut up,” Pat told Sien with no ill feeling. “Nobody expects me to follow orders when they give them to me, so it's not important.”
It was good sense to open the parachutes while they were still in the clouds, for that would be less conspicuous in case anyone had heard the plane and happened to be looking up.
It was a typical peasant French farm home, low and gray, with plenty of shrubbery and the usual manure pile in the yard.
[But why, asked the old lady. It's easier for the reader, said Doc Savage] Doc knocked on the door. The old lady opened it for them.
she said. “Que voulez-vous?”
“Do you speak English?” Doc asked, although he could speak a considerably better brand of French than the crone had used.
“A leettle,” she replied.
“Peterpence was an astrologer, sorcerer and medical doctor. He was brilliant. He must have been extremely brilliant, because he got the reputation of being a witch. To be a genius, in those days wasn't always smart. If you were much more clever than other people, they figured you were possessed of the devil.”
The French-African airport was an out-of-the-way one, and the authorities there were so bamboozled by the combination of an American diplomat and a German war plane that they were afraid not to refuel him.
[Pre-PhotoShop]“Get our private-detective organization to work on the friends,” Doc directed. “Watch them. Supply every detective with a full description and pictures of MacChesney. They will have MacChesney's photograph on file in the State department in Washington. Get it. Better have a good artist make up several possible disguises around the photograph, and give copies to all the detectives.”
[Exposition overkill that gets called out as exposition overkill by the author after he wrote it] Monk told him, “Whatever it is, it's something that a sorehead named Peterpence, also known as the black, black witch, discovered back in fifteen hundred and something-or-other. The black, black witch hid the secret in that underground room of the chateau. MacChesney got to digging through old documents, and found the hiding place. Whatever he found got him so excited that he sent for Doc. And then it got him even more excited, so that he tried to stop Doc getting there. And when Doc did arrive, MacChesney grabbed the secret—we think—and lit out for New York.”
“You told me all that before.” Johnny was absentmindedly using small words.
[Unless they were taken hostage - again] RIGHT on the dot, an hour and a half later—they were always prompt about their appointments—Monk and the others met Doc at a subway station in Jersey City.
These five leaders were men who could, without batting an eye, sign a contract which swindled a competitor, or take a widow's savings. They called such things business, or foresight. But this was different. This was murder. They had killed, or their hirelings had killed, Stiles and Doc Savage's private detective. They had killed Stiles, it was obvious, because he wouldn't go in with them, and the detective because he was in the way. Now they were desperate...
Diamat's trembling had become a shaking. His lower lip shook until it fluttered and he gripped it between his teeth. But he was not backing down. He was in a frenzy compiled of desperation and fear, and it was growing. The grisly emotion came to a climax when he grabbed up two of the ice picks.
“I'll do it to one!” he gasped. “And then, you yellow-livered scoundrels, you'll each do it to one of them.”
It was a dramatic and horrible statement which somehow did not sound at all dramatic and horrible, possibly because such a statement required a little time for its full effect and implication to roll up and burst in the mind. And the thing got no time to roll up and burst.
The Black, Black Witch was a not a stellar book as I was reading it but it brings to mind a number of decent considerations and has amazing potential. The concept and basic story outline are fantastic. Minimize its length, don't let it become surreal, and as a novella it could be a legendary experiment in the Doc Savage catalog.
122- The King Of Terror:
"A ruthless madman is plotting to rule the world. His ingenious plan involves an enigmatic woman, a psychotic surgeon, and a strange and powerful fog that muddles men’s minds. First, they have to kill Doc Savage. And Doc’s vengeance begins only after he is dead!"
“Mug one and save the cow,” he told the waiter.
How many times can Doc Savage be "Dead" before the press stops believing these reports altogether? April, 1943's entry plays out not as comedy but light farce. Eccentric killers are fooled by a movie projection. Monk and Ham go undercover as weirdoes switching in and out of a fabricated Spanish accent. Monk and Doc sing weird songs in Mayan. Abraham Mawson sits on a small gold throne daydreaming about a bigger gold throne. Handsome Mayfair (just that his name is "Handsome") and his friend Bill Adams are flat-out idiots. Doc tells M&H to fabricate proof he isn't really Doc, which leads the mastermind Abraham Mawson to recruit Doc to impersonate Doc Savage to take over Hidalgo.
Did I mention The King Of Terror is farce? This makes it a unique Doc Savage story in the way everyone's an interesting character with layers of personality, and regulation storytelling bends to serve its eccentricities. The ending is unconventional in that Doc sings for help in Mayan in the city of Hidalgo and then awakens from being gassed to see everything worked out swell on its own in this short resolution that works considering how the entire story moves along with the single objective of serving its own needs:
“Blazes!” Monk bellowed. “We're out from under the effects of the stuff?”
They looked up. The ditch edge was lined with grinning Mayan Indians. Doc spoke in the Mayan dialect. He was answered by a man, and another native added more information.
Doc Savage said, “It is over. Abraham Mawson is dead. The others are prisoners. But Mawson made the mistake of shooting a native.”
THEY examined the device, the gadget, by which Doc Savage had been able to make Percy and Francis think they had shot Doc into a pulp...
It was a movie projector, color film. It was concealed well back in the corridor, in the ceiling, shooting from behind one of the light fixtures, so that it was hardly noticeable from direct inspection, and certainly not at all discoverable from where Percy and Francis had stood.
For a screen, a polished-brushed, rather-metal panel that was part of the decoration on either side of the elevator door. In fact the elevator door and the elevator interior were all the same material and would serve as a screen...
Having squinted at the projector overhead, Monk pondered aloud, “I don't see how Doc made it stick that way. That film he showed was a picture of him getting shot with a machine gun. Cut to pieces. I see how you could fake such a picture in taking it. That ain't no trouble for a good movie photographer. But suppose those guys would've had rifles, and just shot him once apiece, and ran.”
Ham laughed. “There's more than one movie projector up there, Monk. Each one has a different film. There's one showing Doc getting shot once and falling dead. But you should see the one of him getting blown up with a bomb. That's a daisy! This one of his getting shot with a machine gun was nothing compared to it. All Doc had to do was take a look down the hall through the televisor, guess what was up, and turn on the right film. When the gunmen saw Doc opening the elevator door they opened fire-at nothing more than the clever motion picture.”
Doc worked on the locks of his leg manacles. The manacles were ordinary handcuffs, extra heavy, so that the locks were not particularly mysterious. It took, however, more than a strong wish to get them open. Doc Savage used a tiny steel saw blade-similar to a scroll-saw blade, about four inches long-which had been coiled into a tiny cap which fitted over one of his wisdom teeth, very innocently.
Doc got in the room, closed the window, and yanked a chair close to the radiator. He had not actually suffered from the cold outside as much as another man, probably, but that was because of his training in mind control. He had gotten just as cold as the next fellow.
But then, Doc had never been on particularly good terms with several newspapers. The really funny thing about this last was that the bronze man actually owned a controlling interest in one of the newspapers which pounced on him with the most regularity and violence. No one, hardly, was aware of this fact.
They were convinced he wasn't Doc Savage. He could tell. The reputation he had had helped the trick he had pulled on them. He had been caught too easily in California. They didn't believe they could have caught the genuine Doc Savage so readily. This embarrassed him and bothered him, too, because he had been dumb to get caught that way.
Mistakes like that-lapses into stupidity, he could see no other words for them-were something he couldn't afford. It would only take one of them to make a man dead.
Doc Savage watched her tensely. The one subject about which Doc knew the least was women. Doc was perfectly sure of this. She might shoot him or kiss him, and neither would surprise him. As a matter of fact, she might do both. You never could tell.
Sometimes Doc was convinced that he certainly must meet nothing but a freak kind of femininity in the course of his life and work. It was hard to think that all of them could be as unpredictable as those he had met.
“What is it?” she asked eagerly. “And how soon?”
“You will be better off not knowing anything about it,” Doc told her.
She became angry. “You don't trust me?”
“I told you I had a plan, didn't I?” he countered.
She studied him, crowding her eyebrows together, thinking deeply.
You are Doc Savage,” she said. “You're not fooling me.”
[Self-loathing about his looks?] Monk scowled. “You ain't gonna make a bigger ass out of me than nature made. But tell you what I'll do-I'll play it if you will sing.”
[Opening line] THEY killed Doc Savage on Saturday.
First burst of the weapons seemed to take Doc Savage in the upper chest. His coat front and shirt and necktie got ragged, and his chest lost shape. The little machine guns could turn out seven or eight hundred bullets a minute. They fired at Doc Savage in bursts for fully half a minute. Maybe two hundred bullets from each gun. Four hundred in all. And not more than twenty-five or so missed his body.
“Who were those two fellows?” Monk asked.
“The two with the machine guns?”
“I never saw them before in my life,” Ham declared.
“Then you wouldn't know what they wanted?”
“To anyone but you,” Ham said, “it would be fairly obvious what they wanted. But since it's you, I'll explain. They wanted to kill Doc.”
“Thank you,” Monk said sourly. “I wouldn't have dreamed, of course, that they wanted to kill Doc. I'm deaf, dumb, blind, and with my head cut off, so I wouldn't know.”
Francis, having gotten on the subject of taxi drivers, said some more on the point. He didn't seem to care for taxi drivers individually or as a class, in New York or in Cairo. It developed that one of the profession, in London, had whacked the daylights out of Francis in a dispute several years ago. Francis grimaced at the recollection. “And the police found his body before I had planned, and almost caught me,” he finished. “That would have been beastly, wouldn't it? Hanged for doing in a low fellow like a cabby.”
She had all the things that beauty has, height and blondness, grace and curves in the interesting places. But she had more than that, and some of what she had was not easy to define. It was a quality of the spectacular. Just a little extra of everything, so that you looked at her and thought: Great grief, she can't be that complete! And you looked for flaws, and did not find them.
“What, Fraulino, would you say constituted a good man?” Percy asked.
Enumerating on her fingers, the Fraulino said, “Efficiency, a lack of squeamishness, a certain amount of dash to them. I would say the important quality, the really important one, was a command of equilibrium where material things are concerned. In other words, men who will not be awed by the largeness of things.”
When Doc Savage had suggested this grotesque characterization of two clowns from South America, two bad men who were so bad they weren't believable, neither Monk nor Ham had thought, secretly, that it would work. Doc Savage had explained that the very hooligan nature of the characters Cabeza and Cuerpo might make them workable. And, apparently, he was right.
Dr. Ernestine Fuquet was one of the great plastic-surgery wizards of the day. Probably there was not a better man in the world. Certainly there was no one who had done the wonders of molding which Dr. Fuquet had done.
But, unfortunately, Dr. Fuquet was as crazy as a March hare. A lunatic, pure and simple. Cyclic insanity, it was called, which meant that sometimes he was sane and at other times he was anything but. When the spell was on him he liked to do little things like cutting throats or taking hearts out of people, cutting a hole and taking out the heart and holding it in his hand to feel the beat of it.
As an alternative storytelling technique the farce of The King Of Terror works fairly well. It's not a great story by any account but it's a nice change of pace with enough memorable lines to make it memorable.
123 - The Talking Devil:
"Doc Savage is the target of a new, malevolent foe — the spirit of the King of Evil, who utters murderous commands through an ancient Chinese Devil Doll. Is Doc cursed? Or has a maniacal criminal genius discovered the ultimate key to Doc’s destruction? To survive, the Man of Bronze plunges into a terrifying struggle that can end only one way — death!"
The Talking Devil contains the germ for a great story but doesn't do as much with it as it could and should. Doc's Crime College in all its lobotomizing and reeducation glory is teed up to explode in the public eye, and the big question is how this rush of the inevitable is handled. The newspapers are clamoring about it, Doc's Public Enemy #3-ish, Doc wins, and the D.A. shuffles it out the door with:
“Officially,” he said, “there has been no proof presented that Mr. Savage maintains any kind of an institution where criminal brains are operated upon. Whatever our personal opinions may be, they probably will remain officially inactive because of lack of such proof. Personally, the idea of treating criminals in that way seems a good idea to me.”
This American soil adventure is bloody and violent, with strong character descriptions and a basic outline of drugged-and-brainwashed former Crime College graduates committing new financial crimes that sounds good if you don't think about it too much. Why set up Doc as the fall guy when you can just commit the crimes and walk away with the spoils without anyone being the wiser? Ostentatiously wealthy Montague Ogden is a confusing participant. He's set up as a patsy leader (along with Doc) and he's along for the ride with the bad guys without knowing it or knowing he's been ripped off, but he might on both counts, and some bad guys think he's in charge, and the who-knows-what gets lost. The longish middle flight and fight scenes work through the numbers. Monk's fight with the diminutive Butch is fun. The best parts of the book involve sympathetic victim Sam Joseph and his ongoing mistreatment and manipulation at the hand of the Talking Devil.
Long exposition in Chapter 6 would be better handled by narration:
“This is our situation: Six months ago we borrowed a mess of money from a New York outfit owned by a man named Montague Ogden. But Ogden himself didn't handle the deal. It was handled by Sam Joseph, who was Ogden's office manager, and seemed to run everything for Ogden.”...
Doc Savage made the scalp incision, laid back the scalp, then used a special electrical bone knife of his own invention, a device which would cut without shock, having the property of rendering bone and nerve more insensible to shock in the area near the cutting head.
“You mean to tell me,” she said, “that you built a radio set small enough to inclose in the bandages on Ham's head?”...
Doc said, “Not a radio set. Just a transmitter. A little oscillator powered with concentrated flashlight batteries which puts out a simple wave that can be traced with a direction finder.”
Doc Savage listened to them patiently. Patience was one of Doc Savage's accomplishments, being one of the things that had been hammered into him as a part of the strange training which he had received in his youth-when, at diaper age, he had been placed in the hands of scientists to be subjected, over a course of almost twenty years, to an intensive program which was intended to fit him for one specific and rather strange career. Unlike many persons given an arbitrary training before they were old enough to know what it was all about, or speak for themselves, he had elected to follow the career for which he had been trained. It was an unusual career. It consisted, literally, of making other people's business his own. Or at least their troubles.
As was always the case when Doc Savage was operating, the amphitheater was crowded. There were very few students among the witnesses, the majority being brain surgeons of established name and reputation, some of them men who had hurriedly caught airplanes and flown halfway across the continent in order to watch a master at work.
“I had hoped,” Doc continued, “to keep the College in operation, and perhaps in the future evolve some way of quietly bringing the method of treating criminals to the attention of the public. Present it in a favorable light, so that it would be seen as the only sure cure for criminal minds. Then, with that accomplished, if we could present a sound groundwork of many cases of criminals cured and made into upright citizens by our treatment, we could get our method accepted. It would mean the elimination of the most troublesome type of criminal of all, the confirmed criminal.
“But,” Doc concluded, “if our plans are wrecked now it can well take another century or more for such a thing to be developed and accepted by the public. That is the really grim thing about this. You and I believe in this thing, and we know how it works, and what a benefit it will be to mankind. We know how tragic losing it would be.”
“Why don't doctors use words you can understand?” Monk wanted to know.
“For the same reason that chemists do not use small ones,” Doc told him.
Doc said, “Monk, go with him.”
“Me?” Monk was surprised.
“Yes, you,” Doc said.
Monk stopped, and turned and followed Montague Ogden. Monk had remembered that when you argued with Doc you usually found yourself exceedingly in the wrong.
Monk's homeliness had amazed and amused many people, but he was not ashamed of it. There was a pleasantness about his homeliness and a fascination.
Monk had picked up a club, a small oak fence post, a most impressive shillalah. “An Irishman's toothpick,” Monk explained, waving the post.
Monk's greatest pride was what he could do in a hand-to-hand fight. He liked to brawl, knock-down-drag-out, anything goes, bite-an-ear, gouge-an-eye. He had never confessed to anyone, but he took regular lessons in rough and tumble, in jujitsu, and had even hired an osteopath doctor to teach him how to twist bones so as to hurt the most. He thought he was very good.
“Get out of here!” Ham yelled. “I know these two shysters, Flack and Morrow. They're crooks of the first water. The only thing different about them is that they are big thieves!”
“We'll sue you for slander!” bellowed a lawyer.
“Who ever heard of one lawyer calling another lawyer a crook being slander?” Ham snarled.
Undertakers invariably looked at him with hope.
Long Tom had gotten the complexion by spending some time in his laboratory, judging by the looks of the place. It was in a basement, in a neighborhood which was so tough that the cops walked in pairs in the middle of the street.
Long Tom remarked, “There is an old Chinese proverb that says: 'Snake is small because he suck egg; fox is big because he wait and catch grown bird.'“
“What kind of an answer is that?” Rotary snarled.
THE impressive Ogden building was new, just barely prewar, and the lobby was all black and gold and apparently designed by an architect who had fallen on his head when small. But it was utterly expensive. The elevators were gold and black and also utterly expensive, and the elevator operators were girls with shapes that also looked expensive.
Question two: What does Doc Savage do with the men he seizes, the men he says are criminals. (He alone says they are criminals; isn't it the right of our courts to judge those things?) What happens to these men? They disappear. Their old friends never see them again.
Duster Jones had the golden touch of Midas, but his hands were greased.
Rotary showed him the six-gun and said, “When I shoot a rabbit with this thing, all they generally find is one ear.”
(Early in his career, Doc Savage recognized the need of some permanently effective, but at the same time humane, method of treatment for criminals which he captured. The numbers of these criminals as time went on would be considerable. So, out of his skill as a brain surgeon, and his understanding of human psychology, Doc evolved a method of permanently curing criminals of crime. He established an institution in a remote section of upstate New York, the mountainous area which is surprisingly one of the most deserted sections of the United States. Here he installed brain specialists which he had trained. When he sends a criminal to the “College,” the routine does not vary greatly. First the “student” undergoes a brain operation which Doc perfected, and which wipes out all memory of past. The criminal, having lost all vicious effects of environment, is then trained to make a useful and comfortable living at some worthy occupation. The results of Doc's experiment have been remarkable. It was his dream, and still is, to have such a method of criminal treatment widely accepted and practiced, for he feels it is one of the few sure cures for habitual criminality. However, the treatment is far too drastic for public acceptance. It is a hundred or two hundred years ahead of its time, probably, like other things which the bronze man uses regularly.)
“If the public gets one single inkling of the kind of an institution we maintain up there, there will be a terrific uproar.”
Renny nodded. “We'll be lucky if they only hang us.”
The plot with former Crime College grads manipulated as pawns in financial schemes is a contrivance that would have worked better if the story was focused on that in a post-uber espionage thriller. Doc's Crime College on the edge of exposure is the book's major dramatic imperative but it's not given a full run on the page. The Talking Devil should have focused on one or the other. It has one plot too many. As is, average storytelling paid the bills in May, 1943, and it ends with the various smells of missed opportunities.
124 - The Running Skeletons:
"Doc Savage and his crew are suddenly guinea pigs in an experiment of terror — and a fiendish gang of gun slinging skeletons are out to skin them alive."
“Yah, you little shrimp! Yah, yah, yah, it's important! Now get a civil tongue
in your head
and put Doc Savage on the wire.”
The Running Skeletons is a generally impressive work with a great science-horror gimmick walking a tightrope of mundanely real and visually nauseating, functioning as a perfect guide to how it should be handled in a motion picture. Two months earlier Lester Dent toyed with farce in The King Of Terror, and here he dabbles intermittently in subdued madcap that doesn't work all that well with the more serious and better handled scenes that surround it. All the assistants fighting each other (and talking garbage throughout) on the 86th floor, and Doc marching out of his lab to see adult children acting like idiots, is a lesser scene in this June, 1943 adventure.
The Running Skeletons also contains the worst mastermind reveal of the entire series, turning a great story into a pile of crap in a few sentences. The Sanctum reprint says Dent changed his mind at some time to make Tom Lewis the main bad guy instead of Walt Buxton, who has the money, resources, and reasons to create the living skeleton technology. This isn't the only time Dent invalidated his own work by surprise-naming someone who's spent the entire book being anything but bad, and you might wonder if Dent or anyone at Street & Smith cared personally or professionally. It was a nice change of pace to have the mastermind not be someone we've already met, but the horror of not having a Scooby-Doo unmasking must have been too much for Dent so he pulled down his pants and took a figurative dump on his typewriter.
Doc's higher end regular human but nobody in the group is above being quickly taken hostage. The fight in Chapter 6 in a smoke-filled house is excellent. Dent does a good job with small details and describing things, especially the living skeletons:
He did not let the dog out.
The dog was a skeleton, and the skeleton was alive. The skeleton moved, growled, whimpered, snarled, made all the usual dog noises...
By such light, the dog was not wholly a skeleton in aspect, but a dog that had a dog's skeleton and a dog's body; but the body was a tough, leathery substance—as genuine to the touch as a real dog—that was as translucent as a clear, gelid substance, but not as transparent as glass or plastic of the Lucite type.
It was not an invisible dog except for the skeleton. Only in poor light did it appear to be so. But anyone opening the case and seeing the dog in the half light of the case interior might readily get the idea that the dog was nothing but a living skeleton.
Two of them had bandaged their heads to hide the horror of the semitransparent, translucent flesh which actually let the bone structure show through. In the half light of the basement there seemed to be no flesh, only a cloudy substance around the bonework.
The degree of translucence which affected each man was not the same. Two of them were much less frightening than the others, one of these almost approaching normal. But whatever had happened to them it had happened to all six.
“The head guy here,” Monk explained, “thinks he is right on the verge of inventing something to enable soldiers to do without food. He tried it out on the dog. It makes the flesh get pale, and then lose all color, and then become kind of translucent, like plastic or jelly or whatever you want to call it. That's what ailed the dog.”
“There is no sense in going into an elaborate, scientific explanation of what happens to your bodies when you get this treatment. It is a system for the prevention of fatigue, which is chemically the formation of lactic acid. The preventing is done by introducing into your muscular tissue a substitute for glycogen, a carbohydrate which affects the restoration of activity to fatigued muscles, and also producing a static status of tissue which is unsympathetic to the formation of any fatigue toxic.”
MONK and Ham had taken the telephone call in the reception room, which was equipped with a large safe, comfortable chairs, a remarkable inlaid desk, and not much else that met the eye outwardly, although there were quite a few gadgets in concealed spots.
The chemical mixture was one that was in the experimental stage. If it functioned as it should it would arouse a desire for self-preservation in the animal, an emotion akin to fear, and yet not fear. The chemical had grown out of earlier experiments aimed at developing a substance which would keep dogs and animals away from expensive shrubbery.
THEY used a large sedan which would carry all of them and which had more complete equipment. It was one of several cars and trucks which Doc Savage and his associates had maintained for some time, keeping the vehicles in a private basement garage in the building which housed headquarters. The collection of cars, which had been extensive, was now considerably abbreviated—they had only two cars left in fact—because the other machines had been removed to defense plants, where their design could be studied and good features, or features suitable to military operations, adapted to war production.
DOC SAVAGE watched them roll away in the car, then in great haste packed the sensitive directional microphone and the amplifier with which he had been eavesdropping. The gadget was more sensitive than the human ear, and insects and birds had aggravated him, but he had heard most of the conversation held in the car. In addition he was an excellent lip reader, and he had missed very little.
DOC SAVAGE looked into the dog case for only an instant.
He closed it quickly.
His face, ordinarily expressionless, was strange. The emotion on it was stark, incredulous, with a little of revulsion and much of horror.
“I wouldn't waste time vamping you,” Willie told Long Tom disagreeably. “You've been a sour pickle right from the beginning. What do you get out of life, anyway?”
“I get freedom from the worries women cause you,” Long Tom told her. “Come on. Let's see what goes on.”
Duty of the porter was to put bags aboard, generally “butter up” the passengers so they felt good toward the railroad and shelled out fancy tips, and kid along with the soldiers who were crowding the trains these days, as well as occasionally rescue a girl passenger from a sailor.
No movie director staging a comedy exit of a scared man out of a graveyard ever got more action. If Smith's feet touched the car floor at all they didn't remain there long enough to be visible.
He reached the car door and left the train with a blind, flying leap.
The train was traveling fairly fast now, and Smith hit the roadbed hard and broke a leg and was knocked senseless.
“Sis,” he said softly, “I shot a woman one time, believe it or not, right through the pretty mush. It made a hell of a mess out of what had once been a nice baby-blond face, and it kept me awake for a while. But it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would, so I might do it again with the right provocation.”
She was a theatrically spectacular girl who was not gaudy, an unusual combination. She was something that might have stepped off a magazine cover, preferably, the cover of a men's magazine which doted on interesting figures. Blond, with tawny eyes and humorous lips, and a face that had more character than doll beauty; a face that lent itself well to laughter, you could tell. And her clothes hadn't been bought on any stenographer's twenty-five a week.
[Are all men horny idiots?] They parked the caretaker in the hospital, leaving him somewhat revived already by looking at the attractive nurses who were to take care of him.
[Example of madcap quality] Willie watched the big-fisted engineer narrowly until she seemed satisfied that he was good enough a driver to warrant the speed he was making. Then she gave attention to Johnny and Long Tom. Long Tom's puny physique seemed to amaze her, and, being a young woman without inhibitions, she reached over and pinched to see if he had any biceps muscle.
“Kind of squirrelly,” she said.
“Look, gorgeous,” Long Tom said irritably. “You tinker with me and I'll backfire on you. Keep out of my way or you'll get run over.”
“You must be the one who doesn't like women,” Willie said.
[Rare use of named one-off character with barely a credit] They entered headquarters, found a pleasantly efficient young man waiting there.
“Hello, Frank,” Renny greeted him.
The young man was Frank Burroughs, who had no connection with their organization except that he often furnished them with quick information. Frank Burroughs had what was by way of being one of the most efficient detective agencies in the country.
Willie eyed Ham suspiciously to see if there was a double meaning to that. “Well, double meaning or not, you're wrong,” she said. “What's the matter with him? I'm not exactly a Frankenstein product. But you'd think I was just something that had splashed on the wall.”
The exact story of what had happened when Long Tom Roberts visited the local depot came out. It was probably as truthful a story as had ever been told in Boone Shot, where lying was a practiced art and one of the main forms of amusement.
The Running Skeletons screams to have the ending reveal corrected so Tom Lewis, who jumped off a moving train and broke his leg to escape the men trying to kill him, isn't the mastermind who's doing this to himself because he has multiple personalities who hate each other (or something). I'd also remove the stabs at madcap comedy because it makes the assistants come off as an incompetent team of childish individuals. It's mostly a strong work, but that ending...
125 - Mystery On Happy Bones:
"Happy Bones — sinister island in the Caribbean that harbors a secret wealth vital to the success of World War II. The Man of Bronze exposes the Germans and undergoes one of the most shattering confrontations of the war. And Doc encounters the beautiful and savage Hannah, the last descendant of a lusty line of pirate marauders."
“Do not overlook the parrot,” Doc said.
The parrot is overlooked in July, 1943's wartime adventure Mystery On Happy Bones, a title that makes no sense when you say or read it. Doc's transitioning from globetrotting trouble-buster to wartime spy asset, and along with the imperative of existential seriousness Doc is humanized to someone who puts out fires instead of winning the war on his own. Whatever you might think about Doc Savage becoming a lesser hero, it gets worse in later titles. Doc's introspection is more superego confession than outright fear of failure, so the story has that going for it. He's a notch or two above Doc Savage - Above Average Man Of Realistic Expectations:
The strength of the man, however, came from the things he did and said—or the way he did and said things, rather than from his unusual size and appearance. There was corded strength in his movements, and a quality of controlled power in his voice. He had these things to a great degree, and in that respect he did resemble men who have a great reputation, since greatness is probably more personality and character than any superhuman physical strength or wizardlike collection of knowledge.
Doc Savage arrived afoot and stood for some time, silent in the darkness, using his eyes and ears and nostrils. These senses had been remarkably developed by the unusual scientific training to which he had been submitted for years. They were overdeveloped, in fact, until they were animallike; and this always made Doc a little sensitive about showing that he possessed such abilities. When he was a kid, he had not thought much about them, except to be proud of them and appreciate their value. But now he was more mature, and sometimes uncomfortable. Sometimes he felt a little like an animal.
The totally unexpected always had a strange effect on Doc Savage. He hoped that was because he planned so carefully, because he tried to foresee everything and overlook nothing, and long practice and grueling attention to the business of being safe at all times had made him rather expert at seeing trouble ahead.
The unexpected always jarred him, made him wonder if some mental ability had slipped down a notch, made him wonder if he was over a peak and becoming less efficient. He preferred to call the feeling wonder, but some of it might be plain, unadulterated fear.
Doc got into the parachute straps, hanging to a cabin seat. It was a good feeling to snap the last buckle, the chest buckle. It was like finding a nightmare was just a nightmare.
He had made many 'chute jumps, and none of them had ever been a casual matter. The nervous perspiration on his forehead felt cold in the rushing air...
Cold sweat came out on Doc again. If he had dropped, and it certainly looked safe enough to drop, he would have hit solid stone a hundred feet down.
The blast also accelerated the retreat considerably. Doc had the disgusted suspicion that it accomplished nothing more.
He had three gas grenades. The anaesthetic gas. These were small glasslike globules, and he threw them. They did not make an explosion when they burst.
He started working his way around to the front of the house, to do whatever he could do.
There was shrubbery, big and thick and made of thorns. He got into the stuff, then backed out again, thwarted and scratched. He tried another route...
DOC SAVAGE said nothing, uncomfortably. It was his private opinion that they had done well to survive the affair. Hannah seemed to think differently.
[Walking back Doc knowing more about his assistant's areas of expertise than they do] The lava formation, Doc noted, was unusual. He was something of a geologist expert. His knowledge of the field probably was not as specialized as that of the gaunt, big-worded Johnny Littlejohn, but it was fully as broad.
Doc Savage said nothing. He was breathing heavily. As a matter of fact, he was winded, and very discouraged.
The mystery parrot Doc has everyone looking into ends up being a neat plot point, but as the bird itself is not a clue about anything it's a McGuffin of a odd avenue of inquiry. The idea that Nazis would remove a submarine load of native prisoners from Happy Bones instead of killing them is a laughable gesture of diplomacy, along with them letting Hannah keep $50,000 in gold in exchange for her knowledge of Doc's plans. The story opens with two requests to accept what you see at (literally) face value when Hannah dresses as a man and Monk disguises himself and fools Hannah that he isn't the person she just met. The allied traitor could have just as easily been Major Lowell. Dent chose the only other possible choice.
All-in-all Mystery On Happy Bones rates above the middle on the list of best Doc Savage titles. A diminished Doc Savage is never a great thing but not everyone is against a more realistic rendering him as a "real" person. Dent opens the door to Doc's thought process and it's not all bad, and it does get worse in the future so enjoy it now. Ham and Monk are more clever than hateful to each other, always a plus but when these pleasant deviations pop up Dent loses the thread as he goes along and they fall back more to form. Here's some good:
“Was she pretty?” Ham asked.
“How would I know?” Monk muttered.
“Of course she was pretty,” Ham decided. “She had to be, to get close enough to pop you over the head.”
“Army intelligence operative, eh?” Monk said, sounding pleased. “You know, I had the feeling that girl was all right all along.”
“All you had,” Ham said unkindly, “was your usual feelings when you see a pretty girl.”
Hannah, she of pirate heritage and de facto ruler of pirate-esque Geography Cay, is a great character and more than a handful for Doc:
“Because,” she said, “it worries me. It gets me to wondering if I'm normal like other people. I haven't had a normal upbringing, and I know that makes me a funny kind of goat. But I don't like to think I'm crazy, or something.”
Doc's face was expressionless, to hide a grin. He rather liked the girl, which was a little surprising, because usually he was scared of them for one reason or another.
Hannah stopped trying to get the gun then. She locked both hands in Doc's hair and gave his head a pull and a twist. She knew muscles and nerve co-ordination. He felt as if he had been beheaded for a moment.
He reached to free her hands from his hair. She got one of his fingers, and did things to it. Never in his life had he felt quite as much pain from one spot as she made come from the finger. He got her loose from the finger.
Hannah then put on what Doc Savage considered a remarkable performance.
The second man made a confident swing, intending to club her over the head. His blow missed. It was a little weird, the way Hannah avoided the swing. She doubled over and came around with one foot out, and hooked the man's legs from under him.
She ran across the kicking and yelling man as if she was walking an animated log. It must have been unpleasant for the fellow, because she wore high heels.
She got hold of the other man, the one who had felled Johnny. She gave him a knee. She took his arm and turned her back to him and did a jujitsu throw. The man went over her head, hit the floor, seemed to bounce a foot.
Hannah kicked each fallen man in the temple in a way which showed she had made men unconscious before.
“Where are the rest of them?” she asked Doc.
She sounded as if she was just getting warmed up.
[Yikes] Doc Savage decided to look on. He was glad Johnny had taken the initiative. In any dealings with Hannah, where force was involved, he preferred to be a bystander. It was against his conscientious scruples to pick up the handiest object and knock a woman senseless, which was the only feasible way of dealing with Hannah.
“Put your arms,” Doc told Hannah, “around my neck.”
She examined him with interest.
“I'll admit I have given such an idea previous thought,” she said. “But do you think this is the time and place for it?”
Doc colored uncomfortably.
“Hang on, I mean,” he said. “Cling to my back. I'll show you how.”
“Then,” said Hannah, “this isn't romance?”
“Get on my back,” Doc said impatiently.
Johnny winced. He fell back on his big words and said, “A tramontanely amphigouristic misventure.”
Hannah stared at him, and finally laughed. There was no anger, no dislike in her laughter by the time it ended.
“Maybe you'll do better when you get warmed up,” she said.
Chapter 9 is a great scene and worth reading on its own merits. It takes place in an enemy plane where Doc has stowed away and he's discovered and outnumbered. Dent does a nice job detailing the immediate tension of the situation and while Doc's inner workings are a bit of a distraction the execution of action is brilliant and breathtaking.
In this tale Monk & Ham are introduced in a 5th floor office screening all visitors and packages: "This,” explained Monk patiently, “is a way-station on the route to Doc Savage. Things go through us to get to Doc. We're the quarantine and inspection station."
THE desk was a dark wood affair of more than normal size with a black, composition top.
The trick to the desk was the composition top, made of the same kind of stuff from which is fashioned the film-holders which surgeons use in their X-ray machines. The material was transparent to X rays.
Under the desk, in the knee-hole, so that it could be observed only from the back, where Monk and Ham sat, there was a fluoroscope for viewing the object to be X-rayed, the type of fluoroscope used by X-ray workers in the days before they discovered that a photographic film was a much better way to do it. An arrangement of mirrors permitted a good view of the fluoroscope without the observers doing anything suspicious while observing.
The X-ray projector was located in the ceiling, and camouflaged so that it was not noticeable.
When the package was on the desk, Monk turned on the X ray by tramping on a control button hidden under the carpet.
They took a good look at the X-rayed contents of the package.
[Lester Dent takes a bow] Like any mystery, it was simple when understood. Doc Savage had used the method of recording conversation on wire for a long time. It was more efficient than using wax records for recording, particularly when recordings over long periods of time were necessary.
(Magnetic recording on steel wire has been practical for a long time, but only recently have commercial models of such a device been prepared. This is probably the future form of voice recording and will displace wax dictaphone and wax phonograph methods. For steel wire cannot be shattered, and it can be used over and over again when previous messages are “erased” by demagnetizing. This device incidentally, is one of the scientific gadgets introduced and used by Doc Savage long before such apparatus was marketed or even patented.)
From a pocket, he took a small metal object, somewhat the shape of a watch, but thicker, and not much larger. The thing had a stemlike knob. Doc adjusted the stem for a while.
When he had the gadget adjusted satisfactorily, he placed it on top of the cabin, on a skylight...
The little gas grenade which Doc Savage had put on the skylight before he made his presence known finally got around to exploding.
THE blast was loud. The grenade was one of a new type, its function being to scatter an anaesthetic gas suddenly over a considerable area. Such abrupt dispersion required considerable explosive force.
The business of beaming radio signals in any direction from a plane was another one of Doc's experimental projects. The directional transmission of radio signals was certainly not new, but effective directional transmission from a plane was something else. The device on which Doc was working, once he got it stabilized, would shoot a thin, pencillike beam in one direction only, greatly facilitating the matter of war planes conversing without the enemy overhearing.
Surprise held them all stiff while Doc got to his feet. Then Doc made a mistake.
Doc Savage sank down and got hold of the carpet, a firm hold, and pulled. It was an old trick. It was not even a very good one, because the carpet was tacked down.
But he pulled and pulled hard, and the tacks came out. There were newspapers for padding under the carpet. The carpet slid on these. Men started losing their balance.
After he had yanked the carpet about a yard, Doc ran with it, throwing it up high, getting it over as many of the men as he could, the way one would throw a blanket over an object.
It was not entirely successful, but it helped. Furniture clattered around, and something of glass that had been on a stand table broke noisily, popping.
Doc got on top of the carpet and jumped on men and kicked men for a while, on his way to the door.
A LOT depended on them getting the idea of gun flash and the gas fumes. They had to get the idea quickly. Doc hoped they would, thought it reasonable, because fresh in their minds would be the matter of the flash of the rifle of the attendant at the gas dump, on the island, lighting the fuel oil leaking from the fuel drums.
Johnny said not a word during the ride. When he spoke, he liked to use big words, enormous words of which almost no one knew the meaning. The words were his bad habit. He used them the way some men become addicted to tobacco or liquor. He never used his big words on Doc, however, because for some reason or other it made him feel like a kid showing off, although he never had the sensation with anyone else. So now he was silent.
“I have an idea.”
“What is it?” Renny demanded. “And look here, use big words. You only use little words on us fellows when you are plenty worried. Little words from you make me uneasy.”
He heard Johnny say, “An anthropological Brobdingnagian.”
“Would you ring that bell again,” said Stony Smith.
“I just remarked,” said Johnny, “that Doc is a physical marvel.”
MONK MAYFAIR had been knocked senseless a number of times as the natural result of his rather hectic career as a Doc Savage associate, and it was a peculiarity of his intervals of enforced unconsciousness that he always dreamed about a green waterfall. It was always the same waterfall, and it was invariably the same identical waterfall, always the same shade of green, a very dark shade—darker, even, than grass. For a number of years, it had been the same waterfall, and it was peculiar because one of the things that interested Monk least in his conscious moments was waterfalls. It was beginning to bother Monk.
Monk became belligerent and tried threatening Ham. “You keep your blat shut!” Monk yelled. “Or I'll hit you over the head so hard you'll be using your shoe eyelets for portholes.”
Lying here, a remark had popped into his thoughts, one that Monk had once made after a fight in which he took a shellacking.
Monk liked to fight. He was good. Usually he did well, but this time they had taken him apart. When Ham and the others had finally gotten Monk out of the mess, Monk lay on his back and scowled at them and said, “Just like rainbows, you guys—never around until the storm is over!”
The messenger walked into the most substantial skyscraper in midtown Manhattan, and said, “I have a package for Clark Savage, Junior.”
“You mean Doc Savage,” said the elevator starter.
“It says Clark Savage, Junior, on the tag. That's all I know about it.”
“I'll take it,” said the elevator starter.
“Is your name Clark Savage, Junior?”
“Of course not,” said the starter. “Say, you're pretty dumb, aren't you?”
“Not,” said the messenger, “dumb enough to hand this over to you when I got orders to have Clark Savage personally sign for it.”
“Clark Savage is Doc Savage. Clark is his name. Say, kid, haven't you ever heard of Doc Savage?”
“Say, you are really dumb, aren't you?”
“What is this?” asked the messenger. “A nest of half-wits?”
“A nest of precaution-takers,” Monk said.
“We want to die of old age,” Ham Brooks said.
“We want Doc to die of old age,” Monk corrected. “You see, Neddie Wooster, Doc Savage is an unusual fellow and everybody on this earth is not his friend. In fact, there are people who shake and turn white all over at the idea of Doc. Now and then some such try to get rid of Doc, so they can live a more peaceful, and more crooked, life. Get it?”
She had a deep voice for a girl, not a freakish voice, but nevertheless a deep one. She had spoken in a whisper, of course, to hide the fact that she wasn't a man. It was almost impossible to tell a woman's whisper from a man's whisper under such circumstances.
All of the men, except for Major Lowell, had two things in common. They were all older men, men too old for the draft. They had a shifty, vicious air that crooks get after they have been crooks for a long time, not a definite stamp that would instantly identify them, but a quality that was very noticeable when a number of the same ilk were in a group...
Major Lowell was a different type, a fine, upstanding man with graying hair and the leathery face of a military man who had seen service in the tropics. He had a jaw that looked as if it was accustomed to pushing things out of the way.
Doc had one explosive grenade, without gas, in his pockets. He short-fused it with the adjusting knob, and gave it an Andy-over heave over the house.
Stony Smith, king of Happy Bones. I sell sea shells. My motto: 'Smith Sells Sea Shells.'“...
“This hen-hussy,” he said, “is probably at the bottom of whatever rascality is afoot.”
They piled out of the two beached seaplanes, yelling the way men like to yell when they are going into danger in a group.
The only thing pleasant and sustaining in the situation was the remarkable confidence she had acquired in Doc Savage. In the beginning, she had been skeptical about the bronze man. She had heard of him. He was a legend in the far corners of the earth. And privately, she had considered him too good to be true. She had expected him to be a flop.
[A rare action sequence with a direct martial arts reference] The second man evidently had a Japanese background of jujitsu. He drew back with an ostentatious show of sending a roundhouse fist at Doc's jaw; instead of doing that, he jumped with both feet and kicked. It was very modern judo. It had disabled many a man.
Doc twisted to the side. The man's feet missed his stomach. As they went past, Doc grabbed both the legs. He plunged forward with them, twisting the man's body over.
Theoretically, when you completed the judo kick, your body naturally came to the floor, and you landed on your hands. But the twisting put the man's back toward the floor, and he hit on the back of his head.
The sailor did not move, except to kick his legs a little.
The submarine commander, down below, did not waste any more time.
“Is such a mess really necessary?” he asked. “Why couldn't we discuss a surrender.”
He did not sound frightened, just weary and defeated.
[One of the better quick-out novel endings] Hannah had something on her mind. “This thing is all done, except for the navy picking up the prisoners and submarine,” she said. “Why don't you fellows come over to my island, Geography Cay, for a visit and a rest.”
Monk looked at her again. But she was not watching him; her eyes were on Doc Savage.
It looked like somebody had better rescue Doc from this daughter of the pirates.
And I'm the guy,
Monk thought, who would like to do that rescuing.
Mystery On Happy Bones starts as standard trouble-comes-looking-for-Doc-at-his-headquarters and ends with a quick resolution to a Nazi submarine heist involving the miracle metal tungsten, mixed with steel to create machine tools, armor plate, armor-piercing projectiles, and etc. and in real demand by Germany at the time. It's good for what it is and noteworthy mostly for the great female foil Hannah, who scared and made Doc feel uncomfortable in that special way.