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Page Six Of Seven
126 - The Mental Monster 127 - Hell Below 128 - The Goblins 129 - The Secret Of The Su 130 - The Spook Of Grandpa Eben 131 - According To Plan Of A One-Eyed Mystic 132 - Death Had Yellow Eyes 133 - The Derelict Of Skull Shoal 134 - The Whisker Of Hercules 135 - The Three Devils 136 - The Pharaoh's Ghost 137 - The Man Who Was Scared 138 - The Shape Of Terror 139 - Weird Valley 140 - Jiu San 141 - Satan Black 142 - The Lost Giant 143 - The Hate Genius (Violent Night) 144 - Strange Fish 145 - The Ten Ton Snakes 146 - Cargo Unknown 147 - Rock Sinister 148 - The Terrible Stork 149 - King Joe Cay 150 - The Wee Ones
!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.
126 - The Mental Monster:
"A ruthless master criminal with the horrifying power to read men’s minds becomes Doc’s greatest challenge — and he’ll need every ounce of his muscle and brain power to fight … and survive!"
“Keep your guns on this guy. He's Doc Savage. He's not dead.”
“There is no such thing as a thing,” Doc said.
The Mental Monster contains some of the best Doc Savage writing, and to an extent it's one of the best written Doc Savage novels. It's not a large adventure and the ending is basic, so it's not going to rank as classic, but with a few easy fixes, August, 1943's contribution might be the best first book you'd lend to a friend who knows nothing about Doc Savage or pulp fiction, the latter a literary fetish with its own rules and standards.
Doc's mostly Peak Human with full conversational skills and a firm yet realistic control over his composure. He berates himself once but doesn't mentally spiral down as in other post-uber stories:
He realized, suddenly, that he hadn't gotten a knife out of the kitchen. It was a piece of complete stupidity, it seemed to him, that he had overlooked getting a kitchen knife. There had been butcher knives and paring knives and bread knives in the kitchen.
I like how in this telling Doc comes across unintentionally as a psychopath:
“You promised to let me go!” he bellowed.
“No such promise was made,” Doc assured him. “You were told you would be kept alive, and that was all. Well, you are going to be kept alive.”
The blue-eyed man went to sleep.
Doc Savage entered Manhattan Island over George Washington Bridge, turned south, and paused briefly at a hospital, where he left the blue-eyed man. The fellow was not committed to the hospital as a patient, however.
“This one,” Doc told the hospital attendant, “is to be called for.”
The attendant nodded.
“We are going to blindfold you,” he told Carole Evans.
“That's what you think!” she said indignantly. “Over my dead body you will!”
“Not over your dead body, just over your body,” Doc told her. “Get the chloroform, Johnny.”
The young woman, alarmed, capitulated. “All right,” she said. “It's a great way you've got of making friends.”
They blindfolded her.
“Want to walk down the street with me?” Doc asked.
“Because you are being invited.”...
“You are, aren't you?”
“Yes,” Doc said. “Are you going to walk down the street with me willingly, or are you just going?”
She continued to examine him, and in a moment added, “You know, I'm not very flattered. You seem to want to get rid of me. That wouldn't flatter any woman.”
“Oh, we would not get rid of you,” Doc told her. “We would just lock you up somewhere.”
She blinked. “You don't trust me?”
“We are not sure.”
The casually contemplative Doc Savage makes for good reading:
Doc Savage studied the bird for a while. Then he sat back and considered.
There was no point, actually, from which to start thinking. The bird was just a sparrow, and it had been dyed white, and the sight of it had scared the blood out of Bill Keeley's face. It had, in fact, scared Bill Keeley into taking flight.
Those were, briefly, the facts. And there was no sense to it, and nowhere to start thinking. To form a theory, you had to have a sensible fact or two, and there was nothing sensible about this.
Doc Savage surveyed the restaurant thoughtfully.
The bird, it was obvious, had come from somewhere in the restaurant. Someone had released it. Who? There was no way of telling.
Doc is good with deductive reasoning this month:
“Wes Begole handled the business of the birds too dramatically,” Doc said. “And did you watch him handle the powder, the germ-concentrate? He knew what it was. He tried to act casually when he poured it out on the paper, but he was very careful. And before he poured it out, he went over and closed the door. That was to keep the wind from blowing into the shed and stirring up the powder so that he might become a victim of it himself. And then, when I pulled the hocus-pocus about the letters hidden behind the shed rafters, he was too sure there were no letters there.”
Listing other things The Mental Monster gets right - the white birds that freak people out gets a worthy reveal, along with the mind-reading machine that doesn't get much play (for better or worse but it's not a factor). Monk, Ham, Long Tom, and Johnny are given more realistic speaking abilities (Johnny reverts into Johnny-speak but more on that below). The story reads exceedingly well as a script and the plot is intricate enough where I forgot who is who and what is what faster than usual (I'm not that bright). M&H's cigar store fight in Chapter 9 is a series classic, along with the visual of Doc doing sleight of hand to plant various devices into the pockets of the men assigned to remove said devices from Doc's clothing. Someone named "Ed." shows up ten times to give background, and the device works because it gets to the point and it's also Lester Dent writing directly to you, Dear Reader.
In no particular order, these should be corrected to make the story what it should be - The "metallic and somewhat unnatural voice" behind the curtain is a Chapter 1 contrivance that's silly and remarkably out of place with the rest of the story. Blue-Eye is forced to make a humming sound that sounds as catchy as "Yankee Doodle" in front of the Voice. Why? Who knows? Both don't need to exist.
To convince a bad guy to talk, Doc goes out of sight and pretends to argue with and kill three other bad guys. It must look like Foley artists working on old time radio. Very silly:
After which he heaved the stump into the river. It made an impressive splash. Doc added a gurgle or two for realism. Doc then did almost exactly the same thing twice more. He varied the conversation and the voices. He added a realistic scream or two. And, while pretending to throw in the last victim, he said angrily, “If you fellows did talk, you would not know enough to make it worth while.”
At the end, to serve the god Expedience, Monk provides full exposition on the mind reading machine. How does he know everything? “The head guy likes to brag.” This can be handled better. Johnny says he'll be "Superamalgamated" six times. Six!
A small point, but in the quick yet not unrealistic finish Doc goes around tossing "poison" at bad guys and they scatter like mad. Knowing the unstoppable airborne death of the toxin they should know Doc would be in essence killing himself, and maybe one of them would realize it might not be poison he's throwing. Soon enough Doc says he has an antidote, but it would work better if he comes into the room, declares he's made an antidote and has taken it, and then tosses the "poison" after the bad guys refuse to surrender.
DOC SAVAGE peered intently through the tiny portable telescope which was a part of the assortment of gadgets which he always carried around with him, and made a resolution. He resolved to re-design the telescope so that the thing would have more power. Increasing the magnification and field would add a little bulk, but it would probably be worth it. If it had more magnification now, he could be certain what the man on the porch was saying.
[Who's Ed?] (The principle of picking up a telephone conversation merely by placing a sensitive antennae in the electrical field which surrounds any wire carrying a current is not a new one. Radio amateurs who have experimented with old-fashioned homemade regenerative receivers have doubtless at one time cobbled up their circuit until it would pick up telephone-line conversation and nothing else.—Ed.)
“Several fellows got me in a tight spot,” Doc explained. “You remember the escape set-up we arranged almost a year ago, the manholes and gratings around the building with connecting passages? You dive into any one of the openings, go through a steel door, close the door, and turn a valve that releases and ignites inflammable gas?”
“Oh, sure, I remember,” Johnny said. “It was Monk's idea and he superintended the work.”
“Well, I made use of the arrangement to get away from the men, and to lead them to think I had been killed, in order to give me a chance to follow them.”
The fact that the gas became impotent after mixing with ordinary air for sixty seconds or so was not miraculous—the oxygen in the air simply oxidized and rendered useless the main ingredient in the trick gas. The short life of the stuff was something that Doc Savage, despite plenty of experimenting, had not been able to overcome. So the gas was useful for his trick purposes, and not of much other value.
[Walkie-Talkies?] The thing was a wired-wireless transceiver. It worked like an office intercommunicator—you talked and listened over the same speaker—but the hook-up put the conversation on the telephone wire in a high-frequency carrier wave. It was, in fact, a standard wired-wireless outfit in most respects.
(The method of voice transmission commonly known as “wired-wireless" is not new, and possibly it is as old as radio. Certainly it is more than twenty years old even in its well-developed form. A number of efforts have been made to apply the thing commercially, none with any shining success.—Ed.)
“They said,” Doc suggested, “that you were more valuable to the war effort doing what you were doing?”
“That's right. I don't agree. Say, how can I get around those brass hats and get where there's some fighting?”
Doc Savage looked rather strange for a moment.
“If you find a way,” he said, “let me know.”
[Great line] “You have had a few adventures in your life,” Doc Savage suggested.
“I've made a few mistakes,” Bill Keeley admitted. “That's what adventures are, aren't they? Mistakes?”
“That has always been my definition,” Doc agreed.
Doc Savage stood up. He spoke loudly, addressing the head waiter.
“Did you ever hear how easy it is to bring out latent fingerprints on the feathers of a bird such as this?” he asked. “Will you bring me a cloth to wrap around the glass jar, so that I can carry the sparrow without attracting too much attention?”
The statement about attracting attention was almost ridiculous. He had spoken so loudly that everyone in the restaurant had heard. There was, however, a quality of subdued power in the bronze man's voice that made his tone seem natural. He did not seem to have raised his voice when he spoke.
Because the five of them were always in danger, they took precautions. They had learned the habit of precautions from Doc Savage, who was inclined to overdo it. The extent to which the bronze man went to meet trouble was fantastic. The pains he took often looked ridiculous, particularly when an interval went past without any of them being necessary. Monk and Johnny and the others often said that it was impossible to catch Doc flat-footed, without being prepared with a gadget or a trick. This was, of course, ridiculous. But at times it did seem a truth.
[Note relaxed tone] Doc said, “I was beginning to think we had wasted a lot of money putting in the silly contraption. But it paid off today.”...
“I am not sure about the mind-reading part,” Doc said. “I got that by reading the blue-eyed man's lips, and I am not positive that is what he said. It may not be. It sounds far-fetched.”
[Reads smoothly for Doc Savage] Doc seemed to hear her for the first time. He said, “Can you manage to just stop breathing, do you suppose?”
She was clever. She was quick, miraculously quick on the uptake. She saw what he meant and played up to it.
“That's a nice thing to say to a lady,” she said, and she made it sound angry.
Then she held her breath.
Doc Savage himself took a deep breath, then a moderate one so that his lungs would have fresh oxygen but not be strained, and held his own breath.
Then he flexed his biceps muscle and rubbed the arm, or the inner portion of the forearm, the part which was above the elbow near the armpit, in a circular motion against his body. This released, after a little difficulty, the trick container which held his liquid anaesthetic gas.
Doc was convinced that his reputation was exaggerated, as most reputations are. But it was a handy thing to have around.
“I got a key in the mail. The key unlocked one of those package lockers in the subway at Times Square, and the bird was in there.”
“The key came from your boss?”
“From the thing, yes.”
“There is no such thing as a thing,” Doc said.
(But for the benefit of newcomers to Doc Savage magazine: Doc Savage was placed in the hands of scientists for training when he was a baby, and the training lasted for many years, until early manhood, in fact. Just why his father gave him such an unusual and drastic youth, Doc Savage has never learned for sure. But he does know that he was trained for the career he follows now, the unusual business of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers.)
[Doc revels in Long Tom and Johnny's discomfiture] Doc Savage, to hide a smile at the discomfiture of his two woman-hating associates...
The bronze man looked through the skylight. He was so pleased at what he saw that he involuntarily started to make the trilling sound, but caught himself, stopped it.
The trilling sound could be an aggravating habit at times. He had acquired it, like most people acquire their bad habits, when very young. An old Hindu, a specialist in mental discipline, had used the sound often and effectively as a part of a pet system of mind control, a system in which Doc had never had much faith. But Doc had acquired the habit from him because it was picturesque, only to find himself afflicted with it. He hadn't been able to break himself of making the sound.
[This is no better than "Well, bust my britches!", and saying it a hundred times in a series is cartoonish and annoying] “I'll be superamalgamated. That you, Doc?”
Johnny said, “A sempiternitically intransmutable perpetuity.”
One of the workmen heard the big words and clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth admiringly. “He must be talking in hieroglyphics,” he said. “It can't be English.”
“Does he always use those words?”
“Often enough to be aggravating.”
“Where does he get them?”
“I don't know,” Long Tom said. “Sometimes I think he manufactures them.”
Monk Mayfair's penthouse establishment was downtown, far downtown, in the Wall Street financial district. Monk had picked the neighborhood for a residence, he claimed, because it was quiet at nights and on Sundays, but Doc Savage suspected the real reason was that Monk happened to own the building on top of which the penthouse was located. The building was Monk's only piece of property, other than his plane and boat and car, but it was quite an impressive piece of property for Monk, who claimed to be as poor as a mouse.
[New phrasing] MONK MAYFAIR was a wide gentleman who was quite homely and professed to be somewhat proud of the resemblance he bore to an ape. It was quite a resemblance, so it was probably a good thing that he didn't mind. Despite the fact that he was an eminent chemist, he had practically no forehead, and he usually wore a big amiable grin, which wasn't turned on now.
[Classic] “We knocked off a guy named Doc Savage.”
The other stared. “Don't give me that trick gangster talk. What you mean, knocked off? You mean you killed him?”
“And it was Doc Savage?”
The man carefully folded his oil-stained rag. He frowned for some moments at the shotgun, which was lying across his knees, and then he stood up and grasped the shotgun by the barrel and threw it as far as he could, out into the garden. He hurled the rag after the gun. Then he took a watch out of his pocket and looked at it.
“Train to New York in twenty-eight minutes,” he said. “And I can get a job on a merchant ship and nobody will ever find me.”
He walked down the road and none of them ever saw him again.
The girl was long-limbed and agile, a girl with wheat-colored hair and tobacco-brown eyes, who wore slacks and sweater very interestingly. She was pretty, but not in a cupid fashion, and she looked disgusted that she had missed Doc, and intent on trying again.
[Excellent] “Get him on the outcurve!” repeated the man who had laughed. “Knock a home run, sister!”
THE man who was talking about the outcurve had not seen Doc Savage's face and not recognized the bronze man. But now he saw Doc, and stood very still for a few seconds with his mouth open, then walked backward, still looking at the bronze man, until he bumped into a tree. He stood there, his back against the tree, and soon he began to sweat. He had no more funny remarks about outcurves.
“Something rather unpleasant will happen to you if you do not tell me what you know about this affair.”
The blue-eyed man was not too impressed by the threat. “There is nothing worse than death,” he said, “if you want some corny drama. And I happen to know you do not kill people. That's one thing they say about you.”
“So you think you will not be killed?” Doc said.
“Not by you.”
MONK and Ham followed instructions, after exchanging sly looks which agreed that it might be more interesting to play along and see what this was all about, than to attack the man now. There was no denying it would be safer, too.
MONK and Ham got to their feet. They had worked together so much that they often did things simultaneously, without a conference. Their conferences were never very satisfactory, anyway, because each one hated to agree with the other.
“This rowdy, over the telephone, said that Bill Keeley was going to kill me,” he said. “He told me it was because of the white bird and that damned monster which could read minds.”
THE visitor stood over the prostrate operator, pondering. He was debating whether to kill the operator. The man could describe the visitor; if the fellow was killed, his mouth would be closed. On the other hand, a dead operator would mean that government agents would stage a man hunt that would really be something.
“Hanging is just as effective on a strong man as a weak one.”
“A mob,” he said. The mountain man became eloquent about it. “A mob is a good American institution. This country was formed by a mob that got together and took after some guys who were giving them trouble. You hear a lot of agitation against mobs, but when Americans stop getting together in a mob when they get about so mad, this country is all shot to hell. Take Europe. If a little gang of upright citizens had gotten together at the right time, where would old Hitler and old Mussolini be?”
[Two football fields underwater? Really?] He swam under water. Two hundred yards under water was too much for even his trained muscles and lungs. He had to come to the surface to get air.
(There is a great deal of misunderstanding about how long it is possible for a man to remain under water, holding his breath. The average individual is stumped, of course, if he tries to stay under much more than a minute. Yet there are numerous authenticated instances of men staying under fifteen minutes and longer. But, of course, being under water and swimming at the same time is something else again, since the body needs oxygen. If there are men who can swim two hundred yards under water, they are better men than Doc.—Ed.)
There's nothing majorly wrong with The Mental Monster but a few small things stand out to be brought in line with the fine work that surrounds it. It's a small story but it reads beautifully and is filled with good Doc Savage material. Definitely the first book I'd lend to a friend who knows nothing about pulps and Doc Savage, and highly recommended.
127 - Hell Below:
"A mad refugee from Hitler’s crumbling Reich has set up a powerful fortress in Mexico. The plan? Capture Doc Savage and bring him by submarine to the desert hideout … enlist his aid in carrying out the “New Effort” — the one that will succeed where Hitler failed!"
“Hey, they're Hitler's boys”
This wartime tale is an excellent Doc Savage adventure and you should stop whatever you're doing and read it. It maintains a playful yet morbid wit throughout while presenting a story that's timely, relevant, and involves real Nazi leaders thinly veiled as fictional. Der Hase is Joseph Goebbels and Das Seehund is Hermann Goering. It's well written from start to finish and Hase and Seehund's plot to relocate to "the foothills of the Sierra Santa Clara in Lower California" would not be an impossibility at that stage of the conflict. Argentina accepted fleeing Nazis with open arms, and did we learn nothing from The Boys From Brazil? Hell Below came out in September, 1943.
Herr Oberleutenant Adolph von Schwartz is a great bonus as a substantial yet comical Nazi sub commander secretly collecting evidence against Hase and Seehund to have them executed by Hitler as traitors. In a twisted way he's almost a good guy. Cantankerous Too-Too Thomas is a crotchety Old West stereotype who gets his fair share of good lines. The book opens with this bit of political incorrectness, but soon enough the tone is distinctly lighter, and at the end he admits he's pals with the natives:
“I USED to fight Indians,” the old gentleman said. “I used to eat their ears. I would stew their ears, then eat them with salt.”
Doc's good in this tale and besides saying "Eh?" - the least Doc Savage thing to come out of his mouth, he's just who he needs to be in the more human Doc Savage era. Ham isn't a semi-ineffectual priss and his relationship with Monk is more humane and not childishly embarrassing. Pig and Ape aren't even referenced so that's twelve bonus points right there.
A highlight of Hell Below is referencing Doc Savage as Übermensch at a time when Hitler was obsessed with his own Master Race:
Der Hase said, “You are yourself proof of what can be done with a master race system, Herr Savage, so I think we will have no misunderstandings.”...
Der Hase glanced at Doc, seemed grimly stubborn. “Savage is a product of scientific training. He is a living example of what men can do with themselves. He knows this. What we want to do, what the master race wishes to do, is handle men on a cold basis of scientific fact, not sentiment.”
“Ham,” he said. “In the back of the car is an equipment case holding the large stuff. Get the kite out.”...
It was a flat kite, and there was a bridle gadget of light alloy which could be changed simply by jerking the kite string. With this, the direction of the kite could be changed somewhat; it could be flown to the right or the left. The kite string was made of a slender, strong, twisted pair of wires.
To the tip of the kite—the sticks were airplane metal tribes—Doc attached a pear-shaped gadget with a sharp spike on the end...
“Contact microphone,” Doc said. “Very sensitive and so sturdy you can almost hit it with a hammer. At least, it's made so that it can withstand the force with which it will strike that roof.”
HAM dashed wildly into the street, hauling out an unusual weapon which he carried, a supermachine pistol of Doc Savage's design. The little gun was too complicated and delicate for military use, but when properly cared for, it could turn loose an unbelievable number of small bullets in a second.
Pat turned to Lena Carlson. “I put a chemical in the gasoline of the other plane,” Pat said. “The chemical, when burned in the motors, leaves an exhaust trail which is ordinarily invisible, but fluoresces in the presence of infrared light. Our infrared projectors are in the wings.”
“There is more to this war than just shooting Japanese or Germans. They can sink a battleship and we can build another one. But if they kill you, where would we get another man with your inventive skill and your thinking equipment? Where would we get a man with your almost fantastic ability to ferret out the most remarkable plots and intricate schemes?”
Doc was irritated with her again. “You succeeded in messing things up nicely,” he said.
“What's the matter, sensitive about your weight?” she asked.
Doc was not sensitive about his weight. He was not fat. He knew she was trying to rib him, and knew he should not be irritated, but he was angry anyway.
[50 Shades of Doc Savage] Ham, noticing that she thought her name would carry weight, was impressed. But Doc Savage's reaction was quite the contrary. He felt that the young woman should be spanked, shaken or otherwise relieved of self-importance.
Doc Savage made an unexpected small trilling sound which was low and exotic, strangely musical and yet completely tuneless. It was a small, unconscious thing which the bronze man did in moments of astonishment.
“What's that?” Lena asked.
“It's Doc's substitute for a grunt of astonishment,” Ham said. “But don't ever kid him about it. He learned it from an old mentalist and master of mental control in India a long time ago, and Doc has never been able to get rid of the habit.”
[Yikes. Another book where Doc says "Eh?" ]“How do you figure it turned out all right?” Doc asked, “They got Renny.”
“Oh, yes,” Pat said triumphantly. “But I fixed it so we could trail them.”
“That's right,” Pat said.
Johnny Littlejohn had his incredibly long thin arms and legs around the surviving guard. He squeezed. There was a cracking sound, and the guard screamed and fell on the floor, where he groveled and held to his leg.
“How many times,” demanded the other, “were you shot at in the past six months?”
“Not over a dozen times,” Monk said. “What has that—”
“More than half the soldiers in the army never hear an enemy gun explode!” yelled the head man.
Monk was a short man who gave the startling impression at times of being as wide as he was high. He had a large crop of rusty hair, a big grin, and affected the manners of a circus clown.
Someone pointed at Monk, and asked, “Who's this funny-lookin' bird, anyway?”
Monk, who was indignant, said, “I won't look funny to you by the time this is over.”
“You murdering old scamp,” Monk said. “Come over here, pop, and let me shake your hand.”
Schwartz and Renny and Ham hammered each other with vigor, nobody doing much harm, but venting plenty of steam.
“Let me in on that!” Monk said eagerly. “I want to hit somebody, too!”
[No idea what this means] The bronze man switched off the radio. Lena Carlson was examining him thoughtfully. “Who is Pat? Is she by any chance Patricia Savage, who operates that beauty salon on Park Avenue?”
“That,” Doc admitted ruefully, “is Pat.”
“I've heard of her,” Lena said, “the way you hear about electric sparks.”
“Wait, don't hang up,” Renny said. “Doc, Pat came down with me. She just barged in, and when I told her we didn't want her mixed up in this, she said go to the devil. What do I do?”
Doc sighed wearily.
“Try telling the police or the Army Intelligence she is a notorious international spy, a regular Mata Hari,” Doc suggested. “Maybe they will lock her up and keep her out of our hair.”
“That won't work. All the cops know Pat by sight.”
“If they did not, she would probably smile at them and hypnotize them,” Doc said wearily. “Think of something.”
Pat was in their hair, all right. And all of them knew, Doc as well as the others, that there was not much they could do about it.
As a matter of fact, Pat wasn't quite the calamity they pretended she was. There were times when she had been a considerable help, but there were other times when she had complicated matters.
“I came from the Dirty Man Rancho in the foothills of the Sierra Santa Clara in Lower California, where the pigs chase mountain lions,” Too-Too Thomas said. “A man's country.”
“Know anything about submarines?” he asked.
Monk said, “Sure. Why?”
“Fine,” said Too-Too Thomas. “Now the first thing we do is steal a navy airplane with some bombs on it and a can of quick-drying paint.”
[WWII, Washington, DC] There could not be any civilian plane, Monk knew, in any shed on the river. There was a government regulation against keeping planes anywhere but on airports where there was a guard twenty-four hours of the day. That is, it was against the law unless the motors were taken out of the plane...
As they drove down the highway, he explained his reasons for using panel body trucks instead of passenger cars.
“The ban on pleasure driving has been put on again back East, I hear,” he told them, “and you can't tell about the cops and these government men. They're liable to stop a passenger car, just to ask if we're on essential business, but they won't be likely to mess with a delivery job.”...
The house had been rented—for a startling price—three days before. The police picked up the landlord immediately for violating the rent ceiling edicts, filing the technical charge of suspected complicity in the crime of attempted murder. None of the police had been killed when the men burst out of the house, but some had been wounded.
[Free cocaine!] The straw boss of the group said, “Tie them up, tape their mouths, shoot some cocaine in them, wrap them up in blankets and put them in the back of the delivery truck we rented.”
“Cheer up,” Sam told them.
“Sure, sing and be merry,” one muttered. “Like the blackbirds in the pie.”
Sam said, “Savage won't eat you.”
“Is that what he don't do to you?” the man asked sourly.
Willis said, “Mind if I make another suggestion, Sam?”
“Shoot,” Sam said. “Boy, you're leaking brains today.”
“What are you grinning at?” she demanded. “You're not one of them, are you? They're pointing their guns at you.”
“That's right,” Doc agreed.
“I thought you were,” she said.
“You made a mistake.”
“I did not,” she said sharply. “A good idea is never a mistake. That was a good idea, grabbing you and pointing my gun at you. It just turned out that you were not what I thought you were.”
[Ed knows much about the history of kites] (In the old days when there was peace in the Orient (China and Japan), the art of kite fighting became a highly developed one. At one time it was almost as popular as cockfighting, and more elite. The idea was to wreck the other person's kite, and the kite strings were coated with broken glass, so one could saw an opponent's kite string in two.—Ed.)
Lena Carlson saw, gasped, “A shark! A big shark!”
“Made of steel,” Doc Savage said grimly, and tried to reach the cabin of their plane.
[If you read the book you'll know what she says is dumb and unlike her] “What makes you think they are lying?” Lena Carlson asked skeptically. “It looks strictly O. K. to me.”
COMMANDER SCHWARTZ composed himself. He did this by waving his arms violently and calling on Davy Jones to witness a fine mess. He shouted, “Heil, der Fuehrer!” But this last he didn't say as if he meant it at all. He said it the way a man would say, after falling on his face and bruising himself, “That's what I get for eating my spinach.”
“You can see the way the thing is going in Europe,” he said. “We are getting licked. All of our ideals will be smashed by this vandalism called democracy and equality.”
Doc decided what had happened. Der Hase had come here with what wealth he could get, to prepare for another great effort to change the world. Das Seehund had come along, with the wealth, just to escape the consequences of what was going to happen to the Axis leaders in Europe.
[He doesn't know what sign language is] Too-Too Thomas, puzzled, demanded, “What are you fiddling your fingers at each other for?”
“Oh, we do that for exercise,” Monk told him.
[Invalidates most of the ventriloquism found in Doc Savage novels] It was good voice simulation and good ventriloquism. Ventriloquism is not the art of throwing the voice, as it pretends, but of speaking in a voice which sounds as if it came from somewhere else, then indicating a spot from which the hearer will logically think that it came.
The door was a steel plate which looked as if it was armor plate, solid enough to hold back a five-inch deckgun shell. But its looks were somewhat deceptive, because it caved enough for the lock to tear out of its fastening.
The steel door burst open, much to the astonishment of everyone but Schwartz.
Schwartz picked himself up, said, “I thought I recognized the metal of which the doors are made. It came from one of our Italian factories. I think the factory formerly made cheese, and forgot to change their formula.”
Old Too-Too Thomas scrambled to his feet, tripped and fell down again.
“You hurt?” Long Tom asked.
“I'm too mad to stand up,” Too-Too said malevolently.
Hell Below is very good as is and I'd only remove the line where Lena Carlson says something someone with her experience would never say about a situation not looking dangerous. This one's in my Top Ten list and a nice surprise considering the consistency of what was calling itself Doc Savage at that time.
128 - The Goblins:
"Doc Savage and his crew are cornered. They’re pinned down in a blazing crossfire between the forces of law, a ruthless master criminal and the most horrible horror the Man of Bronze has ever faced. A terror squad of tiny green men with fiendish grins — whose slightest touch means instant, agonizing death!"
"DOC SAVAGE had always believed that it was unfortunate that he happened to look like Doc Savage"
Well that was as small story of small consequence! November, 1943's Idaho-based adventure reads quicker than its length as there's not much to think about. The Goblins tries to be whimsical, folksy, and a bit madcap, and it would have worked better if it was simply whimsically folksy. It wouldn't take much to make this a better and more consistent story. Does it deserve it? Not really, but the answers are right there in front of you as the lowest hanging literary fruit in the garden.
Samples of folksy:
MONK, Ham, Park and Attorney Martha Colby came out of Mrs. Smith's house. Monk was far in the lead, because he seemed to think there was prospect of a fight, and he did love a fight.
Sheriff Brander sighed. “I need a glass of milk,” he said. “Nothing like milk to settle a man's nerves.” He waved at his deputies. “Load everybody in the cars,” he ordered. “We'll take them to town, where I can get my milk.”
Day-player protagonist Parker O'Donnel is a bit of an idiot and highly immature for 25 years old. When not tossing out pick-up lines to Martha Colby he's starting a fight with a group of gunmen or thinking it's cute to say this:
TRYING hard to be calm, Parker O'Donnel began to count slowly. “One, two, three, four,” he said, “five, six, seven. You know, I usually only have to count to fifty to keep from hitting a woman. But this time . . . well, a hundred anyway. Eight, nine, ten, eleven—”
Martha Colby can't be much older and she's made fractionally madcap to be a love interest for Parker. She's in town as a young lawyer to be Parker's legal guardian, making her both his mommy and potential girlfriend. Ham and Monk are exceedingly creepy around Martha Colby. The Sheriff's an idiot Doc doesn't take seriously. The thugs are idiots until it's needed for them to be killers. The Lester Dent stock character "College Indian" pretends to be an idiot. The reclusive genius Tom Brock (a solid charcter) also pretends to be an idiot. Doc's good in this book, so there's that.
The Goblins is happily heavy on gadgets and the burning Goblins are another gadget that barely exceeds the level of quaint even when they kill various bad guys who deserve it anyway. Dent head-fakes that the Goblin-shaped rubber balloons filled with chemicals might be alive - another small shortcoming of the story:
“Feed a man some of one chemical,” he said, “then fill a balloon with the inflammable gas, and turn the balloon loose.”
“Just how,” Doc said, “would you feed the enemy the chemical?”
“You're too damned practical!” Brock yelled. “Everybody is so damned practical.”
The bronze man crawled a few yards away, and attached a gadget to the little radio. The gadget was not as large as a pocket watch, and it was equipped with a small rod which drew out to a length of about a foot, telescope fashion. He pushed this rod into the hard earth. He plugged the wire attached to the gadget into the tiny radio case.
The gimmick was a microphonic pickup that was as sensitive as some seismographs. In practical use, it would pick up the sound, or rather the vibration of a footstep, and it would come out of the radio amplified into something impressive.
By turning the microphone carefully on its rod, the thing had a fairly dependable directional effect.
The officer and his deputies stared with interest at the assortment of gadgets which Doc Savage's clothing yielded. Brander, chuckling, said, “I'll bet you are twenty pounds lighter.” When one of his deputies was inclined to handle the stuff, Brander warned, “Better not touch it, Spence. Some of it looks too scientific for guys like you and me.”
[Thermite] The bronze man wore a belt which was two pieces of leather with a powder between the leather layers. The leather parts of the belt were not sewn together, but cemented, so that anything less than an examination with a sharp knife or a magnifying glass would not have shown the construction.
There were two powders, really. One, yellowing, was in greater quantity than the other, which was white streaked with red...
The powder burst into white heat as suddenly as if an electric light bulb had been switched on. It glowed, did some hissing, and seemed to melt the lock completely out of the door. The molten metal that had been the lock leaked onto the floor.
Doc did not seem impressed. “Is it practical?”
“More practical than a lot of the gadgets I hear you use.”
“That,” Doc reminded him, “is a different proposition. My gadgets are specifically designed for my own use, and most of them in the hands of the average user would be useless, particularly if they were intended to cope with conventional situations.”
He was not pretty, but he was handsome.
The bronze man, they knew now after long association with him, was uncannily accurate in forming theories. He did so well, in fact, that sometimes they suspected him of having dark powers. Clairvoyance, or something like that. They knew all about the unusual scientific training which was supposed to give him all his ability, but now and then it struck them that Doc went a little beyond such capacity.
[And Eye-talians!] Park gathered that Clark Savage, Jr., had told the war department about the same things that he, Park, would like to tell them. Where did they get off, telling a guy he couldn't get into a place where he could shoot Japs and Germans!
The brass hats in the war department were more indignant than they'd been that morning. Park gathered that this Clark Savage, Jr., must have been on the long-distance telephone during the day, and given them a further blistering. They were certainly hot under the collar, the brass hats. However, they were unusually apologetic, for brass hats, to this Clark Savage, Jr. Park gathered that Clark Savage, Jr., was somebody important. The fact that he was important depressed Park, because if somebody with some pull couldn't get into action in the war, how was an unknown brass pounder like Parker O'Donnel going to do any good?
“Unusual!” Martha exclaimed. “Wait until you hear the provisions of the will. First, I was to be appointed guardian for Parker O'Donnel. Then I was to take Parker O'Donnel to a man named Tom Brock, who would give Parker O'Donnel a good lecturing to. Now, isn't that a strange will?”
[Childishness was had by all] MONK MAYFAIR and Ham Brooks naturally heard shots and howls. Both were itching to show off in front of Attorney Martha Colby. Park O'Donnel shared the itch. All three of them had—although they would have fought somebody rather than admit it—the same wish when they saw the young lady. They wanted to walk on their hands, or do something Galahadish...
Of the two survivors, one was being besieged by Monk and Park. This one had been clipped by someone, and was so nearly out on his feet that Monk and Park had paused to quarrel about who was going to dispose of him. Monk and Park were elbowing each other, and calling each other unpleasant names.
Attorney Martha Colby found a tree and got behind it. She was disgusted. “I wonder why I always turn men into idiots,” she said.
They saw the small green man, the little man about a foot high, the one with the big smile, burn a man to death. The little green fellow just sidled up to a man and touched his leg, and suddenly there was as much hot blue flame as hell could hold, and screams containing more pain and horror than the ear could accept, and the certain odor of the substance of a man burning. This was what scared Monk, Ham and Park. It did a thorough job. Nothing would ever startle or scare them more.
The sheriff was a very large fat man who looked as if he belonged behind the cash register in a cowtown restaurant. Certainly he did not look the part of sheriff—although he tried to dress it. His star was an extra large special-order job of silver with the word “Sheriff" inlaid in gold, and various curlicues engraved in gold around the edges, and a small pearl set in each tip of the star. It was quite a sheriff's badge. He also wore two large pearl-handled engraved single-action six-shooters, very Hollywood. But mostly he was just fat.
[One of the better backstories in Doc Savage] Tom Brock winced. “That's right. You're a doctor yourself, so you would know that. Doc Savage. I've heard of you all right, even if I did say I hadn't. But I don't know much about your work. You've come along since my time, and I don't pay any attention to medicine any more. You know why.”
Doc nodded. He did know. He knew simply because some of this old man's early work in electrical therapy had been so good that it was still studied by modern doctors. And that was saying something, considering how fast the field of electrical therapy was changing.
The end of C. Pembrock Thomas' career as a doctor had been caused by a simple and sordid thing. A fight over a woman. He had shot a man. At the trial, it had been proved fully that he shot in self-defense. But C. Pembrock Thomas had given up his career and disappeared.
Because the bullet he had fired at the other man had accidentally killed the girl with whom he was in love.
“How come,” Doc asked, “that you had such guests?”
Old Brock shrugged. “Because I'm a silly old coot, I reckon. Ordinary people don't interest me, somehow. The ordinary people around here are the nice ones. The ones I like are the unusual ones, and the only unusual ones you run on to in this neck of the wood are nuts and crooks. The unusual ones with good sense go to the cities and get rich.”
[Used before in Doc Savage. I mentioned this to a lawyer I know and he looked at me like I was from Mars] Monk and Ham brightened up noticeably. “Look here, judge Colby,” said Ham. “Why not tell us about it. Trouble is our business.”
“Judge Colby!” Park said, snorting.
Monk said, “All lawyers call each other judge, didn't you know that?”
To make the story better you'd first have to make Parker O'Donnel a likeable fellow deserving of the attention of the lovely Martha Colby. The book with this comical fade-out that made me wish I was someplace else at the time:
“Park, I'm sorry I've been snappish with you,” Martha said. “I want you to forgive me.”
“Huh?” said Park, astonished. “Why this sudden change in heart? All along, you've been insinuating I was as nutty as a pet coon.”
Martha sighed again. “After being around this Monk and Ham,” she said, “I've changed my mind.”
Park grinned from ear to ear.
“Now that,” he said, “is the way a guardian should talk to her ward.”
They went out, arm in arm. Ham Brooks, disgusted, picked up an ash tray and threw it at Monk, who had come back and was cautiously peeking in the window.
Make Ham and Monk more professional. Have the entire bad guy gang be inexperienced local characters who don't operate well as a group and aren't crazed gangsters. Have the mastermind be more competent than they are but not by much, and the Sheriff less of a clown. Add arms to the Goblins that move with momentum as the Goblins work across the floor, and only barely anthropomorphize them. The Goblins can only be a small and short story but it can be easily cleaned up to be something better.
129 - The Secret Of The Su:
"The Nazis have offered three million dollars for the ancient treasure [They agreed but don't intend on paying it] — and the insidious Dr. Light is eager to betray his country to feed his lust for power [He just wants three million dollars]. Doc Savage and his amazing crew race toward the devastating secret buried [It's not buried] in the Everglades. Deep in the jungle [It's a swamp], they must battle a race of warriors from the lost continent of Atlantis [Mayan-Atlantis-adjacent] — with the fate of the civilized world at stake! [The uncivilized world would remain as is]"
“What is this, new zoot talk?” Snuffy asked.
Book #126 (of 181) has the core of a decent story but Lester Dent decided not to do much with it. It coasts for much of its short length but manages to be interesting enough to linger in the memory as something better than what you've read. The Secret of The Su is a magtastical herb that undoes sickness and poisoning like magic, and the Nazis want it for their troops while Doc gets involved for the usual reason that a call for help came in on the bronze Doc-Phone. November, 1943.
There's not a lot of plot points and that's for sure. A sizeable and efficient Nazi contingent is in the US, and they're presented effectively:
“You sound like a guy who got his ideas about being tough by listening to movies.”
The Nazi agent grinned so that his teeth flashed in the moonlight. “As a matter of fact, much of our training at the espionage school was being shown American films, and reading American newspapers.”
Snuffy Gonner is the best day-player as a criminal for hire upon whom Dent bestows the spotlights of inner contemplations and nuanced motivations. Doctor Light comes in second as a shady doctor who knows the herbs will be worth three million from the Reich:
This fellow Dr. Light's real name is Doktor Friedrich Licht, born in Germany, and with plenty of relatives there. A year or two ago I had my agents approach him about acting as a secret agent for Germany, and, when he refused, we mentioned what would be done to his homefolks in Germany if he didn't. He laughed at us. The fellow didn't give a damn about his relatives in Germany.
Then, laughingly, he said that if he ever had anything worth selling, he would drop around.”
Doctor Light is shunted aside soon enough by Dent and he becomes a non-factor. Lester stalls for word count like a pro, most notable on a long dissertation on the possible origins of the Su:
...There is another puzzling fact—the dumfounding resemblance of the tribal dress of the present-day Seminole to the dress of the ancient Incas in Peru. The Incas are agreed to have had a civilization in some respects excelling that of old Egypt. Mummies from the graves of Peru have been disinterred wearing costumes which resemble so closely the garb of the present-day Seminole that they might have come from a Seminole village today. Similarity exists in the skirts, the beading around the Seminole women's necks—even the colors and patterns of the woven cloth resemble that of ancient Peru...
[Literary cruise control] It lay in a corner of the room, and in it was a small radio transmitter of the type which put out a signal that was easy picking for a direction- finder. The outfit, when switched on, would send a signal automatically at regular intervals. His two aides, Monk and Ham, would have their receiver tuned to the frequency of the set.
(Direction-finding by radio is, of course, almost as old as radio, and use of it has appeared fictionally in Doc Savage magazine many times. But the use of fixed-signal transmitters which can be attached to a vehicle, dropped from a plane by parachute, or placed by other means, so that they can be located by a loop finder, probably appeared first fictionally in Doc Savage magazine. And here again, Doc Savage used a device which has since been developed and employed and hailed as something totally new. In this case, it is no longer a secret that both the army and navy—American, and unfortunately also the Japanese and Germans —are dropping such small transmitters in the hills or jungles near an objective which they wish to bomb. A single plane, a pursuit ship flying in daylight, drops the fixed-signal transmitter. Then the bombers come over in the safety of darkness and fog, find the target by direction-locating the radio signal, and unload, using a method Doc Savage pioneered as far back as 1933.)
Things that didn't work: Dent named the lost tribe the "Su" when there's an existing tribe called the "Sioux". Slow John is a chief of the Su and would never give away the secret of the healing herb that can only be found where his people live in near complete seclusion as to be a legend. Driving a car into a river with Doc in the trunk is not valid enough to have the bad guy assume Doc must have drowned.
The event that starts everything in motion is weak in that the secret of the Su is not a secret and group of academics are about to embark into the Everglades to find it. This prompts the good doctor to ask Slow John about it, and Slow John agrees to let him have it first. A more plausible set-up is required.
The hunting birds of the Su seem more trouble than they're worth - to own or explain:
The nature of their weapon was fully as amazing as anything about them. Slow John spoke in the Su language, and the Su went back into the swamp, a few at a time, and returned with their hunting birds, each of which wore a small golden bell.
They carried the birds on their wrists, as falcons are carried. The birds weren't falcons, but a species of small hawk. They were not large enough, as birds, to put up a serious fight, so that Doc Savage was for a time puzzled about just how the hunting birds were used.
The birds were not hooded, the way falcons are hooded when not hunting. Their beaks were trimmed so that they could not rend or tear seriously, and in addition, the beaks of the birds had been linked with small chains, apparently of gold in some cases, silver in others, so that the birds could not readily grab, for example, a finger.
The toes of the birds were capped with metal, and it was there, Doc Savage realized, that the secret of their effectiveness lay. Because the metal caps were coated with a sticky substance that evidently was a poison.
The feet of the birds were kept confined in small leather boots. Doc saw the toe caps only when a Su removed a boot to examine the toe capping on his bird.
Doc caught Slow John's eye and nodded at the birds. “Poison?”
“Not exactly,” Slow John shook his head. “But quite effective, none the less. The small bells warn when one is about.”
[Long Tom's "Bumblebee" is the world's smallest dirty bomb] The thing was remarkable. It was not a mechanism, unless a solid slug of three different kinds of metal and plastic—the exact chemical composition of which was a secret —could be called a mechanism. The substances in the metal, when smashed together, got along together, atomically, about like cats and dogs. The result was that some of the atoms flew off into space. This was the way Long Tom had explained the thing in a simplified way to Johnny Littlejohn, whose knowledge of electro-chemistry was somewhat less than his command of big words.
There was a fog of excited electrons around the three chemicals while they were mingling. And this mingling would continue for about three days. The electron cloud was like dust around a dogfight. Around a lump of the chemicals the size of a .50-caliber machine gun bullet, for example, the cloud would have a diameter of about half a mile— for practical purposes.
A good atomic locator of the radio short-wave type would register the presence of the ball as being about half a mile in diameter.
[I thought Doc leaned the hard way not to paint his planes to match his eyes] Snuffy Gonner's men in the plane had blasted the ship simply because they had recognized it as one of Doc's ships. The plane was distinctive enough, with its bronze coloring and the identification numbers which were registered in Doc's name.
[A new twist in first bold. Second bold, obvious] Doc had worked open a small metal case in his pocket, and from it he took as many of the small glass ball-like objects within as his fingers could quickly find. He held his breath. He crushed the balls. The liquid they contained was very cold on his hand as it evaporated with a speed almost instantaneous.
The stuff was a gas, odorless, colorless, an anaesthetic that would affect a man when he breathed it, render him unconscious within the space of a couple of deep breaths.
It was a harmless kind of unconsciousness. If one did not breathe it, the stuff would have no effect at all. And, after it had mixed with the air for about eighty seconds, it became impotent.
[I only think I know what this means] There was no looseness, no flatness in his face anywhere, and there was too much strength in it to allow it to be as handsome as the finely molded features would otherwise have made it.
[Decent Peak Human but not Uber Doc] He had run quite a distance, and his breathing was heavy. He was momentarily tired.
Doc Savage's voice was changed when he spoke. There was a power in it, a quiet capacity and an intention to get something done.
“It will be necessary to do something about this,” he said.
[Doc the hand model is mindful of the moneymakers] Doc, Monk and Ham went to work again. The blows which Doc struck were light, carefully calculated, did no damage to his hands.
The bronze man looked at Slow John steadily.
“You will have to cure them,” he added.
Slow John indicated the plane. “And the plane?”
“Will not go for help. Will not bring in a bunch of State police who will round up you and your tribe and try them all for murder, kidnaping, and anything else they can think up.”
“We are not criminals. We are a separate people.”
“How would that sound in a court of law?”
Slow John was thoughtful. “Not very good.”
“Get going. You have no time to lose.”
“AWK!” Pat said to the man holding her throat. “Cut it out. I'm a pal!”
They walked to the car which had made the smoke. A big fellow with a remarkably sad face and a pair of fists which would have choked an alligator was sitting in the car.
The voice was a strangely childish one which might have belonged to a twelve-year old, except for a certain squawking quality that showed the owner was an adult.
Monk made a fist out of one of his hands, then eyed it hopefully. “I would sure like to run into some of Hitler's boys.”
“So would the rest of us, Monk.”
“Doc, do you think we're ever going to get into the shooting end of the army and see actual service?”
The bronze man said a grim nothing.
The matter was one of his sore points.
Since the first bomb was released at Pearl Harbor, they had been trying to get into active service. All of them had military training of one type or another, so they'd thought they would be accepted immediately. But they hadn't been—instead, they were informed that their present work was more important.
This might be true, but it wasn't very satisfactory...
Monk was still hopeful. “I hope there's some of Hitler's boys.”
“I'll be superamalgamated!” Johnny Littlejohn was grim. “An ultrainvidious ergophobiaism.”
Long Tom tussled with the big words for a minute. “Yeah. The thing behind it must be pretty big.”
Johnny used small words. “That wasn't what I said.”
“Well, it's true anyway.”
The round, pleasant faces of some men do not have much character; they just look as if the owners had eaten too much.
[No Inner Monologues Allowed. Reminder: these are novels, not screenplays] His lips moved stiffly, for he was speaking to himself.
“It's fantastic,” he said. “Fantastic, such a thing happening to a man to whom nothing exciting has happened in thirty years.”...
Finally he spoke to himself again, muttering, “I hope they can locate him. He is the one man capable of dealing with such a fantastic thing.”
“You want smart ones, eh?”
“Well, we won't get any Einsteins or Edisons. But fellows like Corny Cornman, who got turned out of States after serving his sentence for kidnaping last month. Jake Davis, who killed that girl over at Sikeston City. Frenchy, the knife thrower who used to be with a carnival. And Bancroft, one of the brothers who deserted from the army. You see what kind.”
Snuffy nodded. “When you get them guys together, you got yourself an awful bunch of stinkers,” he said.
[Always a favorite]
“Get hold of a plane,” Light said. “We're going to head him off before he gets
to Doc Savage.”
Of the other men, who were men hired by Snuffy, only one showed no recognition of the name Doc Savage. The others were startled and alarmed in varying degrees. Two of them were deeply shocked.
One of the shocked pair, stepping forward, asked, “You said Doc Savage?”
“That fellow they call the Man of Bronze?”
Light nodded again.
The man took some money out of his pocket. “This is what Snuffy paid me in advance.”
He tossed the money on a table.
“Just pretend you never heard of me, and I'll do the same for you.”
“You're quitting?” Light demanded angrily.
“I'm practically running right now,” the man said.
“Me, too,” said the other one who was alarmed.
Gonner had another bright idea. “Yell a lot of 'Heil Hitlers'! Make 'em think we're Germans.”
They piled out of the plane, yelled their “Heil Hitlers!” and shot at everyone in sight.
The Cubans, who had been expected to run for cover, put up a fight. There was nearly half an hour of sniping before the place was cleared of resistance.
José was disgusted. “It was those 'Heil, Hitlers' that did it. They fight like cats and dogs when they hear that.”
[Another novel with slaves not minding their slavery, so the slave holders aren't so bad after all] On the platform, four men were making a dugout canoe. They were working lazily, and they seemed in good humor. One was a Negro, the other three were white, one about forty and the others older. They wore the same dark green spotted garments as the Su.
But none of the four could walk freely.
They could get to their feet, and move about if they used care. But they could not walk easily, and certainly they could not run.
Doc was a surgeon, so he saw immediately what had been done to them. Their heel tendons had been cut, and care taken that the operations made their legs rather useless...
“Well, maybe not too bad. It's hell for a few weeks, then you sort of get used to it. And then it's pretty good. They even let you get married.” He made a clucking sound of appreciation.
“You should see these Su gals.”
[Well written summation] Light hesitated. This wasn't the way he had planned it. He hadn't intended to go into the swamp without a gang of tough men who would do what he wanted done.
Doc could surmise what was going through the man's head. The thing Light would like to do was assemble another gang of helpers—he thought Gonner's crew was out of the running. But to do that would take time. And the Germans were close on his heels. Here in the Everglades country, Light was on strange ground. He did not know who to approach, knew no thugs whom he could approach and hire. And before he found such men, the Germans might be upon him.
The Secret Of The Su has the right characters and outline to be a great Doc Savage war-time story but it needs more plot points and more ongoing involvement of everyone involved. Add two points in its favor for Ape & Pig being left home.
130 - The Spook of Grandpa Eben:
"Can an ancient ring put a curse on its hapless victims? Doc and his crew must uncover the incredible truth — or be condemned for murder!"
This one starts off long-winded and repetitive but eventually settles into a decently spun tale of ghosts and science-gibberish force fields. The characters and their motivations are rendered well, turning a middling Doc Savage story into something better than I first thought it would be. I was attracted by the title, which doesn't sound Doc Savagey at all, bested only by the nonsense titles Se-Pah-Poo and Ost. My self-published Doc Savage novel is called "King Turd Midas", inspired by all the a-holes around me in Long Beach who I see turn everything they touch into excrement.
This December, 1943 tale is an odd duck of an idea that hints at both Halloween and Christmas - the latter in how there's an obvious Scrooge character who dies in short order instead of being shown the error of his ways. Doc, Monk, Ham, and the superbly superfluous pets are on hand to make sure the war effort isn't being sabotaged by Scrooge's greed. Along the way they learn to once again love, laugh, and embrace life's endless possibilities. Not really.
The story ends quickly but that was fine as it did everything it had to do to be worthwhile. I found one glaring mistake where Billy is knocked unconscious by Doc's anesthetic gas, which has a "slightly sweetish stinging in the nasal passages" effect. Like my farts! There's no reference to him coming too and he's normal again way too early based on past use of the gas.
Doc is a bit more personable. I found this line not to my liking as it made Doc seem fake and possibly socially insecure:
Doc Savage had been aware of a feeling of animosity which Ruth held against him in the beginning. It was not an open emotion; it seemed to be something she was hiding. So the bronze man was exercising his pleasant personality as much as possible to draw the young woman out, to loosen her flow of information.
David Letterman recently found himself in hot water for saying ''Treat a lady like a whore and a whore like a lady'', an ancient line from Wilson Minzer that's been widely quoted as meaningful beyond the surface insult. Times have changed. The most horrific line I can think of that can't be told today is from Rodney Dangerfield's 1980 album "No Respect". As I remember it the line went something like "I only meet girls because of my job - I'm a rapist!". Lest Dent would be similarly crucified for misogyny today:
Lucybelle was a mixture of cherub and slimness with enough curves to hint that in another ten years she would be needing fifteen-dollar girdles. Her blue-eyed, flaxen-haired looks were pretty rather than beautiful.
LUCYBELLE ran down the stairs, and when she was on the street, she kept running. She was panting, because she was already inclined to be fat, and she took no exercise. She was so scared that she had no breath anyway.
This stuff above I think all the time but try not to say out loud because I know as a man I'm a serial rapist just itching for the opportunity to not just rape but rape-rape. This next bit is pretty awesome, if by awesome you mean horrific, mean, cruel, and actionable:
Doc Savage picked up the unconscious guard. He told Ezra Strong, “We will have to get out of here. Bring Lucybelle!”
Ezra Strong muttered something under his breath, said, “Now cut out crying, Lucybelle. You're going to be all right. Just come on out of here with us.”
Lucybelle stopped her hysterical sobbing long enough to say, “I won't! Go away!” and went right on blubbering.
Ezra took her arm. “Please come, Lucybelle!”
Lucybelle screamed a scream which, if it didn't, should have lifted the roof a couple of inches.
Sounding distracted, Ezra said, “What'll I do, Mr. Savage? She won't come?”
“Can you knock a young woman unconscious in a gentlemanly way?”
Ezra thought about that for a moment. “I don't know about the gentlemanly part,” he said. “But I can do it with considerable enthusiasm.”
And there was a brief scuffle during which Lucybelle shrieked for him to keep away from her, after which she was silent. The blow had not been very loud.
“Most bubbling female I ever saw,” said Ezra disgustedly. He shouldered Lucybelle. “Lead on.”
“I take it the engagement is at an end?” Doc said.
“Put an exclamation point after that!” said Ezra.
Doc Savage. Advocating knocking women unconscious in a "gentlemanly" way since 1943.
Here's song lyrics to introduce this bit about sanctioned workplace gun violence: "I like guns and guns like me / I like guns, they made America free / I like guns, and guns are the way / I like guns / weapons Weapons WEAPONS!"
Most of the State National tellers kept revolvers in their cages. There was a pistol range in the basement, and bank rules required a certain amount of practice, so they were good marksmen. But none of them hit a spook, although all of them did plenty of shooting.
I'm excited there were two zoot suit references in The Spook Of Grandpa Eben, the first one containing the name of my next band:
For a heavy man, he gave an unusual impression of being muscular instead of fat, and he was very dapper, wearing a snappy tweed suit which was just a little on the zoot side, but not sufficiently zoot to be ridiculous. It was a good suit, and all the accessories were expensive. He was not much more than thirty, with blue eyes, fine white teeth, a taffy-colored mustache, blond hair. He gave the general impression of a slicker.
"A criminal master of mind-control conspires to sell the ultimate weapon of terror and destruction to the Nazis. Only Doc and his daring crew can stop him. They trail their malevolent quarry to the frozen Arctic sea-and fall into an icy evil trap of machine guns, U-boats and sheer insanity!"
January, 1944's contribution is the first Doc Savage novel to hit digest size, which I'm assuming meant both shorter story length and smaller page dimensions. When I say Doc Savage novels sometime write checks in the beginning they can't cash at the end, one of my hands is pointing at this one. As a story it's great but plot holes turn it into Swiss cheese, and the reveal leaves out something it can't explain, and what it does explain is done weakly. The entire time reading this a voice in my head goaded me with "How they gonna let us down on this great premise this time?"
My first concern with any Doc Savage novel is how will Doc be portrayed this month (or six times a year). Doc as peak human is my first priority, and here he's very good as a conversational yet professional, reserved, and highly accomplished man of thought and action. It's hard to get Renny wrong, and while any image of Ham and Monk screaming at each other in eyes-jammed-shut-and-mouth-wide-open rage (as drawn by Steve Ditko) makes me feel bad for the Doc Savage World in general, they're apart from each other enough so it's kept to a minimum. The imp character is great, the Nazis good, the day-players sufficiently inscrutable, and there's noticeably no girly-girl along for the proceedings. Except for story promises broken this one is a minor delight.
What's with the title? Shouldn't it be "The Plan", or if you want to go full-Hulk (or Russian) make it "According To Plan Of One-Eyed Mystic"? No wonder the Canadian edition shortened it to "One Eyed Mystic", but why leave out a pronoun? Onto real problems in no particular order... Mr. O.B. Fleagle pretends to be a U.S. secret agent and breaks Doc and Renny out of jail. He winds up being a bad guy. Why he breaks our boys out is a mystery. It's not as if he needed Doc's assistance in making the technology work. My guess was Dent wrote him to be good and then made him bad at the end to hit a bad-guy quota, and because Microsoft Word didn't exist in 1944 Lester said "Screw it, my check will have been cashed and spent by then!" Simple enough to have a valid reason to break Doc out and bring him to ground zero. Ham looks nothing like the Imp to imitate him:
He had a queer little face, the face of an imp. He was a small man, built like a mosquito. Fragile limbs and a fragile body. His skin was about the same color as the brown-leather suitcase he carried.
Long Tom should have doubled for said Imp. The story about the Imp having a brother is a false lead. Have Long Tom pretend to be the Imp and jettison the brother reference. Renny being drugged and made up to be a different person is good but with hands sized between a quart and a gallon each it's a stretch to say he wouldn't recognize them when treated with an astringent. Fine, it's 1944 and the story was written for children and adult grade school graduates, but the part about Renny's picture taken at a murder scene is not cleared up:
However, the night-club photographer, a young woman, had by the rarest of good luck taken a picture of the killer. She had obtained an excellent photograph, perfectly in focus and with good lighting from her camera flashgun. The killer had flipped a bullet at the girl photographer, but she had ducked to safety.
If she's an evil person taking a picture of Renny in a drugged state at the scene of the murder and passing it off as evidence, that's one thing, but according to the story Renny did the murder in public and she was lucky to get the picture. Monaghan's faked crime is better only because there's no clear photograph of him committing the murder.
There's always the question why people are kept alive by career killers when they serve no purpose either as shields, bait, or keepers of valuable information. Doc and his men are kept alive because they are contractually bound to be back next month. Someone named Dolly explains it but why again wasn't she killed immediately in the States? Because she provides exposition on some of the story's major plot points:
Her voice was bitter. “I was a fool. I'm a half-baked actress. They hired me to pull that Dolly act on you at the hotel. I didn't know what was behind it then. They told me it was a gag on a fellow. But later I learned differently. So they grabbed me and brought me up here to—I think—make a corpse out of me.”
Exposition is a necessary evil that can easily stop a book in its tracks for lectures on what people in the story (and often the reader) should already know and have no reason to bring up. I find it useful because I have a mind like a steel spaghetti strainer and the attention span of a pen, but sometimes I wonder if a book is stalling for word count or assuming I'm dumber than my looks and test scores indicate. This story had one or two more exposition breaks than needed. As a quick summation this was good:
Monk explained to Fay, “Renny met a strange little brown man on the plane, and the brown imp picked a quarrel. Renny went to sleep somewhat unexpectedly. When he woke up, he was in a Kansas City hotel, but he had another man's body. The body of a local jackleg crook named Palsy Gerson. Some of Gerson's pals bopped Renny over the head in the course of a row, and when Renny regained his senses, he was Renny Renwick again—but he discovered that somebody had been using his body while he was not occupying it, had used it to kill John Walters, who worked for the Stirling Instrument Co.”
This one was pushing it:
Renny looked at Doc Savage and said, “I think it shapes up this way, doesn't it? Something was stolen from the Stirling Instrument Co. in Kansas City. Stirling and Walters were killed because they knew the thief. We got mixed up in it through Monaghan—and why he got mixed in it we don't know yet—but we haven't done much good. Now they have whatever they stole up here. They're going to demonstrate it to this committee on the submarine, and if it is what they say it is, the committee is empowered to buy it. They've got the money on the submarine to buy it. And us—we're behind that eight ball. No reason at all why they shouldn't kill us.”
The stewardess being bribed to lie about the passengers doesn't work as well as having her be part of a Nazi infiltration into the United States that's already established in the story. The story can be repaired to be fairly hole-free. Renny not recognizing his own hands are a problem but if his drugged state was deeper it might be easier to not be definitive about it as it is now.
Back in 1944 you could jump out of a plane from either window or an opened door:
The little brown fellow could have jumped out of a window, or opened the back door when everybody was excited about the smoke.”
Doc is a clever man who knows the human mind:
Renny led the way into an old house which smelled of age and greasy cooking. Several people were crowded in the downstairs hall, trying to see through a door which Norman Monaghan blocked.
“They won't go away,” said Monaghan, indicating the spectators.
Doc faced the crowd. “We are police officers. Stay here, all of you. We will want your names, and we will want you to go into court to testify about this thing.”
Doc went into the room with Monaghan and the three prisoners. And when, three minutes later, Ham reopened the door for a look, there was not a curiosity seeker in sight.
A nice touch on this one:
Doc Savage had listened to Renny's story, then to Norman Monaghan's, without much of what he was thinking showing on his face. Doc's expression was habitually inscrutable, so his lack of emotion was accepted by Renny, Monk and Ham as a matter of course, but it seemed to bother Norman Monaghan.
The police are rooting for Doc:
Monk yelled, “Doc, this is a mess! If they lock you up, how are you going to crack this case?”
The police officer made another speech.
“You gentlemen”—he indicated Monk, Ham—“could have been arrested as well. We are aware of that and so are you. But out of consideration for Doc Savage's fine reputation in the past, we are doing something which may get us in plenty of trouble. We are letting you run loose to see if you can clear Savage and Renwick. If they are innocent, we want them cleared.”
Monk rubbed his jaw uneasily.
“That's pretty decent of you,” he admitted.
Monk = Mr. Cuddles:
“I heard what you stated!” Monk snapped. “Another such statement and you'll find some gravel in your throat and it'll be your teeth.”
Monk's a cretin, and that's a given:
“Dolly was quite an eyeful,” Renny admitted.
Monk sighed. “If my mind gets in somebody else's body, I hope the guy's got a snazzy gal friend.” Monk made a clucking noise of pleasure which was particularly nauseating to Ham Brooks. “Brother, wouldn't that be somethin'!”
Ham said disagreeably, “Get your mind off the gals, you homely missing link!”
Lester Dent via Doc Savage on the politics of WWII:
“Ah, Dr. Savage, the last time I saw you was at that diplomatic affair in London, was it not?”
Doc said quietly, “We had a discussion, and you received some advice, which obviously you did not take.”
Renntier was sober. “Yes, I recall the advice. It was good human advice, and for myself I might have taken it, but I do not set the policies of my country. You said that we were unequipped by psychology to administer to conquered peoples, and that our failures would drive us to a hysteria of force, which would bring the world down on our heads, and we would lose everything.”
Doc said, “I did, and you will.”
Stupid Effing Hipsters, circa 1944:
My, my, how formal,” said the girl. “What's cookin', snookins?” She threw herself into a chair and got out a cigarette. “Got a light, blight?”
There was nothing which nauseated Renny quite like the clang-slang which swing addicts affected. But, this was one of the smallest of his worries at the present moment. He fumbled instinctively in a pocket and found an awful lighter of onyx and chrome which he had never seen before, as far as he recalled. He furnished a light.
The girl—she looked O. K. at close range, too—blew smoke in Renny's face. “Thanks, tank,” she said.
I thought there would be a trigger warning for this heteronormative microagression so I could seek out a safe space to huddle in a corner, but no!:
The other room was on the fifth floor, and it was considerably less exotic than the first, lacking the smell of incense and the pillows. “That other room!” said Palsy sneeringly. “I ain't the kind of a guy who'd have a place like that. I got a few hairs on my chest.”
Men wore hats, when they didn't, it was noted:
He wore no hat
132- Death Had Yellow Eyes:
"Out of the darkness, yellow and bodiless eyes peer into the faces of Doc Savage and his crew. And when Monk vanishes inside a locked room, Doc leaps to the rescue — plunging straight into a vicious international maelstrom that could change the course of history!"
“Are you Swiss?” “No, I'm from Des Moines, Iowa.”
The invisibility fabric of this February, 1944 adventure is something still being worked on today and the new stuff seems to be as effective as the cloaks found in this Doc Savage story - passed over by The Shadow magazine and given to Doc Savage for use in Death Had Yellow Eyes. The story works very well visually and it reads like a camera-ready production. For the era it's better than usual but there's a long stretch from the middle towards the end where everyone's being restrained and the various rehashes and story furtherings are detailed in great detail. They're needed as the plot doesn't explain itself without it, but its chattiness and lack of movement is a sterling example of the Exposition Conundrum.
The framing of Doc and Co. for robbery and murder is beautifully done and the most believable example of the entire series. Soon after Johnny facilitates a breakout a seemingly unrelated other plot takes over, soon after that leading to the long and chatty flight to Romania in a nazi plane. It comes back around but Doc Savage stories are usual focused narrowly on the A story.
The invisibility cloth, as sciency then as it is now:
“You can imagine how stunned I was when I found out they had developed a cloth which makes a man invisible if the conditions of lighting are exactly right. There can't be too much light, and the background has to be neutral. That is, anyone enveloped in the cloth can't stand against a bright light and expect to be unnoticed.”...
The trunk was neatly packed with a rather unusual looking translucent cloth, cloth which looked as if it were made of some plastic similar to cellophane. It was perfectly visible. Just glass-like cloth, not even transparent.
But when Doc lifted folds of the stuff—the trunk proved to contain a number of long cape-like garments—and unfolded parts of it, the stuff became suddenly vague, seeming to disappear...
“Hey, they don't make anybody invisible,” Ham complained...
Ham said, “I'm going to take this thing off. I'm only—if I'm like the rest of you—partly hidden. I mean, you all show up as grayish figures—”...
MONK said, “This cloth is a phosphor compound, probably a zinc-cadmium-strontium sulphide set-up, coated on some kind of translucent plastic fibre. I can tell that much about it.”
The Invisible Cloth
HERE is the trick. The cloth is woven of an almost translucent form of fiber. In the fibers are embedded billions of minute crystals of a specially treated sulphide mixture having the property of storing light energy and releasing it at a later time. The phosphors absorb light when the intensity is high. When the phosphors are moved into the dark, the radiation continues—falling in intensity as it gradually becomes discharged. For the purpose of this cloth, a phosphor has been devised which will always radiate exactly as much light as falls on it. Thus if an object enclosed in the cloth is standing where a weak light falls on it, it matches the light because the cloth radiates at the same rate. If it is standing on a rooftop, it will not appear as a silhouette against a lighter sky, because the cloth will radiate a faint light. But if in a black shadow, the cloth gets no light, and stops radiating altogether; it's black in a black shadow. However, if there's a black background, and a bright light in front, the cloak will, in back, match the black background all right—but the front of the cloak will match the light falling on it, and it will appear luminous against a black background. This feature might be overcome. Allow that the cloak requires a weak electric current in its fibers to overcome the tendency of phosphors to radiate less than the amount of light.
Doc's somewhere below Peak Human and he's generally good. There's more of a procedural approach to how he goes about his business, but here's an instance of self-awareness that doesn't need to exist:
Doc warned, “Watch the car. Be ready to avoid it. He may plan to get at least two of us by running us down, and have bullets left for the rest.”
Nothing of the sort happened, leaving Doc with the impression that his grim advice had sounded a little foolish.
Monk, Ham and Johnny can't speak German, so language abilities were deliberately taken from them by the evil Street & Smith/Lester Dent cabal.
The mesh vest was a really remarkable garment made of an alloy which Doc Savage and Monk Mayfair, who was a noted chemist, had developed. An undershirt of the stuff, woven after the style of old-time chain mail, weighed only about four pounds and would stop almost any bullet up to a 30-06 military slug.
[Excellent scene] The newsreel cameraman pressed a gadget on the camera and out of the camera shot a stream of spray, like water coming from a hose nozzle.
The camera had an automatic “Pan” attachment—you touched a lever, and a spring motor then moved the camera in a slow swing from one side to the other. It wasn't necessary to hold to the camera. The photographer's hands were free, and he used them to produce three shiny tan-colored balls, which he heaved toward Doc Savage, Monk and Ham.
Doc Savage, Monk and Ham caught the tan-colored balls. They weren't handcuffed, so they could catch the balls. There was a pair-of rubber bands around each ball, and when these were unsnapped, the balls fluffed out and proved to be cellophane sacks.
Doc, Monk and Ham pulled the sacks over their heads. The sacks had elastic around the bottoms, which made a snug neck fit.
The cameraman pulled a sack over his own head.
The camera was still swinging and squirting out liquid in a long stream, and the liquid was vaporizing into gas, and the gas, when it got into eyes and sinus passages, was causing plenty of uproar, temporary blindness, sneezing, tears.
MINDFUL of what a gun might do to him if he spoke—one can shoot at a sound with remarkable accuracy, particularly after a little practice—Doc was silent...
Doc kept silent. Was she the red-headed girl? Were guns waiting to fire at his voice? It was a ticklish spot.
Hurting Nat and Jay was a job for a full-grown lion. The pair were the toughest commando fighters Doc had ever encountered. Worse, they functioned as a team. Everything they did was calculated to break a bone or tear a ligament.
Doc Savage, not knowing the reason for the fight, was at first inclined to be lenient. He intended to do no more than was necessary to overcome them. But his best wasn't going to leave much left over, he soon discovered.
He opened the front door, and went in after them, swinging at stomachs so as not to break his hands.
[Doc ponders theory instead of having done this before, a lot] In Doc's mind—it had been there for ten seconds or so—was a statement which he had heard a commando-tactics instructor make: That if a man had a gun muzzle jammed in his back, he could whirl and knock the weapon aside before the holder could pull the trigger. Ever since hearing the statement, the bronze man had wondered whether it would work when he saw anyone holding a gun against anyone else's back. Would it?
Monk sank into a chair, sat there with his eyes alert. He moved nothing but his eyes, and being a very homely man, he could look remarkably alarmed.
It was one of Doc Savage's rules to do no life-taking, no matter how great the provocation. The rule had given Monk trouble in the past. In a tight brawl, he was inclined to forget about it, then come forth with interesting excuses and alibis later.
HAM BROOKS regained consciousness finally. He did not say anything until he could manage words coherently, whereupon he rendered an opinion of the man who had been slapping him, using words that were all to be found in the dictionary, but putting them together so that a mule-driver would have blushed. “And your brother,” Ham finished, “was a deformed goat.”
“That's right,” the man said. “Now we want you to get Savage down here. Get him into our hands.”
“You think I'll do that?” Ham asked with the right degree of sarcasm.
THE shop was on Broadway below Forty-second Street and it was as untidy as a cat's nest. It sold sheet music, phonograph records, souvenirs, cards with dirty verses, puzzles, magic and jokes. The jokes were the kind you used to embarrass a fellow. Itch powder, exploding matches, hot-dogs that would squawk when you bit into them, water glasses that leaked down your chin. It was a fine place to go when you wanted to lose your friends.
Ham described the things which had convinced him there was a presence. There had been sounds, he was certain, of breathing and of slight movement, the sort of noises which—for example, a man—could not help making although he might be trying to maintain a stealthy silence.
[Nice tone of action] A moment later, Doc's head rang and the rooftops rocked. The lookout knew where to hit with his fists. Doc held on grimly, kept him in the air, and got moving. If they fell and fought on the roof, the noise might reasonably be expected to be heard below. The idea was to get to an adjoining roof. Doc made it, and fell over the wall on top of the fellow.
The man's throat was sufficiently crushed that he couldn't yell with much success. So Doc released him, began hammering at the man's jaw.
The man buried his chin in his shoulder, protecting it. He began kicking. He could kick better than he could hit. Doc fell on him, began working on the man like a Judo wrestler applying pressure to nerve centers which paralyzed the fellow and made him limp in Doc's grasp. The man made sheep-like sounds of surprised pain. He forgot and let his chin get up where it was a target. That was his mistake...
He stood up, examined his kicked shins, and concluding his legs weren't really broken, decided there was not enough left of his coat to warrant wearing it any longer. He took some stuff out of the coat pockets and put it in his trouser pockets, and used the wreck of the coat to tie and gag the lookout, finishing the job with the man's own belt and trousers...
Doc examined the six-gun. He decided to keep it because it was an old-timer, and there were seven notches cut in the gray bone stock. It looked like a gun that might have had an interesting past.
“That's no way to wake up an unconscious man,” a voice said.
“Sure it is. Don't you think I've had some experience. I got my start in life in the Gestapo, remember?”
“How do you mean—out of circulation?” Ham asked.
“There's ways. Lock him up in a room and watch him for a couple of weeks. Shoot him full of germs so he'll be too darn sick to mess us up. Or even a mild poisoning.”
THE migistrates' court was a large, gaunt room, dry with age and tired from the procession of evil that had passed through it in the past.
They ran a half block with only a minor mishap, which came when Monk got badly out of wind, only to have it dawn on him that he had forgotten to take the cellophane hood off, as had the others. Monk removed the hood sheepishly. His face, which was purple, quickly resumed normal coloring as he breathed oxygen.
“Those sacks,” Monk said, “leave something to be desired as gas masks.”
“Well, they were the best gas masks the dime-store had to offer,” said the cameraman.
[Most likely to... become a hostage] Pat was Patricia Savage, a young woman who was Doc's cousin, and who took it into her head frequently to participate in one of their adventures, usually against their wishes. Pat seemed to enjoy the excitement. But no one else enjoyed her sprees of helpfulness, because, for an unusually intelligent young woman, she could get into remarkable kinds of trouble.
“YOU can't put an advertisement in a newspaper over the telephone.”
“Go away! I'm not supposed to fuss with you!”
“How you going to pay for it?”
“Pay telephone, silly. Doc says you can drop money in the telephone until the ad is paid for. It's a service they got with the newspapers.”
“We will make you into a Hindu,” Doc told Ham.
“What'll I do for a turban, a flute and a basket with a snake in it?”
“You will not be quite that kind of a Hindu.”
[Most likely not a reference to that Doris Day] “The red-headed girl. Doris Day. A remarkable young woman.”
[Thank you for acknowledging the limitations of throwing your voice] He took a chance. He kneaded his throat muscles for a few moments with his hands, loosening them, carefully brought a ventriloqual voice out of the depths of his throat. There is no such thing, as a ventriloquist “throwing” his voice to a definite object. The method consists of speaking with a different-sounding or a distant-sounding voice, and focusing the onlooker's attention on a likely source. All he could do now was use a distant-sounding voice.
THE flying officer was lean, hard, probably twenty-five and looking forty when he wasn't remembering to hold his face alert. He was looking like all the young men of the superior race who were flying swastika-marked war planes these days.
The science, plot mechanizations, and action are all above average for a Doc Savage adventure. The only downside is a huge chunk of it being dedicated to hashing out the plot's parts and how they fit together. I wouldn't mind if Doc is heroed-up by 8.9%. There's no mention at the end of how the murder raps are handled back in New York, so that's left hanging even though we all know all will be forgiven.
133- The Derelict Of Skull Shoal
"In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean a dog howls — launching Doc and his crew on a high-seas adventure involving bloodthirsty pirates, man-eating sharks, and an island of zombie-killers!"
"Doc liked it, liked the yank and prick of adventure"
“Take your little panties off, boys. Do like the so-and-so says.”
March, 1944's The Derelict Of Skull Shoal was the first and last time Lester Dent's name appeared as author of a Doc Savage novel instead of the Street & Smith house name "Kenneth Robeson". Sadly this is a low point in the series as very little happens and Doc is barely Doc while the story is barely Doc Savage. It starts off trying to be taut and existential but quickly settles into slow and meaningless. I wager three internet monies that Dent dictated the story into a machine in pitch back darkness while shuffling around his study drinking scotch on a stormy Thursday night in September.
Doc Savage does nothing particularly Doc Savage and is hobbled by a major head injury from the get-go. I wager three additional monies this started as a non-Doc Savage story, which isn't a crime, but why have a main character filled with doubts, fears, etc. at all in any story? Did Dent think his readers suffered from low self-esteem and wanted that as a major theme of their reading material?
Monk shows up in the flesh and while Ham and Renny are heard but not seen until the very end. The Derelict Of Skull Shoal borrows an aspect of the far superior The Sargasso Ogre (Oct., 1933) by having captured boats shipwrecked in a desolate area of the ocean. The book also wallows in boat tours and extensive terminology - the stuff that walking comas are made of.
CI recall not a single gadget used in this adventure.
[Existential Doc Savage] The dog-howl somehow set him on edge. / He saw nothing. Somehow he was not reassured in the least. The feeling of uneasiness was hard to understand, there being no solid reason for it. / But he was getting the strangest feeling about it. A sensation of hideous waiting, condemned man awaiting the verdict.
[The inner mind of latter-day Doc Savage] Doc Savage searched the sea as far as the light extended. The dog howl had come from somewhere out there, and it didn't seem possible that another ship could have gotten out of sight in such a short time. Still, if the animal had been on a submarine—but they didn't keep dogs on submarines, did they?...
There were encased gliders in huge crates along the promenade deck, and Doc Savage slammed into one. It irritated him, because he had walked that deck at fifteen-minute intervals every watch since the Farland had sailed from Charleston harbor, and he should have known where all the crates were located...
Doc stood frozen. The howl came just once. He was puzzled at his own reaction to the thing. Surprised that it should put nerve-tightness into his throat muscles the way it did. He wondered why? It wasn't like him to be affected that way...
Then Doc Savage realized it was himself, the name he had taken, and he felt quite foolish. He must be hurt badly to be so stupid. He became alarmed about his condition...
Doc Savage lurched down beside him, set his own huge muscles to straining. The effort made something happen to Doc. Things didn't exactly go snap. But sickness, blackness, nausea came to him. He became helpless. Too helpless to stand, and he slumped down on his knees.
“We can't—do it—between us,” he said, and was ashamed of the weak sickness in his voice...
Doc Savage went to the bridge. It took him quite a while, and he had to rest frequently. By the time he reached the bridge, he decided his weakness would last some time. It made him angry, but it was something that couldn't be helped.
[Existential Monk] Anyway, Monk didn't know why he was on the Farland. He knew Renny and Ham didn't know, either. They had talked it over among themselves, and discovered they were all in the same fog.
Monk thought a great deal of Ham Brooks, more than he thought of himself, probably.
[Meta-Commentary To Doc] Monk grumbled, “Oh, all right, if you don't want to tell me, just act as if you didn't hear the question.”
“Important enough to ask our aid, huh,” he said. “Well, that makes it important. We had schemes to win the war single-handed, but they didn't think that was important enough to turn us loose. This must be hot.”
Monk's grin broke from ear to ear. He could have hung his hat on either end of that grin.
“I haven't felt better since that chorus girl sued Ham for breach of promise,” he said.
The Farland had sailed under sealed orders. Captain Davis had the envelope in his possession, with orders to open it only if he was confronted by a man who gave him the code words three blind mice. Once he opened them, he would find the man with the code was Doc Savage, whom he was to accept as his superior officer.
It wasn't a sap thing the way Doc ran it. It was, in fact, an enormous business. Doc liked it, liked the yank and prick of adventure, the breathless suspense of danger. Maybe like wasn't the word. Probably no one liked such things. It seemed that you would be slightly insane if you did like them. Probably fascinate was the word. The love of excitement was like a dope habit that got in your veins or nerves or mind or wherever it got, and you couldn't get rid of it. Monk, when he occasionally had a sober-minded moment, was a little ashamed of the enthusiasm and delight with which Doc and himself and the others pounced on each new promise of fantastic adventure. God knows, they would go to any lengths to dig up something that promised plenty of trouble, promised the prospect of getting their heads blown off, their throats cut, their hair turned gray from terror. They went after it like kids after candy. They were all goons, Monk sometimes thought.
She was a long blonde girl, and what of her showed above the bedsheet was interesting enough that what she was wearing under the sheet was becoming a monumental question in Monk's mind. She looked rather bedraggled. Give her a hairdo, a makeup case, an evening dress, and you'd have something you wouldn't mind marching into the Stork club...
SHE was well-dressed after all, to Monk's mixed disappointment and approval. She wore slacks and a kind of sweater affair which would give a censor an anxious moment.
The password instantly changed to “Hitler! Hitler! Hitler!”
If you must read The Derelict Of Skull Shoal trudge through the opening chapters and then skim at will. Very little happens at any time. At certain points you can read the first few words of a line or paragraph to get whatever it has to offer. If you're ever asked what the story is about (as if that would ever happen) say it's about the most boring and empty Doc Savage novel ever written - and it has Lester Dent's name on it! It's easily one of the worst Doc Savage novels but it's less failure than failure to even try.
134- The Whisker of Hercules:
"A superhuman god springs from mythology to terrorize and destroy. Those who cross its malevolent path also discover a quick way to die. Doc Savage and his crew set out to stop this ancient evil, and just as Doc closes in — he’s face to face with a silver-haired Adonis!"
“Brother, you're my prisoner,” Renny said. “If you're stronger than I am, you
may get away.
But otherwise I'll break every bone in your body.”
The Sanctum reprint points out this April, 1944 adventure is the last time all five assistants appear in the same book, and is also the last story to prominently feature gadgets. A change in Street & Smith management and the imperatives of shorter stories brought this about. This is the last "classic" Doc Savage story, with Doc at Peak Human form, all five on deck, and a plot revolving around the weird and wonderful - in this instance a herbal concoction that exponentially increases speed and strength:
“Body-building, you know, is my business. It has been my hobby, my interest, my livelihood, my special field. I study it as a good engineer studies engineering. I have studied the lives of the great strong men of history. Their lives and deeds fascinate me. That is how I came to study Hercules, and to learn—you will not find this information in the usual books—that Hercules got his strength, his legendary strength, by making and drinking a brew in which the principal ingredient was one hair from the whiskers of a legendary deity.”
“These whiskers, I found, were not whiskers at all, but the name of a plant common to the regions where Hercules lived. You know of the common fern called maidenhair? Well, this was a plant called a beard. The Arab nickname for it today is sharah baqq. I won't go into the scientific background of it. But I studied it closely. This studying began several years ago, when—”
The "Whisker Of Hercules" liquid works in a way it's now commonly seen, with associated strains on the body both physically and physiologically:
Monk pointed at the body. “In the cabin, that guy was young and husky and his hair and moustache were jet-black. When the girl saw him, he was still older. When Ham saw him, he was still older. When we found him, he was dead and an old, old man.”
THERE was no feeling of limitless strength inside Monk. Just an impression that the world had slowed down fantastically about him...
As he took the gun, he noticed that at least three fingers of the man who'd held the gun seemed to break, and the right arm was unjointed or broken. This accident to the fellow rather pleased Monk...
He discovered, to his disagreeable astonishment, a finger sticking in the trigger guard of one of the guns he had taken. It occurred to him that it must be an artificial finger to have come off so easily, but it looked quite natural. He had jerked it off a man, apparently.
The Whisker Of Hercules is filled with good lines and memorable scenes, and it's brutal to where a woman goes through the process of being tortured on the page. That's usually verboten in Doc Savage. The opening chapter is strong, and so is Monk's experience taking the stuff in Chapter 10. Hinting repeatedly that Lee Mayland might be the mastermind was either going to pan out as brilliant or fall flat as a feint. It was the latter but not much of a ding against a mostly nice story. According to the reprint it was mandated by Street & Smith.
“If you shoot, you'll get burned to death!”...
Monk, as a chemist, would have been pleased. He had spent a lot of time hammering his brains together trying to figure out a gas which would be made inflammable by the addition of the burned gunpowder gasses which came from a gun muzzle when it was discharged. The gas, to serve its purpose, had to be made inflammable instantaneously, so that the muzzle flame of the gun would also set afire.
It seemed to be working very well, the gas burning only over the area, and possibly a couple of feet more, where the muzzle gas from the gun spread.
Monk snorted when he saw the capsule—a plastic capsule full of mechanism of electrical nature—which Doc was embedding in the shoe heel.
“That thing is a joke,” Monk said. “Long Tom Roberts stubbed his toe when he made it. The things never did work worth a hoot. If she gets more than half a mile away from us, blooey! We lose her.”
“Have you a better idea?”
Doc finished concealing the tiny radio transmitter. Monk was correct about the thing. It was not in any sense a true radio transmitter, but it did generate a signal which was easy to locate with a direction-finder, although of very low power.
The enormous physical strength of the man was indicated by the way the tendons played in the backs of his hands—they were like rippling bars—and the hawsers of sinew which sprang out occasionally in his neck when he turned his head. His strength was shown also by the flowing way he moved, his lightness.
Doc Savage picked up both senseless prisoners, without seeming aware that it was a feat of strength, and carried them through the brush about a hundred yards, coming out on a small clearing where a car stood.
Doc Savage had not heard the yellow-haired man's voice, but he felt this one belonged to the fellow. Doc had read the man's lips from a distance at the airport, and he judged the fellow's voice would be about like this. When you were an expert lipreader, you could tell somewhere near what the voice would sound like.
[This stuck with me for decades] Doc doubled a fist, started to smash the door panel, but changed his mind. He had a surgeon's regard for his hands. Surgery was his specialty. He didn't want to smash his hands.
“We have not exactly followed the law in carrying the body around,” Doc explained. “So you had better be frank with the police, and ask them to check on us. Have the police chief telephone New York at our expense and to talk to someone there—Commissioner Boyer would be a good man—to find out the truth about us. Boyer should straighten out matters so we will have no trouble.”
The thing was so manifestly impossible that Doc Savage laughed. No humor was in the laugh. The sound of mirth—it was disturbingly a cackle—did more to disturb the bronze man than anything which had happened to him recently. There was no reason for the laugh, and the fact that he had laughed seemed touched with insanity.
“Doc Savage isn't just Doc himself. We're an organization, of which I am one.”
Renny Renwick had a deep rumbling voice which, when he tried to whisper, sounded somewhat like a couple of paving stones rubbed together.
[Once is a mistake, twice a coincidence, three times is a pattern] Renny, who was not susceptible to a shapely ankle, said, “I'm having trouble keeping my hands off that girl's neck. She knows what this is about.”...
Renny said, “I've got a notion to turn her over my knee. You know what she's doing? Waiting for a chance to give us the slip.”
“Hercules again,” Monk said. He sounded disgusted, but more awed with fright and disbelief than disgust.
Monk said, “Take a close look at me, and decide what you see.”
The other was growing more puzzled. “I don't know you.”
“Maybe not,” Monk said, “but you should recognize in me a fellow who is liable to take an arm off you and slap you with it if you don't trot that girl right out.”
Johnny was a very long man who was remarkably thin and bony. His clothes fit him the way clothes fit very thin men, as if they were hung on a pole. The monocle which he habitually wore attached to his left lapel was a relic of the past when he'd really had a bad eye. Doc had repaired the eye, and Johnny still wore the monocle, but with a magnifying lens.
Johnny running was a grotesque figure, but he covered ground.
The sheriff looked at them over a cigarette he was making. “What do you fellows think is behind this?”
“If we told you,” Ham said gloomily, “you would think we had been taking an opium pipe to bed with us.”
[cold opening] THE heavy-faced man took a .22-caliber rifle out of the golf bag. And then the younger man, without saying anything or asking anything, hit the heavy-faced man. The young man hit the other first with his fist. Then he got a flashlight out of the dashboard compartment of the car and let the heavy-faced man have it again. Twice. The flashlight lens broke.
The cab driver thought it over, then did what a life of hard knocks had taught him was the prudent thing to do. He pulled up to the curb, reached over, unlocked the cab door and threw it open. “I don't know what this is. I don't want any part of it. This is as far as I haul you.”
“Sorry, Miss. Get out!”
THE reservations clerk at the airport was named Warner, and he was proud of his job. The army had missed him, not because he was physically disabled, but because he had a wife and baby, and also because he was an essential airline employee. Airline employees were being deferred as essential workers, for much the same reason as railroad men. Warner, however, had done one thing of which he was ashamed; when his number came up in the draft, he had asked for deferment, citing his work, and his request had been granted. The exact truth was that he was neither a courageous nor patriotic young man, and he was afraid of going to war...
Warner twisted his mouth in shapes which he hoped meant sympathy, but meant shame and fear, only the girl did not notice because she had too many troubles of her own.
Monk's liking for a fight was shared by the others. Monk was just a little more outspoken about it. Even Doc Savage, who did not admit of any lust for bouncing enemies around, was not noted for avoiding a fuss.
“I really didn't need to see you.”
“There was really no trouble after all?”
She nodded eagerly. “No trouble. It was just imagination.”
He indicated the thin-snouted pliers. “There is no trouble, but they were going to pick off your fingernails.”
She did not say anything more. She put her face in her hands, not sobbing, holding her hands against her face with the fingertips digging at her cheeks.
“This looks like the man who—well—the car.” He closed his eyes again. “Only he looks fifty years older.”
“Well, well, this is quite a story,” Chief Carey said. “A man throws your car against a tree. He heaves one of your men twenty feet in the air. He carries off five of your prisoners, stepping thirty feet at a time. Now another one walks in and carries off the body of the first one before you can do anything about it. Is that what we're to believe?”...
“I had heard of you before, of course. I had heard that you were always involved in cases that were unusual. Tonight I talked to a New York police commissioner at Mr. Renwick's suggestion, and he said that anything you touched would be unusual. So I was expecting something unusual. Looks like I got it.”
WESTERN was a professional strong man. He claimed, he explained, the title of Best-developed Man In The World. There was actually such a title, but he did not hold it officially, having been flim-flammed out of it by favoritism in the one contest held in recent years. Since he considered the contest an unfair one—he was rather violent when he told Doc and the others about this—he believed himself justified in ignoring the results and claiming the title.
Doc Savage looked on, astonished in spite of himself at the unbelievable speed of it. The whole affair was something like a motion picture with some of the characters in normal motion, and some of the others in the comic ultra-high speed sometimes used for a gag shot.
“Not being guilty, we do not need an alibi.”
“Oh, sure. Apples have fleas.”
The Whisker of Hercules is a very good story that deserves to be pared down a little to keep the action flowing as much as possible. Strong on characters and plot, remove the police involvement at the end where Doc is accused of being behind all the chaos. Things were moving along so well with the prior scene of the train robbery that it should have continued along those lines with Doc and Co. in hot pursuit of stolen gold bars and temporary human dynamos.
135 - The Three Devils:
"A strange supernatural beast stalks the northern wilds. Can Doc put an end to its reign of terror — before a ruthless band of fanatics puts an end to Doc?"
“You town guys give me a pain where the pants are tight”
This isn't much of a story and it's not told all that well. The "Spook Bear" named "Black Tuesday" rings hollow from the start as being anything but a human contrivance, or maybe I've just read too many Doc Savage books, and Lester Dents' efforts at establishing a tone of fear and dread come across as just that - efforts. Everybody is scared. Things happen in the dark and out of sight, and everyone can only react impotently. One thing for sure there's a lot of walking around and talking about things. What's going on? What are we doing? What can we do? Oh noes!:
The bronze man confessed gloomily, “What disgusts me is the way we're just walking into one thing after another.”
Renny was oppressed by uneasiness. The feeling was hard to figure; it was like having an ache without being exactly sure where the ache was. The thing began to bother him more and more, until finally he decided he must be doing something that he shouldn't be doing, or forgetting to do something that should be done.
Johnny barely speaks and eventually he's there in name only. Long Tom isn't even mentioned. There are no birds near the village of Mock Lake and a radio set is destroyed in total silence. These pan out to nothing. Dent unloads everything he's researched about cellulose into a long speech by a secondary character. No gadgets are used. Doc's a bit about average for this era and he's a little whiny but still competent. The Three Devils appeared on cheap wood pulp paper in May of 1944.
Amongst the blandness of The Three Devils comes a few examples of ultra-violence, with this attack on Monk, Ham, and Johnny with sulfuric acid my vote for most revolting of the entire run:
Renny, looking at them, got an ice-cake in the pit of his stomach. He knew acid burns when he saw them. Monk and Ham and Johnny had plenty, in the most agonizing places. They weren't in danger yet—that is, a good plastic surgeon such as Doc Savage or someone else, but he would have to be good, could fix them up as good as new in time. With time, and some luck.
Doc Savage looked somewhat pained. “I wish we could be spared the dubious pleasure of hearing a Monk and Ham quarrel for as long as an hour, sometime.”
Doc stood there moving his thoughts around. All this had sounded like truth, and if it had come from a man he would have accepted it instantly. But he didn't trust his judgment with women. One of the earliest things he had discovered was that even a moderately good woman liar could tell him the most black-faced fibs without his knowing the difference.
[Did Doc make Googly eyes?] Take away her grief, excitement, tension, Doc reflected, and she would be a very pleasant girl. She was neither too large nor too small. Her hair wasn't too blond, her eyes were a deep blue, not a washed-out blue, and everything else was very much all right.
Doc was going over her good points a second time, with considerable pleasure, when there was an uproar in the main room of the Post.
MONK arrived wild-eyed and out of breath. His excitement, added to the fact that his apish looks were unusual to begin with, made him a remarkable figure.
[Otherwise he's seemingly illiterate] Monk could even, he believed, tell the type of plant it was. He had recently spent much of his time developing an improvement of the sulphate process, one which gave a gentler action and a much greater yield. Pulp by Monk's process didn't have the drawback of the usual soldium sulphate gentle-action process, that of being incapable of taking a white color. Whereas most gentle-action pulps were suitable for only wrapping paper and such material, Monk's could be converted into newsprint and coated papers, and even have the strength for the highly coated process known as supercalandering.
[A fake process with monk's name attached] “You know who that homely mug is? Monk Mayfair, who developed the new Maysul process that we put in here about six months ago, at the orders of the Canadian government.”
[Reference to a law firm as opposed to Ham being a lawyer] It was Ham's stationery, bearing the letterhead of his law firm, but the text was pencil-printed with bluish lead.
A gun in his hand was often the same thing as courage.
There wasn't anything cheap about it, because the plane belonged to the same class in planes that nine-thousand-dollar roadsters belong to in cars.
“I don't forget a face, but it's got to be standing on its two feet.” Hurrah Stevens suddenly kicked the skulker. It was no gentle kick. “Get up, you snivelin', drivelin' moccasin louse. Let's look at the thing you put your food in.”
“Why did you fire him?”
“Sheriff caught him sellin' coke to the lumberjacks.”
“You mean coke like at a soda fountain—”
“I mean coke like on a hop bush,” said Hurrah Stevens distastefully.
Doc Savage obviously had other questions, but he held them back while he listened intently, moving his head a little from time to time. There was a hollow tree nearby, and he went over to that and put his head inside, something that made Hurrah drop his jaw, demand, “What the hell's he got his head in that tree for?”
Monk explained, “A hollow tree gets ground vibrations from the earth, footsteps for instance. Sometimes you can hear somebody walking a long way off if you put your head inside a hollow tree and listen. Hollow inside the tree makes kind of a sound box.”
[Snappy Patter #1] “When did it happen?” Doc asked.
“Three days ago.”
“It was natural enough considering there was eight inches of knife blade stuck in his back.”
[Snappy Patter #2] Hurrah gave the bronze man a look that was half curiosity and half scowl. “You're askin' questions, ain't you?”
“It important to you?”
“Important enough to ask questions.”
[Snappy Patter #3] “Inspector, will you give me a frank answer to a question?”
“Ask the question first.”
Blasted John threw out his arms. “I don't give a damn about him! But he pays me three hundred dollars a week as superintendent here. Where else can I find a guy who would do that?”
“I wouldn't know,” Weed said, sounding as if he really didn't know.
“You city dudes are always so smart! You know which slot to put your nickel in in the subway, so that makes you infallible!”
The screaming started again. One man this time. One man who was doing the last screaming he would ever do. He ended on a long gurgling note as the last liquid life poured out of him.
[This happens with frequency in the Doc Savage world] “Hm-m-m. Anyway, how the blazes would he make O'Toole take the poison?”
Doc suggested, “O'Toole knew we were going to question him, and he knew we would use force. If he was told the capsule was a knock-out drug, one that would make him unconscious for a while, he would take it, knowing there wouldn't be any percentage in our quizzing an unconscious man.”
[That wasn't very nice] The car chased its headlights down a chip-and-sawdust paved street, past stupid looking houses all the same color.
"tonight it was shorter than an atheist's prayer"
Weed was obviously unskilled with women, and he spoke to this one as if he was trying to make friends with a strange animal in a cage.
[Captain "Renny" Obvious] Renny rubbed his jaw. “You know, this whole thing looks like it might revolve around these paper mills.”
[Nice abrupt violence to solve that problem] They were laughing at that when the first Mounted Policeman came inside. He was Inspector Weed himself, and he didn't stop to tell anybody they were under arrest. There were too many guns in sight.
Weed shot old Hurrah Stevens twice in the head and once in the chest.
“Better not go in the meeting hall,” he said.
“Why not?” Monk asked.
“It's a beautiful sight in there,” the Inspector said. He still sounded bloodthirsty. “But you need a strong stomach to enjoy it.”
“You got them?”
“All those the devil didn't get,” said Inspector Weed cheerfully.
[A plan first executed in 1924 by Germany? WWI ended in 1918] “Twenty years ago our first agents came into this country,” Stevens continued. “The first men were psychologists and engineers—planners. It was they who decided upon the legend of the bear. And the groundwork of building up the ghost bear actually began nearly twenty years ago. Skilled men were put into this country, and their job was to do nothing but 'see' this bear from time to time, see that others found its tracks, and otherwise build up the thing.
Much of The Three Devils comes off as old hat by the time of this 135th adventure. It falls short in whatever it's trying to accomplish as it moves along. Some of the dialogue is entertaining but it could only get worse by making Doc a loser - which it thankfully doesn't do. Thank god for small favors.
136 - The Pharaoh's Ghost:
"In the mysterious land of the sphinx, Doc Savage and his crew confront a sinister foe — who uses a pharaoh’s curse and machine guns to carry out his evil will. Doc trails the malevolent genius to his remote hideout, just as his friends are scheduled for sacrifice to bloodthirsty gods!"
“Get going, you pile of camel puke” “Come and see, you goat-smell”
Book #136, dated June, 1944, is mainly a very good Doc Savage story perfectly suited for a television series adaptation. It flows well and is filled with intrigue and action in equal measure. None of the day-players are innocent but not all are evil, and the deaths are all memorable. Monk, Ham and Long Tom are given a chance to shine as a team more capable than the usual hostage victims, and Ham and Long Tom conspire to con Doc in order to save Monk and Johnny, the latter's disappearance bringing everyone to Egypt in the first place.
Renny is missing and I'm thinking Lester Dent included Long Tom to give him a chance to shine as a fighter feared by even Monk, especially in this first bit that's iconic:
Long Tom shoved Monk. “Get out of the way. I'll tear you off an arm or a leg, and you can play with that!”
Monk got out of the way hastily. Long Tom Roberts was a thin, emaciated looking character, apparently so near collapse that he was a constant encouragement to undertakers. But his looks were deceptive. He was a man with possibilities. Monk and the others didn't know exactly how many possibilities. They had never seen them sounded to the fullest.
The truth was that the cadaverous looking Long Tom was about as feeble as half a dozen wildcats fresh off a diet of raw meat and rattlesnakes. Aroused, he was something to look out for. He sounded aroused now.
Hamamah tried to stick two fingers in the sucker's eyes. Hamamah wore the nails long on the two fingers, and under the fingernails he kept a concoction—a particularly stinging pepper and some other worse stuff—which would blind an opponent in a jiffy.
It didn't work. The American sap got the two long-nailed fingers, and quickly and efficiently broke one of them and disjointed the other.
Hamamah was hurt. He screamed a scream that would have reached the topmost spire of the Rahib mosque, had the shriek been a success. It wasn't The American sap knocked the screech and one of Hamamah's teeth back down his throat. Hamamah gagged, and they fought.
They actually went end over end in the alley. Hamamah knew some of the Cairo alley brand of judo, which was pretty nasty stuff.
The American sucker knew more and better of the same stuff. Hamamah began to squawk and pant and gasp. He lost hide, another tooth, some hair, his courage.
Sadly and strangely there's two major failings in The Pharaoh's Ghost - both easily repairable. The lesser evil is that Dent never explains how Doc gets the Sunhara people, whom he calls "troglodyte dwellers", to change their tune on killing all the good guys and work with him to capture the real bad guys. Come up with a scene that shows Doc winning them over. The big problem is a death device reveal that's obscenely laughable. Flying jellyfish that live out of water:
“This isn't a sea jellyfish.”
“Naturally not. But it has some of the characteristics. As anyone who has done much swimming in the ocean knows, there are jellyfish which are almost transparent when floating in the water, and which will sting like the very devil when touched. The physiological problem of the explosion of the stinging capsules of the cnidae has always been a baffling one, but that is for scientists to worry about. Everyone, almost, has seen a jellyfish.”
“In the water,” Fain muttered. “But this is—well—it is similar, at that. The conventional jellyfish floats in the sea. This one floats in the air.”...
While they stood there, trying to figure a way of getting at Jaffa, Fain explained about the case. He described his jellyfish, then spent some time insisting to the skeptical Monk that it was really a jellyfish, even if it was buoyant enough to float around in the air. The buoyancy, Fain explained, was a simple gas similar to hydrogen which the thing generated within its body cells. It could float in the air, rise, fall, through buoyancy, but the propulsion was entirely a matter of contraction and movement of the mass.
The yellow spot death is great:
Doc Savage happened to be looking at Hamamah, puzzled by the utter horror on the Arab's face, when a small damp yellow spot appeared on Hamamah's forehead.
The coming of the yellow spot was utterly mysterious. It appeared, with no immediately apparent explanation, on Hamamah's forehead, halfway between his eyebrows and hairline, but a little to the left of the middle of his forehead. It was as yellow as paint, somewhat the size of a silver five-piaster piece, or roughly the size of an American quarter-dollar. It was not exactly round.
Hamamah seemed to feel something on his forehead. He put up a hand, felt, brought it away, stared at the yellow stain on his fingers. He had smeared the mark on his forehead.
He screamed. His shriek put to shame any howling that had been done hitherto...
THE dying of Hamamah was noisy. It would have been hard to imagine a noisier death, and likewise one with more mystery and implausibility. Nothing about it was believable except the noise, and the undeniable horror, terror and pain the man underwent.
Hamamah flailed his arms in front of his face along with his shrieking, and fought and clawed and stumbled backward trying to escape. He seemed to go blind, and lose his direction sense, because he plunged to the side and crashed headlong into a wall. That silenced him—he was stunned—and he flopped on the floor, where he lay making mewing sounds and pushing nothing away from his face with both hands.
The whole performance was uncanny.
When the significance of it had time to soak in, it became hair-raising. There was something horrible about the Arab's expression...
Hamamah by now had both arms wrapped over his mouth, and was having a series of most unpleasant convulsions in which he flopped like a fish...
And Hamamah died. With rattling violence.
Have it be a poison derived from a jellyfish, not a food pellet for jellyfish that flutters in the air like butterflies!
“Well, what is the thing?”
“Just a short-wave radio transmitter putting out a continuous note and made so it won't shatter. It's a special set that can't be tuned, because everything is embedded in plastic wherever possible, to keep it from smashing to bits when it hits. After the thing hits, the radio will send out a continuous signal for about four hours.”
“What on earth is it good for?”
Long Tom grinned. “Well, our boys send a fast pursuit plane scooting over a German target at low altitude. The plane bangs this trick bomb right into whatever factory is going to be the target for tonight. The Germans let the bomb alone, because they think it's a time-bomb, see. They put up the usual sandbag barricades around it, the way you do a time bomb, and the disposal squad starts to work. But that takes a few hours. Before they dig it out, our planes have come over in the night and located the target by the radio signal the bomb is sending out—and boom! boom! School is out.”
[The worst Doc gets in the story] Doc had a defeated feeling...
The hot-room of the bath was hot—evidently Ali Ghurab had planned a bath, and had fired up. There was plenty of halfa grass wash-cloth substitute. Doc finished bathing, wished there was an attendant to give him a kibs, a massage with plenty of tartak, or joint cracking.
He came out feeling much better.
[Doc knew Ham and Long Tom's story is a lie but doesn't get angry and let's them know it's full steam ahead] “We have always had a rule. There is no hard and fast requirement that you follow orders, all the time. When you think you have a better idea—use your own judgment.”
Ham grimaced. “This idea, this wild-goose-chase idea, wasn't so hot.”
“Some of my ideas have not been, either,” Doc reminded him. “How soon can you fellows be ready to follow that gang by plane?”
“In about thirty seconds,” Ham said.
“I'll be superamalgamated!” said the new arrival. “An ultrainvidiously pyrotic, envemoned, disenchanting exacerbation!” He continued with some more words out of the same drawer.
Monk said, “I'll describe him. Johnny is very long and very skinny. In fact, he's skinnier than you'd think any man could be and still be in good health. And he uses big words.”
Ham said, “Johnny uses big English words, you mean.”
“Listen, he would use them in Arabic, too,” Monk said. “I've seen him with his nose in foreign-language dictionaries, digging out big words in the languages he speaks.”
Hamamah blinked. “Why the big words?”
“Some people stutter,” Monk said. “Johnny uses big words.”
Johnny Littlejohn, the archaeologist, said angrily, “Hold on, you nitwits!” To Joe, he said, “Is that word paraschistes?”
“That's it, or about it,” Joe said eagerly. “The paraschistes fellow makes an incision in your abdomen with a sacred stone, then runs away like the devil while other stones are thrown at him. Then your entrails are removed while the ceremony proceeds.”
Johnny said, “Bless my soul! Why, that ceremony dates back to the Middle Kingdom. Herodotus had such a story of the ceremonial methods in his documentary history. I would certainly like to see it.”
“You would what?” Monk yelled. “You want to see it? Why, you heartless hieroglyphic-reader! You want to watch while they cut my guts out with a sharp rock—”
“Oh, stop screaming!” Johnny said. “I merely meant the ceremony would be of enormous interest to any archaeologist.”
[The expert being called out for failure] During the Atlantic crossing, there had been some aggravating trouble with the cabin heat. At very high altitudes, with temperatures sometimes threatening to drop to eighty or a hundred degrees below zero, the cabin heating gadgets had turned out to be a joke.
Long Tom, the electrical expert, had designed the cabin heating system, so he was more than a little embarrassed about it. He went back in the cabin to putter around.
Of all the animals on earth, Long Tom thought the least of a camel. The feeling was mutual. To the best of his knowledge, he had never approached a camel without the thing managing to vomit on him. He had seen camels do it to other men—spitting, you could call it for politeness, but when it happened to Long Tom it became vomit—but never did it seem to happen so often to anyone else. Sure enough, in the middle of binding proceedings, the camel lived up to tradition...
He was untied from the camel a moment later. Staring at the unusual habitations, he forgot to dodge, and the camel unloaded on him a second time. That time, the Sunhara thought it was funny.
Monk asked Ham, “You know this slick-hair?”
“He belongs to one of the most influential families in Italy,” Ham said. “If you read anything but comic strips, you would know that.”
ABOUT two hours later, another fight came up the stairs. Monk and the others listened to it with alarm, thinking it might mean that Doc Savage had been captured.
“No, it's not Doc,” Monk decided. “It lacks the more violent aspects of an earthquake.”
Monk hung his shirt on a stick, said loudly, “All right, charge!” and pushed the shirt around the corner. Bullets knocked it off the stick.
“That guy can shoot,” he muttered.
For two years old Amil had been planning to kill Hamamah, and the only reason he hadn't done it was because he was hoping he could figure out a still more painful and gruesome way of doing it.
At that, old Amil was probably as good a friend as Hamamah had.
A chair, next to a bullet, is probably the most effective offensive weapon against a man with a knife, or against any opponent with a cutting weapon—which is why lion tamers carry them.
HOTAH stopped struggling and lay in a shape which no man with life left in him would occupy.
[If you blow a lifetime of financial security on stupidity you deserve to be a charwoman] Avis Wilson said, “My father once operated a large rug business in Cairo. He and my mother were killed in a plane crash long before the war. They left me enough money to put me among what I suppose you would truthfully call the worthless rich. I have enough money to stay in that class about six months longer, after which I'd be looking for someone who needs a fairly poor stenographer.”
Fain knew that he was frightened of what he had been doing. Frightened probably more of himself, because he had been able to do such things. He hadn't supposed himself that kind of a man—that heartless, ruthless, grim.
He was too deep in it now to back out. And he did not intend to quit. His plans were to follow it through to the nasty end. And then, if his plans went well, he would go away somewhere and try to live with himself. Then, if he couldn't be reasonably placid, if the thoughts left rotting in his mind were too much, he would probably have to get himself run over by a car, or something, and killed. He had a horror of suicide. But an arranged accident didn't hold as much revulsion for him.
[M&H share a major personality defect] Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks both tried to convince the authorities that he wouldn't be behaving himself if he went on a honeymoon, but they got nowhere with that. Fain and Avis Wilson were married. Monk and Ham were both disgusted, because their theory was that pretty girls shouldn't get married. Not to other guys, anyway.
Drop the silly fluttering jellyfish and think up how Doc gets on the good side of the Sunharas. Once that's done The Pharaoh's Ghost is a pleasure to read from start to finish and one of the best Doc Savage books.
137 - The Man Who Was Scared:
"A simple breakfast cereal sends Doc after a faceless criminal mastermind who is plotting nationwide horror. Following a wild battle in New York’s Grand Central Station, Doc discovers two shuddering facts — his crew has vanished, and the cops, army, and FBI want him for murder!"
Minimal effort was put into this July, 1944 story, and it shows distinctly in every chapter. It's also noncommittal to everything on the page and easily becomes contradictory. It's more readable than it deserves to be, mostly because it works hard to be colorful, and its minimalist, laissez-faire telling is oddly interesting.
The book spends an inordinate amount of time on Elma Champion and her identifying the "corpse" of her uncle Dub, and the bad guy plot to get Monk, Ham, and Doc away to Elma's Wyoming dude ranch takes up a lot of space. It's as if Lester Dent lost interest in his main story and saw this as a fast way to hit word quota in the first act. Monk and Ham are creepy and existentially off their game, alternating between lost on what to do and functioning together like a commando unit. In action Monk becomes detached and depressed, and (of course) existential: “Why do you have to kill me, any of you?” Monk demanded. “What's important enough for that?” Cowardly Monk soon enough is rescued by Doc:
Doc said, “Come out now.”
Monk crawled out of the ditch, stringing water and bitter misery.
“My God, I must be getting old and weak,” he complained. “I never did a thing like that before in my life.”
Ham goes off on his own to rescue the damsel in distress and this bit of background gets dusted off and used poorly:
Ham did some necktie grabbing himself. He hauled Monk's face close to his. “Dumb and knot-headed—that would be a matter of opinion! I was going to send for help if I needed it!” he said violently. “But not crooked. Not a bit crooked. All of us free-lance, do things the way we want 'em done. We always have. When Doc's judgment is better, we use that. But we use our own. You know that.”
The bad guys are either a mixed group of skilled killers and cowards, or they change their minds about it as they go along. It's vague. Exposition pops up out of the blue. A fire starting in a morgue because gasoline bottles fall off a shelf onto a lit cigarette is too convenient by half. Hostilities end immediately when Monk finds a machine gun and threatens to use it on armed gunmen. The story assumes revenge as a motive when said motive doesn't come out until the end and is undersold as a motivation. Doc admits to being scared twice but he's not too bad in The Man Who Was Scared. He could and does get a lot worse depending on the month. As an example of the oddness at play, Dent writes that it's possible a beaten up hostage will attack a gang instead of leaving when given the chance:
Doc Savage, under the impression that Lochaber had made a break for liberty, and wondering why they weren't letting him go—headed for the fight.
Or maybe Lochaber, the moment they freed him, had started out to beat up on the gang for what they had already done to him.
[Uber-Doc now Good-Genes-Good Student-Doc] DOC SAVAGE was unusual, but this did not mean that he was a superman. Now and then a tabloid newspaper would label him as the man who was a remarkable combination of physical giant, mental wizard and scientific marvel. But they did this for the same reason that a corny movie publicity man now and then used the words stupendous and marvelous and unparalleled in describing some medium-grade flicker opera. It was stretching the facts somewhat...
Doc Savage's father, about the time Doc was born, evidently received some kind of shock which completely warped his outlook on life—made him devote the rest of his days to raising a son who would follow the career of righting wrongs and punishing criminals who seemed to be outside the law. Doc never knew what happened to his father to give him such an idea...
His mental abilities and the superior efficiency of his senses were genuine, but only the result of a fellow who hadn't had anything like a normal boyhood.
The training had been endless. Some of it was tortuous, some of it interesting, some of it silly, and a normal kid would not have stuck with any of it long enough for it to mold him as it was intended. But Doc, because they had caught him young, had taken the works. Not always willingly, but he had taken it.
He still endeavored to devote two hours a day to exercises intended to develop every muscle and sense. Sometimes, as any other guy would, he let it slide. But not too often.
Riding up in the elevator, he frowned at himself in a mirror. He didn't care for himself in a monkey suit.
The gloomy man grabbed for both coat pockets simultaneously. Doc, a little ahead of him, seized the skirts of his coat, one with either hand, put a foot in the man's middle, shoved with the foot, pulled with both hands. The man's coat ripped off him in two halves that were heavy with the guns in the pockets.
[Doc's lost a bunch of muscle weight] “Repeating instructions to arrest Doc Savage on sight. The charge is murder, and the man may be dangerously insane. Doc Savage, sometimes known as the Man of Bronze, height about six-four, weight around two-ten or—twenty, straight bronze hair, regular features. Particular feature of face is strange flake-gold eyes. Wanted for murder—”
“Where can I get a gun?” the man demanded.
The pedestrian looked more disgusted with himself than startled. He was a native New Yorker. When you are a New Yorker for a few months, you learn to adopt an attitude toward strange incidents and unusual people. You ignore them. Usually it is a gag, and never is it any of your business. So you walk away with dignity, but you don't lose any time. The pedestrian left hurriedly.
What the cop was driving at finally came out. He wanted to be introduced to Doc Savage. He wanted to meet the Man of Bronze, as Doc Savage was now and then called in the newspaper headlines.
He wanted to meet Doc for about the same reasons any ordinary guy would have liked to have met MacArthur, or Bing Crosby, or Churchill, or Henry Kaiser, or Stalin.
There was nothing theatrical about Elma Champion. Nothing cheap. Not brassy nor artificial. She wasn't too tall and she wasn't too blonde and she wasn't too beautiful. She had a definite quality of loveliness, a thing that was quite real although a little hard to explain, something that would somehow cause a man to walk for a while in silence after he saw her, just thinking.
“We've got Savage fooled!”
“Well, it's about time! Of all the long-winded, complicated tricks! It's like scaring a rabbit out of a brush pile by kicking a guy on the shin in Boston, so he will have to take the train to the hospital, and the train will whistle at a crossing in Ohio making a team of mules stampede, which in turn will make the guy jump out of the wagon and land on the brush patch—and presto!—you've got your rabbit scared!”
[Pulse-pounding Doc Savage action!] He opened the cellar door, and stepped behind the door after it was open. It was, considering that the house was roaring with excitement, apparently no hiding place at all.
The men streamed out of the basement without noticing him.
The Doc-Is-Framed angle is one of my least favorite, and while it gets a run here with insanity added to the charges I'm grateful for Dent's colorful meanderings with secondary subjects so I didn't have to read more about the reactionary and ungrateful treatment Doc gets from the authorities. I also wish Doc would pick up the phone and call someone to explain everything he knows about the frame against him. Declaring your innocence isn't a crime against fiction. The Man Who Was Scared is the best completely and absolutely average and vague Doc Savage story of all time! Oddly enough, its minimalism keeps it from being a trainwreck.
138 - The Shape Of Terror:
"A sinister plot is underway, and it all begins with the incredible and horrifying death of Doc Savage. Everyone says it is an accident, but Monk and Ham know the truth-and that means they know too much. For the terrifying plan to succeed Monk and Ham must die too!"
In case anyone asks, the Shape of Terror is elliptical, like the egg on the cover, an addict who got laid for sweet, sweet antibiotics. August 1944's entry takes Doc, Monk and Ham into Nazi infected Czechoslovakia to rescue secret-keeper Johann Kovic from a concentration camp and save the civilized world from a weapon so vague yet so incredible it must have been really something. You'd think from the huge deal they make about it.
The title and cover are references to an event that's no more than a plot point. Someone tries to poison our heroes with conine-injected eggs and Doc figures it out immediately. The Shape of Terror does fit the title scheme of the series better than the more accurate The Czech Concentration Camp Rescue Suicide Mission.
Reading Doc Savage books again I'm discovering the shorter novels tend to be real-time adventures, with situations taken as they come and an emphasis on the imperative of the now. They (try to) grip you and not let go until the end. The longer novels are expansive adventures that take days, weeks, and sometimes months. The Shape Of Terror is short. I found myself annoyed as I read most of it and skimmed through what I recognized as scenery filler, but in retrospect it could be rewritten as a decent tale of gritty WWII behind enemy lines action. The premise and outline are good and worth salvaging.
I wish the series didn't think insanely difficult disguises were reliable if even possible. In this story a little old lady turns out to be a beautiful young woman when there's no reason she couldn't just have been a young woman in a simple disguise of a wig, makeup, and costuming. That's just a lead to the real problem of Doc Savage being able to disguise himself as Mahatma Gandhi if he had to. If Doc's anywhere close to his max height of 6' 8" he's not going to be able to pass himself off as anyone but Lennie from Of Mice and Men, or a character Dent created for a book that fits the bill. Here Doc disguises himself on the fly, in a concentration camp, to be a chubby Nazi calling himself Jones-Jones. Why, because that's how Dent resolved the issue of how the good guys escape. A master of disguise would be The Avenger, who was statistically average (5' 8", 160 to 165 lbs.) in order to be a master of this. Doc's disguises worked when he made himself up to be a "new" character to everyone involved. The crap about Doc mastering compressing his body is just that. Crap.
Introspective insights into the fragile corners of Doc's mind are also anathema to a gripping Doc Savage tale. In 1944, when the war was still raging, did readers want a story where the original superman worries if his fat suit makes him look fat? If Dent didn't want Doc to have god-like abilities all he had to do was reduce him to peak human and have the narrator describe the risks and capacities of a peak human Doc Savage. In The Shape Of Terror psychological hamstringing begins around Chapter 5.
The editing process for this book may have consisted of distracted glances at the manuscript. If I can catch errors, so could a petunia. Doc shows he can speak the local languages like a regional native. He can even lip-read German. Later on he's just squeaking by mit sein Deutsch:
In English now, the man in the
Nazi uniform said, “You speak Polish and German like a native. That will
get you by. I understand your Czech is fair also.”
Doc said, “Laugh again, you ground-crawling dogs, and I'll teach you manners!”
His German was getting by.
A dingy Czech factory floozy named Jiln turns over loverboys Ham and Monk to the Nazis in exchange for the cartoonish image of a mink coat being draped over her shoulders while she does a Betty Boop impression. She's talking to the Nazis like she's an insider on the secret Nazi operation and scolds them about Doc with “He should have been killed in England”. Really skank, you know all this and get to tell the Nazis their business? It's bad writing that she's saying these things.
This nonsense would make more sense if Monk and Ham suspected the old lady in disguise and gave her a fake coin on purpose. The setup of carrying cancer-causing coins in your pocket, for fun, and handing them out to find them later with an electroscope, which he also has a few of in his pocket, is ludicrous six times over. Dent could have made it a deliberate science tool used for detective work:
He went through his pockets in a hurry.
“Wow!” he yelled. “You know what I did? Passed out one of our trick coins!”
Monk demanded, “You sure of that? Doggone, it was clever of you if you did.”
“It was an accident,” Ham confessed. “But I did, all right.”
Doc Savage was puzzled. “What are you fellows talking about?”
“Oh, it's a brainstorm Monk had,” Ham explained. “You take a coin and give it a going-over with radium, and make it radioactive. Then you take a pocket edition of an electroscope and it will register when the coin is nearby.”
Monk said, “My electroscope has the same principle as the one every kid learns about at some time or other in high school—you know, two gold leaves suspended from a rod in a jar, or a pith ball on a silk string.” Monk dug a gadget out of a pocket. “Here it is.”
There's some good bits too. The group's fighting status during the war is delineated as:
Doc's insistence that he and his aids wanted to see a piece of shooting war always got a hearty laugh. It was then pointed out to them that they were probably shot at twice as often as the average Marine commando. Someone with stars on his shoulder in Washington had said, “Put it this way. You fellows are a particularly powerful medicine and you seem to be able to cure just about anything. But there aren't enough of you to cure this war. There're only six of you, Savage and five aids, and six men in a war aren't even a drop in the bucket. But you can be used to cure specific cases. When a new disease breaks out somewhere, you can be used to fix it quick. That's why we're keeping you on tap. You're a small supply of a very potent cure which we have for unusual troubles.”
Which didn't appeal to Doc particularly, because it seemed to him that he and his aids were pretty much lost in the shuffle of the giant that was war.
According to Will Murray in the Sanctum reprint, the Dents toured Europe in 1938 and came in close proximity to Nazi soldiers in Berlin. Dent looked evil in the face and wrote about it. Dig the wacky untrue second paragraph:
There was no fear on the loose face. No hope, either. Doc eyed the man. The fellow would make an interesting psychiatric study, because there was something wrong with his mind. An incapacity for emotion. No feelings. Life, death, blood or smiles, it was all the same. The man was better off dead, if you came right down to objective truth.
Yet Doc couldn't kill him. He had
never taken a life in cold blood, not even, as far as he knew, by accident.
Certainly not by accidental design on his part.
This place had that. The guards now were different. There was never anything angelic about the face of a Nazi concentration camp guard. But these fellows were beyond, over the edge of bestiality. Their jowls hung and their eyes were pocketed and their lips had a cruelty beyond anything normal.
Dent addresses Doc's stupid trilling:
DOC SAVAGE was so startled that he did something which he rarely did, a thing that escaped him only in moments of intense emotional stress. He made a trilling sound, low and musical, but without a tune, a sound which he always made unconsciously, and deep in his throat.
The sound was silly, and he'd tried for years to get rid of it. He had acquired the habit when, a kid and impressionable, he had studied Yogi and body control under an old fakir in India. This training incidentally, had been part of a remarkable youth, for he had been placed in the hands of scientists by his father when a baby. He had gone through a rigorous and possibly fantastic upbringing, being crammed twenty-four hours a day with stuff that was intended to make him a sort of superman. It hadn't made him a superman, but it had given him many unusual abilities, including a great deal more physical strength than the average man, and an over-acuteness of the senses which startled and sometimes mystified strangers.
I enjoyed the brevity of this bit where the three leave each other to find a way to Czechoslovakia, knowing it's a suicide mission:
THE separating was a frightening thing. So it was almost brusque. Monk and Ham exchanged a couple of insults. The result was very stale. They grinned at each other, then grinned at Doc. They left separately.
Reading Doc Savage books can save your life if you wind up in a similar situation in your job at an olive oil factory:
“A man cannot swim in oil. The difference in specific gravity between oil and water, you know. The oil is so much lighter that a man will sink immediately.”
Back to what doesn't work. In the great Dentian fashion of talking around a thing but not talking about that thing, Lester makes little sense because if Johann Kovic keeps the defense of "the thing" in his head alone and the Nazis aren't in need of a defense as they just plan on using it against allied troops, they could just kill him and the defense dies with him. Dent should have stated the Nazis wanted the defense in case their own people get hit with it by accident (or on purpose if the weapon is replicated):
Without Johann Kovic, the war might well be lost. The reason was this: The Axis really had a secret weapon. There had been a lot of talk of secret weapons, beginning with the break-through and that fort in Belgium or wherever it was, just before France fell, when there had been so much talk of a nerve gas.
Secret-weapon talk had run the gamut of magnetic mines, strange gases, rocket-guns, rocket-planes, and so on. But this time, there was something.
The exact nature of the thing was not known. But they were positive a secret weapon did exist, and that it was terrible. So bad that the war outcome would be completely changed. Even with Germany whipped, the thing would go into the hands of Japan, and with it Japan could win.
But there was an absolute defense against it, developed by the Czech, Johann Kovic. Kovic worked out this defense without the knowledge of the Nazis, and against their orders. He had been able to do this because he was employed in the laboratory where the thing had been developed. He was one of the scientists who had worked upon it, as a matter of fact.
That was why Kovic had been thrown into a concentration camp. Because he had worked out a defense. He was the only man who knew of a defense against the thing. The details were in his head. That was why he hadn't been executed.
And that was why Kovic was being kept alive. He knew the defense. The Nazis didn't. Kovic was being tortured daily in order to make him disclose his secret.
This part resolves what I just wrote but the allies now have the weapon only because Kovic lived to give it to them. Doc via Dent is also being very naive about the wartime moralities of Russian and China:
Doc Savage was uncomfortable, but grimly determined. “There will be a great hullabaloo for the Allies to use this thing on them, because they were going to use it on us. But there are certain human considerations to be weighed. England and Russia and America and China and the other Allies, the people of all those nations, are going to have to live with each other and with themselves after this is over. If this thing was used in this war, they couldn't do that, couldn't live with themselves any more than a murderer can live with himself afterwards.”
“Oh. You mean—the weapon is to remain a secret with Kovic and yourself.”
“Yes. We have the defense.”
Johann Kovic said, “And now the Nazis will never dare use the thing. You would have the defense. You also have the weapon. They have no defense. They know it would be turned on them, and they would be helpless.”
The rest is Doc Savage being a psychological mess. Enjoy:
Doc, standing in front of them, looking at them, got stage fright, one of the few times in his life he had had it. He thought: This meeting is a confession of helplessness by these men. They have said without words that they cannot do this job with the resources they have. And the resources at their disposal include, in the final analysis, every last soldier, air plane and gun in each of their nations.
Overdramatic? No, it wasn't that. It was frightening. It scared you. It made you feel as if you had been handed a straw and shown a charging lion and told: Here, you have to defend yourself with this straw.
I'm standing here, Doc thought,
BECAUSE Doc was very angry, he
kept quite still. The anger was at himself, and at the situation.
She had a frankness, a level honesty. Doc thought: I am going to like her. I had better watch that.
A FEELING crawled up in Doc and tied his throat tight. It was a funny kind of emotion. Not fear. Not all fear. This was more than fear.
It was—well—awe. Awe. The
sensation you get when you're a kid and see your first railroad engine, when you
stand beside the engine and find the smallest wheels are taller than you are.
The feeling when you first sense the bigness of the world. The gigantic
complexity of things. So big, and so many things about it you don't understand.
Doc sparred another mental round or two with his feeling of inadequacy, of having stepped into something that was too big and complex. He felt as if he'd landed in the middle of a machine that was operating full speed, a mysterious sort of a machine that he'd never seen before and never dreamed existed.
The loose lip curled. Around the small teeth, the gums were purple and swollen from some mouth disease. “Money. Did you know there's a reward of fifty million marks for you?”
The news was having an astonishingly pleasant effect upon him. Fifty million marks, even Reichsmarks, was a lot of money in Germany. Ten-million and twenty-million mark rewards had been offered for Mihailovich and for a Russian guerilla leader or two. But fifty million—there was a sum that made one feel important.
HE made it. Physically it was not a feat that any soldier in good physical shape could not have managed. But there were four floors below to the street, and it was more or less a blind business, launching out for the wires. He waited until he saw them through a rift, then leaped.
It scared him. It scared the devil out of him, and he was irritated at that. Any circus trapeze worker would have laughed at the idea of the thing being difficult, and Doc himself was capable of twice the leap. But it scared him anyway.
139 - Weird Valley:
"A man who has found the secret of eternal life is murdered, and Doc’s search for the truth leads to a hidden valley deep in Mexico — where eternal life awaits some, and death awaits Doc!"
WWII was going hot and heavy when Weird Valley appeared in September of 1944. What it lacked in war references it made up for in not being worth its fifteen cent cover price. The first three chapters are fun, with geezers Methuselah Brown and Artic Davis doing a good job convincing smart people they might be hundreds of years old. Lester Dent adds whimsy to the storytelling and it works. Soon enough the adventure switches to autopilot and trips over itself as it shuffles to a weak conclusion. The plot doesn't support its own weight, and both Doc and Monk aren't who they used to be. Ham is a neutral force who might as well not be there while the rest are absent. Besides the opening chapters the only other good thing it has to offer is that Ham & Monk's mutual hate routine is kept to a minimum.
Do the people of the Tira Valley live forever? It's implied, yet Doc tests a sample of the mystical water and discovers it's plain 'ol sulfa mineral water. Does this mean everyone can live forever, or is it an advertising claim for Vitameatavegamin?:
“Oh, as a scientific curiosity, it is worth something,” Doc admitted. “But as a matter of fact, any up-to-date doctor can sell you the same stuff, as much of it as you would find in a barrel of that water, for a couple of dollars.”
“What the dickens is it?” Monk demanded.
“The water contains nothing but the ordinary minerals spring water contains, plus two of the sulfa drugs in solution.”
“You mean sulfa, like in sulfanilamide and sulfathiazole and stuff like that? The new drug the army and navy is using to stop infection? The stuff everybody is figuring is going to cure colds and everything else?”
“It does not cure everything,” Doc said. “But that is what I mean.”
“Darn it, you mean those Indians just were healthy in that valley because they had sulfa drugs in their drinking-water?”
“That seems to be all.”
Part of the central conceit of Weird Valley is that the water is to be shared with the world so everyone will live forever, which also implies people will still have babies and the earth will be standing-room-only before you know it. Is eternal life a good thing? For starters of a long list, will mass murderers in prison for life want to live forever?
Doc Savage is Mr. Above Average who thankfully this time doesn't fall apart inside while keeping up a stoic front. New Relatable Person Doc Savage is just like you and me, but better, like you wish you were if you had better genes, looks, brains, ethics, initiative, and personal hygiene. He was a fairly normal fellow:
He certainly didn't show many signs of the immense amount of peculiar training which he had received in his lifetime, for he had been placed in the hands of scientists for training when a baby, and for the next twenty years had no normal life at all. As a result he was a combination mental marvel, physical giant and scientific genius.
It was an immense tribute to common sense, or whatever a man is born with, that he was a fairly normal fellow. He had few peculiarities.
[This diminishes Doc in a subtle yet major way ] DOC SAVAGE'S most peculiar characteristic, probably, was the fact that he seemed to be of no more than normal size when one saw him from a distance, but was a giant when he came close...
As a whole he did not look as remarkable as he was. There was only a hint of the startling physical strength and agility which he possessed, the hint appearing mostly in the way the sinews jumped out on the backs of his hands and in his neck when he moved quickly, and in the general lightness of his carriage.
[Contradicts earlier advertising] Doc Savage was no superman, and he demonstrated it immediately by not seeing the steel cable—they called it a steel cable, but it was really a wire rope—which was stretched between a tree and one side of a bridge, slantwise across the road.
[Insecure Doc Savage] Doc was discouraged. He felt he had made a long speech, putting his neck out, for nothing. He rarely did such a thing, advancing theories which he couldn't prove, and might be nowhere near the facts. He felt an urge to justify himself.
Doc threw one of his gas grenades, a piece of futility born of rage, because it fell short. It popped in the road well behind the two cars.
Doc, running the way a man can run when his life depends on it, diving right and left to avoid bullets, reached the car...
With extra luck, he got the correct two wires together...
Elation, which had been building up inside Doc Savage, suddenly flooded him. This was it! This was what he should do. Instinct and judgment assured him that he should lose no time getting to Tira Valley, wherever and whatever the place was. There were arguments against it, and probably common sense was against it, but he decided to gamble.
“All right. We will start immediately,” he said...
He ducked a thrown cast-net, went behind a bush, put his head back and his chest out, and ran as he had run few other times in his life...
This part stands out in the negative. Doc and Monk are in a bad situation and Monk wants to take decisive action. Doc at first is against it but suddenly he becomes detached and indifferent about it, somewhat like a sociopath:
“You can try for the plane alone if you want to,” Doc said.
“If you think it will work—if you feel your plan is best—go ahead with it,” Doc said.
Monk grimaced. “Now, that's a hell of a spot to put me in.”
“Not necessarily. Just use your own judgment.”
“You don't mind?”
“There are two sides to it. The two of us together do not stand much more chance against all these Tirans than one would. If you could get out, bring aid, it would be fine. I don't think you can. But use your judgment.”
The residents of Mexico's Tica Valley are a people exceedingly violent yet peaceful in that special mix Lester Dent championed. Monk, seized with fear and panic he didn't experience in the 1930s, senses Tica Valley is a facade of normalcy hiding a horror out of The Twilight Zone:
“Listen, I'm scared green,” Monk said...
He could hear a bellbird sounding somewhere in the jungle. The sound didn't click in his memory, didn't mean a thing at the moment. Because Monk was horrified.
Not scared. Horrified. His eyes moved over the faces around him, and what he saw put ice in his stomach.
A Tican elder says one thing then sets up the opposite, similar to how Doc Savage has a no-kill vow while also setting up criminals to bring about their own deaths in specific ways:
Violence was not their way, he continued, and would never be their way. The few cases of violence that had occurred in the past were sincerely regretted...
“Therefore,” he said, “there will be no violence on these men from our hand.”
The old man smiled at Funding, not very pleasantly. “This is our way of revenge on you. One of you has enough of the water of Tira to make him live forever. All of you will now depart in peace, he with you.”
“This is ridiculous!” Funding exploded. “Why don't you give all of us some of this stuff—that water of Tira. Then we will leave you alone.”
The old man shrugged.
“This way,” he said, “none of you will get out of the jungles alive. It has happened so in the past.”
Fifteen minutes later, all of them were standing in the jungle at the edge of the village. The Tirans left them there.
But the Spanish-speaking old man gave them a parting bit of information.
“There is a loaded revolver for each of you two hundred yards down the trail,” the old fellow said. “And also a knife and a tube of poison for each.”
He scowled at them.
In Weird Valley Doc Savage is mainly a Psychologist Detective:
Doc said nothing. He was fascinated. He had spent a good deal of his life studying psychiatry, and one of the things which had most interested him had been the human emotions. He was seeing, as he watched Ward, as agonizing a parade of them as he had ever seen on a face.
The first emotion—when Ward met Doc at the door, and up until the time he had produced the pistol—had been determination, determination to the point of intoxication. The young man was drunk on it. Rapidly there had followed indecision, doubt, fear of ability to accomplish, nausea. Now it was defeat, inability to do what he had intended to do.
Watching the changes was like watching flesh falling off the young mans body, because the end result was a quaking wreck.
The whole series of changes probably occupied no more than two minutes of complete silence.
Then Oscar Ward leaned forward and made a low sound, a sound like a bubbling. He put the pistol on the floor, still cocked. He was crying.
Doc Savage was watching Ward intently. Weighing, judging, deciding, or trying to decide, what was truth and what wasn't.
What Ward had said sounded like truth—or at least what Ward sincerely believed. But it was hard to be sure about lies and truth. You could never be quite sure.
Mr. Above Average doesn't see the steel cable across the road and ploughs into it, and he's a bit ashamed of the gadgets that have kept him alive and steps ahead all these years:
The bronze man also loaded his pockets with such gadgets as he thought might come in handy. Developing such contraptions as a thing that looked like a fountain pen, but could be made into a pocket microscope, a periscope for looking around corners, a tube for breath-getting when under water, and so on. Such gadgets were his hobby. He liked to pack them around. Whenever possible, he went out of his way to make use of one of them, taking much pride—slightly childish pride, he sometimes suspected—when they worked, and feeling extremely put out when they flopped.
This was obviously time for a gadget. The one he liked best, and which he employed most often, was an anaesthetic gas, transparent and colorless and without a very distinctive odor. The stuff would daze a man almost immediately. He carried it in small glass globules which would shatter easily, in a special metal case with padded pockets for the pellets. He reached for the case—and couldn't find it.
The gas-container was in the pack which he had left behind.
The only thing he had was a package of concentrated food pills.
[What the hell is the tone of the parts in bold? To make Doc seem pedestrian?] Sometimes the gimmicks turned out to be nothing but an enormous laugh, as when Monk Mayfair worked out a gas which he thought was a sure-fire nerve gas, effective through the skin pores, and confidently tried it out on himself, with the result that he turned as green as a bullfrog and stayed that way several months. But a percentage of the gadgets turned out to be practical. Headquarters was, in fact, a hodgepodge of such things.
Doc Savage liked to work from the place, because when he needed something unusual, it was likely to be handy.
Furthermore he was now alone, and he knew the best way to tackle the thing for the time being was in an administrative capacity. About all he could do alone was spark-plug things, start machinery working.
[Doc and Guns] Doc Savage said loudly, “My gun is the only one with bullets.”
He had to say it again, louder, then shoot a man in the foot before the fighting stopped...
The goatskin had been put aside for the attack. Doc Savage followed them far enough to see them pick it up. He aimed carefully, and his bullet broke the arm of the man with the bag. They all ran on, leaving the goatskin.
[Doc Savage tells a lie] “Funding is dead. He was knifed helping us.”
Nora Funding made a small out-breathing sound and Ward caught her. She made the out-breathing again, and passed out.
Ward's eyes searched Doc's face unbelievingly. “But Funding was—wasn't—”
“Wasn't,” Doc said. “You were wrong about him.”
Monk told Doc, “That was the biggest lie I ever heard.”
Doc said, “They are in love. The truth would have ruined things for them.”
Monk grinned. “It was a good idea.”
[Historically it's Monk who has the trick coin] Ham said, “Oh, all right. I'll match you to see who does it.”
Monk sneered at him. “Nothing doing. The last six times we've matched, I've lost. You've got some kind of a trick coin or gimmick.”
The witchcraft-collector friend was a tall, lean, spectacled gentleman with a merry smile and twinkling eyes. Monk liked him immediately, and kept on liking him until he discovered the fellow was one of the bluest of the bluebloods, controlled a fortune reputed to be more than a billion dollars, and was a society leader. After that, Monk's admiration cooled. There was no sensible reason for this. The man was still a fine fellow. But Monk had become so accustomed to grumbling at and about Ham's social-leader friends that he just couldn't stomach the idea of one of them being a nice guy.
[Monk used to be bow-legged like an ape] Monk made a couple of tracks of his own, and compared them with those they had found. Monk was somewhat pigeon-toed himself, but certainly nothing to compare with whoever had made these tracks.
[Monk feeds from the bottom] She was very pretty—pretty and practical-looking, not luscious, if you liked them long and blonde and a bit on the glacier side...
Monk stood there and examined her admiringly. He could appreciate such a number, although he preferred them a little more chorusy.
[Arctic Davis to Monk] "Bugs to you, handsome".
[Very odd for Lester Dent to write that Monk can run faster than Doc] Monk, short-legged as he was, had the running ability of a desert lizard. He could actually outrun any of their group except Doc, and occasionally he outran Doc.
The laugh caused the elderly duffer to turn to Ham and ask, “What's so funny, pretty-pants?”
Which got Ham's goat. Ham gave a great deal of attention to his clothes. During normal times he had spent much effort pursuing the title of Best Dressed Man in New York City, and to win such a distinction, you had to be distinctly high-class with your dressing. It was crude and jarring to be called pretty-pants.
[Ham should read the thrilling Doc Savage adventure Fear Cay, Sept. 1934, featuring 130 year old Dan Thunden] “Two hundred ninety years old,” Ham said bitterly. He leaned back and frowned at the ceiling. “No, I don't think we had better call Doc. That old guy in there isn't two hundred and ninety years old, for the simple reason that nobody lives to be two hundred and ninety years old these days.”
[M&H don't carry weapons and Monk says he'll have to remember to buy one] "They were scared. They were so scared they hadn't had time to get mad."
“Have you got a gun?”
“No,” Monk said. “But if I get out of this alive, I'm going to buy one and chain it to me so I'll never be without it.”
Ham Brooks, the lawyer, often contended that Monk Mayfair had been born deceived, as well as: sawed-off, box-bodied, small-eyed, big-mouthed, hairy, lop-eared and generally worthless. All but the first and last of these contentions were patently true, as a look at Monk Mayfair would show. The last adjective, generally worthless, depended on the viewpoint...
Ham and Monk were great friends, in a violent way.
Methuselah Brown was sitting in a straightbacked chair at the moment, and he toppled backward, chair and all, exactly the way practical jokers hope their victims will do when they give them an exploding cigar or put a load in their smoking tobacco.
“Words, words, words!” he yelled. “All words and no action, like everybody these days! Is this where I find this Doc Savage, whoever he is, or isn't it?”
“This is where you find him.”
“Well, trot him out!”
Monk coughed. “What on earth are you smoking?”
“My private stock,” said the old man. “Grow it myself. Have grown it for a hundred and twenty years. Got it from an Indian named Potato, who once met George Washington.”
Arctic Davis wanted to sell it. Methuselah Brown wanted to give it to humanity. They argued hotly about it, and finally Davis won out, and they agreed to sell it to humanity.
[I appreciate Dent's contempt] The apartment was in the Village. One of those old-fashioned, genteel-looking brownfront houses that promise old lace and Chippendale inside, but are frightening when you actually get inside. This one was typical. The interior must have been done over by a modernist who had gone mad. Chrome and Lucite, blond mahogany and black ebony, leather and strange shapes. Colors of the rainbow where you least expected them to be. White rugs with a pile so deep that a dog could hardly wade it...
Doc Savage stepped into the other room. It was worse. None of the statues looked like human figures ever looked, and none of them had a normal number of arms, legs or heads.
“Sit here, please,” said Oscar Ward.
The chair, lucite, looked as if it were made of glass and wouldn't hold a baby. It didn't even bend when Doc sat on it.
[From a radio show called "Take Italian Or Leave It", later on television as "The $64,000 Question. $64.00 in 1944 is $863.67 in 2015 money] Oscar Ward lifted his head. He looked straight at Doc Savage and said, “That's good. That's mighty good. That's the answer to everything but—if I may be trite—the sixty-four-dollar question.”
THE speaker had the kind of a shrill voice which fat men often have.
Contrarily, when they landed in Belize, British Honduras, he had to eat or fall over from hunger, and he gobbled down a mess of tortillas, potted goat, cactus salad and other mysteries.
A Tiran stood in front of the ship, whirled his coil of line twice around his head and let fly. Part of the coil of line slipped down over his arm and tangled. The rest sailed into the plane propeller.
What happened next was sudden and bloody. The line tangled the plane prop. The arm was jerked off the Tiran as neatly as one could take a wing off a fly.
The man's arm, the block of wood which was at the end of the line, almost as instantly beat holes in the plane's wings, knocked off a landing wheel, and made one swipe through the front of the cabin, narrowly missing the pilot, and taking out most of the instruments.
The pilot shut off the motor.
The Tiran stood there without his arm and not making a sound. Weirdly, he was still on his feet. Jets of scarlet came out with each heartbeat.
Weird Valley bogs down heavily in recaps and Production Note scene setting. Doc Savage isn't particularly Doc Savage and he doesn't do a noticeable amount of Doc Savage things. The treasure ends up being something from a health food store but it can't be because mineral water doesn't make anyone live for hundreds of years. I came up with another redeeming quality of Weird Valley. It's not that long!
140 - Jiu San:
"A malevolent new leader has risen to terrorize the Western world. No one knows who he is. Doc, his crew, and a blonde war correspondent risk everything to find out. But to get the answers, they must face the death-dealing powers of a madman on the nighttime streets of a city known for its bloodthirsty killers — Yokohama!"
There was no love lost for the Japanese in this October, 1944 war-winding-down adventure, where the word "Jap" appears 105 times with "Nip" coming in second at nine. "Gook" gets one mention but at least nobody is "slant-eyed". Even a Jap calls a Jap a "Jap"! This gritty and tense adventure hit the streets in October, 1944, and it's easily one of the best in the series if you can get past the raw hatred for our WWII enemy in the Pacific:
[Even Doc is horrible!] Doc Savage knew quite a bit about Japanese, but even to him they all looked somewhat alike.
Like hogs, he thought. It takes a hog farmer to tell his hogs apart. He wasn’t particularly pleased with himself for mentally comparing Japanese to swine. Not that he thought much of Japs. But such thinking showed that he had the same violent hate that all Americans had now.
A dump, Doc thought. And a Japanese dump was really a dump.
Doc said nothing. He wondered uneasily if he’d been too obvious, too careless. Trickery and scheming was part of a Jap’s training, the world was beginning to learn. Being schooled in the devious, they would be inclined to expect others to be more tricky than they perhaps were. Must be more careful, Doc thought.
"You take this twenty-sen piece," he was saying. "The size of a good American jitney, just about. Not that anybody would mistake it for a nickel." He chuckled and indicated the coin. "Look here at the bottom, it says ‘fifty sen,’ in English. Everything else on it is written in grasshopper tracks, but the amount is in English."
Trotter said thoughtfully, "Maybe that is significant, the indication of an inner feeling that the real value of humanity are not their own."
He realized he was telling Trotter, "Get down! Get down! Watch these gooks!" Saying it over and over.
HAM went from one Jap to another, making sure that Trotter had hit them hard enough to keep them unconscious. He did this by hitting them again. He knew each of them personally, and he knew they were the offscourings of Japan, fellows who deserved no pity, so he hit them hard.
"You are overdoing that," Doc said. "No need to kill them."
"They’re rats," Ham said.
Given a mandate from Street & Smith to remove the "Superman" elements of Doc Savage, Lester Dent provides what might be the best example of it in practice. How and why Doc at various times in the series became burdened with self-doubt and loathing remains a mystery, but it was always a bad and sad choice. In Jiu San, besides a moment of uncertainty about a plan coming together, Doc's great. His reputation and abilities are referenced and he agreeably goes about being on top of the action without doing anything extreme. There's no gadgets and they're not missed in a story resolved through standard acts of violence. Gadgets aren't mentioned in order to deride them as childish, so extra points right there. Additional points for Ham & Monk not insulting each other like teenagers, for Monk not talking like an illiterate whore-monger, and for not delving into Doc's inner mind. Chapter 4 stands out as excellent.
The only change I'd make is to trim some of Ham's inner workings near the end. The story operates on the strength of a real time telling and this slows down a bit once the perspective of the narrative switches to Ham. At the same time there's also too much talking about events. Not a long story to begin with, it would be even better if this section plays out in real time.
The perspective of the story shifts in a nice way throughout, opening with the typical Dent focus on the lead day-player, in this case the excellent Carlta Trotter. Doc appears in obvious disguise in Chapter 2 but the story is still Carlta's until the middle of Chapter 5, where it shifts to Monk's perspective until Chapter 8. Soon enough it's back to Monk and then Ham gets his turn before Doc takes over for the landing. Renny, Johnny, and Long Tom don't even rate a mention.
Lately she had begun to suspect she was the victim of a snide deal from her paper, the New York Blade, one of the ranker and more successful tabloids. Trotter was trying to make up her mind whether coming to the Alaskan theater had been her own idea, or whether Pot Johnson, managing editor of the Blade, had pulled a smarty on her. Pot was a little guy with a big ego who hired only beauty and brains in combination when he employed females. Then they always had trouble with the silly side of Pot. Pot Johnson fancied himself a lover. He was a little guy who could sigh like a furnace.
When Pot failed to make a conquest, he didn’t give up. He just changed his interest from love to psychological sadism. He became an unholy experimenter. In other words, he would set out quietly and deliberately to give the death of a thousand cuts to the gal who had spurned him. There was something devilish about his system. His victims never seemed to realize what was happening to them, Trotter had noticed. They wound up married to guys they didn’t like, or something like that, without knowing why.
Her parents lived on a farm in Iowa, where they made barely enough to live on. They were perfectly content. Her father had once amassed a total of fourteen million dollars, which he’d lost spectacularly in the nineteen-twenty-nine crash. The loss hadn’t made her father give up. It had just made him philosophical. He said he had always wanted to know what it would be like to have fourteen million dollars, and now he knew, and so he was perfectly happy. He meant it, too. He was a great guy. He was writing a book on psychoses of hogs.
Trotter stumbled out of there. She didn’t cry. She wanted to. She didn’t swear, which would have helped. She didn’t kick things around in her room, which would also have been an aid.
She was sunk. Punctured, deflated, disgraced, a flop. She could see now where she had it coming, and that made it worse. Covering a war wasn’t the same as covering a trunk murder on Park Avenue. She’d confused the two, and tried to use the same tactics. It hadn’t been the thing to do. She should have known better.
TROTTER’S father, who was a philosopher in a backhanded way, had a saying that if you wanted to know why a pig likes to roll in the mud, go ask the pig. Trotter decided to take the advice.
THE little Jap, the one they got to calling the Flying Dutchman, was not important looking. He seemed innocent, if one will admit that any Jap can seem innocent these days.
The sergeant was big. Very big. Actually a giant, but you weren’t quite aware of this until you were close to him. He was a man with enormous physical strength, because there was a symphony of sinews in the backs of his hands and in his neck when he was moving. Something made you look at him repeatedly. He had something special. Personal power, probably, because personal power is something that is very hard to hide.
Trotter knew what Doc Savage’s business was supposed to be, but she had her doubts about the truth of that. Savage was supposed to "make a business of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers in the far corners of the earth." The quotes were from another newspaper story on Savage.
Hokum, in Trotter’s opinion. The thing had another angle, doubtless, because nothing that sounded as Boy Scout and idealistic as that could be true. Working for a scandal-mongering newspaper had made Trotter suspicious of anything too idealistic.
Other supposed facts about Doc Savage: He was a scientific genius, a muscular marvel, a mental wizard. Probably eats his spinach too, Trotter thought skeptically.
"Doc Savage," said Colonel Rieger, "has for some time been as influential a man as you can find, just about. His prestige connected to a project was an insurance of success. When he put his name to anything, it went over. The man is a scientist, and he contributed invaluable inventive help to the United States. He has been a sort of trouble-shooter for things that had had everyone else buffaloed. The War Department used him for that through the early part of the war, against Savage’s protests that he wanted to see some active service. And they were wise. Savage, as I said, has done amazing work. Just a few months ago, he helped crack one of those German secret weapon scares, only this time they had something, and Savage fixed them so they couldn’t use it."
[Spoken by Monk] He shook his head bitterly. "Doc apparently has gone haywire. For about the last six weeks, he has been changing. He used to pal around with us guys—the five of us who are what you’d call his assistants. But about six weeks ago he began to stop that. And this pro-Japanese talk began to start up. Subtly, at first. Appeasement stuff. And then it got worse." Monk eyed Trotter ruefully. "You had it right about why he lost his commission. Pro-Jap sympathies. I got it straight from a friend in the War Department."
She was liking Monk more and more. She put a high value on loyalty, and Monk was standing by Savage, in his mind at least. It was a tough test of loyalty.
She learned something of Monk himself. The guy was blunt, two-fisted, but he had brains. She thought she knew what had made him a somewhat cockeyed character. It was his looks. A fellow so homely was bound to be different. When you were so homely, you went through life taking a lot of things off people, wisecracks and such, or just knowing from the way they looked that they thought you were a freak.
Monk grinned, pleased. "Just so you didn’t hear it from a pal of mine named Ham Brooks. He lies to people about me, and I lie to them about him. We make each other out as black as possible."
"Ham Brooks—isn’t he the lawyer of your group?"
Monk nodded. "We act like a couple of half-wits when we get together. I guess people figure we’re clowns. Can’t blame them. Ham and I have carried on a kind of juvenile non-stop quarrel ever since we knew each other." Monk’s face twisted painfully. "I miss the overdressed shyster."
There was some warning. Mostly an odd expression around Monk’s mouth, dumfounded incredulity, disbelief. They were intense emotions, but Monk held them back well. He hardly changed expression. But it was too much for him to keep inside him, and he passed out. He upset, spilling the kasuteria he was eating at the time, as he rolled over.
Ham knew that Monk had recognized him.
[Ham gave him opium] Ham grinned slightly. "I’ve heard you say before that only fools are sure. But I’ll lay a bet this time. You see, I got Tobi-iro drunk, got him on the pipe, then fed him truth serum. I pumped and pumped. I found out things about the skunk that turned my stomach. But he doesn’t know who Jiu San is."
Ham looked to Tobi-iro, wondering again if the man really knew his identity. What would Doc do in such an alternative? It was hard to say. Oh, it was easy to see that he should sacrifice his own life and Monk’s and refuse. That would be the grand, the heroic way of doing it. But the grand and the heroic was really something in theology and in books. What men actually practiced, even the most courageous men, was often quite different. For moments Ham fought the frightening impulse to shudder, standing there trying to think of words.
[Wrote Lester Dent, possibly about himself] "What’s wrong with the story?"
"Nothing," the censor said. "A trifle childish, but then I suppose you have to write down to the mentality of your readers."
[Two atomic bombs followed in 1945] Japan, Doc Savage pointed out, was licked. The war was lost. It wasn’t over, but Japan had lost it. There would be weeks or months of frightful destruction, and it wouldn’t be nice with America taking revenge for Pearl Harbor and Bataan and a few other things like that. It would be terrible. But there wasn’t any way of avoiding it. Japan had to be smashed. America knew that. So Japan was going to be rolled out flat, following which there was going to be a series of trials and executions of individuals guilty of atrocities.
Doc said, "The worst horror Japan now confronts is the post-war adjustment. When Japan collapses in defeat, any number of things can happen. The country is certain to lose all its bloodthirsty military leaders—those who aren’t killed in the war or executed will have fled for their lives. The leaders are the government, so there will be no government.
"It doesn’t mean much to make the general statement that the government will collapse. What it means is that there will be no law. Your money worthless. Any riff-raff can walk in and rob and murder you and there will be no law to punish him. Might is right. Brute strength and murderous attack taking the place of right and order.
"People will get hungry, because your government controls everything now and the system will go to pieces when Japan collapses. Hungry people aren’t reasonable. A hungry man doesn’t stand around and die. That means rioting, chaos, anarchy.
"Poor people always blame their poverty on the rich. They are nearly always wrong, but the last thing a stupid or a lazy man will admit is that he is stupid and lazy—the two go together. When they haven’t, they blame those who have. The result isn’t pleasant. Those who have none do not get any. It just ends up with everybody having nothing."...
"The Allies realize this," Doc said, "and we want a government of the right kind of Japanese, Japanese who conform to the world’s standards of decency, to put in charge. Nearly a year ago, Allied agents contacted certain Japanese believed to be suitable."
It dawned on Monk that the Japanese in this room were the men the Allies intended to put in charge of Japan after the war...
"THE Allies do not want to deal with traitors," Doc Savage said. "That is why we got in touch with you men. We wanted a group of far-sighted Japanese in Japan who are out of sympathy with the militarists. We didn’t want political climbers, men who happened to be out of office and would do anything to get in. We wanted the kind of Japanese that the rest of the world would like to see in charge of Japan after this war."
"Where’d you learn to run like that?" Monk whispered.
"Believe me or not, I learned it three minutes ago, when they started shooting at us."
Trotter jumped around in front of the screaming Jap and jammed his mouth with a handful of the ropes that had been used to quiet the prisoners. That silenced him somewhat. Trotter then hammered at the fellow’s jaw with her fists, but she lacked the strength to knock him out.
[Kill him 'till he's dead] Moshi screeched a warning. Doc twisted clear. The bayonet missed. Moshi shrieked again, this time in frenzied rage, and fell weakly upon the tangle made by Trotter, Doc and the murderous Dutchman. Moshi got the bayonet. He drove the blade into the Dutchman repeatedly, into the Dutchman’s throat, chest, stomach, making sobbing sounds of fury, bayoneting the Dutchman even after he was dead and under the water and the water was filling with crimson.
"Then I’d better write another innocent piece about the weather." She laughed. "Pot Johnson, my editor, will cry like a baby when he gets another one of those. I wish I could hear him, the bum!"
"Why not compromise and have dinner with me?"
"You mean that?"
Trotter burst out laughing. "Let’s get Monk and Ham. This dinner is going to cost them exactly a thousand dollars between them."
"If Monk and Ham have fifty dollars between them, they’re abnormally heeled," Doc told her. "Their normal living scale is just about twice what they take in."
"Why, darn them, they bet me a thousand to one that I wouldn’t even land a dinner date with you. They said your wolf rating was strictly zero."
Doc, feeling foolish, wondered just who had landed whom. Possibly he was not the first man to wonder about this.
Jiu San is exciting from the start and its consideration of the political situation in Japan is nicely handled. Ham had gone missing some time before, so you know he'd show up in disguise somewhere, and kudos for not making him the obvious first few choices. Highly recommended reading and a shining example of excellent Doc Savage writing floating in a sea of flotsam and jetsam. At the close Doc asks Carlta to dinner - a first. While I prefer my Doc asexual at least they didn't have him act like a virgin on Prom Night every time they were together.
141 - Satan Black:
"The Man of Bronze is pegged for murder in a family feud over a pipeline stretching from Arkansas to the Atlantic. The precious oil it carries is needed by the army for the invasion of Europe that will end the war. Only Doc Savage and his fearless sidekicks can find the real culprit and see that the pipeline gets built — at the risk of death by dynamite!"
People on the internet like this book. And... let's move on. Satan Black is one of the laziest attempts at writing I've encountered - and I'm elderly (Woody Allen from Zelig: "He was the guy who smashed my car up. It was brand new. Then he backed-up over my mother's wrist. She's elderly... and uses her wrist a lot." November, 1944's Doc Savage entry does so little with so many words. It circles around the thing, and talks about the thing, and moves everywhere but forward, and the big deals are not big deals, and the mystery is no mystery. Monk, Ham, and Renny all talk exactly the same way! Lester Dent couldn't even muster the linguistic character traits he's been putting to paper for over ten years! Of all the novel titles that make little sense "Satan Black" might be the most meaningless. Nothing in the book remotely points to either of these words.
There's a set-up in the beginning where men are being told they have to murder someone they barely know. They're not killers and they freak out accordingly, but they must be going along with it because the thing worth killing for must be a big major deal and there's no other way! Turns out there's nothing at stake except a standard plot to delay construction on a pipeline. There's no imperative to make them take part and potentially wind up on death row, which in 1944 had a turnover rate faster than a Skid Row whore motel. The blurb above says Doc's "pegged for murder!". Not really. The Sheriff makes a few calls after taking in Doc on circumstantial evidence and is told by not only his state's Governor but the United States War Department in a time of war to immediately start smooching Doc Savage's behind until it shined like new patent leather shoes.
The three aides are mostly fine even if their involvement borders on the existential. Meanwhile Doc's on the edge of an existential crisis. The novel should be prefaced with "We join our program already in progress" as it opens with "The bronze man finally found a piece of rope. He had a worse time locating one than he had expected, and toward the last he searched with a haste that was near frenzy." It says in the third paragraph that "He ran desperately." In Satan Black Doc is accomplished and connected but filled with insecurities and annoyances:
He could sense
her interest. He knew also that she was trying to hide her interest, and this
made him angry. He was playing games himself-but that didn't keep him from
Uneasiness began to crawl
through his nerves. The men from the sheriff's office had been drawn
here by an anonymous telephone call. They had been promised a murder. The murder
had eventuated. Jones was dead, and the bronze man's knife had been used.
There was reason to be scared.
rapidly, then slackened his pace. He had been determined on a course when he
left the jail, but now indecision had taken hold of him. He was not sure.
The bronze man
breathed inward deeply, held the breath, let it out with a rush of relief.
His shirt was wet with the perspiration that tension had brought.
Dent has Doc ask a relative stranger if he's being immature:
“Our bird is a very bold bird, but if it was to get around that we know what the knife means, the bird wouldn't be bold. The bird would take wings, and might get away. Or is that childish?”
And here the brave Sir Robin (Doc Savage) wimps out when it matters:
Suddenly Doc wished he had brought along help. It would be no spectacular flood if they broke the dam, because it was not a high dam. It was not even likely that much farmland would be flooded. But the pipeline-crossing would be wiped out. All the barges, the machinery that was specially designed for work with twenty-four-inch pipe, would be torn loose, smashed, lost in the river.
He decided, abruptly, to get to a telephone and summon help. There should be houses along the highway from which he could telephone.
Doc fails at fighting and uses a gun against his own code to only have it end in a blooper:
Doc got him by the throat.
THE ideal result would be to get
the man silenced instantly. Doc tried very hard to do it. He failed. It
seemed to him that the victim could not possibly have made more noise. The
fellow kicked his feet frantically, on the deck, beat the deck with his hands.
Moreover, he made an assortment of squawks by squeezing air out past the bronze
man's fingers around his throat.
Doc decided to try to get the
gun. He made a short running jump for the man. The spectacular method would have
been to jump and hit the man with both feet, an impact that would kill or badly
injure the fellow. It was tempting. But if something went wrong, it could
readily mean a broken leg. Doc jumped for the dock beside the man.
Doc had stumbled back and fallen in a sitting position on the deck, thinking he was burned worse than he was. Organizing himself, he rolled over and aimed carefully at the man on shore, who was still bellowing demands about what the hell was wrong.
Doc shot at the man three times. Three shells were all that were left in the gun. Unscathed, his target galloped off into the brush, yelling violent personal opinions.
Doc stared at the gun. The barrel, he noticed for the first time, had a noticeable bend.
Here's the worst thing. The worst. Doc's out of shape and panicked:
The bronze man went ashore, and ran toward the dam. He exhausted his wind before he reached the dam, and arrived puffing for air.
Monk, Ham, and Renny also come down with a case of the yips. You get the sense they've never seen action or stared at death before a hundred times:
Renny shuddered. “I never tried that commando tactic of knocking a gun aside before, and right now it would take quite a bit to hire me to try it again.”
“Me, too,” Monk agreed uneasily.
Reaction was setting in. A few moments ago, when it was necessary, they had gone through with what seemed essential at the moment, and done so with a certain verve. Now they had time to think. It was like being shot at-when it happened, you ducked and were startled. Later you got to thinking about the hole the bullet could have made.
That was the bad part. Fear, like
the measles, took a little time to develop. They came out on the sidewalk.
Monk said, “That was the darndest mess there in front of the building for a while.” And then he was silent, thinking about what a mess it had been, and how they could have been shot down. He began to perspire a little, and took out a handkerchief sheepishly and wiped his face.
“Scared now, eh?” Ham asked.
Monk was scared, but he put his
handkerchief away, and examined Ham thoughtfully, noticing for the first time
that Ham had a discolored eye.
Nothing more was said for a
while. All three of them were having nerves. What had happened was not conducive
to a placid feeling. They had, in plain truth, had the devil scared out of them,
and they had no idea what it was all about.
WHEN Ham Brooks
walked out on the slough bank beside the fake fisherman, he did so with a
casualness and confidence he certainly didn't feel.
I wonder, Renny reflected, how we ever came to get together. There is as much difference among us, really, as there is in a group of cats and dogs. We look different, we act different, we think differently, and no two of us have the bond of the same profession. The one thing we have in common is a thirst for excitement. And that's a childish thing for grown men to have in common, when you stop to think about it.
Doc digs chicks in this story! At first he's a little creepy but at the end he's made his move and will [insert dirty sex joke involving Doc Savage here].
Nola Morgan looked around the trailer and was impressed enough to say, “It's nice.”
So was she, the bronze man thought. He hadn't been expecting anyone like her. She was tall and smooth and golden. She had a flashing vitality, an aliveness, and no makeup. She wore slacks and a waist and a field jacket and a large handkerchief over her hair.
When he realized he was
staring, he stopped it. He put Jones on the bed.
It was discouraging to have Doc Savage stand up at this point and say, “Miss Morgan and I are going out tonight and see what we can do about forgetting this mess.”
I found this a little insulting:
The eighty-sixth floor headquarters was equipped with many gadgets, practical and impractical, because Doc Savage had a weakness for gadgets.
Casual heteronormative thought-crimes circa 1944:
“That was a funny part of it. It was either a woman trying to sound like a man, or a man trying to sound like a woman, the sheriff said. He wasn't sure which.”
“Uh-huh. This party on the phone said there was going to be a murder around that trailer tonight, and to watch it. It was queer, all right.”
Casual racism circa 1944:
He clattered the brass knocker against the door, half expecting the panel to be swung ajar by a picturesque old darky with white hair and lots of teeth. He was so completely primed to tell an old darky, “Cunnel Brooks to see yoah Mistress, suh,” that he was thrown off the track when Nola Morgan herself opened the door.
142 - The Lost Giant:
"Across the Arctic wastes, Doc Savage races deadly enemy agents on skis and in bombers — to a remote island off the Greenland coast. The quarry is a secret so great that the future of nations hinges on Doc and his crew … and their ability to stand solidly against menacing forces of evil."
Barely a Doc Savage story, December, 1942's The Lost Giant bogs down fairly quickly in the inner mind of Doc Savage, worried his feet of clay will stick out like clown shoes. Not much goes on as everyone talks about The Thing without mentioning The Thing while also quaking with dread about the implications of The Thing - in this case a person who's a big shot for sure.
The Lost Giant did three things well. The ski lodge lobby scene where everyone's ready for trouble and trouble breaks out in flames is good. So is the relationship between Doc and the two heavies he's fallen in with. The end battle and reveal of the "treasure" is impressive in context considering the war was still in full force. The rest is filler that beats home the impressiveness of how "Big" this thing is, and also Doc's endless low-grade panic, which gets old fast:
The thing was more than just finding a missing flier. So very much more, that it was frightening. Although he'd been told just what the situation was, he still had difficulty grasping the magnitude of the matter, and the consequences if Chester Wilson wasn't found, and quick.
Poor, sad Doc Savage, as big a putz as you or I (mostly you), and this is just Chapter One!:
There was no certainty in his mind that anyone was following him, but he was not taking chances. It was important not to be followed. So vital, in fact, that merely thinking about it during the afternoon had made him physically ill. He had not even dared make the usual moves to find out whether he was being watched.
[Really?!] The first man was a lithe giant, naturally proportioned so that he seemed only about five feet ten and of normal build until one got close to him and realized his bigness.
“How are you?” the big bronze man said. He extended a cordial hand, then wondered if he was going to be able to keep the hand from trembling while he shook hands with House.
He was very pleased, but shocked also, because it was unnerving to discover that another man could work such wizardry with you. These were strange feelings for him to be having. I'm upset, he thought, and that isn't good.
He stopped. He mentally seized all his fears and anxiety and shoved them back into his mind where they wouldn't interfere. At least, he thought, gratefully, I am still able to do that.
HE was silent, scowling, because Wister's terrorized anxiety was taking hold of him also. Something like that, he knew, would wreck him. When terror laid hold of you, you could do just one thing—fight like a wildcat. You couldn't plot, connive, check move with counter-move, scheme and devise. You could strike blows and take blows, was all.
Doc by name doesn't come up until the halfway mark. The narrator instead throws long by referring to him as "him". No gadgets are used. Monk and Ham take part but this is mostly about Him (Doc) looking in a mirror and pondering what kind of lint might be in his belly button. Trouble Lint, that's what.
The Lost Giant would and could be a lot better if it didn't make the choices it did in (mostly) character and (some) tone. The only failure in logic I found was when (in disguise, which he stays in the entire novel) he talks to the nicely rendered Edith Halcyon in his own voice after she accuses him of being Doc Savage, and then he's shocked she's now sure he's Doc Savage.
HE was big and blond. He was still big, because even Jonas House couldn't shrink a man. But now he looked soft. Before there had been a corded litheness in his every movement, the tight spring and the corded smoothness of a man who had abnormal strength. Now he looked soft and lazy and comfortable. He was no longer a panther walking, he was a lazy, well-fed young fellow at whom people would look and wonder, why isn't that bird in the army?
[Doc is thrown off by "street" instead of "avenue"] Wister said, “Is this a northbound street, or is it even a one-way street?”
“Avenue, I mean.”
“You're all right.”
[If only Doc exercised daily for two hours] HE decided to use the tow after all. He climbed the hill, and because his leg muscles weren't used to the business of herring-boning, they began to ache a little.
[Existential dread Doc Savage] BY dinnertime he was aware of a tension in the lodge. He had become aware of the feeling slowly, at first thinking it might be his imagination, then growing more and more certain it wasn't, and becoming amazed that such a tension could exist so subtly. It was a the-fuse-is-lit-when-will-it-go-off kind of thing.
Yet the feeling was hard to identify definitely. Nobody was going around with cocked pistols and knives under their coats. There was no face-making, and no nervous starting at noises. The tension, as you became more and more aware of it, was much worse because it was under cover.
They went outside. There were plenty of snowdrifts, and he picked one that had filled a ditch. He gave Kelly his gun.
[Maybe next time, Champ] He seized the girl, picked her up bodily, and went out through the window with her, jumping far enough to cause him to fall and flounder.
[Smug Doc Savage is out of practice] That he saw them speaking was the literal truth, and he was damned glad, as he had been a few times before, that he'd had the days and days of patience that it had taken him to learn lip-reading, and to become skilled at it. He'd learned the trick quite a number of years ago, become fairly good at it, good enough to become smug about himself. Now, in the next minute or two, he wished fervently he'd kept practicing, kept his skill at more of a peak. Because he missed some of what they said.
She examined him in a fixed, un-winking strange fashion for the space of three or four good long breaths, then she came to him, stepping with a quick, dramatic haste. She got close to him before she spoke, and then she kept her voice low.
“Aren't you Doc Savage?” she asked.
He said glumly, “Is there a sign on me?”
[Sad] He wished bitterly that women would stay out of the world's troubles, or at least that he could figure them out easier.
[Sarcasm Doc] Doc grimaced.
“That's a great job of disguising yourselves,” he said.
Monk Mayfair, missing the sarcasm, said, “I'll pass that along to Dot. She'll be very pleased to know you were impressed.”
[Really?] He put the rifle aside as soon as he had it loaded, for handling it was giving him a coldly depressed feeling. He didn't like firearms, and almost never carried any kind of a gun. He had often imagined that, subconsciously, he must be afraid of guns. But the logical explanation he gave himself was that a man with a gun in his pocket got too much in the habit of depending on the gun to solve everything. A gun wouldn't do that.
“Hello, Gaines,” Doc said to Gaines. “I don't know how to straighten up this matter of identification. I haven't any credentials on me, naturally.”
Gaines eyed him thoughtfully. “Where did you last meet me?”
“Cairo, about six months ago. You were with a very striking blonde Englishwoman named Celia.”
Gaines laughed. “I guess that identifies you.”
Monk lunged to Chester Wilson's side. He said rapidly, “Don't ask a lot of questions, Wilson. We're Doc Savage's assistants, Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks. We trapped Lewis and Grundy and took their places. We planned to leave a trail so Doc Savage would be able to follow us, but we flopped, or I did. Now, answer me this: Do you believe us?”
Chester Wilson frowned at them. “I don't know. I'll act as if I do, because I don't see where that would hurt anything.”
The gray-haired man went on through to the club car. He came back later, took a seat in the diner and ordered coffee and a sandwich. He insisted on paying when he was served, which was a give-away. He was arranging so that he could get up and leave in a hurry, if they went anywhere.
“Lewis and Grundy,” Ham said. “If their names are Lewis and Grundy, then Tojo and Adolf are named Smith and Jones.”
This, of course, was one of Ham's little jokes. Ham was full of them. Monk was full of them, too, but not as much as Ham, he frequently thought. He wished violently that Ham would confine his practical jokes—if one could call one like this practical—to times when they didn't have anything else on their minds. Monk did not follow this policy, but he wished Ham would.
[Guess who!] Using the deep, amiable voice which millions had heard over their radios, the voice which could ring with confidence or rasp with the determination of a bulldog when necessary, the man said, “I have one of them spotted. I am not a very good shot with a rifle. Would someone care to do the honors?”...
The man who was the head of a nation saw Doc Savage. He waved, and smiled. He didn't say anything about gratitude, but his smile and gesture were a great deal more expressive. They said enough.
The Lost Giant is another book that makes you wonder if Lester Dent hated Doc Savage by this point to where he wanted to kill him off as a money maker for Street & Smith so they'd drop the title and let him do something more substantial with his talents. If the publisher's imperative was to make Doc less Superman it could have been done without making him a self-loathing sap. Making Doc a loser here doesn't balance out an earlier adventure where he grabs two assistants and runs with them like they were rag dolls.
143 - The Hate Genius (original title - Violent Night):
"WANTED -- ADOLF HITLER!
World War II is drawing to a close. Hitler rigs an assassination of a look-alike double in a daring plot to save his ruined Reich -- then disappears. America call on its greatest hero -- Doc Savage -- to track down this most evil of adversaries and stop the phony martyrdom. Joining him in this last-ditch crusade area a wide assortment of Allied agents -- one of whom may be the fleeing Fuehrer himself!"
Hey, why all the fuehrer? I bought a copy of the original pulp (January, 1945) because Adolf is on the cover aghast at the sight of Pat Savage's six-shooter. Hitler died on April 30th of that year so featuring him up front was fairly ballsy for a publication with a history of tap dancing around every elephant in the room. Hitler's doubles and a faked death are conspiracy staples, and The Hate Genius is based on that very premise. It could be a very good book if Doc is saved from the wide and deep pit of fear, doubt, and nerves Lester Dent drop-kicked him into. As is it's an interesting small story with Doc by his own admission being mostly along for the ride. He pieces together suspicions that earn him the line “You sound like Sherlock Holmes" but he's in no way proactive and there's nothing "Doc Savage" about him except in name and reputation. There's no gadgets and no action skills beyond what any other pulp hero is capable of. The appeal of the story comes mainly from Pat Savage's active involvement and the Get Hitler imperative.
Solidly in the post-Uber category, the story focuses on Doc as a borderline mental mess with a stoic face barely keeping back the desire to lose his tenuous grip on sanity in howling screams of rage and self-loathing. Why Dent deconstructed Doc Savage to the point of hatred is a mystery. This is not a better Doc Savage and it's only a more realistic one if you think Doc should be as much of a loser as you are. Was Dent trying for Honesty over Realism via repressed scream therapy? Can it be an attempt to make Doc more accessible by overcompensating for all the years of heroicism all at once? It's very strange.
Monk and Ham speak like they're the same person, which mainly means Monk's illiterate street lingo goes missing. Pat's not that dissimilar but she's assertive, bold, and given inner monologues that provide more substance. Bing Crosby and the Katzenjammer Kids are name-dropped. Dent does a nice job conjuring concise and vivid descriptive language detailing various European locales. The story is a simple tale of three small groups - Nazis, Allies, and Doc/Pat/Monk/Ham - and how little is what it seems and you don't know who to trust. At this the story excels. Monk and Ham are barely involved in the proceedings.
As a story of espionage and deception it doesn't lose points for lacking big action scenes with Doc storming Hitler's bunker with every gadget at his command. Going minimal was actually a nice touch. Not knowing who to believe and having a decent reveal late in the game is a rare gift from a Doc Savage novel. The book has a distinctive tone that works. On a macro level Doc needs to be more actively involved and on top of his game - whatever game you'd expect from Doc Savage tasked with capturing Adolf Hitler. The fear, anger, and self-doubt/loathing themes that dominate the work should be cut down to almost zero. You can have Doc be more human without making him two-thirds on the way to being a basket case. Pat's a little too hard on herself and that should be abbreviated.
The second sentence and the entire first chapter is loaded with Doc's mental fragility. Was this done to express the severity of the mission or did Dent resent Doc Savage when he wrote it? Here's bits from the first chapter:
IT came as soon as he saw Lisbon. The feeling of being afraid... He had expected to be afraid as soon as he saw Lisbon, and what he felt wasn't too bad, so he was relieved. Not much relieved, though... There was no reason for such an abrupt and striking memory, except nerves. He frowned down at the old citadel, which dominated the Alfama section, containing one of the nastiest slums in Europe. There was no use kidding himself. Nerves. He was having the jitters. As badly as he had expected to have them... He held back his irritation with difficulty—he had a biting impulse to shout his anger... It was a small disruption of his plans, but it filled him with hot anger. Another sign of how much he was on edge... “Nothing to be sorry about. It's not your fault,” he said, and the words had a harshness he didn't intend them to have... More attention, he thought sourly, than the leading bullfighter used to get before the war. But he was flattered, and embarrassed, too... Not wishing to jump at conclusions—in his state of nerves, he could be imagining things... “All right,” Doc said curtly. To punish the driver for being greedy, he carefully wrote down the man's name and identification and description, letting the fellow see him do it... Doc Savage began walking toward a hostelry called the Chiaro di Luna. He wondered about the red-headed man as he walked, trying to figure out who the fellow might be, and frightening himself with some of the possibilities... HE was badly scared. Monk and Ham rarely deceived him, and never except for good and vital reason... Watching them, his own uneasiness crawled up like a nest of snakes and frightened him additionally. He could not guess what might be wrong... He began to get angry. It is always a short step from tight nerves to rage. He scowled at them. “Stop it!” he said. “You're behaving like kids!”... Monk and Ham looked so uncomfortable that he was ashamed of his harshness... He waited, and he thought again of the red-headed stranger. The thought of the fellow made him jump up, and on his feet he realized how jittery he was becoming... He almost laughed, yet he wasn't pleased. “Lord!” he said. “Oh, Lord!”...
I'm thinking Mr. Dilling is Winston Churchill:
The man they went to pay proved to be a red-faced, worried looking man who seized Doc Savage's hand, pumped it, and said, “I say, we're glad to see you, Savage. We've been in a bit of a wind lest you not make it.”
Pat nudged Ham, said, “Hey, I've seen red-face before somewhere.”
Ham said, “Good God!” in a low, impressed voice. Pat stared at him in surprise, because Ham was not easily impressed. She wondered who the dickens the red-faced man could be, but they were introduced before she could ask Ham. The red-faced man was presented as Mr. Dilling, but Pat didn't feel that his name was Mr. Dilling.
“Who is he?” Pat whispered, nudging Ham, after the introductions.
Ham told her. He told her as if he wasn't quite ready to believe a man so important would be out of England, or at least in Portugal, which was a neutral country and infested with foreign agents, hence somewhat dangerous.
The imperative behind the mission is fully delineated, and this pulp spells out a then-current concern that was so real it changed the book from simple escapist literature to a worst-case scenario newspaper editorial forged into a drama:
The war was near its end in Europe, and one of the Axis leaders was fleeing his nation. The man who was taking flight happened to be the only leader remaining with any great power. He was one of the most villainous of the lot. The man must be caught and punished...
Germany was coming apart at the seams. The Nazis had been pounded until, like a great concrete block beaten with sledges, it had cracked in innumerable places.
“Their leader, as everybody knows, is a fanatic,” Mr. Dilling said. “Whether or not he is crazy is a question. But one thing is sure—he is perfectly willing for every last German to die for Nazi plans.”...
“The man has put a double in his place,” he said. “He has disappeared, and left the double. Over a period of years, before the war even began, there was talk of the man using doubles to take his place. There was some truth in the talk. He had, however, only one double, a former shoe merchant named Ludorff, from Minden, who resembles him closely in appearance and voice.
“The double is going to be assassinated, so that the Nazi chief will appear to have died a martyr. You men know the German temperament, so you know what will happen if the man appears to die a martyr. Germany will become solid again. The cracks in that shattering concrete block will be cemented together. The cement tying it together will be the supposed martyrdom of the Nazi leader.
“The assassination of their leader, and the job is to be done so that it will appear to be the work of Allied agents, will prolong the war. As to how many lives that will cost, your guess is as good as mine. Thousands, at least.
“And there is another hellish probability: Nazism will be glorified in the minds of the German people, by the death of the leader. It will live. And in time—twenty years, people are always saying—we will have this mess again.”...
One of the other men—it was Francis Gonnerman, of the Italian coup—said gravely, “The thing has us gray-headed. The basic problem is simple: Catch this fellow and show the German people the ratty trick he was pulling in skipping out and leaving a double to be murdered in his place.”...
Carter leaned forward. “If the Fuehrer gets away with this trick—if he makes the German people believe he died a martyr—the whole creed of Nazism, of National Socialism and all that goes with it, will live. You may defeat it now, but it will live. It will become a faith, something like religion, something you can't stamp out.”...
Pat shines and is more important to the narrative than Doc :
MOST males would admit that looking at Patricia Savage was an experience.
The red-headed man gave up contemplating the statue of Pedro IV and grinned at Pat. He sprang to his feet and did a sweeping bow, talked for a while with Pat, then began shaking his head.
Pat turned and pointed at the waiting cab. The red-headed man looked at the cab, and while he was doing that, Pat hit him over the head with an object which she took from her purse. The red-headed man sprawled down in the grass.
Monk said, astonished, “She knocked him cold!”
“That's Pat,” Doc agreed. “As subtle as a ton of bricks.”...
Doc joined Pat. “Why did you hit him like that?”
“He wouldn't go for a walk,” Pat explained.
Doc said nothing, but Monk and Ham laughed. Pat's gun was an old-fashioned single-action six shooter of Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickock vintage. It weighed more than four pounds, which was as much as some hunting rifles. The blunderbuss was a family heirloom, and they had always wondered whether Pat could hit anything with it.
FEAR came into their hearts then. Pat, who didn't scare easily, was not proud of the way she began feeling. Fear had never bothered her much. She had even boasted a few times that she enjoyed the sensation, that it was a thrill of a certain sort, something that she looked back on with appreciation. She wouldn't look back on the way she felt now. Never. The feeling was like worms.
Pat said, “Come on!”
“What are you going to do?”
“Run. At least that will confuse them. And it's what I feel like doing.”
So they ran. They got in the middle of the sidewalk, glued their elbows to their sides, and ran. It had no dignity, but it covered ground.
Running built up their fright. Pat felt panic growing, but didn't know why. Then she knew that the running was feeding the fright, but she didn't have the nerve to stop.
“I'm not associated with him,” Pat explained wryly. “I just barge in on his cases once in a while. I'm only his third or fourth cousin, not very closely related, although we have the same coloring.”
Pat went back and sat down. She would probably wind up in New York, and there was nothing she could do about it.
She became downcast. Probably, she thought, she should be ashamed of herself for causing Doc Savage so much trouble. She had not helped Doc's effort by getting, or trying to get, into the excitement. The only result had been that Doc had been forced to take time off to trick her into going back to New York.
I'm a miserable nuisance, she reflected. I don't help. I make Doc mad. I take up his time. I don't do a bit of good. I should stick with the beauty shop business.
She was in this sour mental state, and was as near making a decision to forget excitement as she had ever been, when a shuddering, not too violent, seized the plane for a moment.
Pat glanced at Barni. “Did you get asked about the six-shooter?”
“The piece of artillery that my grandfather used to fight Indians with,” Pat said. “It sounds ridiculous, but somehow or other the fate of Germany seems to hinge on the thing.”
Pat fell back on her usual methods when she was caught. She had found she could head Doc off by yelling at him. So she did some screaming. “Don't browbeat me!” she shrieked. “I'm doing my best to tell you what happened.”
[Pat kicks Hitler in the crotch area] Pat said, “This is the height of something or other,” and she kicked Berkshire where it would hurt him the most. Berkshire screamed, and that helped to worry his men.
She stared at him intently, trying to read him. “You're scared,” she decided. “Doc, you're scared. This is, I think, the first time I ever saw you plain out and out funked. You're just so plain darn terrified that you don't feel like arguing with me.”
He nodded and said heavily, “That's right.”
Later he asked Pat, “Mind loaning me your gun?”
He told her patiently, “That portable howitzer you carry in your handbag. I want to borrow it to influence our friend here.”
Pat got the piece of artillery out of her handbag. “I can do without your wise sayings about this gun, this once,” she said.
He closed his eyes and thought: God help me, that is close to lying. He had never lied to Monk or Pat or Ham. Not exactly. He had shaved the truth a few times, and always regretted it.
“Are you planning for us to suspend efforts while you tackle the matter?”
“Not at all. That is just what I don't want. I put out no claim of being infallible. Suppose you fellows laid off, and we flopped?”
[Thought the man who was capable in every special line] Doc Savage listened to Mr. Dilling name the men who were present, and all of their names were familiar, and of some of them he had heard a great deal. It gave him a feeling of smallness, of inadequacy, to be in a room with so many men who were so capable along a special line.
Doc Savage nodded. He had, now that he had heard the assignment, a heavier feeling than before about the thing. The fear was still with him, the same fear that had started to plague him on the flight across the Atlantic, when he'd had too much time to think. Out of this talk he had gotten a definite, bitter feeling of hopelessness.
He had a most peculiar youth. Something or other happened to Doc's father when Doc was a baby—I don't think even Doc knows what it was that happened. Anyway, it gave the elder Savage a peculiar fixation—that he must raise a son who would be a modernized Sir Galahad, going into the far corners of the earth to right wrongs and aid the oppressed. Sounds silly, doesn't it?”
“A bit unusual.”
“Darned unusual. His father got a bunch of scientists to take over the kid's training. He didn't have a normal youth at all. A bunch of scientific experimenters had him from three-cornered-pants age up until he was old enough for college. They did their best to make a physical giant, a mental marvel, and a scientific genius out of Doc.”
Pat grinned faintly.
“The funny part is that they succeeded to some extent. You'd think a goofy training like that would have turned out a freak. It didn't. Or at least he's not so much freak. He has his freakish moments, though.”
“I've seen his pictures. He is very handsome.”
“Save your time,” Pat said
“He's a woman-persecutor,” Pat explained.
“What do you mean by that?”
“He doesn't understand them, and so he's scared of them, as nearly as I can figure it out. He has a long-winded explanation of his attitude. He says that he cannot afford a close tie with any female because the first thing an enemy would do would be to strike at him through her. That's just talk. The real reason is that he's so darned scientific he expects to understand how things tick, and he doesn't understand how women tick, so he's afraid of them.”
“Maybe the right one hasn't come along.”
Pat shrugged. “Several have been past. And some of them were pretty capable hussies.”
She was wearing, he realized with surprise, no makeup that he could detect. He had never seen a girl quite so plain darned pretty without makeup.
Boy, she looked like a million in shining pennies.
And boy, he'd better get his mind on something else. He'd better turn his little cart around and hike.
“I wish you weren't as pretty as Christmas morning,” he said.
She laughed. “I'll try not to live up to it. But you're not exactly something to scare babies, yourself.”
He grinned. He felt foolish—which meant, he suspected, that he was a damned fool, because this was a time for dignity. This was a time when the fate of the world was at stake. It was a time when he should have his teeth clenched and his jaw shoved out, instead of wearing a simple grin.
He made a mental note to turn her over to Monk and Ham as soon as possible.
Monk and Ham were terrific chasers. He suspected they frequently saved him from making a lout of himself.
Doc Savage was more fascinated than he wanted to be. He discovered that he was actually aflame with impatience and excitement, that he was filled with a rattlebrained ardor of the sort he usually managed to avoid. This Hans Berkshire was a hypnotic speaker.
[Creepy?] This was the first concrete evidence—other than the man's fluent talk—that Berkshire was part of a group. The idea that he could give a signal as simply as flashing a floor lamp was something Doc found creepy.
Doc Savage, gripping at his nerves, putting down rage and impatience and fear, went to the window.
[The necessary amount of depression was exceeded] Without being too obvious about it, Doc scrutinized the lake for some sign of a plane in which Monk and Ham might have come. He didn't see one, and he was depressed more than was reasonably necessary. The lake was big, and a plane could be anywhere in a score of coves. Or the plane might have put Monk and Ham ashore, then gotten out of there, which would be more logical. But Doc was beaten down, a sign his nerves were on edge.
He was, he decided, aggravated with the way things were moving. Walk and talk, walk and talk. And all the while was the feeling that a lot of things were going on that were secret, mysterious.
Rather, his tension, which was drawing and knotting until it was actually a pain, came from the certainty that his suspicions were true. He had told no one his real ideas about this thing, had given no hint as to what those ideas were. He had been secretive. He had pretended to be moderately gullible, not enough of a sucker to make it too obvious that he was pretending, and had gone along letting people think they had tricked him—probably some of them actually had fooled him, too—while he waited for the right moment. There would be a time, he believed, when things would cage themselves for a moment and a quick act on his part would slam the cage door.
Doc's feelings got away for a moment. His own tension, mixed with contempt and hate—and an actual bloodthirsty murderous desire to kill—boiled up in him. For a few seconds, words and wildness came out of him without any real wish on his part.
“I'll kill him!” he repeated. “I'll make him dead, so much deader than any of the millions of people he's been responsible for killing.” He added, between his teeth, in a voice he hardly recognized, “It'll be the most God-given pleasure I ever had!”
Doc Savage was thoughtful for a while. He examined the floor, his own hands, feeling self-conscious and unnatural, tasting and feeling of an uncertainty which was still with him. The whole thing had been somewhat unreal. There were so many factors involved that he had not seen, that he did not understand, that he probably would never see or understand.
Monk looked and acted as if he were mentally about ten years old, which was deceptive. It would also have been entertaining, but he frequently overdid it. He was short, wide, homely, hairy; he had more than a general resemblance to an amiable ape, and Doc Savage sometimes suspected he went out of his way to cultivate the mannerisms of one.
Monk said, “Speak English, dammit. We don't understand German.”
Which was a lie, because they could at least understand German. And it didn't fool Carter.
“You have a slopping acquaintance with German and about twenty other languages, and you know it,” Carter said.
Look, my first fan-edit!:
Doc frowned. “How much more of this running around is there to be done?”
“Very little,” Berkshire said grimly.
The reader screamed at the ceiling, "It's about freaking fracking time dammit!!"
He walked rapidly for two blocks, then hailed a taxicab, one of the type which manufactured its own propelling gas in a furnace affair which rode on the rear bumper and which was as likely as not to cough handfuls of sparks at the passengers.
His hair was about the color of a freshly cut carrot. His lips had an expression that was not exactly a grin, more of an I-like-this-sort-of-thing twist. He was a complete stranger.
Ham skidded their handbags into the bedroom, and waited for Doc and Pat to have a row. Doc would come out loser, they surmised, but it should be interesting to listen to.
He wished to God she would marry some nice guy and mastermind him into becoming President, or something.
“The man is a little less than average size, ruddy complexion, a few freckles, a grin like a man about to bite a baby."
Ham frowned, not pleased and not approving. He had gone against Doc's wishes before, and usually he landed in trouble. He scowled at Monk. Monk was a precipitous fellow who liked to tear directly into an obstacle, preferably without any preliminary beating together of brains.
Carter told him. “Warum nicht? All upper-class Europeans, as a matter of fact, look pretty much alike...
Monk scowled. “Brother, you don't even have a Fritz accent.”
“I hope not. I went to Oxford, old fellow, and if they don't take an accent out of you at Oxford, it can't be done.
“And if they start machine-gunning you, just stick below the surface and stay down. Bullets won't go far into the water, and they can only fire bursts that are short. In one dive, they won't be able to shoot at you for more than twenty seconds, probably. You can stay under that long.”
“It's a bit confusing,” said Mr. Carter. “First, let me say that I am a Dane by nationality, and I do not like Nazis. There was a time when I was not intelligent enough to realize what Nazis were, and at that time I started doing spying work for them. My profession in Denmark was that of private detective, and at first the Nazis were just other clients for me. Later, I realized the kind of fellows they were, and I wanted to quit, but I was too smart to tell them I wanted to.”
It was the first time Pat had ever seen a kick in the stern that didn't strike her as funny. There is something, comedians know, infallibly funny about a kick in the rear. But this one raised Pat's hair. If a kick could have killed the man, Carter would have done it. The kicked man made a hoarse damp-sounding croak of agony.
The Hate Genius would be relatively easy to repair and it deserves the effort.
144 - Strange Fish:
"A gorgeous heiress, a mysterious fat man, an unlovely fish, and murder — they all bring Doc and his crew to a Midwest ranch, a bloody playground for the most cunning madmen on earth!"
“Cut off my head and call me Hitler, Miss Paris!"
“You know something about Johnny, here? He's not much more Indian than Adolph Hitler.”
Doc Savage doesn't show up until Chapter 4 of February, 1945's the-war's-winding-down adventure, and sadly that's when Strange Fish starts to reek like Dollar Store Belonesox Belizanus fish sticks in the microwave. Hapless Doc Savage along with sex maniacs Ham and (perpetually broke) Monk travel to Tulsa to flail around and accomplish not much in an interminable middle section populated with B-roll visuals, rehashing of plot, and standing around with hands-on-hip wondering what's going on and what to do next.
The first three chapters focusing on Paris Stevens and then her Harvard Law graduate pal Johnny Toms are fun to read, and their relationship is endearing to where they'd make a good team for a pulp title. Not today when cultural appropriation is a hate crime, but 1945...:
“Sounds mysterious.” Johnny Toms looked at her intently. “Women are liars by nature. Maybe you forgot and left out some.”
Paris shook her head. “Some day, Johnny, you are going to get married, and your wife is going to beat you to death. No, I didn't leave out anything.”
“I'm going along,” Paris said, standing up.
“Nix, you're a squaw,” said Johnny Toms, alarmed.
“I am,” said Paris, “a former member of the Women's Army Corps. I have been shot at. I have been bombed on. I have seen a thing called an invasion, which included more hell than you will ever see here in Oklahoma. So count me in.”
“Heap no good,” muttered Johnny Toms. “Should have kept mouth shut.” He walked away. “Come on. Lucky I saddled horse for you.”
“You fake!” Paris said.
Paris indicated her bags. “Heap baggage,” she said. “Think you can carry?”
“Ugh,” Johnny Toms said.
Smuggled evidence of Nazi atrocities, a strange fish (see title), and the evil men at work perform well as plot and there's little on that end that makes this a bad Doc Savage book - which it is as is. The downfall of the story is Doc Savage himself, detailed in this section titled "Why Does Lester Dent Hate Doc Savage?":
Doc Savage walked silently. His mind wasn't easy. Something bothered him. He didn't know what it was, not for a while. It was a vague sort of a sensation, but unpleasant. It was as baffling as the feeling you have before a cold; knowing something is wrong, but not being sure what. Only this wasn't a physical discomfort. It was in his mind.
He began to get it. To understand. It came to him slowly. It turned into an uneasiness, and this increased. Before long, he was frightened. Scared, but he didn't know why.
Doc dug into his mind frantically for some key words. He had studied regional American speech. But he had forgotten what he'd learned, he realized. Like so many things he had put into his mind, it hadn't stuck. He was supposed to have a remarkably developed mind. He grimaced. Remarkable, nothing! He couldn't think of a single key word to test the man's speech for Oklahoma regionalisms.
Doc lay very still, listening. There was a breeze and it brought him burned powder smell, evidently from the dead man's gun, because there was also the smell of blood. Doc shivered. Blood, he thought, doesn't exactly have an odor. It is more of a presence, of sickness.
He considered the situation for a while. He was frightened. It was natural, he supposed, to be scared. But it wasn't a comfortable thing to stop and think about. One shouldn't think, shouldn't analyze personal feelings at any rate, in such a situation.
He lifted hat and coat a little above the rim of the ditch and a bullet went through it instantly, so close to his fingers that he dropped the coat in terror.
Doc Savage had cold chills for a while. He thought he had been scared before, but it was nothing to what was happening to him now. He didn't tremble visibly, but he examined his hands to see if he was.
Doc stood there. He felt foolish. Thwarted. As if he had reached for something, and found it wasn't there. The feeling, together with the embarrassing conviction that he had been made a sucker of from the time things started happening in New York, made him self-conscious. He couldn't think of anything more to say.
DOC was a little embarrassed. He had said the wrong thing without thinking. He hastily assured her that he hadn't meant that she came from a family of rascals or anything of that sort. He said that he just meant adventurous. Like Paris herself being in the WAC and on an active front and being wounded. He got the idea he wasn't helping things.
Blast it. I shouldn't be embarrassed, he thought. This girl must be having some kind of an effect on me...
Doc was in the habit of checking on important things to see that they were done. Also, he was impatient, anxious to be doing something. He hoped that while he was prowling around the ranch, some kind of an idea would come to him.
“You're itching to start one of your interminable quarrels,” Doc said. “Stop it. Stop it right now. As you two get older, those fusses grow more violent. They take your mind off your business.”
Monk and Ham were silent.
Doc examined them to see if they resented his interference, decided they didn't, and continued.
[The fish was weird and it looked at him funny] Doc put the devil of a fish back in the water. He was glad to get rid of it. The fish was giving him an unpleasant feeling, it was so fierce-looking.
It was a standard model, Doc believed, although he was not a specialist on fish and had not seen many such containers before.
Doc was embarrassed. As a matter of fact, something was happening to him that frequently happened. He was ashamed of his plan. The thing was wild. It was so wild he didn't want to discuss it, not wishing to sound silly.
Doc said wearily, “Do you two know what is going to happen to you if you fluff this? If you are caught woman-fussing when you should have your eyes open? You are going to get your heads shot off, is what!”.
Now he had the unreasoning, sickening conviction that he had made a mistake. Made a fool of himself. Jumped at something that was utterly improbable and untrue. There was no reason for him being less sure now than he had been before. But he was much less certain.
A HURTING came into Doc Savage's chest, making him realize he had stopped breathing. He started breathing again, with an effort, and the first breath nearly rasped in his throat. He watched the spot in the darkness, concentrating on it with a tension that began tying him in knots. Could the skulker see him well enough to shoot? He couldn't be sure. He couldn't recall when he had been more scared.
[Monk hands out a device to Doc Savage and tells him what to do?!]“Wait a minute,” Monk said. The homely chemist went into the storeroom, and came out packing a thing which looked like the hand movie cameras with which picture hawkers stand on the streets and take photographs of pedestrians while passing out cards offering prints at three-for-a-quarter.
“This,” said Monk, “is a gadget Long Tom Roberts made before he went to China.”
“What is it?”
“A walkie-talkie radio in disguise,” Monk explained. “You put it up to your eye and press the button you're supposed to press to take pictures. Press the button about half way down to receive, and all the way down to talk. The speaker is this tiny thing on the back that looks like a scale to tell you how to set the camera for different light.”
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Call us if any excitement develops,” Monk said. “We'll keep a receiver tuned in.”
Doc took the gadget with him, convinced he would have no use for it.
[I weep for Doc Savage] He got the camera-radio Monk had given him, and fiddled with it. The gadget struck him as silly. He didn't have much faith in its working. To his astonishment, it functioned perfectly.
[Demoted to private detective, first class] All I know of Doc Savage is what I've heard, which is that he is a trouble-shooter. Something like a private detective, only he doesn't work for fees...
[Not any more, lady!] “I don't know,” Paris said. “I've always associated Savage with big things, international affairs. Fantastic adventures. We're not very important, Johnny.”
[Doc's saying things sheepishly now?!] “I suspect we had better check on the thing,” Doc Savage said sheepishly.
[Wearily, like a regular Joe or Jane] Doc leaned back wearily, and suggested, “If there is a point, you might get at it.”
[Expertise demotion covered with coincidence of recent dabbling] He showed me a picture of brother Chapman. Taken five years ago, he said. But it just happens that I have been fooling with photography recently, and happened to know that the portrait paper on which the picture was printed has not been on the market more than three months.
[Demotion in tracking abilities] The narrow margin by which he'd kept their trail when they boarded the subway was worrying Doc. He was afraid of losing them.
Doc hit him. He hit him in the middle, not wanting to break his hands.
[Large heads on small bodies doing things like playing tennis and riding bikes] As an artist, he would probably never produce any work that would hang in the Metropolitan. But he was fairly adept at sketching, although his drawing ran to the caricature. He was inclined to exaggerate the character points. This was good, in the present case.
[Nestled next to Little Doc] Doc got the film. It wouldn't go in any of his pockets. He shoved it inside his shirt, under his belt.
[Doc runs bad guys over in a car!] Doc fed the car gas. He headed for the four in the lead.
He hit all four of them with the car. A moment before he struck them, he cut the motor and yanked the emergency brake on hard.
The four went down. One screamed. One went under the car. The other three were just knocked down.
She had a new hat, too. It was in the box she carried, a zany of a hat. She'd paid over fifty dollars for it.
“I refuse,” said Paris, “to have this beautiful day marred by a fat man.”
I have, she thought, no relatives. Not a living soul that I can call family. I'm a rather attractive vegetable, but I'm the only one growing in the patch now. They're all dead.
He said, “Mr. Savage, I imagine my directness may surprise you. I hope it does. I also hope it impresses you. Because I am going to make a threat, which is this: If you tamper with this matter of Paris Stevens in Oklahoma, you are going to be sorry and you are going to get—I believe a good word is—smeared.”
They weren't thugs. Not palookas of the dem, dese and dose variety.
[How would anyone know this if a thorough job was done recently?] “The address was a residence,” Doc explained. “The yard and shrubbery was all neatly trimmed. It looked as if the grass and the shrubs had grown carelessly most of the summer, then given a thorough job of trimming in the last few days.
“That girl must be as rich as Croesus,” he said. “I hear she doesn't exactly put your eye out, either.”
Doc made no comment on that. He hoped the girl was as homely as a mud fence. Monk and Ham would come nearer keeping their mind on business, if she was.
[Ham and Monk, unprofessional sexual predators] “How” said Johnny Toms.
That was about all Johnny Toms said for the moment.
But Monk and Ham took a dislike to him anyway. Their feelings were not based on any doubts about Johnny Toms' character. They were just irritated and jealous because the fellow had such a pretty girl with him.
Paris Stevens, Johnny Toms, and the fish story plot are good enough for someone to make an effort to correct Strange Fish's grievous errors in portraying Doc Savage as a sham waiting to be exposed and ridiculed. He can do everything he does in the book but with confidence and a skill set that somehow aligns with his reputation brought up a few times as impressive. Ham and Monk should be more than bimbo-mongers. The middle section needs less exposition and futzing around. Bill Hazel revealing the entire backstory of the proceedings to Johnny Toms in one long speech is weak. Cut the tale's already short length down by a quarter. Strange Fish isn't expansive. It can be told over a period of a single day.
Strange Fish offers good characters and a serviceable plot. The disrespect given to Doc Savage by Lester Dent is the real story here, and it's a literary true crime drama if not a hate crime or even a word holocaust.
145 - The Ten Ton Snakes:
"A war hero running for his life and a mysteriously heavy cargo of exotic snake skins send Doc and his crew racing into the steaming jungles of Brazil. There, The Man Of Bronze unearths a bizarre secret buried for centuries-and battles a sinister force that marks him for instant execution!"
This has to be the worst pulp fiction cover in this and all alternative galaxies. The Art Director at Street & Smith must have been the alcoholic nephew of the publisher who gave this an olive-scented thumbs up while the executive staff were away at a Poconos retreat.
1945's March addition to the Lester Dent canon has a shell of a story worth saving and enough interesting characters to make it work. Sadly Lester Dent gave it "The 'Ol Middle School G.E.D. Try" and failed at scrunching Monk into a goofy madcap situation while also making Doc Savage so pathetic he makes a speech to a stranger out of nowhere about how messed up he is. Doc Savage as pathetic. That's how far the series had fallen by, oh, March of 1945. I'll say it again that Lester Dent must have resented if not hated Doc Savage.
Whatever you want to think about a need to "humanize" Doc Savage, or that the war-fatigued public was tired of all things Ubermensch, there was never a necessity to have him descend into a self-esteem spiral ending with an admission he needs to enter psychoanalysis, which Doc literally admits to in this book. It's fine to cut back to peak human from ridiculous exaggerations of what was humanly possible. It's also fine to expand Doc's personality range to something less monolithic. It's not fine to make him peevish, childishly reactionary, and self-critical to the margins of self-loathing. Doc's personality should match his training, vast intelligence, and the seriousness required to make it all work. That's the range to work within. Doc Savage is and should be the man you know will lead, get the job done, and excel at planning and execution.
In The Ten Ton Snakes he's Woody Allen wearing Doc Savage's body like a yoke. He's what Stan Lee did with Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four to give them appeal to teenage zit-farmers in 1961-1962. Doc Savage is not a comic book character. He is a pulp fiction archetype from which subsequent characters both juvenile and less juvenile were formulated. Lester Dent did nobody any favors by writing Doc Savage in this diminished fashion, just as much as "fans" of Doc Savage do him equally as much harm imagining him as a steroid-fueled rage machine with a face that exudes sociopathic evil and a low IQ to go along with it. Why, who knows, maybe Doc has to fight the Hulk and The Punisher in the same week.
So, what does The Ten Tons Snakes teach us? Renny has an office on 40th and probably lives there. Monk is 5'4" and 200 lbs., which might be nonsensical weight-wise with his ability to bend horseshoes with his bare hands. Monk is not only low on funds but he's been kicked out of a fancy apartment for not not paying rent. Seriously, Doc should have them on his payroll to at least cover expenses. Renny is a friendly and smiley person in this one, which goes against the norm but I prefer it and long ago suggested it as what his movie personality should be. The aides in the pulps are ugly, unattractive, and surely when not weird. A movie requires more likeability and a strong team bond. Renny can be gloomy/elated when fighting and that can be a fun and memorable character quirk. Everyone wins.
Before dwelling on the negative I'll lay out the positive. I like the line I bolded below:
“I'll be damned, really I will,” he said. “You know I thought there was something familiar about you.”
“We've met before?” Doc asked.
“I've met your reputation a number of times,” Powell said amiably. “I never saw you personally before, that I know about. I think I'd have remembered, old boy.”
This line borders on the surreal of the acceptable:
Benjy was as proud of himself as Hitler was in 1940.
I laughed at this line because "revive in time" means Monk didn't kill him through blunt force trauma:
They carried the native into the bedroom. Monk had used his fist on the fellow, so he would probably revive in time.
In WWII this must have been a tangible thing:
He was over twenty-eight. Not old enough for that gray to belong in his hair. He was leathery and rangy and long-nosed and blue-eyed and he looked at you as if he owned you. That is a thing American soldiers are beginning to do, look at you as if they own you. And they do, in a way.
The science of the story is pretty cool. Maybe today they're referring to what's called a "Neutron Star"? (he asked out of science ignorance):
Renny spent most of his time fooling with the heavy stuff. It was a new element of some sort. New as far as anyone having actually gotten hands on any, although astronomers had discovered the stuff on a star.
(The existence of this extremely heavy matter is not imagination. Scientists have discovered a star in the sky composed of extremely heavy matter. As a writer on scientific oddities recently put it, a piece of it the size of a golf ball would weigh one thousand four hundred and sixty tons. Not pounds. Tons.—The Author)
Just as I was mentally mocking the novel for not explaining why this heavy matter was such a big deal Dent went and summarized it pretty well:
Tucker French asked anxiously, “You're sure it's worth a lot of money?”
“Hell, yes!” Powell exclaimed instantly. “I think the best market is to sell it in tiny bits to scientists and scientific institutions and museums. Divided up like that, it'll be worth as much as gold. More. There's nothing else like it on earth. Every scientific research laboratory will want a piece.”
Tucker French nodded. “I hoped it would have some specific value immediately. It's a new element.”
“You don't seem to realize the curiosity value of the stuff alone,” Powell told him. “We would divide it up in pieces the size of a pea and get a million bucks peddling it to people who just wanted a chunk for a curiosity.”
“You reckon that's the only value it's got?”
“I don't know. Probably not. We'll have to find out.”
For all of Doc's failings in the story he's still a formidable person, and the skeleton of the plot is strong. The Ten Ton Snakes could be re-worked to something much better without that much effort. Now onto what doesn't work in the story...
For the long haul Monk winds up in the company of Grace Blasset, Willa (Bill) Morris, and their trusted pal old Benjy. Dent's channeling Preston Sturges or his non-union Mexican equivalent Senor Spilebergo and it doesn't work. Bill punches Monk into submission a few times yet they all interact like it's nothing and they're on a wacky adventure together in a jalopy with bandaged balloon tires. This can be easily corrected.
The rest is all Doc Savage = Putz. Staring with the small stuff:
This, Doc reflected, is like getting all set for the ball game, and the other team not showing up. He was suddenly tired, hungry, baffled.
First of all, who wins by implying Doc Savage is homely? Second, the novel goes on to twice rave about how good looking Doc is:
There were two or three startling things about his appearance. His hair was bronze-colored, and only slightly darker than the sun had made his skin. He had golden eyes that were unusual, almost weird. Otherwise he was not particularly handsome. He dressed with an obvious effort to make himself inconspicuous, but with little success. He was a man who would be conspicuous anywhere.
"Doc liked gadgets", like a putz with nothing better to do and the wrong priorities:
They reached headquarters. There was no message from Monk. There was a gadget which would have recorded one, had Monk telephoned in. Doc liked gadgets, and he had developed this recorder affair, an automatic gimmick which told a caller, with a recorded voice, that no one was in the office, but that if the caller would speak his or her message, it would be put on record. The recording was done magnetically, on a wire.
Doc says "Jungle Stuff", which I guess is more erudite than pointing and mumbling something about "Jungle S--t":
Doc told Renny, “Let's get some equipment ready in a hurry. Jungle stuff. Quinine, insect repellent, machetes, weapons, some trade stuff for natives. We'd better work fast.”
Doc Savage - Klutz:
Doc lunged for Powell. It was too far, and moreover he tripped. The best he could do was slam his shoulder against Powell violently. Powell didn't fall. He just received a hard push, and kept going. Doc went down, tangled in vines.
Doc Savage - Anxiety Guy:
That's reason enough,” Doc said,
glad there was not going to be an argument over Powell's going. He added, “Say,
I made a dumb mistake. I didn't ask who went with Monk in the rented
The “unconscious men,” who the pretended Monk had hauled out into the clearing, were gone. Doc surmised they had arisen and fled under their own power.
You mutt, he thought. What did
you use for brains a minute ago?
Doc said grimly, “You might also serve up a little more information.”
This sounded, he realized,
more angry and suspicious than he intended.
Doc was silent. It was a
difficult silence, because he was trying to hold down a growing impulse to
smash things. He was, he saw, being roundly lied to.
Doc began to find cold sweat
on the backs of his hands. He knew it was along his backbone, too. He was
Doc straightened. He felt
foolish, and he was angry with himself for being so completely baffled.
“Where have I made a mistake?” Renny rumbled. “Listen, brother, if you want—”
Doc Savage said, “Oh, stop it!
A mistake is a mistake.”
Doc shook a little with silent laughter, entertained by Renny's sheepish disgust. It was good, he suddenly realized, to be able to laugh. The mirth, like a clean shower, washed away some of the slime that continual fear was beginning to deposit on his nerves.
Oh lord, this. Doc is tied up in a warehouse and a pot of arsenic is opened to seal his death. Instead of coming up with a way to escape he's rescued by old Benjy, who's conveniently there and becomes quite the action hero to save the day. Dent dwells on Doc's impotent yet informed thoughts of impending death:
Doc Savage closed his eyes tightly, trying to shut out the vision of poisoning by vapor of hydrocyanic. It would be quick. One breath usually brought oppression and suffering at the temples and the nape of the neck. The eyes grew cloudy, and it would be almost impossible to keep from throwing the head back. In a moment would come vertigo, then prostration, that awful hyper-tension in the head, the ghastly stiffening of the body, the legs stretched and flexed and the arms flexed and the fingers splayed. Then respiration would cease.
First there would be the odor, of course. The odor of bitter almonds, the scent a peach seed has.
Quick. He remembered, dry-mouthed, the medical aspects of the stuff which he had studied. It acted directly on the nerves, the only objective lesion being a spasm of the respiratory system, the lungs contracting in the lower thoracic cavity would become blood-tinged and—on autopsy—the veins would stand out as clearly as if filled with the brightest red ink.
The bronchial tubes would be affected, too; an autopsy would show them constricted and almost entirely closed.
All of this in a minute or so. Unconsciousness first, and then a stiffness, and then one gigantic awful wrenching inspiration of breath, and then death.
But first the odor of almonds. And he thought he could catch it now.
Here's Doc's confessions to a stranger about his upbringing. Poor Widdle Inner Child Doc Savage admits his weakness to the story's evil bad guy, like a putz!:
DOC Savage finally talked a little about himself. It was the first time Renny had heard him do that.
Doc talked about the strangeness of his early life, the different outlook it had given him. He said that he had never known just what had happened to his father to cause him to put his small son, Doc, in the hands of scientists for training. It was a weird upbringing, aimed entirely at making Doc into a combination of mental marvel and physical giant—if science could do it. The elder Savage had not lived to see the final outcome of his plans for the boy.
“It was effective, but probably not as effective as he hoped,” Doc said slowly. “Looking back on the fantastic business, I feel lucky as anything, because it seems to me that what I got was a psychological course guaranteed to make a freak.” The bronze man grinned slightly. “I find myself doing, or on the verge of doing, many queer things as a result of the training.”
He fell silent, then started again and explained that what he had missed most was a normal youth, the thrills and the heartbreaks and the excitement of devilment, which boys have. He had not missed these at the time he was not getting them, because he hadn't known about them, but he missed them now.
He frequently suspected that being a juvenile was something a man had to work out of his system, like getting rid of his baby teeth, he said. He still had the kid stuff in him. He'd never had a chance to work it off. As a result, he spent his time chasing excitement now, whereas if his youth had been a normal one, his adult life would have been normal. In other words, he would now be a young settled family man with a wife who dragged him out to bridge parties.
Renny laughed at that. The idea of Doc being dragged out to bridge by a henpecking wife struck him as funny.
Doc shut up, made somewhat uncomfortable by the levity.
“We all look back,” Powell said,
“and wish that our lives had been different. I don't think there breathes a man
who doesn't do that.”
Lying there after he had finished, he felt silly. He was pretty good at voice mimicry. He had practiced it a lot, and he had used it before. But he felt silly anyway.
He was somewhat pleased, too. It was a crazy sort of a thing to do. He liked such things.
He thought back, lying there in the darkness, of the monologue he had given, while flying south in the plane with Renny and Powell, about his strange youth. About the lack of a normal boy's devilment and small adventures which had featured his youth. Of how he was convinced that having missed such things as a kid accounted for his present interest in the fantastic and the adventurous and the quixotic.
The self-analysis was accurate, he hoped. It was a sensible explanation of the elation with which he seized upon a goofy way of accomplishing something instead of using a more normal, probably more sensible method. Like the trick he was trying to pull now.
Such methods probably meant he needed psychoanalysis, he reflected.
146 - Cargo Unknown:
"Doc Savage’s men are on a top secret mission aboard the Pilotfish when the submarine explodes and sinks to the ocean floor. The Man of Bronze tracks down the treacherous vipers behind the sabotage and searches for the purgatory of terror 200 feet below the ocean surface — with only 12 hours of air left!"
“The early part of dinner was sprinkled with turkey talk.”
April, 1945's submarine nail-biter opens and closes with a bang but the middle is muddied by detailed procedurals on flying, boats, storms, and some Renny but mainly Doc's tenuous grip on self-control in the face of the looming prospect of Monk, Ham, and others dying on a crippled submarine off the coast of Long Island. At least the descriptive submarine lingo is more interesting than usual. Cargo Unknown is an engaging Renny-centric story, and his tortured mental state a nice showcase for him, in this, the post-uber Doc Savage era.
Renny's given a normal personality and emotional range to replace his stock angry blurts of annoyance and displeasure. His worry about the fate of those on the sub lends an appropriate range of responses to the terror Dent builds up about the twelve hours left to save them. It's Doc that's not handled well in an editorial imperative to counteract the Uber-Doc with a heavy dose of just-as-normal-as-the-next-guy-in-a-crisis Doc Savage. He's fallible, not omniscient, and under stress capable of barking and edging towards panic. The need or desire to humanize him isn't a sin but if Doc's not more on top of his game than those around him it's a "Doc Savage" story in name only.
After great duress and physical injury Doc passes out and misses the conclusion of hostilities - a nice touch and twist on expectations. What Cargo Unknown needs less of is Doc's descents into panic. Giving Doc more of a normal physical endurance is well in line with the tone of the times, but not so deleting his steady control of the situation to the best of his abilities. Psychological insight is fine but not exercises in mental self-immolation. I shudder to ponder if there was a readership who fantasized Doc hating himself, and that this Doc catered to them. Doc's also here less traditionally handsome and both his upbringing and family are treated as unfortunate realities.
The Hidalgo Trading Company hanger is downgraded to a warehouse surrounded by larger structures. Gadgets and the very idea of them are treated as shameful embarrassments, for reasons unclear.
[Gadget Revisionism is hate] Doc liked gadgets. Before the war, when he'd had spare time, he amused himself by devising screwball ideas in the way of gadgets. Trick guns, anaesthetic gases, little grenades which did unexpected things, and chemical mixtures which would do an assortment of things ranging from turning a man's skin green to making sharks afraid of him.
The warehouse door was equipped with a gadget. A radio opener. You pushed a button in Renny's car, and the door opened. It was a fairly simple contraption, and lots of people had taken to putting similar devices on their garage doors.
Doc said grimly. “I am going to make a run for the warehouse. Have you got a gun?”
Renny brought out a long-barreled pistol.
“Good,” Doc said. “If anyone shoots at me, shoot back at them.”
The sounding gadget was electrical, and there was nothing new about it. It had none of the hair-raising nearly pseudo-scientific unreality of some of the gadgets which Doc Savage liked to produce to fit a given emergency. This one, in principle, was simple.
[Direct and blunt] Doc slept at headquarters more often than not when he was in the city. Doc Savage had no sort of family life.
The strangeness of Doc's upbringing, Renny was quite certain, accounted for Doc Savage's being unusual. It was surprising that he wasn't more extraordinary than he was. Doc had been placed, when he was a baby, in the custody of the first of an endless succession of scientists, philosophers, thinkers, who had been charged with the job of educating him and training him. There was no publicity. The scientists, thinkers—now and then a quack, too—had been paid for their work. The elder Savage paid them. Doc had never known his mother; she had died when he was less than a year old. The elder Savage had died about the time Doc's unusual training had been finished.
Renny had never heard Doc talk much about his youth. Doc preferred not to do so. There was, Renny knew, a mystery. A mystery about the motive of Doc's father in giving Doc such a queer upbringing. The elder Savage had been a sane man, even if his handling of the boy hadn't indicated it. During the twenty years of Doc's strange training, the father had been driven by some grim, unwavering purpose. He had died, through misfortune, before he had been able to tell Doc the real reason for the strange training. Why? Doc didn't know. The mystery had remained to plague him.
Doc Savage was a physical giant whose skin had been semi-permanently bronzed by tropical suns. His features weren't regular, but it was a handsome face, and the remarkable thing was how few marks it bore from the exciting, dangerous life he had lived.
“You want to die?” Doc asked coldly. Scaring a dying man was a job that sickened him. But it had to be done.
[Conscious effort to say Doc's not all-knowing] “When you were here earlier,” Renny said, “was that panel truck parked outside?”
“I didn't notice,” Doc confessed.
Doc got a hard hold on his shoulder and showed him a square bronze block of a fist. In a voice that took the wildness out of Renny the way a rasp would take tarnish off brass, Doc said, “You want to cut that out? Or do you prefer a little knuckle anaesthetic?”
He was scared.
Suddenly, now that he was alone, he was realizing how frightened he actually was. Before, he had been busy enough to keep from thinking about it. Now it crowded in and seized his mind...
He was coming to the house now. Because he was afraid, without knowing for sure that there was reason for fear, he did not march straight up to the door. He slipped into the garden.
“What's he waiting on? Send him in!” Doc said violently.
Now there'll be silly stuff in the newspapers, Doc thought sourly. Something goofy about him coming ashore from the plane in a cloud of smoke, only some reporter would be sure to dress it up with wild feathers. He scowled, embarrassed by the prospects.
Publicity of the wild sort always embarrassed him. The newspapers invariably picked out something spectacular, which usually meant something silly, and played it up. There was nothing particularly goofy about using the smoke grenade. It was an accepted military practice to cover maneuvers with smoke screens. But when this got in print, it would make him red-eared to read it.
[New Doc] Doc studied the pair, estimated his chances of getting to them, of overpowering them. It would be dangerous...
The alternative of a mistake now was paralyzing to think about...
He lay there mentally writhing on the horns of the dilemma, in as devilish a mental spot as he had ever occupied.
He threw the left rock first, because he was not as good with his left hand...
He was sprawled out on the deck of the Pilotfish, unable for the moment to move. He was having something that a neurologist would probably call a nervous reaction, only using larger words. Another way of putting it was that he was so delighted that he was a little hysterical.
[Now with human element] Monk and Ham were among them, Renny learned next. The news was wildly good, so good that he sobbed...
And then suddenly he was in a chair, shaking uncontrollably. Suddenly he wanted to blubber, and he couldn't keep back the tears. He put his face in his hands and cursed his fright, his weakness, which wasn't weakness at all, but exhaustion plus the awful fear that they weren't going to be able to save those in the Pilotfish.
[Overanalyzing but a nice theory] Renny went inside, wondering just why the building had comforted him. That was a goofy idea. What he had felt, more likely, was the comfort of being home, because the building was probably as much home as he had. It was more accurate to consider it the home of Doc's group. They were all in pretty much the same boat in their aloneness as far as having family ties was concerned.
That, Renny thought, must be why we're so close. Why we feel that trouble for one of us is trouble for all. We have no close relatives. Life has cheated us that way. They made up for it by the closeness of their association, Doc Savage and the five others. A psychologist would probably explain it that way.
Their aloneness might account for their liking for adventure, too. Renny had never thought of it that way. But it might be.
RENNY stared unseeingly at the instrument panel. He doubled a fist as if his control had slipped and he had to smash something. The fist was enormous, almost an abnormality.
Renny hadn't said anything. He was breathing heavily, and his eyes were too wide, his mouth too large and loose, his whole attitude strange. Renny looked like a man who might be losing his mind...
Doc had never heard Renny's voice the way it was now. Renny was going to kill the man. There wasn't the slightest doubt about it. And the way Renny would do it would not be nice.
Now that the war was winding up, Doc was giving most of his attention to getting his industrial holdings back into peace-time production, and Renny knew it was proving to be a headache of proportions.
[Fresh variations on Monk and Ham descriptions] Monk was a short, wide, hairy, homely, apish fellow with approximately an inch of forehead and a squeaky tin can voice. He looked like a fellow who would have barely enough gumption to dress himself. His manners were as direct and tactless as a St. Bernard puppy's. He had an endless supply of practical jokes and wise-cracks with which he haunted his pal, Ham Brooks, and innocent bystanders, alike.
Ham Brooks also had a large title and reputation. But Ham at least looked the part.
Ham was Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks. He was a lawyer. He was a wide-shouldered, flat-bellied man with the large voice of an orator. He always dressed, or overdressed, to dandified extremes, and affected a Harvard accent so thick you wanted to scrape it off him. He was a good guy. The clothes and accent were affected largely because they irritated Monk.
“The Fritzes had sowed mines around there thicker than fleas on an African dog."
[Excellent] The dying man had the look of a man of seventy and his years were probably nearer fifty. He was a man whose past was on his face. A man who had through his early life been a glutton in all things, and had gradually become without pride, morals, money or the ability to think logically. He was an old and ugly animal dying there.
[Lester Dent despised the obese. Not sure what the dark eyes indicates] The woman he told it to was fat and dark-eyed. But she nodded competently. “I have a telephone,” she said.
As a tense story about a ticking deadline to save lives, Cargo Unknown is a great premise with a strong start and finish. It needs less middle filler and a Doc Savage at the top of whatever game he's playing in 1945. Let Renny experience the brunt of the stress and allow Doc to be the best Doc Savage he can be.
147 - Rock Sinister:
"What turned Doc's tough, hard-fisted crew into quivering cowards? Doc races into a strange mystery and the bizarre secret of a foreign power!" "The kidnapping of Monk Mayfair leads Doc Savage to South America to solve the bizarre mystery of the Rock Sinister. "
[Periodic Spoiler Alert!: Blah blah spoilers blah blah no such thing as Doc Savage spoilers blah blah.]
≥ Equal to or greater than the Skinny Elvis - Fat Elvis divide is the Ascending Doc Savage - Descending Doc Savage debate that has ruined more Arbor Day picnics than I care to remember. With each later issue you never know if Lester Dent liked, disliked, loved, hated, cared or didn't care about our boy Clark Jr. Then there's the attention span issue with stories starting one way with attention to craft and then auto-piloting to word count. May, 1945's Rock Sinister is Exhibit A to that. Four-ish chapters of great writing trips over nothing and becomes something confusing and wrong. I play the "Wait For It...Wait For It..." game with these books. I go in hopeful and if something's good in the beginning I wait for the moment it ends nice and hard. This one hurt bad. In cae you were wondering, Rock Sinister was not a bad guy on The Flintstones.
First off, if someone handed me a pickle I'd say "Thanks! I love pickles!":
When Trujilla saw Andros Lanza, he looked like a man who had been handed a pickle.
Before descending into the bad let's start with the good. For a few chapters Rock Sinister is fun and breezy, playing out naturally like you're watching an old movie with a touch of whimsy:
Both girls were red-headed. And they were too pretty to be friends. Their dears, honeys and darlings weren't really nasty—just a slight I-hope-you-fall-on-your-pretty-face note.
He smiled at the two girls as he walked past. Impersonally. The smile was startling because of the size of his teeth. His face turned to teeth.
“They may know,” Kathy said, “that we're going to see a man named Doc Savage.”
Square looked alarmed.
“That,” he said, “is supposed to be a secret.”
“Secrets have the loudest voices, sometimes,” Kathy said.
“Sister, you spoke it.”
The two gentlemen shook hands. They were about the same height, but Square was fifty pounds or more heavier, and Monk was considerably more homely. They proceeded to try to crush the bones in each other's hands. Having failed in this, they separated and each put his hand in his pocket, wondering how many bones were broken.
He didn't trust his judgment about this too far. He had learned that he could not read women. Long ago he had learned that when they seemed most like an open book to him, they probably were practicing their greatest deceit.
MONK MAYFAIR had received Kathy and Square in a laboratory-penthouse-home establishment which he maintained far downtown in Manhattan, in the Wall Street section. The place was extreme. Its decorative scheme tended to be that of a circus. It was modernistic, so modernistic that there was hardly any of the furniture you could sit on.
DOC SAVAGE'S headquarters was his laboratory layout on the eighty-sixth floor of a midtown building. The three rooms—laboratory, library and reception room—took up the whole eighty-sixth floor. This was not as much space as it sounded, for the building at this height had tapered considerably.
She glanced about the place. It was impressive. It was quiet. It had dignity. It had the charm of a place which had just grown. No decorator had ever had a hand in here. The things that were here had just landed here, and remained because they were useful.
This, she thought, is the sort of a place Doc Savage would have.
“Cut that out,” Doc Savage said. “There's a lady present.”
“I know worse words than that,” Abril said. “Want me to help you out?”
He shook Doc Savage's hand. He had a handclasp like an iron man.
“You,” he told Doc, “apparently aren't the hot-shot I thought you were.”
He grinned at Ham. “Pretty, aren't you?” he said. Ham's neck got red.
“Anybody we like in there?” Square pointed at the door Doc and Monk had slammed.
“No,” Monk said.
Square said, “That's good.” He emptied one automatic into the door at chest height. The vicious-looking gun held ten shots. He put them all into the door, walking down the hall, sending the bullets at different angles to rake the room on the other side.
Creatively Rock Sinister starts to sputter when Lester Dent (theoretically) realizes his set-up is leading to a thoroughly unspectacular main body and resolution. On the page it starts with Doc obsessing over who spoke to the lisping man, and did they both speak to him, and are they sure it was the same man. There's no reason for this. Then Doc loses his mind in what in retrospect was your average kick-off to a Doc Savage adventure and none of this was called for either:
Doc Savage was still interested in the telephone voice.
“That voice,” he said. “Your father and Francisco Doyle discussed the voice, and agreed the caller was one and the same person?”
“Why couldn't they have been mistaken?”
“The man over the telephone—” She stopped speaking. She was staring at Doc Savage.
Doc Savage's face had changed. It had suddenly acquired shock, sickness, horror. All the emotions, all the ones that are painful, suddenly seemed to hit the bronze man's face.
Ham had seen it, too. And Ham was dumfounded, because he knew that Doc was normally about as poker-faced as they came. So this change, this splattering of horrified feeling over Doc's countenance, was startling.
“What the devil, Doc?” Ham blurted.
Doc Savage seemed unable to answer. His lips looked pale. His eyes were fixed, his jaw muscles tight knots under his ears.
Doc wheeled suddenly, He faced Ham. “We're going to South America, Ham. As fast as we can. Get on the telephone to Washington and get what clearances we'll need.”
Ham's mouth remained open.
“Hurry up!” Doc said.
About two-thirds in Doc fades away even though he's still there, and the story shifts to Ham, who is confused, paranoid, scared, and feeling existential to where you think he's been druggedto feel that way:
The obvious answer was that Doc Savage was an important man. Doc was an international figure. Particularly had Doc come into prominence during the turmoil as Axis nations involved in the war had started collapsing.
Ham realized that he hadn't given it much thought before—but Doc Savage was probably as important a non-politician as there was currently on the international scene.
Which meant what? Ham wondered.
President Lanza made his oration solemnly. Discipline and firmness were the keynotes of progress, of success, of accomplishment.
He's leaving out one little thing, Ham thought. Happiness. He's forgotten that.
Come to think of it, he's forgotten another little thing. Maybe the next guy wanted to live his life a little differently. Lanza was overlooking that.
Just why President Andros Lanza had visited them, had breakfast with them, and preached a lecture about himself, Ham didn't understand.
A STRANGE, dark feeling had crawled into the more vague regions of Ham Brooks' mind. After he had thought about the sensation a little, he realized it was fear. And that scared him.
It wasn't just plain fear, the kind of fear he'd been having for Monk Mayfair's safety. This went more into the blackness of things he didn't understand. It was a weird, unholy, threatening forest which was suddenly growing up around him. Unlovely, horrible things growing where he hadn't supposed there was anything that would offer a threat. That was the way it was.
He had the same feelings as a boy who had wandered into a graveyard at midnight by mistake.
He couldn't put his finger on the exact reasons for his having such a feeling.
But he was afraid it was all related, the troubles in New York, the ambush at the ranch landing field, the ambuscade at all the other flying fields, the arrival of President Lanza and his impressive air escort. Ham had the grisly impression that it might all be one package.
That last paragraph is nuts. All that's happened are simple plot points in a standard narrative. Of course they're all in the same package. It's called a plot!
Doc Savage has a secret shame. Women. How pathetic -"They were too pretty":
She was lovely to look at. She was disturbing. He wished there was some way of telling whether a booby trap could come in such a lovely package.
DOC didn't want to take the two young women along. He had a good reason. They were too pretty. They were distractions.
Do you want Doc to talk like this:
“Ham, the thing has started to break,” Doc said rapidly. “For the next few hours, everybody is going to be busier than turkeys in a Kansas windstorm.”
Do you want Doc using Renny's tagline?:
HE morning sunlight awakened Doc Savage. He lay there for a while, tempted to go back to sleep. He turned over and squinted at his wrist watch. He said, “Holy cow!” and hastily got out of bed and dressed.
I prefer the Doc Savage so physically conditioned he doesn't need food or sleep:
Doc said he didn't know. He said that what he needed, and the same probably wouldn't hurt the others, was a square meal and some sleep.
Should Doc feel "darned"?:
Doc said he was darned if he knew.
Should Doc snort?
Doc snorted. “Women are going to be your end some day.”
Ham has two backstories about how he earned his nickname. The more common one is having been framed by Monk for stealing a truckload of hams. Then there's this one:
HAM BROOKS had picked up his nickname of Ham because he had once, in a fit of temper and because he could not find anything else to fuss about, howled that he did not like pork in any form. Ham was Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, and his statement about his tastes had been made in a mess hall he was inspecting, so ever after he had been “Ham” Brooks to his outfit. He didn't like the nickname, but there was nothing he could do about it.
This is not the only time Doc's been described as not handsome, soon followed by being fawned upon by the ladies for being so darned good looking:
She had an attack of doubt when she saw him. Because the newcomer was an impressive man. He was a physical giant, a mighty bronzed figure of a man, not particularly handsome, yet not bad-looking either. His skin looked as if it had been so bronzed by tropical suns that it would never bleach out again.
“Let's talk about Doc Savage,” said Kathy.
“Pick another one. I'm supposed to keep you two girls away from him.”
“You can keep Abril away,” Kathy said. “Tell me about him. I find him interesting. He's so very handsome, with such a touch of firmness. Something like the cornerstone from a bank.”
Doc, if you want to carry a gun, just carry a gun like the stupid comic books and basement shame toys say you do:
Doc said he didn't have a gun. This was true. He did not, as a usual thing, carry one, although there were times, this being one, when he wished he did.
Lester, why must Blanca Grande must be called that?:
Abril Trujilla actually looked like an Irish colleen. Her grandfather had been named Patrick Kelly, and he had gone to South America, to a republic we'll call Blanca Grande—Blanca Grande isn't its name, but it must be called that...
Cue the Little Rascals comedy fade-out music!:
“That thtinker,” Monk explained bitterly, “thtole my teeth.”
The lisping voice on the phone is an imitation of Monk, which triggers Doc's Armageddon response because, well, it's an imitation of Monk so Monk will wind up in trouble I guess? It's a head-scratcher if not a nose-picker as to why everything falls apart. The only way to save this story is to push what makes the first few chapters fun and charming all the way through to the end, enhancing Doc to more action, fewer facial ticks, no words that don't sound like Doc Savage would say them, and remove all focus on Ham's spontaneous existential crisis.
148 - The Terrible Stork:
"Why are people being murdered for a cheap tin statuette of a stork? The search for an answer takes Doc and his crew from a Long Island cemetery at night to a secret vault in the lowest and most dangerous depths of the Grand Canyon!"
“You smart so-and-so,” said H. I. Merrillee. “I spit in your ear, see.” He made
a spitting noise.
“I spit in your ear, bub. How do you like it?”
My critical dyslexia reconfigured the letter "k" and correctly renamed this sorry little crap-bucket "The Terrible Story". In answer to the question of what to do with Doc Savage in the post-war era, Lester Dent and Street & Smith decided to make him Doc Savage in name only - like turning Superman human and making him a sorry putz.
How does Doc feel this month of June, 1945? Disgusted, puzzled, excited, irritated, startled, flabbergasted, aggravated, indignant, pleased, worried, impatient, discouraged, not sounding too sure, not sure and wishing he knew, suspecting he might have made a fool out of himself, uncomfortable, sour looking, not pleased with himself, and feeling "As if—as if I had hold of a sack, and there was a wildcat in the sack. Not a wildcat, because they're little. A tiger. A man-eating tiger.”
Does Doc do anything Doc Savage? No, but at least he still has his own plane. When guns go off he flattens out like Don Knotts as Mr. Chicken. There's no science, no gadgets, and Ham uses a sub-machine gun with regular bullets. Doc's possibly not rich any more:
DOC SAVAGE maintained a headquarters on the eighty-sixth floor of a midtown skyscraper which had been completed just in time to encounter the leasing slump of the early nineteen thirties. Doc's father, now deceased, had sunk some money in the building and in the process had acquired a permanent lease on the eighty-sixth floor. This had been about all Doc had inherited from his father in the way of property, although there had been a large heritage of adventure thrown in.
He contemplated the ceiling thoughtfully. “This Wentz died about sixty days ago. He died at his home in Arizona.” The ceiling needed re-painting.
Doc assured him, “These will be fine.” He added, “Send me the bill. And don't throw the hook in too deep.”
Doc tasted his malt. “And then you played caretaker,” he said. The malt was terrible.
Ted La France nodded. “I was in a dither to know what the hell was happening,” he explained. He sipped his own malt. “I didn't know it was you when I stopped you. Finding out who you were gave me a jolt, I can tell you.” He glared at the malt. “Cripes, is this what you call good?”
“Their malts are very economical here,” Doc said...
He added, “One swallow of these malts, and you don't want any more malts for a month. That's where the economical comes in.”
Ham treats Doc like a putz:
“Say, you haven't gone off the beam, have you?...
Ham stared. “You're nuts,” he said...
Ham snorted. “If you think Ada Nobel will doublecross us, your judgment of women isn't worth a dime,” he said...
Then Ham Brooks called on the telephone. “What're you pulling on me?” Ham demanded.
“I was right about the girl,” Doc reminded him.
“Sure, for the first time in your life you were right,” Ham retorted...
“Are you going to climb the chimney?” Doc asked.
“No.” Ham was displeased. “Climb it yourself.”
Three things have a weird set-up and follow-through:
"We've got the afternoon off, and we just started out for a walk, got tired, and came in here for a rest."...
Doc glanced at Monk. “Copeland said he thought of us because it seemed unusual to him. I wasn't doing anything, so I told him I would drop around to the auction this afternoon and see what happened.”
[Doc and Ham are the same suit size?! Doc has only one good suit?] Doc said, “You can put on one of my suits. Try the second locker.”...
“How does my suit fit you?” Doc asked.
“It would fit two of me just fine,” Ham said. He entered the reception room, fully dressed.
Doc examined him. “You'll be all right if you don't have to make any quick jumps,” Doc decided. “If you do jump out of it, don't run off and leave that suit. It happens to be my Sunday one.”
[Cowardly Monk runs while Doc is fighting the man trying to set off a bomb] Monk had a horrifying thought.
“Nitroglycerine!” Monk screamed. “Run!”
He began running himself. His feet skidded somewhat until he got going, after which he gave a fair imitation of a rocket and vanished around the corner of the building....
Doc Savage, continuing to watch, observed an elderly yellow taxicab which pulled out of the side street adjacent to the tall building which housed their headquarters. The taxicab looked familiar. So familiar that Doc blew out his breath in relief.
“Good old Monk!” Doc said heartily. “That's the quickest thinking I've seen in a long time.”
[Cowardly Doc Savage stayed down and did nothing] Monk and Ham froze. There was nothing else they could do. Doc Savage instinctively ducked for safety. So did the others who were quick thinkers.
[Doc is a freak] The elder Savage had been a remarkable man, more than somewhat on the screwball side. Doc had never known him well. His father had always been off prowling the unique corners of the earth. Doc, whose mother had died shortly after his birth, had been placed in the hands of a series of scientists, thinkers, judo experts, wrestlers and what-not, for training. His upbringing had been unorthodox and it was only an act of God that had kept him from growing up into more of a freak than he was.
[Doc was a disappointment to his father] The purpose of the strange upbringing, as nearly as Doc had been able to learn, was to create for the world a sort of modern Galahad, a righter of wrongs, a punisher of evildoers who were outside the law. Most kids wind up doing exactly the opposite of what their parents expect them to do, but Doc was more or less what the elder Savage had expected him to be. Possibly somewhat less. But the training had made him a man unusual enough to earn, in his own right, a reputation which in some quarters was phenomenal.
[Bizarro World Doc Savage] Doc Savage uncorked the bottle, noticing that this made Ham turn white. “See.” Doc passed the bottle neck under his nose. “Diphenylchlorasine,” he added. He hastily corked the bottle, sneezing. “One of the tear gases.” Tears began to flow from his eyes. He wished he hadn't shown off by opening the bottle. He had been fairly sure it was diphenylchlorasine in the bottle, but he could have been wrong. Good Lord, suppose it had been poison gas in the bottle, he thought.
The name of the girl from the cemetery was Ada Nobel. She was lovely. She was so lovely that Doc was still startled.
Doc told them, “That is about as big a fool trick as I have pulled recently.” He got into the car, told Ham, “You drive. The way my luck is going, I would probably run through a stop light and get us all arrested.”
[Doc's not observant] “Which one would you say was the original?” Jonas asked.
Doc eyed the storks in amazement. “The middle one?” he ventured.
“Hah!” Jonas was pleased. “The one on the end,” he said.
DOC SAVAGE contemplated the stork statuette on the desk. He suspected he might have made a fool out of himself. It would not be the first time, so it did not particularly worry him about being ridiculous. What did bother him was the possible psychological reason for his behavior. He wondered if, subconsciously, he wasn't trying to show off around a girl.
Another thing that bothered him was why he had told Ham that Ada Nobel would flee. He didn't know exactly why he had told Ham that. A hunch. The accusation had just seemed to come from his lips. He wondered if that was the way mediums, if there was such a thing as a genuine medium, got their predictions.
[Not his Sunday Best but his Going-To-Meeting suit] DOC SAVAGE felt so good that he took a shower and put on his second best suit.
[Because Doc's hands are flimsy] Doc hit the head as hard as he thought he could without smashing his hand.
[Monk is as broke as his diction and common sense] “Five thousand and two dollars,” a voice said.
Doc Savage and Ham Brooks both started violently, for the bid had come from between them. It was Monk Mayfair. “You fool!” Ham was dumfounded.
“You haven't got five thousand and two dollars!”
“Huh? Gosh, I haven't, have I?”
“Why'd you bid?” Ham demanded.
“The suspense got me,” Monk muttered. “I guess I became hypnotized or something.”
“What is that thing?” Ham pondered.
“Some kind of a boid,” Monk said. “This is gettin dull, pal. What say we scrammo to the girlies?”
[Officially not good] “Who're they shooting at now?” Monk wanted to know.
“Doc, probably,” Ham said.
“Serve him right, too,” Monk said. “It was his suggesting we look at that stork thing that got everybody all worked up.”
[Cowardly Ham climbs down a manhole into the sewers] Ham wrestled with the manhole lid. “I've had this spotted for over a year,” he gasped. He got the lid off the hole. He dropped into the hole.
Doc asked, “What's down there?”
“No bullets, that's a cinch,” Ham said. He sounded far underground.
[What kind of slash fiction is this?!] Ham came in, naked, toweling himself. He was astonishingly muscular.
Their cab driver was smoking a cigar. He executed a snappy turn into Sixth Avenue, aiming for a pedestrian who was crossing Sixth Avenue at Forty-third Street.
[Bizarro World] Ham went back into the laboratory. “Have you opened that diaper satchel?” he called.
“Maybe there's a bomb in it,” Ham said nervously. “A time bomb, maybe.”
“There's a bottle in it,” Doc said.
“A bottle. A half-gallon bottle.”
“How do you know if you haven't opened it?”
“Why don't you open it and see what's in the bottle?” Ham suggested.
Doc explained, “I'm waiting for you to do that.”
“Not me,” Ham said hastily. “I don't open any strange bottles, no thanks.”
[Doc expects six hand-made replications of the steel stork by one person in an hour?] Jonas grinned. “Happiness is wonderful,” he said. “How soon do you want the duplicates?”
“Pronto,” Doc said. “How soon can I get them? An hour?”
[???] The road was black-topped. By running on tiptoes, which they were doing, they made almost no noise.
A LARGE gray moth, frightened by what was going on, flew frantically around the living-room, traveling in erratic swoops and darts, twists and turns. Moth-like, it became fascinated by the electric light fixture...
Doc asked, “Can you describe them?”
“Oh, yes,” said the old lady eagerly.
She proceeded to demonstrate that she couldn't describe them at all. Not so that they could be recognized in a crowd. The way she described them, they were just men. But she was sincerely trying.
Her only father was an uncle, Harrison Nobel.
Ada Nobel smiled at him. “Much better,” she said. She yawned prettily.
There was quite a battery of elevator shafts. The eighty-sixth floor was called the top floor, but actually it was only figuratively the top. Above it was located a roof restaurant and night club, an observation tower, and a shop which sold gimcracks to sightseers. There was also the machinery, enough to fill a young factory, of the elevators, and a water tank and the other stuff found on top of buildings.
“Railroads are masculine, aren't they?”
She thanked him. She said, “Thank you.”
There's nothing overly exciting about the plot but it's not bad in all its simplicity. The use for the steel stork makes sense so I can see why everyone is after it. The day players are fine. It's mostly Doc, a little Monk, and a slice of Ham that's wrong - but nothing close to the decisions made for the characters by Dent and Street & Smith. Except to milk whatever money they could via name recognition they decided to dismantle Doc Savage and piss on his remains. The Terrible Stork didn't have to be intentionally disrespectful to Doc Savage as a valid and valuable character. This can corrected with ease as it's obvious where it chooses the wrong choices.
I'm also convinced lines like "She thanked him. She said, 'Thank you'" and "Her only father was an uncle, Harrison Nobel" point to The Terrible Stork being written by the kid who delivered break room supplies to the Street & Smith offices.
149 - King Joe Cay:
"What do a coral reef, a purse, a fat man, and two captivating women have in common? As Doc Savage soon discovers, the perilous answer lies at a Bahamas fortress — in the hands of the most vicious cut-throats in captivity."
Free-lance Private Detective Doc Savage is barely Doc Savage in King Joe Cay, and that's not a good thing. It's not a stretch to imagine this July, 1945 story was written for another character and adapted for Doc Savage. For most of the book he's referred to as "he". Welcome to the low budget adventures of Larch Beaumont, Roustabout Investigator Guy... I also wonder if pulp writers sold and traded outlines and incomplete stories to each other for looming deadlines.
The only pulp fiction I enjoy is Doc Savage, so to have a Doc Savage novel be 12% Doc Savage doesn't bode well for looking kindly upon it. King Joe Cay is also blessed with a huge section taking place on a boat. Seafaring porn? Check. Boat on boat action? Ahoy! Lester Dent likes to give Lester Dent any excuse to speak in tongues about all things nautical.
The treasure is Nazi-pilfered wealth and the future millions to be made in setting up international airline routes. The mention of assistants is this:
He wished he could call New York, get some of his assistants down here to help. But they weren't in New York. He had five assistants, specialists in various professions, who had worked with him for a long time.
But all of them were out of the country. Monk Mayfair, the chemist, was in England, and Ham Brooks, the lawyer, was in Italy. The engineer, Renwick, and the electrical expert, Long Tom Roberts, were in China, and Littlejohn, the geologist, was in Iran. All of them were doing important work in the wake of the war.
He was in this alone. The first time that he had tackled anything alone for a long time. The feeling he got out of the thought wasn't pleasant.
Doc doesn't look like Doc Savage as he's 1) In disguise, and 2) Not especially Doc Savage. His hair and eye colors have been changed but his physique is muted to a non-factor except for this line tossed in because he's shirtless: "On the street, he swung out in a distance-eating walk, a giant of a man with a remarkably muscled chest and arms." He's going under the name of William Clark and the men he's working with incognito ask if he's ever heard of Doc Savage. Smooth move to have Clark in your undercover name. There's no gadgets and the closest to it is tossing baby powder on top of a cab and later looking for a cab with baby powder on its roof. Science!
Larch "Doc" Beaumont:
[Some arguments against this being a Doc Savage book]
He realized he was scowling. He thought: Good God, am I jealous of this guy, this Irishman! He hoped not. But the letter had made him angry, and that was a bad sign.
Doc withdrew. There was a window on the west side of the mezzanine, and he opened it quietly, looked out, decided it was not too much of a drop to the ground. He swung out and dropped.
It didn't jolt him much when he landed. It did sting his feet a little. He lifted first one foot then the other and shook it while he was listening. He decided no one had seen him.
Doc picked up one of the chairs. It was heavier than he expected; it must have weighed seventy-five pounds. He had to run with it, throw it as a discus thrower hurls a discus. Then he barely made it reach the head of the stairs, roll over the top, go whirling down the steps.
If they try to come upstairs before I find a gun, Doc thought, I'm sunk.
[continued as The inner mind of Doc Savage, Thinker] Doc Savage wondered if the long, fat man knew he was Doc Savage. He wondered who the long, fat man was. The fellow wasn't the same kind of a fat man as Tom Ittle, not at all. He was a placid-seeming fat man.
The farmlands whisked past the windows. The sun was shining; farmers were harvesting their oats. The oat fields were like rugs of rich, yellow fur. Now and then blue smoke would spout from the exhaust stack of a tractor, and loading trucks followed the combines closely the way suckling pigs follow the sow when they are hungry. Oats dribbled out of the combines' pipes and filled the truck beds. A loaded truck would give its place to an empty one, and the truck filled with oats would go toward the farms with their dairy sheds and bin sheds and silos.
It got him. He wished he was off the train. He wanted to kick through the oat fields.
The sailor was scowling at him, and this made him feel a little less guilty about depriving a member of the armed forces of a seat. He wondered why sailors were that way about girls. It must be the salt water, or something. Or his imagination.
He decided to tell another lie. He had rather enjoyed the other one he had told, about why he hadn't immediately called attention to the imaginary theft. Doc Savage had the reputation of never lying, and he was enjoying being different.
“Ittle likes his vittles, eh?”
He thought: That lousy joke should be enough by itself to prove conclusively that I am not Doc Savage, if they suspect such a thing. Doc Savage would never make such a joke. Doc Savage practically never made any kind of a joke, for that matter. He had been too busy most of his life taking things seriously.
He frowned at the bed. He wasn't sleepy, that was sure. A few minutes ago he hadn't been sleepy either, but he realized now that he could have slept. He wished he hadn't called Charlotte. He hadn't learned much.
His own uneasiness began to crawl up inside him. He was alone in this thing. That bothered him. He hadn't supposed it would. The vagueness of things didn't help, either.
[This is sad] Doc got his billfold out. It contained nothing that would prove he was a policeman, but he pretended it did. He took out a card which proved that Clark was entitled to use the facilities of the YMCA. He waved this card, and said, “Here, you can see for yourself that I am an officer.”
He took time out to give Brigham Pope some thought. His opinion of Brigham Pope hadn't been high, he recalled. He'd supposed the man had been an ex-actor, probably once a comic of the cheaper sort, an emcee in night clubs of the honkytonk level. He scowled. Actor? What in the devil had made him think that Pope was an actor? He tried to pin the answer down in his mind, and suddenly he began to suspect that he might have thought that, not because Brigham Pope had been an actor as he'd supposed, but because the man was acting. Maybe he'd made a wide miss when he judged Brigham Pope.
He had a feeling that he was in a trap, that he was on the island and isolated, that the enemy thought they had him where they wanted him. Who was the enemy? Tom Ittle? Brigham Pope? Charlotte? He had an idea that all of them might be his enemy, and if that were true, he was on the spot.
Uneasiness crawled on his nerves until he decided he couldn't stay in the room. He washed up in the bath and found, to his surprise that there was a fresh linen suit, his size, in the clothes closet. He examined it closely for some kind of trick poison, found none, and grinned at his fantastic fears.
Two minutes after they'd originally met, Brigham Pope had told a dirty joke.
[A more simple time] “Keep your shirt on, bub. Woman I borrowed him off of is tired. She's been traveling two days. Brat was squalling his head off. When I offered to carry him around and keep him quiet, she jumped at the chance.”
Ittle had thick lips. He was a man who did not make a bad looking fat man, but who would have made a hideous, vulture-like thin man. This was because Tom Ittle's features were all large—big nose, big eyes, big ears, besides the large mouth with the pink bicycle tire lips. On a skinny man the big features would have been repulsive; on him they were not bad...
There was something about him that was unnerving. Like looking at the cobra in the zoo reptile house and noticing they had a glass panel between you and the cobra so it couldn't spit its poison on you and kill or blind you.
“You ever see an Irishman who could write a love letter? They do it with talking. At talking, they got the world beat.”
[I have no idea what these mean] He kicked himself later, mentally, because of the way the smile put fur in his boots...
With the wind came the sound of the sea, the gentle sneezing of waves against the sand beach.
[Ouch, Europe] Charlotte . . . The memory of her made him shiver. She should have been born a queen. She should have been born a queen to sit on the most despotic throne there ever was. He felt that it was a darned good thing she hadn't been born a man, otherwise the world would have had on its hands another Genghis Khan, Napoleon or Hitler. Charlotte had left Centerville, Iowa, quite early in life, he was sure. Probably done this because Americans, particularly Iowans, couldn't be dominated easily. Charlotte had gone to Europe where the populations were accustomed to being dominated.
[At least this is a Doc Savage thing] Thompson scowled at the clerk. He told the clerk, “All I can say, dope, is it's lucky he's the kind of a guy he is, or we wouldn't have any more jobs now than a rooster has teeth.”
“How do you mean?” asked the startled ticket clerk.
“I mean he owns the damned company, that's all,” Thompson said. He left laughing over the look on the clerk's face.
[Well that pushes the plot forward] “No, no!” Joseph's throat had phlegm in it. “No one must be able to tell when we left.”
“Joseph!” Charlotte screamed. “Joseph, you rascal, what've you done to your leg?”
“I got hurt,” Joseph said. “I got shot.”
“Joseph, you rascal, you've needed shooting for years!” Charlotte squealed. She raised her voice. “Tombo! Bill! Come here and get Joseph.”
King Joe Cay is filler material for a pulp with someone else's name on the cover. Being Doc Savage and not Doc Savage at the same time I focused more on that than the plot, which isn't bad but only required a fraction of its already short length. The interminable boat scene is just that. As something to read when your copy of War and Peace is at the shop, the plot outline is viable as anything else you'll find on page 112 of Spicy Detective.
150 - The Wee Ones:
"Hysterical tales of tiny half-human creatures sweep through town. Even the idea of such monsters seemed insane to Doc and his crew — but one thing was very real: the trail of blood!"
“Nothing is impossible, but many things are ridiculous,” Doc said.
You can either consider The Wee Ones one of the worst Doc Savage adventures or remove it from consideration as not particularly a Doc Savage story by any definition beyond character names and associated personality traits. I'd choose the latter as this August, 1945 digest-sized story could very well have been written for another purpose and dusted off for a Doc Savage deadline. There's a whole lot of nothing going on in The Wee Ones.
In August, 1945 Doc's status in the hero world is "Nothing Particularly Special Human". At least Doc's not consumed this month with the inner turmoils of self-critical introspection. Ham treats him as an equal if not less upon further reflection, while Monk's noncommittal, but then again you don't know what he'd say if asked about the current happenings.
The opening chapters are obtuse and vague, and the first description of the evil dwarf (think Trilogy Of Terror), comes in Chapter 7. The Wee Ones is chatty for its own sake and reads like an improve drama club production where actors are happy to pass the baby to the next person without committing a show-stopping mistake. It's like Dent made a bet with someone that he could write an entire story that's as much about nothing as it is about something:
“Point that thing the other way,” Monk urged. “It might go off.”
The man gave Monk a harder gouge in the ribs with the revolver. “Hey Charlie, guess what,” he said.
“What?” asked Charlie.
“The missing link's afraid of getting shot.”
Charlie looked at the man in the front seat with him and said, “The missing link's afraid of getting shot.”
“The hell you say,” said the other man.
“That thing on the train,” interrupted McGuire. “That's screwy. Where did the tall, red-headed man go?”
“I didn't see him.”
“This Miss Faye Linsky says she saw him.”
“Yes, but I didn't, and we didn't find him on the train when we looked.”
“Was the train going too fast for him to jump off?”
“If he jumped off, it didn't do him any good,” Doc said. “The train was going about sixty miles an hour the whole time.”
“He must've crawled on top of the coaches, or something.”
“Something, all right.”
I don't recall anything particularly Doc Savage-esque about The Wee Ones. Doc's a guy who lives on a cot in a skyscraper, and he can't cook:
CLARK SAVAGE had a sensible arrangement. He was unmarried, had no close family ties, did no entertaining at all in a social sense; so he did his living at his laboratory-office. This included his sleeping. He had a folding bed arrangement in a cubicle off the laboratory, and there was also a bath and a clothes locker and a kitchenette. The latter was a joke to his five close friends who frequently worked with him. Doc was an awful cook. His friends considered this remarkable for the reason that Doc had so many other abilities that it didn't seem possible he could be such a Ptomaine Pete when he got hold of a skillet. His friends didn't even consider his jungle cooking safe. So the kitchenette was purely atmosphere. The headquarters' layout of laboratory, library and reception-room-office was located on the eighty-sixth floor of a midtown building, had a wonderful view and was about as unnoticeable as a sore thumb. Anyone who wished could visit the place, and get shunted into the screening room on the twelfth floor where the cranks were sorted from those who had legitimate business. But the twelfth-floor sieve didn't function at night, and it was Doc's custom to switch off the doorbell and the telephones when he wanted to get some sleep. By closing the reception room and library doors, he wouldn't hear knocking on the hall door, hence slept in peace.
It was hammering on the door however, which awakened him. He turned over, focused one eye on his wrist watch and saw that it was the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. He waited for the pounding to stop and the visitor to go away....
Doc Savage got up and put on a dressing robe and stepped into his shoes, resisting a normal impulse to carry one of the shoes to the door with him and use it to swat the pest over the head.
SUNLIGHT, slanting down through a thin stratus cloud layer, took on a gentle silver quality. Penetrating the eighty-sixth floor windows, it spilled across the reception room rug, slightly brightened the big inlaid table that was the largest piece of furniture, and fell across Doc Savage's shoulders as he leaned over the telephone. But the light was not quite bright enough to make a shadow, Doc noticed. He proved this by trying to make different shaped shadows with his free hand while he was waiting. Finally a voice croaked at him in the receiver.
More on Doc. It's not good:
[What is meant by "Business"?] Chesler nodded, said, “Your business, or perhaps I should say your hobby, is helping people out of trouble and righting wrongs and punishing evildoers who are outside the law, isn't it?”
“Business,” Doc said, correcting him. “Not a hobby. And it isn't quite that Galahadian or melodramatic.”
He was a bronzed giant of a man, remarkably muscled, in fact almost unnaturally muscled. His hair was a bronze only slightly darker than his skin, and his eyes were a very light brown, a flake gold color.
Doc had dropped his suitcase in the last seat in a coach, so that no one was facing him, in order not to be conspicuous. Not that he had a bobby sox public. But he was often recognized, and it was embarrassing to be pointed at. If he were in show business, he imagined he would learn not to mind, and probably to like it. Exhibitionism was the life blood of show business.
“This must be my dumb day,” he said.
“I followed you from your office,” the girl said. “Didn't you see me?”
“That's what I mean,” he said. “Dumb. No, I didn't. But you might have done such a good job that I wouldn't have noticed.”
She shook her head. “I'm not an expert. I never did it before.”
[The inner mind of Doc Savage 08/45] Doc was suspicious of the steak on the menu because it was called a steak salmis, and salmis in French meant hash, and he had never heard of a steak hash. He took the mackerel, too, and the consommé...
The waiter came with the mackerel, and Doc wished they had ordered the steak salmis, hamburger or no hamburger. The mackerel looked as if someone had prepared it for the purpose of half-soling a shoe. It didn't taste bad, though. It didn't have much of any taste.
[It's not like Doc could have said no, I typed sarcastically] THERE was nothing for Doc to do but be photographed. He composed himself, blinked after the flash whitened everything briefly.
Doc was not impressed. “He should throw his manners away and get some new ones.”
[If only Doc had access to unlimited gold] THE laboratory was not locked. Doc shoved the door open, entered first. He saw that the place was excellently equipped, saw apparatus which he himself did not possess, but wished he did.
Gard McKim grinned at Doc Savage. “Being big and bronzed and handsome always gets them, doesn't it?” he said.
Doc thought: I hope I get a good excuse to swat this guy on the nose.
Doc leaned back. He was relieved. Also he was amazed by Monk and Ham, as he frequently was. They got into the strangest scrapes, but managed to get out of them somehow every time. This one was a little less zany than the ones they usually got into, but the outcome was about the same. He wished he had seen the fight that followed Monk getting shot. It must have been worth watching.
[I weep for Doc Savage in general] “You two haven't got a monopoly on the killing attempts,” Doc said. He described the trip from New York, and the poison which he, or rather Faye Linsky, had found in his coffee in the diner.
“Is this Linsky babe good looking?” Ham asked.
“Aren't you impressed by the fact that someone tried to kill me?” Doc asked. He was disgusted.
“Sure. But what about the babe?”
“She'll pass inspection,” Doc said.
Ham was suspicious. “She's not the mental type? I notice you're inclined to look at their brains instead of their better points.”
“She's moderately brainless,” Doc said.
DOC SAVAGE was moving down and to the side when the bullet reached him and he felt it strike his back. There was some shock, but he couldn't tell, couldn't tell at all, what the bullet had done to him. His next few moments were very bad, because he knew that spinal injuries would fool you. With some of them, you could feel fine, or at least no more than a little strange, right up to the moment you dropped dead.
He kept moving. There was nothing else to do.
Doc came up. He had the fork gripped like spear, and he hurled it, wishing to God he had spent more time learning to throw such things. But he did fair enough. The fork tines impaled McKim's right shoulder and neck with eight inches of shining steel. Enough to make McKim lose interest in using his gun.
[Doc Savage, Putz] Doc got another fork, went lunging down the aisle, and tried to high-jump the mangers to get into the section where McKim lay, and where Chesler was trying to get something, undoubtedly a gun, out of his clothing. His jump didn't quite come off, for he hooked his toe and took a tooth-loosening fall on the floor beyond.
McGuire scratched his head. “How'd you get next to his wife?”
Doc considered. “Two or three things,” he said. “First, she was doing a lot of crying about her husband's disappearance, and shedding genuine tears by holding a piece of onion in her handkerchief. I found that out, found the onion on the floor after I purposefully shoved her around when the shadow of a hawk went past the window and caused her to drop the handkerchief. Then the note she told me came from her husband was a little far-fetched, because she claimed a messenger had brought it, and looked a little strange when she said that. That started me putting things together. Mostly it was that corny onion in the handkerchief.”
Monk was saying, “There was no need of you waking me up, you overdressed shyster. I was sleeping like a top.”
“Which probably explains why you're so dizzy,” Ham said.
[Ham tells Doc to his face he's known to be wrong] “The feeling that I know when a man is lying,” Doc said. “Chesler was.”
Ham opened his mouth, closed it while he thought for a while, then said, “I've seen you wrong a few times, but not very often. I think you're wrong now.”
Ham looked at Monk in horror and said, “What are you trying to do, make a joke
of it? Don't you see they intend to kill us?” His face was the color of an
aluminum utensil which had been out in the weather a considerable time.
[Doc Savage, public letch] The telephone operator, a honey blond, was looking at Doc Savage with interest. He was returning the inspection.
The phone girl said, “He's very handsome, isn't he?” Her voice was admiring.
Ham looked at the operator. He thought she was lovely. He decided this was the time for a good lie. He said, “Doc's secretly married.”
“Oh!” The girl was shocked and disappointed.
was sure they were going to be killed. He was surprised at the assortment of
sensations this knowledge produced in him. He decided he didn't care for any of
the feelings, though. It was unreal. He knew the men intended to kill him, but
it didn't produce any of the feelings he supposed a man had before he died.
Maybe the thing had come too suddenly.
[Accommodation for aircraft in a hangar] “Well, eighty, then. And hangarage.”
During most of this, Charlie thought of things which he could call Annie Rice, a slut being about the mildest.
The Wee Ones is a small story made smaller to where it barely exists. Lester Dent may have put less effort into this Doc Savage novel than he did a thank you note to his dry cleaner for getting a persistent stain out of his favorite cardigan sweater.