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Archived Doc Savage Pulp Reviews
Page Seven Of Seven
151 - Terror Takes 7 152 - The Thing That Pursued 153 - Trouble On Parade 154 - The Screaming Man 155 - Measures For A Coffin 156 - See-Pah-Poo 157 - Terror And The Lonely Widow 158 - Five Fathoms Dead 159 - Death Is A Round Black Spot 160 - Colors For Murder 161 - Fire And Ice 162 - Three Times A Corpse 163 - The Exploding Lake 164 - Death In Little Houses 165 - The Devil Is Jones 166 - The Disappearing Lady 167 - Target For Death 168 - The Death Lady 169 - Danger Lies East 170 No Light To Die By 171 Monkey Suit 172 - Let's Kill Ames 173 - Once Over Lightly 174 - I Died Yesterday 175 - The Pure Evil 176 - Terror Wears No Shoes 177 - The Angry Canary 178 - The Swooning Lady 179 - The Green Master 180 - Return From Cormoral 181 - Up From Earth's Center
!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.
151 - Terror Takes 7:
"After a mystery box arrives at Doc's headquarters, its enigmatic contents ignite a deadly chain of events in Terror Takes 7." "A curse laid on an antique deerslayer leads Doc's crew into a frame-up for murder and a multi-million government swindle."
Terror Takes 7, from September, 1945, is really bad. Not "good" bad like the hip kids slang it, but "bad" bad as in the dictionary. In the pulp it didn't even appear as the first story. It was trouble from the start as I noted one strike against it after another - a no-hitter with a walk and a balk to keep it from being a reverse perfect game. The thing's only redeeming quality was the ongoing threat of a decent conspiracy-mystery, but that blew up by choosing someone at random and making him the killer. The plot is a jigsaw puzzle of names and places that I had no capacity to remember even if I was on a jury taking notes. Normally I'd give up and skim until the killer is revealed and I can finally unclench. Terror Takes 7 feels more substantial as it goes through its paces but "feel" is its only reward.
Two things make this novel "bad" bad - Doc's a jittery has-been down on his financial luck, and at different times both he and Monk are accused of murder when there's no direct evidence, and reliable witnesses on the scene testify on their behalf. The police even chase an unknown person out of the murder room but they still blame Monk. Lester Dent's resenting Doc Savage big-time this issue, like he wants to be fired already so he can focus on being the indigent man's Dashiell Hammett.
Here's the "good" of the book in one little section:
He frowned at the telephone, wishing he could tell something about a woman's voice. He didn't think she sounded frightened; on the other hand death might be at her throat and he would have the same opinion. Every man in the world, he frequently thought, knew more about women than he did. Not, he suspected, that any of them knew very much.
Monk was not a tall man, but he was very wide, and his hair was bristling, resembling rusty wires. His face was homely to such a degree that its homeliness was an asset; any and all expressions on such a face were amusing.
Holland fought with a demon fury. A knife was suddenly in his hand, and he struck outward and upward with the blade. Doc drew away. It was never wise to take on a man with a knife when empty-handed, no matter what your skill. But the best of weapons to cope with a knife fighter was a chair, and there were plenty of those. He retreated until he could lay hands on one, then made for Holland, pinned Holland against the wall. It was then simple to kick Holland's kneecap, breaking it, draw back and use the chair to break the man's knife arm.
Gibbida-gibbida-gibbida- That's All, Folks! Now for a gaggle of failures with square bracket introductions. Terror Takes 7 is the Doc Savage world at a low point, and why have it this way? Resentment on the part of Lester Dent? Surely not a story arc over a series of books. That would require an effort at continuity. This is the bad not good bad:
[Is the legal burden of truth really all on Monk? In a trial isn't it up to the prosecution to prove guilt?]
“This call from Argus—was it a telephone call?” Doc asked.
“Sure it was Argus?”
“I didn't take the call. But I checked with the man who did at headquarters, and the fellow who called said he was Argus.”
“Which doesn't prove it was Argus,” Doc said.
“It'll be up to your friend Mayfair to prove it wasn't,” Thompson said dryly. “Unless he can find a phonograph recording of Carlton Argus' voice, the proving may be tough.”
[The screening process is gone]
“Look,” said Monk, “what somebody sent us.”
“What are you trying to pull now?” asked Ham Brooks, who felt that it was well to regard with suspicion almost anything Monk did.
“Don't be so suspicious. Somebody sent us this thing.”
“What is it?”
“I don't know.”
“Why not look and find out.”
“It's addressed to Doc.”
“Well, stop bothering me about it,” said Ham, who thought Monk was probably playing a practical joke on him. He added, “Take it in and give it to Doc.”
[Doc has a temper that scares his assistants]
Ham grinned. “I think he's going to run us both off anyway if his temper keeps getting worse. What have you got to lose?”
[Doc mocks his friend with laughter]
ENTERING the library, concealing his impulse to laugh at Monk, Doc Savage said, “Monk, that was P. Argus, who sent the rifle and leggings.
[Ham speaks with bitterness to Doc]
Doc told Ham, “You're losing your technique with Monk.”
“I should have kept my mouth shut and let him bulldoze me into going. The minute he saw I didn't mind going, he smelled a mouse.”
Doc nodded. “The mouse sounded very nice over the telephone, too.”
“You're a big help,” Ham said bitterly.
[Doc is counting pennies. What happened to his gold supplier and the 148 companies he owns?]
He rode his private elevator up, very glad he hadn't followed an impulse to eliminate the private lift to cut expenses. He could feel the perspiration on his forehead.
[Doc destroys evidence like Dexter after a night of fun]
Doc began taking money, keys, card case, out of his pockets. “You know how to work the electric furnace, the one on the south side of the laboratory?”
“I know how to switch it on, is about all.”
Puzzled, Ham asked, “You got curious and followed Monk, didn't you?”
“Too much. Get that furnace hot, will you?”
Ham went into the laboratory. He got the furnace going, watched the gauge, and presently Doc came in with the coat, vest and trousers of his tweed suit, which he chucked into the furnace.
[Doc would like to save $5.00 on his suits]
Ham went into the laboratory. He got the furnace going, watched the gauge, and presently Doc came in with the coat, vest and trousers of his tweed suit, which he chucked into the furnace. Ham said, “My God, you paid two hundred dollars for that suit!”
“Yes, and from now on, I'm going to buy them where ten million men buy theirs, some place where you walk up and save five dollars.”
[Doc makes an innocent tailor an accessory to his alleged crime of murder]
“It may very well get me in the electric chair, too,” Doc said. “I got this suit from your tailor. How well do you know the fellow?”
“Know him? Listen, that fellow owes the success of his business to me.”
“Can you get in his shop and see that he destroys any record of ever having sold me a suit made of that cloth?”
[Doc lives on a cot and his furniture is a locker. I thought he owned the entire building]
The laboratory was pretty much his living quarters also and he kept extra clothing in a locker.
[Ham's probably a date-rapist]
THEY talked to the girl. The doctor had given her a bromide, and she was in her room. Doc narrowed his eyes warningly when Ham Brooks looked as if he was going to whistle his admiration.
[Eyewitness testimony from the dead guy's niece means nothing]
She made a distressed gesture. “Some of that is my fault, I'm afraid, because I was so shocked I didn't make it clear immediately that Mr. Mayfair was here because I had asked him, and that he didn't know my Uncle Carlton Argus, and couldn't have any reason for killing him. Now the police don't seem to believe me, or at least Mr. Ivans doesn't.”
[Doc Savage - smug douchebag]
Ivans followed Doc around for a while, presently grew disgusted when Doc dropped a plant box and splashed mud on his trousers, and went to the door to wait. Ivans wiped at his trousers with a handkerchief. Doc concealed a grin, because he hadn't dropped the box by accident.
[Doc Savage barely keeping it together]
Doc started to open the door, didn't, fell to pondering. The case, he felt, wasn't going well. He hadn't, actually, unearthed anything tangible to help Monk, although he had given Ivans some confusion, he hoped. Confusion might not be enough. It was frightening to face the fact that Monk might be tried and convicted for murder, but it was something he knew he had better face. The fact that Monk was a man with a substantial reputation wouldn't help, because a prosecutor of Ivans' turn of mind would use Monk's fame to crucify any attempts to use Monk's reputation as character evidence.
Monk could easily be tried and electrocuted for murder. That was a fact.
[Doc Savage - sadistic douchebag]
For two reasons, he let Tollen go first. He wanted the man ahead of him where he could be followed. And he didn't want to be the one who fell into an areaway and broke a leg if there was too much of a drop below the window. He was convinced now that Tollen was a crook, so if any legs were broken, he preferred they be Tollen's.
[I'm embarrassed for Doc and for myself for having to read this]
“My God, he's comin' to this cab,” the driver said.
Doc slid off the rear seat, down on the floorboards, made himself as small as possible. He said, “Don't let him look in here! Get out. Tell him the cab is engaged.”
[Doc Savage is Don Knotts in The Murder and Mr. Chicken]
Doc began to perspire. If Tollen had used the telephone, he might have found out the escape wasn't what Doc had told him it was.
[Doc is ashamed of his inventions. Why...]
From his coat pocket, Doc took a hank of silk line to the end of which was attached a folding grapple hook. The line and hook, which he usually carried around with him, was a keepsake from the past. It had saved his life once, and been quite useful a few other times, and he still carried it out of sentiment...
The steel door had no lock and no evidence of a keyhole. He put the heel of a shoe against the door near the bottom, about the center. He frowned. Frowned at himself, for feeling foolish about using another gadget. There had been a period when he went in enthusiastically for gadgets, and this door was one of the many. There was a fragment of radioactive material in the shoe heel, an electroscope gimmick inside the door; the radioactive stuff made the electroscope leaves separate, close a contact and the door would open. Presently it did open, and he entered.
For all his pains, he got a gun jammed in his ribs.
[Doc is down to a few planes and boats]
Light, following the closing of the door, came in a blinding flood. The interior of the warehouse, except for a long shop room, was a hangar for a seaplane, a helicopter equipped with floats, a speedboat and a larger express cruiser. The collection gave the place a crowded, spidery look.
[Doc and Monk are amateurs or something doing this for the first time, in 1945]
“How'll we grab this guy?” he wanted to know.
“I'll close with him when he's about fifty feet from the truck. You get out and help.”
[Doc finds a glimmer of hope in a rainbow and a puppy to keep hope and not give into a pit of despair]
He waited near the park entrance. It was not raining at the moment, but probably it would start again. It was about ten o'clock and the streets were rather deserted. He contemplated the lighted windows in the tall buildings around the park, impressed, as he always was, by the majestic wonder that was New York at night. There was probably no other place, he thought, quite as reassuring as this part of New York City at this time of the evening. If you were low, if your belief in the capacity and integrity of the human race was far ebbed, standing here looking at the city at this time of the evening was good medicine. It would do a lot toward restoring faith.
[Doc Savage talking the talk like Robert Crumb's Ruff Tuff Cream Puff]
Doc was running toward her. So was Monk, but Doc got there first, coming in carefully. The tall man wrenched away from Pat and wheeled, holding a long-bladed knife ready in front of his stomach.
“Put it down!” Doc warned him. “Don't try to use that thing on me.”
[Doc Savage - low class sadist]
“Well—okay.” Monk helped jam Ivans into the car. The Assistant District Attorney fought with considerable violence and not much dignity. Finally Monk said, “I'm gonna have to choke him a little.”
“Go head. I would enjoy doing a little of it myself,” Doc said.
[Anger = Fists]
Cultell and Ivans both picked this time to try to escape. Monk, trying to control both of them, made angry noises, finally was reduced to yelling, “Hey, Doc! Help me!” Doc joined the mêlée. He used his fists, for he was angry, and helped Monk haul the victims to the seaplane.
[Mr. Chicken takes a bow]
A splash caused Doc to wheel nervously, but it was only Monk putting over the rubber boat.
[If not fright maybe late-onset puberty?]
“Pat?” Doc called. Strain made his voice louder than he expected.
152 - The Thing That Pursued:
"It’s bizarre, horrifying, unstoppable — a fiery unknown menace is consuming planes in the sky. And now the thing is plunging for Doc! But the biggest danger lies dead ahead, from a small man with a huge heart of pure evil."
"Doc came out of the closet"
The 152nd novel came out a month after the official end of WWII (War - 09/45, Pulp - 10/45) so in a way it's the first Doc Savage pulp to come out in a time of hope, following the twin disasters of The Great Depression (starting two weeks after the first issue) and the Great Axis Kerfuffle. The treasure is coveted war technology since the books were written well in advance, but it's a special effects dud so it's mainly a McGuffin.
The Thing That Pursued is an involved yet simple and effective story that's also shockingly boring at times, especially in its middle section. It's partly a non-Doc Savage story featuring a Doc Savage that's an odd layering of the Doc Savage we all know and the Doc Savage as-if-Doc-Savage-barely-existed that crops up in later years. Lester Dent experimented with various post-Doc Savages and this is one of the better ones - to be honest it's more an indictment of the others than how good this one turned out. Greatly in its favor, Doc isn't a self-loathing and barely competent putz adapted for a Doc Savage deadline. A few gadgets are used, and this bit is great:
“It was fantastic, if that is what you mean,” Doc said. “But you'll find out I have a weakness for gadgets of any and all shapes and variety. Gadgets are my principal vice. I get a kick out of them. I would rather use a gadget, even a complicated one, to get a result than any other means.”
“Do they always work?”
“Frequently,” Doc admitted, “they don't. They often backfire, making things much worse than if I had used ordinary methods and common sense in the first place.”
One of the best aspects of the novel is Doc's leg injury from a bullet and how he's constantly dealing with how it effects his abilities. His attackers repeatedly go after the injured leg and it's an element of repeated practical cruelty usually not found in Doc Savage.
Doc's assistants are elsewhere and their only reference is that Renny designed Doc's plane. It might be implying Renny's a better designer than Doc and Doc's not Uber beyond his medical skills and large physical size. Taking the place of the aides is a Kansas City-based detective agency run by a kooky character on a friendly first-name basis with Doc. Sethena Williams is the full-time female day-player and she steps in oddly enough as the girlfriend of the brother of the first man poisoned by the bad guys.
The Thing That Pursued has a lot of interesting lines to consider, a bunch of them below.
“I'm very grateful to you, Mr. Savage, for showing an interest—”
The bronze man's pleasant laugh stopped her thanks. He said, “You needn't be obligated. If this thing is as screwey as it sounds, I wouldn't miss it for anything.”
The whole thing fascinated Doc Savage. It was the sort of an affair he liked to investigate, taking his pay in excitement. This chasing excitement had, he realized, gradually become his career; but he did not like to think of himself the way the newspapers referred to him, as a man who went around righting wrongs and punishing evildoers in the far corners of the earth, whenever the law was ineffectual. That sounded a little too Galahadian.
To the bellboy he talked at length, and five dollars changed hands. Fifty cents or a dollar might have done, but where his neck was concerned he believed in asking for good service, and paying for it.
Presently he was surprised to discover he didn't feel resentment, didn't blame her. She had an inner honesty which seemed to show through the garments of terror she was wearing. This, he thought, described her. She was not hard to look at, either. She was not brittle or flashy or artificial, and he approved of that.
Lying beside the car, he began shoving hands in his pockets. . . . At first, he didn't find what he was seeking. Then he did. Inside coat pocket. A flat case, four glass bottles, little more than phials, inside. He explored with a finger, selected the phial fartherest to the right when the case lid was away from him. The correct one, he hoped...
Doc Savage dodged wildly behind the car, went flat on the ground. He was sure, for a moment, that they must have seen him, and waiting for them to begin firing, wished heartily that he had used the moment of darkness to take flight, instead of remaining to use the gadget, the liquid in the phial.
[Doc uses a gun] He looked under the car, suddenly aimed his captured revolver at two pairs of legs he could see there. One set of feet belonged to the small man, he felt sure, so he shot the fellow in the left leg...
Doc dropped some of his caution, and ran forward. He heard the car begin moving; it was traveling fast down the lane when he saw it. He halted, rested the revolver against a tree, fired twice at the tires. Both were misses, and he did not try again. It was too dark...
Doc, on his knees, tried winging the man with the shotgun. The gun noise blew the silence apart. The man changed his sprint to an antelope loping, and kept going.
A voice, hoarse with emotion, cried, “For God's sake, don't shoot me!” It was Ted Page.
Astonished that Page had not used the darkness and the excitement to escape, Doc called out angrily:
“The next time the lights go out, run for it, you idiot!”
Filled with violent feelings, Doc contemplated the body for a while. He was dumbfounded at the brutality of what he saw, a man coldly murdered so that his care would not be a burden, for the explanation could hardly be anything else. It was direct, shocking violence, and he had to exercise strong effort to make himself search the dead man's clothing. He brought to view successively a passport, a document folder of credentials, five hundred dollars in large bills, cigarettes, keys, matches, handkerchief and somewhat less than a dollar in silver.
The business of memorizing such things, a little startling to anyone who had not taken the trouble to master the trick, was one he did well, one of his secret prides.
The house came next. It belonged to the small man, and the small man's name was Pansy Orchid Heather. Doc looked at the name, startled, thinking what an embarrassment such a name would be to a man.
The receiving desk attendant now returned, embarrassed and flustered. She was followed by a short, gray-haired angry doctor who yelled, “Goddam it, hasn't anyone around this hospital the sense of a goose? They should have gumption enough to coöperate when they hear the name Doc Savage.” He shook Doc's hand vigorously and said, “I'm sorry you were kept waiting. This thimble-head says you wish to examine the parachute jumper, Lew Page. Of course you can.” He turned around, winked at the desk attendant he had been berating, and said, “This man is probably the world's greatest surgeon, in case you want to know why I'm raising hell.”
Doc assumed more confidence than he felt and said, “The smart thing for you to do, Page, is give us the whole story.”
They were on the ground, on the grass between curb and sidewalk, fighting violently for a moment. Then the man kicked Doc's wounded leg. The result was exploding agony, driving Doc to his knees. He was gripping the shotgun, which he had obtained.
The pain from his leg made him helpless for a moment. He had treated the wound carefully, using an anaesthetic very slightly to allay some of the pain, and it had not been bothering him greatly. But now, suddenly, the peace was gone from the hurt. He was momentarily helpless.
Doc seated himself, and spent the next ten minutes wishing he hadn't missed this night's sleep, that his leg would stop aching, and that he knew what this was all about.
“The only thing I have,” Doc told him, “is a New York City commission, and another one that isn't much good, an authority as special investigator for the State Department, which isn't a police credential at all. Here they are.” He handed over the documents.
Seth asked wildly, “Can't you do something? I thought you were such a wonderful doctor!”
Doc's leg was hurting him, and his temper was short. He said sharply, “I'm not God Almighty; I can't rebuild what has been destroyed. To repair Page or Gulick, you would have to take half the brain out of their heads and put in a new one. Unfortunately, I'm not able to do that, regardless of the claptrap you've heard about me.”
Doc Savage for the first time displayed genuine rage. His bronze skin became hard and metallic looking, his eyes narrowed coldly. His lips compressed, and for the next fifteen minutes he did not speak a word...
Doc hit him, struck the man with great enthusiasm, putting into the blow the rancidness he had been saving up for several hours. Even at that, he couldn't hit Mants as hard as he wished, so he let the man have a left too, short and hooking.
Mants did get his mouth open, probably trying to yell, but Doc knocked the breath out of him, the outgoing air making a sound like a horse coughing. Mants was as tough as an oak post. Doc swung more rights and lefts, chopping the man down, and by that time he had hurt his leg so much that he had to sit down himself, and he used Mants for a chair.
The small man had gone down on his knees, but not from stupor. He was after his gun, which he had dropped. Doc managed to step on the gun and the man's hand; he put weight on the foot, felt the hand break, gravel-like, under his weight. The small man gave no cry of pain, but he did show his teeth and much of his gums in a grimace of agony. Then he hit Doc's wounded leg with his fist.
The pain could not have been greater to Doc had the leg been torn off; the agony seemed to rack back and forth through his body like echoes, while the leg itself became completely numb. Falling, he managed to fall on the small man.
The small man was a terrible, an unbelievable opponent. He fought with madness, biting and clawing and kicking, even clubbing with his broken hand, doing it all in silence, not even seeming to breathe. Doc, outweighing him by at least twice, felt foolish at first, then horrified. He had always hated to fight a little man, and this was the worst little one he had ever met.
He knew vaguely that the shooting had come closer to the house, then that it had come into the house, and with it the blinding sting of tear gas. But all his effort was bent toward overcoming the small man, until finally, by taking the fellow's head in both hands and beating it against the floor, he got relief.
“The undertakers and the lawyers can take it from here,” C. B. Fay said. “Was it okay, me calling in the law?”
Doc Savage, grimacing and trying hard, succeeded in standing. “That's a fool question,” he said.
“We're putting you away for calling Doc Savage,” the small man said. “When you did that, it was the one worst thing you could do to us. It was bad. So we're going to shoot you both, after which I trust you will make us no more trouble.”
Seth's words rushed on, a shrill tortured flood. “—eleven o'clock. Mr. Savage will be expecting me and when I'm not there, he is going to become suspicious. It would be much better if I was there.” Hysteria took her voice tones and changed them, made them sound shrill and hoarse, quick, breathless, at times almost took away the sound. “It would be better, wouldn't it?” she said wildly. “If I were there, he wouldn't be alarmed. He would be expecting me, and you would have an easier time getting him, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you? Don't you understand—I don't want to die? I'll help you?”
“No one wants to die,” the small man said, coldly unmoved.
The Doc Savage of this adventure is a fascinating combination of personality traits and real-world standings. The plot is very good for what it is. What the story desperately needs is to have the boring parts removed, which might be as high as 17.2% of its entirety. The boring parts makes this book a bit of a drag, but once it's all said and done The Thing That Pursued is a very interesting Doc Savage experiment.
153 - Trouble On Parade:
"In Maine on business, Doc is mysteriously warned by everyone to leave if he values his health. Soon, Doc finds himself behind bars on trumped up charges. Forced to escape to prove his innocence, Doc travels to a secret cove that harbors a gang of bloodthirsty cutthroats, none of whom wish him good health!"
"A red-bearded giant, who packed a basket lunch to eat in the middle of the Bay of Fundy, was the start. There was the girl who liked to quarrel, the girl who wouldn't talk, and the man who threatened. They added up to a nightmare of violence and intrigue for Doc Savage—on Parade."
I'm sorry this November, 1945 story's third act failed to deliver on its potential because up till then it wasn't bad. Trouble On Parade borders on not being a Doc Savage story, but enough references to Doc Savage things are made and his reputation as trouble buster is brought up enough to conclude this is a solid 80 percent reinvention into a regular handsome guy with big muscles, fighting ability, and enough brains and experience to know what he's doing with chemistry - the only "gadgets" he carries with him. I wouldn't read it without Doc in it somewhere, but for as long as it lasts it has its charms.
The tone of the story isn't funny but there are odd and interesting characters who are dry and obtuse, along with enough mystique in the dramatic underpinnings to keep both Doc and the reader in doubt about everyone's motivations and where things might head. Doc's a befuddled straight man for those around him. The last act on the island with a hotel for criminals on the lam held great potential to shift tone to brutality and evil that Doc must battle, with all playfulness stamped out:
The hotel, in appearance, lived up to the impression it had given from a distance of being a pleasant, comfortable hostelry in a rather picturesque locale. Also, at close range, it became evident that the place was quite luxurious. It was the kind of an establishment millionaires travel long distances to find.
The thing that most impressed Doc Savage, however, was more intangible, an air of sinister portent, the kind of a feeling that went with screams in the night, cocked pistols, poison bottles.
Sadly the setup leads to a let-down. Shipwrecked people are kept there as faux guests for no given reason and when they act up they're dumped in a basement instead of being killed. Why not return them to the mainland or kill them for seeing too much? I found no mention of ransom opportunities. Why is Doc treated like a guest on the island when they know full well who he is, and why have civilians work at the hotel if it's a hide-out for criminals? The closing battle is a simple shoot-out, and watch out here falls the closing curtain...
Disappointed Smith is a fun character but his discovery twenty miles off shore by a commercial plane is unlikely, along with his ability to tread water as long as he does while retaining the strength to perform stunts. His aleged bouts of cowardice also leads to nothing.
There's no mention of Doc's assistants beyond:
No mention of assistants beyond “I've got some friends in New York, and I want to call them and tell them they won't need to come hunting for me.”...
“Mr. Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, at Central 0-9000, New York City,” Doc said.
Did I mention Doc's broke? He's in Maine because he received a call from someone he doesn't know about buying war surplus boats for a good price in order to resell them. He thinks he can't rent a boat because this deal he's working on won't come through, which makes no sense because he'd need money to buy the boats in the first place!
While not a Doc Savage novel per-say it's tailored to him enough so you might think it is even with stuff like this:
He was going to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to buy some boats and make a bit of change. Boat-buying was not his business, but a man named Si Hedges had telephoned him that he, Hedges, had obtained a number of first-class, small, war surplus steamships, and that he would re-sell them to Doc at a figure which would make him some money. Doc Savage was not acquainted with Si Hedges, so the offer had puzzled him until Hedges explained that Doc had once done a considerable favor for Hedges' brother-in-law, Wilbur C. Tidings, and that Hedges would like to repay the debt. Hedges wasn't, he explained, giving away anything; he was merely giving Doc an opportunity to make some money.
Doc Savage, pleased at not being the focus of publicity, let himself be filmed, and answered the reporters' questions, really something unusual for him to do. He was in a mellow mood, since he did not feel himself concerned.
FOR a time Doc Savage rested on his heels, where he had been jolted by surprise. His thinking machinery, because of the shock, failed him for a few moments.
It was the kind of a boat the capitalists used to be accused of riding around in. It was, Doc Savage reflected, not the kind of a boat one would expect to find being offered for rent. His next thought was that he probably couldn't afford to rent it himself, particularly since it appeared that some strange things were happening to his boat deal.
“Is there a bilge in this thing big enough to crawl into?”...
She shook her head, then examined him with what seemed to be surprise.
“So you're the famous Doc Savage I've been hearing about,” she remarked. “The notable Man of Bronze, the terror of crooks, righter of wrongs, punisher of evildoers.”
He was irked by her disapproval.
“I'm wary of many things, several of them being bullets,” he informed her...
He imagined the sniper had already fled, since the shot had made a conspicuous amount of noise in the hotel grounds, but he did not intend to thrust any part of his person outside to test his theory.
He had the same urge he'd had toward Mr. Flinch, the hotel manager, to grasp her firmly by the throat and see what violence would fetch out. But he was restrained by an aversion to beating a female, although she might deserve it.
She was heavier than he had expected, a good hundred and thirty pounds. He walked with her up the dock and toward the swanky hotel.
[Doc's pocket has replaced his compartment vest and fanny pack of goodies] The cups he selected were, fortunately, white, which was also the approximate color of the powder which he extracted from a phial that was in a small case with other glass phials in his pocket.
Doc watched him, not liking the way the man kept moving. He should have become still. The reaction of the gas, usually violent and instantaneous, was not up to what Doc considered to be par. He frowned at some of the other men, noticing that most of them moved feebly after they fell. He'd better, he thought with alarm, be more careful when he mixed the next batch of the stuff.
DOC SAVAGE, a passenger on the plane, had been endeavoring to put himself to sleep with self-hypnotism. He had heard that this could be done, but he had never been able to do it, and he wasn't having any success now.
He wished the stewardess hadn't been so damned pretty, then he wouldn't have been as disturbed.
The stewardess gave him a smile which, although he was trying to be as cold as a fish, made his toes vibrate...
“I read about you in a magazine.”
He damned the magazine mentally. He resolved to look before he boarded the next plane to make sure it didn't have a man-eating stewardess.
“Whatever gives you the impression I'm an actor?” Doc asked. He was surprised.
“You look like one. You're a big, handsome lug.”
“On the contrary, most of the very best actors are rather homely. That is something you'll realize as you grow older.”
Doc Savage looked after her with pleasure, for he had enjoyed encountering her. He had enjoyed meeting, if the plane incident could be called a meeting, Disappointed Smith. It was not often that he encountered such screwball characters, and he found it interesting.
The stare she gave him, he was pleased to see, was bewildered. He thought he had her confused, and he liked that. Usually women confused him, and he appreciated the novelty of turning the tables.
Doc's temper slipped.
“Don't tell me what to do, you nincompoop,” he said irately.
He inserted the flagon of brew in his pocket as he left the establishment, feeling he might find some good use for it; and in any event the bottle, if grasped firmly by the neck, would make an excellent skull-cracker.
Doc was modestly silent. He did not feel any kinship with an icicle, and he suspected that the excitement had kept him from having the normal reactions of fright, so there was a good chance that, presently, when he became calm again, he would exude considerable cold perspiration.
[The book opens with metaphysical ponderings on some aspect or another of existence] IT seems to be a fact that one of the things people most enjoy doing is approving—“pointing with pride” is the phrase—the great accomplishments of the human race, the race which has discovered radio, vitamin pills, crooners, war, airplanes, six-dollar theater seats, appendix operations, taxes etc. etc. But once upon a time a scholar, who was also a witty man, said: “Man is an emotional animal who sometimes stops to think.”
Stopping to think is the profession of scholars and scientists, who get salaries for it. These gentlemen are—a surprising number of them—quite modest men, since it is mysterious and awe-inspiring to realize, as they soon must, that it may take them and succeeding thinkers perhaps another hundred thousand years to invent a mechanism as marvelous as, for example, a common cheese-eating variety of mouse. To say nothing of an emotion, for an emotion is nebulous, being probably a sort of bio-chemical product—even the garden variety of emotions such as fear, joy, grief, hate, love, reverence.
Fear is a primary emotion. A baby, the scientists have proved, is born with only two primitive fears—the fear of loud noise, and the fear of falling. It has, at birth, no other instinctive fears. Taken from its crib, the baby will reach impartially for striped candy, cobra snakes, fire, Uncle Dan's shiny timepiece, dogs, canary birds, dynamite and strangers, which proves that the baby is born with another emotion—curiosity. His curiosity stays with him and develops as do his other emotions, but unlike the others, his curiosity usually gets him into a lot of trouble.
DOC SAVAGE looked at Mr. Flinch thoughtfully, and reaffirmed his earlier thought that Mr. Flinch looked like a shark, and was probably dishonest. A man who affirmed his honesty so frequently must have the subject on his mind, and it was further Doc's experience that crooks liked to discuss their own honest qualities. The same probably applied to the man's protestations about the good name of the hotel. It was probably a first-rate rat-hole.
[Miss Mix Walden] “When I insult most men, it's like kicking a sheep. Like insulting you. No joy to it. But when you hang a nasty remark on Disappointed Smith, he reciprocates. He hands back as much as he gets, frequently more. Quarreling with him is a pleasure.”...
“If I thought you were a wolf, I'd encourage you, then get a lot of pleasure out of sticking my thumb in your eye,” she snapped. “But you're a gentleman. Gentlemen are doormats. They don't interest me.”
“He's crazy as a forty-cent cuckoo clock.”
She pounced on this as if she had been seeking something to get angry about, and snapped, “That's enough out of you, you big bunch of muscles! I do you a favor and get called a liar, which is about the thanks I expected. But I don't like it, and I've decided I don't like you, and I'm not going to waste my time on you. Get off this boat. If you've got half sense, which I doubt, you'll catch that Boston plane. Or stay, if you want to, and get into more trouble than you can handle. Suit yourself. Either way, I wash my hands of you. So go away. Beat it!”
THERE was a rich carpet on the cabin floor, finely woven and with a deep pile, but not, as Doc Savage fervently wished were the case, possessing a nap two feet deep and made of bulletproof steel.
However, an assistant manager accompanied him to the room, and by frowning an unspoken reminder that young ladies were not permitted gentlemen in their rooms without benefit of a marriage certificate.
FINDING Disappointed Smith proved to be no more difficult than locating an Income Tax collector on March Fifteenth.
[Sinatra name-drop] “You're crazy. I know what effect these whiskers have on the ladies. They swoon when they see 'em. I'll make Sinatra ashamed of himself.”
[Nice underwater fighting sequence] As they neared the two-minute mark under the surface, composure began to leave Smith. He made a snaky movement with his legs, attempting to clamp a wrestler's scissor hold around Doc's chest with the idea of squeezing the supply of air out of the bronze man's chest. Doc, however, managed to grasp one of Smith's toes. It was a large toe, an excellent handhold, and Doc gave it a twisting. A large bubble of air escaped Smith's lips, probably containing a shout of discomfort.
Maintaining a firm hold on Smith's chin foliage, Doc thrust the heel of his hand under Smith's nose, shoved with that hand and pulled with the other, this forcing Smith's mouth agape. Presently there was another bubble, followed by several more, and Smith began to fight the fight of a drowning man, inflicting some damage of a minor nature. Apparently he had waited too long to stage the flurry, because his fighting changed to frantic grasping, and eventually to the weakness of a suffocated man.
[Madcap comedy relief] The spectators, innoculated by the excitement that invariably seems contagious around a fight, were having some little difficulties of their own. The newsreel cameraman, dancing in excitement, had unwittingly stepped on the fabric-covered part of the seaplane wing, and both legs had gone through, causing him to become wedged like a cork in a bottle. The pilot of the plane, quite angry, was climbing from the cockpit waving a fire extinguisher which he asserted he intended employing to beat out the cameraman's brains. The yawl helmsman, seeking to bring his craft closer, unfortunately jibed, knocking one of his passengers overboard; a moment later he also ran down one of the Nova Scotia clinks, capsizing the smaller craft. Another dinghy occupant caught a crab with his oars, and fell overboard himself. Everyone concerned was expressing his feelings as loudly as possible.
“You can't arrest me!” Smith yelled.
This statement proved overly optimistic, because presently there were handcuffs on his wrists.
THE jail, like most jails, had not been constructed with the thought of encouraging the occupants to make a return visit.
DOC SAVAGE was able to pick up Mix Walden's trail and follow her. There was no particular magic about this, because the streets in that part of town had apparently been laid out by some early-day settler who had, in deciding where each street should be, turned a blind ox loose and followed its meanderings.
As a faux Savage story you can do worse. Doc's not overwhelmed by doubt (a plus) and the tone is light and entertaining. This variation of Doc isn't offensive, for what it is. The last act is in serious need of revision as it would have worked wonderfully as a 180 degree tone shift to something darker, menacing, and more brutally evil, where all facades are dropped and body parts hit the fan.
154 - The Screaming Man:
"From war-ravaged Manila to an ocean liner bound for chaos, Doc races to solve three mysteries at once — the kidnapping of one of his valuable crew, the sinister secret behind a strange dancing girl and the identity of a power-crazed dictator more malevolent that Hitler!"
“I wish that silly girl were back in God's country, or at least in California"
December, 1945's The Screaming Man starts off strong with a character study of spunky WAC Annie Flinders, then dives head-first into Empty Suit Doc Savage territory, lingers to where it becomes noticeable on boat meanderings, and then finishes strong with a mostly competent Doc Savage and a gripping mystery of who and where is Jonas Sown, who may have a gadget or just the mind to turn entire countries war mad:
He demanded, “Am I to understand a human mind is responsible for these wars?”
Major Stevens cleared his throat. “You mean Hitler, Mussolini and the Tojo crowd, don't you?”
“No. Although Jonas Sown unquestionably had prominent Nazis as underlings, perhaps Hitler himself.”
“Who,” demanded Major Stevens, “is Jonas Sown?”
“Jonas Sown,” said Thomas, “is an example of how dangerous genius can be to humanity.”
“You mean this Jonas Sown is—is—”
“He caused the last ten years of war, yes.”
Doc's all over the map on his abilities in this, the post-uber era, and it's a gift to the readers that Lester Dent switches gears and doesn't make Doc a regular guy reader surrogate tripping his way to eventual victory. Doc says he can't dance. Can you imagine Doc Savage dancing?
Doc insists a Japanese prisoner speak English. Is this because Doc doesn't know the language this month or was Dent insistent on not using the narrator to translate?:
“You,” the giant said suddenly, “know who I am.”
“Certainly. Yes, I know you.”
[Damn you gadget, I wish I knew something about you and if you'll be a failure] He dropped a hand inside his coat, and brought out a flat plastic case somewhat larger, but not much larger, than a five-cigar capacity cigar case.
There was a switch on the case. Desperately unable to remember whether the switch would make a noise, he spent a grim five seconds with thumb poised. But there was no noise. He wished, next, that he was sure the gadget was working. Science, particularly the science of electricity, was wonderful. But only when it worked.
[Referencing the initial idea to have Doc look like Clark Gable] “Forget Clark Gable,” he said, sounding a little as if he were panting.
“Not Gable. Savage. Clark Savage.” Annie sounded a bit short of normal breath herself.
[A favorite fan service] Annie went into a conference with herself, saying, “I am sure it must be. I saw him once before, in New York, when a friend of mine who was a surgeon took me to hear him lecture. Mr. Savage gave a wonderful lecture. I didn't understand practically one single word of what he was talking about. But it must have been super, because all the famous surgeons sat there with their mouths open.”
He had deeply bronzed skin, hair a little darker shade of bronze, and flake gold eyes which were so unusual that people were always staring at them, and getting funny hypnotized feelings.
[Almost immediately Doc Savage gets diminished] Although he made genuine efforts to seem a commonplace individual, strangers always ogled him, and sensed that Savage was a physical marvel, a mental wizard, and very important. Which he frequently doubted he was.
[Great. Doc's Bob Hope now] Annie did some things with her fingers on his arm and turned loose her special man-cracking smile. “Oh, come on, please,” she urged.
Doc straightened out his toes with some difficulty, counted his pulse by fives for a moment, and shook his head firmly.
[Doc Savage, Quipster] He shook his head again and remarked, “The fish is a wonderful creature. It has no nose to stick in other people's business.”...
“Stay right here,” he said. “I've got to see a man about a palm tree.”
[Doc saying something "bitterly" is always a bad sign for the book in general] “Never mind,” Doc said bitterly.
[Ouch] He told Annie what about him. He explained that Carter was looking out for her welfare. He realized he was bragging, trying to impress Annie with what good care he was taking of her.
The sensible thing to do was call a houseful of policemen. He was, however, angry enough to be reckless.
Doc raced after the squat man. The latter, short-legged, was made for sprinting and quick turns. Doc began having trouble making the turns the quarry made.
Doc Savage got his breath and made some words. He said, “Monk, I ought to beat your brains out. Let go of me, you idiot!”
Astonishment paralyzed Monk for a moment.
“Who do you think? Turn me loose.”
Doc leaned forward tiredly. He was angry and worried.
[The most classless words Doc Savage ever uttered] “You look like a concentration camp guest,” Doc said.
“Who is this chap?” asked Ham, affecting the Harvard accent which he employed on strangers of whom he didn't, at first glance, entirely approve.
Annie had even shortened her name from Miss Angelica Carstair-Flinders to plain Annie Flinders to make people think she was vigorous and two-fisted and entitled to get around and see a war. She could have saved this psychological touch. The war, the Philippine part of it, was a strangled duck.
[Easily one of the funniest bits found in all of Doc Savage] “I wonder,” pondered Annie, “what Doc Savage is doing in the Philippine Islands?”
“Remember me, lady?” the j.g. asked. “I'm the guy you picked up at the canteen two hours ago.”
“What? Oh, of course, Bill.”
The Lieutenant became somewhat bitter. “My name's Arthur.”
“Oh, of course. So nice to have met you, Arthur.” Annie extended a hand, adding vaguely, “By all means do that, Arthur.”
“Do what?” growled Arthur.
“Whatever we were talking about,” said Annie, still more vaguely. “By all means. Goodbye, Bill.”
The psychiatrist, if there had been one, and if he had diagnosed correctly, would have said that Annie Flinders was the victim of a frustration which gradually became deeply seated in the bones of a lot of American citizens who didn't get to take a shot at a Nazi or a Jap. This yen to take a whack at the rats, meeting the obstacle of not being able to, did some unpleasant complexing to lots of people. It made perfect strangers take pokes at each other in bars, made teen-agers run wild, and did lots of other things which were blamed on bad tempers, carelessness and moral decline. Annie's complex was very strongly developed. She'd spent the war trying to get into the war, the frustration was all corked up inside her, and the cork just had to blow. Excitement would pull the cork. Ergo, she had to have some excitement.
The fat man was moving toward the door, and there was another man with him, a tall lean young man with shell-rimmed glasses—one hardly ever saw shell-rimmed spectacles on men any more, possibly because so many Japs wore them that the fashion had become unpopular.
The Nazi war prisoners numbered a hundred and eleven, mostly sailors who had been bagged when a submarine was taken. They had the typical Nazi attitude, the superman air that was quite insulting and, considering their status, rather funny. They didn't think it was humorous. They didn't seem to think anything was humorous.
The whole approach of Italy, Germany and Japan to this people has been so deliberately inhuman that it could be the work of an evil force personified by one man.
Suddenly, in horror, Monk grunted, then said, “Jeepers!”
“Here's one. But he stopped a bullet, and I think I've got him all over my hands.”
Ham and Monk don't argue much, and Ham is handsome "in a predatory way". The great opening chapter starts with whimsy and ends with shocking and sadistic brutality. The "Screaming Man" being Johnny and his big words is random and meaningless. The last third of the story is very strong as a mystery in need of solving, and it's a rarity to find it in this later book that settles into averageness so quickly. As a whole it makes for good reading but Doc needs to be more peak human and never say anything bitterly, call anyone an idiot, or casually compare Johnny to a Holocaust survivor. That last one would be a good start for renovation.
155 - Measures For A Coffin:
"Doc becomes a helpless pawn
in a diabolical plot to steal millions.
If his trusty crew can't save him, The Man Of Bronze will surely die!"
The electronic copy I read opens with the following verbiage I don't see in the Sanctum reprint. I'm assuming it was in the original because why would anyone make this stuff up?:
"This issue of DOC SAVAGE is an extra-good one, we think. The novel, MEASURES FOR A COFFIN, represents Kenneth Robeson at his best . . . and we bet you'll be wondering if Doc is really what he pretends to be. See how long it takes you to guess the answer in this puzzling thriller."
Sounds to me everyone involved knew this story was screamingly bad and a future William Castle at Street & Smith thought he was saving the day by yelling, "Hey fellas! Watch me spin this until it vomits up resigned confusion!!"
January, 1946's Measures For A Coffin falls apart from the get-go and it's written by Lester Dent as if he barely knew the characters. I can't tell if a later-period story is written by Dent or not as he seemingly cranked them out in flurries of stream of consciousness creativity. That and converting rejected story ideas with other characters into Doc Savage books. [I wonder if pulp authors sold their unwanted works to each other to hit deadlines?] Really good ones are hit or miss so when you stumble across one you wonder why this month's book was put together eight times better than the last few. And then you ask if it's too much for Doc and his assistants to be the same people every month. After that you might wonder how editors at Street & Smith weren't catching the same screamingly obvious mistakes I do and having them corrected. I'm sure they tried as much as they cared to, and so did Dent if he read over his own material, but to quote Bill Murray, I know "It just doesn't matter!"
Doc's absent for most of the story and no reader with an I.Q. in double digits was fooled into thinking the man in the bandages was Doc, or that the main bad guy wasn't Mr. Obvious. Dent writes an early section with Dr. Benson wooing his lady as if he's an average Joe with foibles and lusts like the rest of us. Did Dent know when scribbling this that Benson would be the cold-blooded killer mastermind? And why would Benson involve his crush in a plot that could easily lead to her death? I think Dent knew, but he wrote it anyway to hide Benson's villainy and to be the person who introduces this month's beautiful gal along for the ride so Monk and Ham can act like teenage idiots.
It's a mess because of passages like this:
“Something is on your mind,” Miss Clayton said.
Doctor Benson nodded soberly. “As a matter of fact, I'm worried.”
“I can't get rid of the feeling there was something wrong about that accident to Doc Savage this afternoon,” Benson said grimly.
He's not trying to trick her into being a part of his evil plan. Benson on his own starts an inquiry into Doc's accident and he brings his beloved Miss Clayton along. He's the murderer suspecting there might have been a murder who then tries to solve the murder himself. Oh, Fail, thy name is Measures For A Coffin.
Monk and Ham do most of the work and while I didn't mind their fighting as much because some of it was actually funny, they act like hormonal putzes during times of extreme existential danger. The "accident" that burns Doc enough for his face to be bandaged so the gag of a double can be pulled off could of just as easily incinerated him into powder. And why are the bad guys keeping Doc alive at all?
Doc's long been an investor, business owner, and multiple corporate board member. He owns the Empire State Building. Remember, Lester?! All of a sudden he hasn't and doesn't?
Visiting Doc's office requires checking in first on the fourth floor:
Doc Savage's headquarters, as was soon discovered by anyone who tried to barge in without preliminaries, were best approached through an interviewing office on the fourth floor. This place proved to be a private detective agency office where inquiries were greeted with courtesy and suspicion.
Name of the detective agency: The Durwell Agency, Research and Investigations. The owner, Mike Durwell, was unquestionably a man of character, and he had been associated with Doc Savage for a considerable period of time.
Then there's this failure where we're supposed to believe the agency changes hands to a stranger without Doc's knowledge or consent?:
“Mr. Durwell sold his agency,” said Kissel.
“Two weeks ago.”
“A man named Estabrook.”
“What,” demanded Canbeck, “do you know about the purchaser, Estabrook?”
Doc's not this guy, at least not to me:
THE lecturer for the afternoon, to whom Joey had referred to as “that bigshot sawbones,” wished desperately that he had not put his neck out by agreeing to give a talk. He was at the moment in the throes of a worse-than-mild attack of stage fright. He had a tough audience, a hard subject, for what he was going to do was get up and try to convince twelve hundred of the country's best physicians and surgeons that they were, in their present methods of treating epithelioma, as prehistoric as the cave man.
Before he arose, Benson leaned over and whispered, “I'm going to lay it on thick.”
“Don't you do it, Joe. For God's sake, have a heart.”
Benson addressed the gathering.
“Ladies and gentlemen: Dr. Clark Savage Jr.” he said. Benson sat down.
Doc said, “Rap him over the head, or something.”
Doc's Oliver Hardy now too:
“That's fine.” Doc stamped his feet on the floor and stood up. He promptly fell flat as his benumbed legs refused to function. “This is a fine mess!” He was angry. “Monk, get down below and see if you can spot those fellows.”
Doc sleeps on a cot in the back, in a broom closet:
Maybe,” said Miss Clayton, “Doc Savage won't be at his office.”
“Sure he will be,” Monk assured her. “He sleeps there.”
“Doesn't he have a home?”
Monk said Doc didn't. He was surprised when he said it; it had suddenly occurred to him that he had never before thought it unusual that Doc didn't maintain an apartment or at least a room in a hotel or a club. He explained this to Miss Clayton.
Ham and Monk act like this is the first time they've been in a series of dangerous situations. They use guns like they're foreign to them and having them carry regular guns and having little awareness of their use is out of character:
Ham came out of his coma sufficiently to stumble to the door, produce a large army pistol, which he fired. The pistol made a loud noise, and a twig fell out of a tree some twenty feet wide of the cab.
Monk realized he had a gun himself, and got it out.
Monk cocked the revolver he was holding with the inward rolling motion he had taught American soldiers destined for raider groups. He was an addict of the school of thought which believed a hand gun should be shot from the navel, that aiming could be done more effectively by pointing the navel instead of the gun.
On the plus side Dent gave Ham's fashion foppishness some nuance and makes him less of a fussbucket:
He took off his shoes in his pleasant room. The shoes were the very finest English hand-made, but they were too small for him; he was determined to wear them anyway because they were so fine. He liked good clothes. Fine garb was his hobby, and he had managed, before the war gave mankind many things more important to think about, to get for himself the reputation of being the best-dressed man in New York City. Today, when he thought of the inordinate pride he had taken in that accomplishment, he could blush a little. But he still liked the very finest clothes.
Monk as always is worth mentioning:
Monk Mayfair was a short man of great breadth, great length of arm, and a great quantity of homeliness. His general resemblance to an ape, particularly the family of great apes called Simiidae, considered closest of all animals to man, was noticeable. Monk didn't mind. He had an amiable grin that made friends with everyone, a fondness for loud clothes and red-haired chorus girls, and a general inclination to do exactly what no one expected him to do.
According to The Google there's a family of flies named "Simuliidae" that hang around apes. A Research Oopsie! This is so unlike Monk it's the anti-Monk:
Monk muttered, “Let's get the police to help. That's what we pay taxes for.” He put his head into the cab and told the driver, “You go to the nearest place you find a telephone and call the cops. Send them down here.”
“I sure will,” the driver said.
“Tell them to send plenty of cops,” Monk said.
Monk ain't squeamish:
Monk's slugging victim suddenly rolled over and crawled with remarkable speed, crawling with such effort that his fingernails and shoes made teeth-edging sounds on the floor. Monk tried to catch him. Monk thought he would kick the man in the head this time and really quiet him. But Monk couldn't catch the fellow, who went through a door and slammed it. Monk began kicking on the door.
Monk has no issues with Eye Rape:
“What did develop?” Monk asked, watching Miss Clayton with interest. He thought Miss Clayton's sweater could have been a bit more snug.
There's four Google results for "Hell's Patoot" and one is referencing this novel. For those keeping score at home it is spoken by someone named "Joey".
Dent does something I like by introducing two characters as if they'll be major players throughout, and then summarily deleting them. Two set-ups and the punchline follow:
When Canbeck, of the Times—his column, The World Today, commanded considerable respect—arrived at the sleuthing office, he found a number of other fourth estaters, some of whom he respected very little. Canbeck was a nice guy, however, who kept his feelings to himself. He noticed that the other newsmen regarded him with respect, and he was pleased. Presently, as became a man with prestige, he found that leadership in the interviewing fell upon him.
WILLIAM WALTER WALLACE, a tall young man with hair the color of a haystack on fire, was a smart boy on Wall Street and, while the street was not the lamb-trap it had been in other days, it was still no pasture for fellows who did not have their shirts fastened down securely. Wallace had never actually lost his shirt, which made him rather an oddity among Wall Street's long-time operators, something equivalent to living in the rain for years and never getting wet. Back in the days when wolves had no connection with female chasing, Wallace had been known as a Wall Street wolf, and of late years he had been known as Wonderful Wallace, the man who wouldn't trust God. Wallace was cautious.
The cab got moving. Canbeck and Wallace leaned back. They looked at each other in horror, now too sick to understand much that went on about them. Probably too ill to notice that the driver had closed the glass partition between the seats, and that he had his windows wide open for plenty of ventilation. It was not, for that matter, the same driver who had brought them to Mrs. Durwell's apartment.
Presently they stopped breathing, and later the driver pulled over to the curbing and a man, a stranger, got in. Not exactly a stranger; it was the fellow in the laundryman's suit. He examined the two bodies.
“How are they feeling?” the driver asked.
“They aren't,” said the man in white.
While nobody should have fallen for the guy in the bandages being Doc Savage I did appreciate this clarification from Dent:
Ole was biting a fingernail. “I hope that's right. But if Monk and Ham ever get a look at you, the goose is cooked.”
The bronze giant was indignant. “Don't you think I look like Savage?”
“You don't,” said Ole, “look a damned bit like him, except in a general way. We wouldn't get away with this, except that very few people really know what Doc Savage looks like at close range. It's a good thing you kept the lights low in there a while ago.”
Sven joined the argument. “You're not Savage's double, by a long shot.”
“I never said I was,” the big man reminded them. “When this thing was hatched out, the first thing that stared us in the face was that we couldn't use a double for Savage.”
Another fun gag:
The building superintendent, a frugal gentleman, was always appalled at the thought of a dollar or so a word rate for cables, and saved all the words he could, sometimes at the expense of clarity.
The cablegram read:
DOC HOSPITAL BURNED DOCTOR BENSON PHONED UNLIKE SUSPECTS FOULPLAY MYSTERIOUS COUNTERFEIT TICKETS CLUE.
“Boy!” Monk said, and re-read the message wondering whether Doc had burned down a hospital full of mysterious counterfeit tickets and Doctor Benson, or what had happened.
Could Measures For A Coffin be saved? Maybe. Instead of a spectacular accident with little percentage of success a mild acid could been thrown on Doc and those near him, requiring the necessary bandaging. Doctor Benson could be repaired so he's doing things in the name of his evil plans instead of looking to find and capture himself for murder. Miss Clayton can enter for valid reasons of her own volition instead of as a ruse for Benson to go on a date. Ham and Monk can be assigned their rightful level of experience in times of crisis. Doc can be more himself and less of a real person like you and me. The big problem is the giant dead zone where Doc Savage isn't around. Others weren't filling the void. Acknowledge right away the effort to impersonate Doc was a con. Move up front the lines about the ruse only working in bad lighting and nobody in the room knowing what Doc looks like up close. Don't say Doc is becoming an investor for the first time when he isn't. Have him say he'll only focus on that from now on. Add scenes of Doc being held captive doing Doc Savage things, Work with me, people!!
156 - Se-Pah-Poo:
"The bizarre murder of an archeologist
in Arizona and a withered hand lead the Man of Bronze
to an ancient lost city in Se-Pah-Poo!"
Well, that was one crapper of a tale from Lester Dent, who if he said he was trying he was lying. In February of 1946 Se-Pah-Poo stunk up newsstands and suggested a better use for its pages than reading material. In a desperate attempt to come up with something nice to say, there's a Twilight Zone uneasiness to the goings on at the cliff dwellings and if when the story opens everyone had no idea why or how they came to be there I could see merit in a rewrite to fit the bill.
It's a funny (yet untrue) story how this book got its name. Not ha-ha funny but huh-what funny. Dick and Jane taught children how to read from the 30s to the 70s, by which time all innocence of youth had been thoroughly crushed in a swirling pit of perversion and nihilism. Lester Dent was allegedly (prove me wrong!) a collector of Tijuana bibles, and in his collection was the underground classic "See-Paw-Poo", featured above. Dent, incessantly testing the censors, titled this story "Se-Pah-Poo" and said it was the name of an Indian, a holy hole in the ground, and I think a mummified hand.
Lester Dent was a member (this is true) of The Explorer's Club and a repeat visitor both in person and via Doc Savage to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in Colorado. Se-Pah-Poo substitutes Wanderer's, Inc. and Tica City in Arizona. "Tica" means "hand" with the same effect as "Manos: The Hands Of Fate" translates into "Hands: The Hands Of Fate". It's not worth explaining in detail how much of a mess this is. It's a maze of false leads, false starts, wrong choices, time-wasting, and an unsettling feeling from the start that everything being built up would collapse at the end into irrelevance. That one paid off. Most notably the story is talky with reoccurring exposition and too little goes on besides the talking.
The novel is repeatedly insulting to Native Americans but it's progressive to have a Jewish Arizona Sheriff by the name of Dusty Weinberg. He might not be Jewish but if I recall correctly he refuses to turn on any electricity after sundown on Friday night. He might have asked Monk to be his Shabbos Goy. I kept drifting off.
You know Se-Pah-Poo is trouble from the beginning when you read this:
HE swung off the passenger train unobtrusively. He moved at a very fast walk across the shallow ditch and a few yards of right-of-way, squeezed among some shoulder-high mesquite bushes, placed his suitcase on the sun-hardened earth and seated himself on it. He waited.
Doc's in the middle of the desert by himself with a suitcase and some bottles of water in case he never gets a ride. He does this because he gets a call from "someone" who's afraid of "something". Like a loner desperate for a date he plops himself in the middle of the desert without a clue or plan, and he sits on his luggage like a putz. He won't touch his water in the desert because once you start doing that there's no turning back on thirst! Doc's not really written to be Doc Savage. Check these out:
The one in his boot was a nubbin gun of .22 calibre, single-shot.
“What are you, a traveling armament salesman or something?”
The Indian shrugged. “Nope.”
The Indian arched his neck indignantly. “Listen, city slicker, I'm an Apache. Apaches don't live in wigwams and never did. They live in hodags. Damn warm in winter. A hodag is a fine place to live.”
“For a mole, maybe. What is Peterson afraid of?”
The Indian said, “Ugh!”
“You won't talk, eh?”
“Listen, brother, you've insulted me,” the Indian said. “A hodag is a good home, and not for a mole either. A mole would think a hodag was a palace!”
“An underprivileged mole might,” he agreed.
“How's you nose, your smeller?” Doc asked.
“Eat your breakfast,” Doc said. “You're getting in a frame of mind where you think everyone's cracked.”
He felt of his pockets, careful that his hands did not make sound moving against the cloth, and got out a fountain pen. He flipped it across the room, hoping to induce the other to get rid of another shot.
It didn't work.
Eventually he remembered he had a flashlight, and got it out and found it worked.
Here's an example of something else not working. A few small car parts crumble to a fine dust when you squeeze them, but one piece survives Monk's swim trunks pocket in a raging river and another being tossed from a height onto hard earth:
From his pocket, where he had kept it hidden, Monk produced his handkerchief. It was sodden, and contained something which he apparently had wrapped in it while under water. He had made the dive into the river, Ham recalled, wearing a pair of shorts which contained pockets. Evidently he'd had the handkerchief when he dived, or had wrapped the object in it later.
The object was a bit of steel.
Ham looked at the steel. “So what?”
Ham took it.
“Okay,” Monk said. “Squeeze it.”
“Squeeze it! Have you gone nuts?” Ham wondered if the heat had fried Monk's wits. He said, “This heat must have made you a little crazier than usual.”
“Squeeze it, wise guy,” Monk invited grimly.
Ham didn't see much point in squeezing a piece of steel with his fingers. But he did so.
“Oh my gosh!” he yelled.
The bit of solid-looking steel had broken—in fact, it had turned instantly to powder and fragments. The effect was much as if he had squeezed a clod of earth, very dry earth. He was so shocked he dropped the stuff in his hand; it hit the floor, broke into smaller pieces and more powder, scattering.
Bounds had planted, probably by dropping it from the cliff dwelling to the road, the bit of steering knuckle Miss Casey had found, hoping thus to make Monk and Ham think Doc had met death in a natural accident. They found where Bounds had acquired the steering knuckle from a Winslow garage.
Monk's financials. He lives the fun life hand-to-mouth:
LIEUTENANT COLONEL ANDREW BLODGETT MAYFAIR received the telegram when he was eating breakfast in the coffee shop of the hotel where he lived in New York. It was not an important hotel and in fact had very little to recommend it except a willingness to extend to Monk Mayfair an item which he frequently needed—credit.
Monk Mayfair, one of a group of five men who usually worked with Doc Savage, was by profession an industrial chemist, a noted one. But he liked excitement better, so he was perpetually in a state of financial malnutrition, the result of not attending to business. He infinitely preferred chasing excitement. This morning, though, he was flush, having been driven by straightened circumstances to doing a trouble shooting job for a plastics manufacturer. Yesterday evening he had collected his fee, last night he had rested well and slept long in anticipation of getting rid of his funds as soon as possible in riotous living.
Fat Balloons must mean his glutes:
Sam Gill settled his fat balloons in a chair. He was tired. “If that crazy Indian has gone to the kind of trouble he's gone to, and done those killings, he won't rest until he gets that hand.”
Try talking like this. This is why I think the book would make more sense as a Twilight Zone episode written and directed by David Lynch:
“Got white man's devilment to show you. Get going.” The Indian didn't sound at all calm. He sounded like a man would sound if he spoke while trying to lift a two-hundred-pound dumbbell at the same time.
Se-Pah-Poo is as good as its cover, but it smells better than poo. Assuming there's no poo on the cover.
157 - Terror And The Lonely Widow:
"Doc and crew are en route to the South Sea Islands where an evil mastermind plans to start WWIII by selling an atomic bomb to the highest bidder — but Doc’s search is cut short when the madman hijacks their plane!"
This book is crap. Did I tell you this book is crap? March, 1946's Terror And The Lonely Widow starts off without a hitch but by the middle it dies, and by the end it's the title of the story that came six months later, Three Times A Corpse. The only benefit I derived from this was figuring out what the hell's going on with the cover. It's a four foot long flower box crashing into a restaurant table. Art by who cares.
It would seem at a certain point Lester Dent remembered he hated Doc Savage. Towards the end his prose runs towards long descriptive digressions into scenery, like he figured he could hit his word count by describing what was outside his window. The denouement of the story is set up by Doc conceiving an idea and having it blow up in his face via a lack of preparation. He intricately schemes to get the bad guys on his commercial flight, endangering everyone when they take it over. Meanwhile Doc's reacting like it's an unforeseen event.
On the plus side, Ham speaks in a more natural manner, unlike his usual butler-sniffing-a-turd routine. Dent has a few nice descriptions up his sleeve:
Presently he began brushing his
face and the front of his suit with both hands, brushing off the earth that had
been in the flower box. A bit of the earth had lodged in the corner of his
mouth and it dissolved and made a small taste of mud.
The room was
not very neat. Outwardly the hotel had a certain crispness, and certainly it did
not look shabby, but the rooms were not well-kept. The best explanation was that
the management didn't know the war was over. They were trying to cash in, get by
on the skimpy service of wartime.
continued to watch the distant window, but cased the rifle while he was doing
this. He was a very large man, but not in an obese sense; there was a fluid
tenseness about his movements that fitted a much smaller man, or a quick animal.
He was a remarkably impressive figure, handsome without prettiness, darkly
bronzed skin, and eyes that were like pools of flake gold always stirred by tiny
The other man
shuddered violently, as if the remark had terrified him. Which it probably had.
Monk Mayfair was a short, wide man whose arms were somewhat longer than his
legs, whose looks were baby-frightening, who was covered with reddish bristling
hair, and who would not have to be encountered in a very dark spot to be
mistaken for a dwarf edition of King Kong. Monk normally looked quite
pleasant. But when he wished, he could put on an expression that would crack
Presently Monk Mayfair said, “He dropped awful quick.”
“He took his time,” Ham Brooks
said. It was Ham's policy to disagree with almost anything Monk said and condemn
almost anything Monk did.
Renny Renwick probably came nearer than any other one of Doc Savage's group of five associates to looking what he was—an internationally known engineer. He had designed one of New York's largest buildings, and South America, China, Russia and Europe were spotted with his buildings, dams, railroads, air terminals, whatever civil engineer's produce. He had a hard-fisted appearance and his rumbling voice was almost alarming. He was, through a vocal freak, unable to whisper; his efforts at a whisper were about as secretive as a B29 buzzing a farmhouse. He had one foppish habit, which was smearing his hair, his dark and uncontrollable hair, with some kind of pomade. He was touchy about this.
This stood out as editorial introspection:
“Answer my question!” Monk bellowed.
Mr. Chapman seemed to thrust his jaw forward, then lean against it. “We're not crazy enough to stop all activity ourselves!” he said violently. “You guys aren't God! You're not omnipotent. You're not completely wonderful.”
Doc starts off as a decent Doc Savage, but after this line his inner mind toils in torment and self-doubt:
His manner was sober, intent,
serious. This wasn't just his manner of the moment. It was his habitual tone.
Something of a sobersides.
DOC SAVAGE crossed the sidewalk
to the car, eyes wary, the flesh crawling between his shoulder-blades.
The door that had closed did not
open. Doc, trying to decide what to do, felt that his hair was surely going
to stand on end.
He was struck, sickeningly, by the feeling he'd had when questioning Worrik—that the things he did, said, thought, were pitifully inadequate in the face of the stupendous horror that could materialize. These things—what he did, said, thought—seemed so small. They were, he thought wryly, as silly as drinking a cold bottle of soda pop to cool off before stepping into a volcano. But he was not, he was sure, underestimating the fabulous nature of the thing. It was silly to compare the importance of a thing to the ending of the world, the wiping out of a race, to horrors like that. The comparison was ridiculous. But he found himself making it, and shuddering.
Walter Baumhofer, I Genuflect In Your General Direction
Then Doc gets all butt-hurt and exclamation-pointy:
You're awfully dumb,” she said.
He discovered that his
feelings were ruffled. He said, “If you are planning to give yourself
a buildup by letting it be known that you're here because you planned it that
way, save your breath. I already knew it.”
Doc Savage closed his eyes. He
said bitterly, “That was a fine dirty trick—I root out an important suspect, and
you try to steal him from me!”
Ham said dryly, “Right after takeoff, the steward is probably pretty busy.”
“I suppose so ... But five minutes!” Doc said impatiently.
Jeez Doc, do we have to get the Air Marshall involved? Then there's Doc and guns, which he needs and wants, and Ham's flesh-annihilating machine pistol with its special berserker bullets. Plus, Doc's ineffectual attempts at stuff:
Doc had the gun now. He was on
his feet. The wiry dark man was on the floor, and began crawling. Doc clubbed
him over the head. It seemed to have no effect. The man kept crawling. Doc
hit him repeatedly, following beside him, trying to step on his legs and hold
him, trying to seize him and hold him, all the time striking blows with gun and
fist on head, neck, shoulders, back. The man made mewing sounds of hurt and
fear, kept crawling.
Ham went forward. He had a machine pistol in his hand. A great deal smaller than a Thompson or a Reising gun, weighing hardly more than the Army Colt Automatic, the weapon could spray a startling amount of lead. It used a .22-calibre Hornet cartridge, a special mushrooming bullet, could tear a man to pieces in a moment.
There's a scene where Doc's tied to a chair and he figures out he can break free if he has to. When he "has to" the best he can manage is to fall sideways and almost gets his head blown off. At another point it takes many efforts to kick down a cheap row house front door. This next bit is weirdly comical:
Renny Renwick caught Monk Mayfair's eye and asked a question by wrinkling his forehead. The wrinkles asked: Why is Doc upset about Chapman not reporting to his chief for twelve hours before he was killed?...Monk pushed out his lips as if he had tasted something sour. This said: I'm damned if I know what Doc is upset about.
Someone's mad at Superman!:
Renny scratched his jaw thoughtfully. “There's bound to be some newspaper reporters around. Most of them are pretty decent guys. But that tabloid, the Planet, has some stinkers on it. The best way to get something advertised would be to tell them guys on the Planet you didn't want it published. They don't like us.
The inside filler art of the pulps often shows Doc and his crew wearing double-breasted suits and stylish hats. In the novels Dent doesn't deal with clothing unless necessary, and this is the first time I recall a mention of Doc wearing a hat like it's what he wears all the time with his double-breasted suits:
Doc Savage stepped back hastily, sank to a knee, and looked to see how much of a crack there was under the door. It was considerable of a crack. Nearly half an inch. Out of his pocket he took a flat case about the size and shape of a cigar case, which held, instead of cigars, glass phials about the size of cigars. He uncorked one of these, poured it so that the contents, as much as possible, would flow into the crack below the door. He fanned the tear gas rapidly with his hat to make more of it go under the door. Most of it did.
Terror And The Lonely Widow is crap, but I've already told you that.
158 - Five Fathoms Dead:
"Modern-day piracy is suspected when the Navy's newest submarines disappear in "Five Fathoms Dead" ... but where is the Man of Bronze?'
[Spoilers Ahoy!] Doc and Renny appear before you think they do in April, 1946's experiment in how quickly something interesting can become a whole other title until becoming uninteresting to the point of being unreadable. From Hero to WTF to Zero it went. I skimmed the third act searching for anything to hold my interest. Nope. For three chapters the novel is fantastic, with a worthy punch-out foe for Doc and some seriously morbid mass murdering. Reading the books again I'm waiting for one with a nice build-up to a Doc vs. Villain rumble. I thought Whitey from Five Fathoms Dead would be that guy, but Whitey is Santa Claus, Santa Claus is your father, and Doc Savage is Whitey. In retrospect I should have figured it out earlier but Lester Dent did a nice job setting up the premise of Whitey putting together a crew of professional losers to steal a captured Nazi submarine to use in pirating sea vessels. This part I thought had to do with Whitey and Colorado Joe planning to screw over the rest of them, but yeah, it was Doc and Renny, and well played, Lester:
Whitey moved on. He was very big in the cabin. The size of him, the power of him, his ferocity—they had not realized quite what a nasty fellow he was until they had seen him demonstrate on Colorado Jones—left an unpleasant aura in the cabin. They all felt this, but nobody spoke of it.
Colorado Jones had crawled into his bunk. Not entirely in. One leg he hadn't managed to get quite in. But he dragged a pail to the side of the bunk, and was hanging his face over it. He was as silent as if unconscious.
Whitey closed the door.
Loudly, grimly, he said, “Think you learned anything?”
The other rolled one eye up sickly at him and said, almost as loudly, “They don't do it like that in Colorado.”
“Did you think this was Colorado?”
Colorado Jones didn't answer. He did, though, lift his head. He grinned. He said—with lips only; he made no sound—and grinned as he spoke, “I think we did all right.”
Whitey watched his lips, seemed to read them, and said, “The idea is to get them to hating me enough to doublecross them with the other outfit if they get a chance.”
The opening is well written with some nice touches and a morbid heaviness:
The cop, old, grizzled, apple-cheeked, looked in on them. “Nice day, huh?” he said. He whacked the bushes with his stick.
The cop's eyes were moving continually, touching everything. Old, wise, farmed out on this placid park beat the way an old horse is put out to grass, he was alert, hoped he would see some situation that needed a policeman, just so he could defeat boredom. He was not suspicious particularly. He was just looking around.
THE man known as Whitey grinned sardonically. He popped the rest of the ham sandwich in his mouth, chewed slowly. He was very big, but the middle of him looked flabby and his shoulders slouched, and he carried his mouth loosely. His skin was just skin color, neither dark nor light, and his hair was just hair, also neither dark nor light. His eyes were the only really unusual thing about him, and they were rather shocking, for they were a pale gray—bone-colored—and he seemed to keep them closed or partly closed a good deal of the time. He wore brown sport clothes.
The loudspeakers stopped hissing, died an abrupt unreasoning death, but probably there was not an eye on board that did not continue to stare at the mechanical gadgets with hypnotized, and emotionally tortured, intensity. They were hardened men; they had also the advantage of knowing before hand what was to happen, since it had been planned, discussed, rehearsed, for days; but there had been something in the speech—deliberate, unmoved, cold—that had stunned them. Whitey's voice and words had been completely natural, hence entirely abnormal. The man should have had emotion. Elation or fear or horror. There certainly should have been horror, but there had been none, and it had been sickening, because this man was their leader, and nobody likes to follow an abnormal leader, not even an abnormal genius, nor an abnormally courageous man, for abnormality of any kind is too close to insanity to be comfortable.
There were, too, the men in the sea, the men swept off the deck when the submarine submerged, the men now far behind in the darkness and—for the storm would be here by now—the suffocating welter of water and wind that was a squall at sea. These men would be dying. They were quite possibly dying now. A sigh, the cast-off effusion of this death, seemed to sweep the neat steel walls and bulkheads and pipes and conduits, to linger and cling, to work its way into their minds and settle there, a clammy bat-like indescribable monster of a thing that could not be dislodged.
The submarine, moving forty feet below the surface, went its way as steadily as a coffin.
With Chapter Four the title changes from Doc Savage to Brenda Linahan: Girl Reporter. The focus is on her, her pesky pal Pete Idle, and the big boss man O.J.: "He was Mr. Big. He was the alpha and the omega, and Brenda was surprised, because O. J. was what is known as a business office man, and never, if it could be helped, confused himself by trying to deal personally with his writing, photographic or reportorial geniuses." The story's all about her until Doc appears for the first time (wink!) 63% into the book (thanks e-book reader technology!)
Remember when the cast of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior appeared on the regular Criminal Minds? Or when the NCIS: New Orleans crew took over an episode of the regular NCIS? Both those episodes made me feel I way I do about Five Fathoms Dead. Was Street & Smith testing a new title? Not in 1946 as pulps were gasping to the finish line. Maybe Dent had ideas left over in an old notebook and decided to dump them into a Doc Savage book. Here's examples of whatever the hell was going on with this:
MISS BRENDA LINAHAN, on the staff of Solar, The News Weekly, was one of those young women who over-awe men. The over-awing was the final effect; she produced other effects first, because she was not difficult to gaze upon, and she always dressed well, or better, or—as Pete Idle, article editor of Solar, often said—just a little too sexy. Anyway, the first effects she produced were wolf-stirring. But getting to know her better was like listening and being intrigued by a wonderful symphonic radio program, then going backstage during rehearsals and suddenly discovering what an alarming, and unromantic, amount of cussing and sweating and confusion and downright genius went into the construction of the show. Brenda was something like that. She would never fit in any guy's kitchen, unless it was a small kitchen equipped with nothing much but a cocktail shaker.
Brenda had been born in Texas, and Texas was button-busting proud of her in spite of all that Texas already had, or claimed it had, to be proud about. She had been a remarkably stupid little girl, people had thought, which only meant that she hadn't given a tap about doing the things little girls do. They seemed silly to Brenda, who had just simply been born too matured. This detached attitude lasted until college, and college proved barely adult enough to get her interest. People couldn't understand how she made the record she did, nor why she shot like a skyrocket through the succession of newspaper, magazine, and photo-magazine jobs she proceeded to hold and discard. It was no mystery to her co-workers. She was just too out and out good to be held by one firm very long. She was now with Solar, which was tops.
“Hello, Brenda,” said Article Editor Pete Idle one morning in early, very early, April. “Sit down. Have a cigarette. I'll get O. J.”
The morning was bright, but cold, and Brenda had sought to tone it down and defeat it with a brown tweed outfit. She was quite fetching. But fetching or not, she inspired no amour in Pete Idle, who was always alarmed by Brenda.
BRENDA LINAHAN began operations by going to the Colony for lunch, because she was under the impression that she did her best thinking while consuming excellent food. Also there was an eminent scientist, a Mr. Ivanitz, who lunched there regularly. Mr. Ivanitz was twenty-eight years old and one of the brain-trust which had worked out the atomic bomb. He was also, Brenda happened to know, acquainted with Clark Savage, Jr., or Doc Savage, as he was known. Mr. Ivanitz was at the Colony, and Brenda showed him her teeth, the required amount of leg, and presently had Mr. Ivanitz dying to do her a favor.
When Doc reveals himself 63% in, the story loses a good enough reason to exist for as long as it did as the Predictability Meter shoots into the clouds like an autogyro. My skimming indicated Doc won, and the closing title "THE END" with nothing after it assured me it was over.
Ham is slighted when described as "rather hatchet-faced, but otherwise modestly handsome". The detective agency screening office is on the fifth floor and "Yegg" is old-time slang for a safecracker. Besides that nothing stuck. I get it that Doc was busy being Whitey but Brenda's frisky and sassy adventures went on too long and failed to draw me in. Less of that and bring back Doc/Whitey sooner with an earlier reveal while keeping Doc as Whitey for as long as possible.
As they're very good I'd suggest reading the first three chapters of Five Fathoms Dead, and then as much of the next one until you pantomime turning to the cover to wonder what Archie Comics-derived art was used for this issue of Brenda Linahan: Girl Reporter.
159 - Death Is A Round Black Spot (my subtitle: Doc Savage Bitterly Said Nothing):
"Patricia Savage blunders into a snare after intercepting a message for Doc and now it becomes clear that Death is a Round Black Spot!"
The blurb above is incorrect in that Pat Savage overhears something Doc says to Monk and decides to go out on her own to solve the mystery on her own because nobody puts Baby in the corner! Blurb writer, you had one job.
May, 1946's rack filler isn't a sequel to 1936's The Black Spot, and the black spot isn't necessarily black and probably never could be a black spot. A more accurate title is "Death Is Any Print Ad With A Circle As A Dominant Layout Feature". Now that I'd read! The story was written by Lester Dent as a non-Doc detective thriller mystery whatsit, but it didn't sell and a new Doc Savage book was due, so he set his manual typewriter to "Find and Replace Text" and bippity-boppity-boo that's how babies are made.
The story outline involving two competing gangs and complicated post-wartime financial shenanigans is above average, but as Doc Savage does (and is) nothing Doc Savagey (at all) and the plot turns talky for an extended period of time before the close, this is a weak effort. On the bright side Doc only berates himself for stupidity in one paragraph and doesn't spiral into existential panic, so it's not the worst of the period by any means. I feel better about its positives now that I've finished it.
Death Is A Round Black Spot is a short book with a narrow focus on a small town in Missouri. It's larger than Mayberry but unknown compared to Mount Pilot. Pat's there first and reacts like a rookie watching a man die, then she almost dies but doesn't. Meanwhile Doc's a sleepy bum for a bit and the local law guy isn't as dumb as he pretends to be. Ham and Monk forget to fight as this wasn't a Doc Savage book at first and they might have been one person split into two. The female lead is Effie Erickson, and she freaks Doc out on a conceptual level. Dent writes about her as if she's a vague feeling he can't adequately describe but you'll know what he means if he writes long enough from as many angles as he can ponder it:
Immediately he wondered why he should think she was not spectacular, and yet feel that she was probably extraordinary. He finally put his mental finger on that one. She was, in almost every detail, just a little different. Not different enough to be a phony or a freak, but different, and all the differences were so small they were almost intangible. This was a little confusing, he realized.
Doc was studying her, but trying not to be too obvious about doing it. He wasn't able to decide much about her. But she was alarming him. He was beginning to suspect that she was going to be one of the most remarkable persons he had ever known. He wasn't exactly sure why he had this feeling—there was not much definite that he could put his thoughts on—but the impression was strong.
Swift, lithe, Miss Erickson came to her feet. But even in that movement, there was one small thing that was different, in this case a lagging, half a stumbling, by one foot. She seemed, as she had always seemed to Doc Savage, a terrifically efficient young woman who in each ability, each efficiency, was just a bit awry. It was not that she lacked perfection. The unbalance was never a lacking. It was childish to think of the way she had moved with lithe activity in every way except for a stumble as indicative of the thing that he had noticed most strongly about her. The stumble was not a weakness, nor a clumsiness. It was as if one part of her, her foot, had reacted normally to the situation; that the foot alone had rebelled, while the rest of her was under trained control.
Doc, in the space of a few seconds, thought intensely about the chances that Miss Erickson could be trusted, weighing these against the chances that she could not, that she might be sacrificing herself to throw them off a trail. The thing that decided him, the item that tilted the balance in Miss Erickson's favor, was actually nothing that had happened, no incident that had occurred, but was rather a sum of the things he had observed about Miss Erickson's character. She was, as he had felt from the beginning, rather extraordinary. There had been, as he had noticed, a facet to her character that was quite unusual—the fact that she did not seem to conform completely to any one pattern. In almost everything, he had noticed, she conformed completely to a pattern, except for one exception. This non-conformity—crack, fissure, in her appearance, habits, thinking—had been evident almost everywhere. She would conform completely to a certain line, in thought, appearance, or action, and then suddenly there would be one thing at complete variance with the pattern. He decided to follow her advice.
Doc's not foaming at the mouth with self doubt but once again he's topped off with bitter bile when the going gets rough. Death Is A Round Black Spot features my vote for best single line ever, clumsy in that you can read it two ways and better stated as "Doc Savage bitterly said nothing::
"Doc Savage said nothing bitterly."
Monk asked, “Want to keep it quiet she's your cousin?”
“If it can be kept quiet, I want it that way,” Doc said. He sounded bitter. He added, “I wonder how on earth she got mixed up in this mess?” He didn't wait for an answer, but wheeled and set off after the deputy.
“Don't be a sap, Ham,” he said bitterly. “That girl is giving you the works.”
“Who? Me? She won't take me in,” Ham said. “What makes you talk like that?”
Doc, somewhat enraged, said, “For once in your life, try not getting hypnotized by a nice leg and a smile. Watch that girl. Watch her close, or you'll be talking to yourself.”
Monk, as smitten as Ham was, objected, “You're just down on her. What's the matter, didn't she give you a tumble?”
“I'm not worried about you. I'm going to take you with me,” Doc told Monk. “But Ham, so help me, if she puts a ring in your nose, you'll be sorry. Look at you! Ready to walk on your hands already!”
Ham sniffed uncomfortably. “If you want me to watch her like an eagle, say so.”
Whereupon Doc said bitterly, “What is this place, a psycho ward?”
Doc's inner monologue of self-flagellation:
He was, he felt, rather stupidly confused. The affair had started out by being confusing, and by his behaving, he was beginning to suspect, rather stupidly. Powell, calling him over the telephone, had been just a frightened voice. He didn't know Powell, he had nothing but what had been in Powell's voice, or what Powell had put in his voice—that was a possibility he didn't think he should overlook—on which to base what he had done.
Murder and mystery had resulted, and violence, but it was confusing, and he didn't like such confusion. He wished now that he had approached the thing cautiously, in his own way—for instance, that he hadn't taken Powell's suggestion to go to the airport and wait in disguise, at the same time displaying a black spot or circle as bait. He should have investigated, used caution, learned who Powell was, had the airport better covered, made sure Pat didn't involve herself in it.
At this point he must have gone to sleep, because the next thing he knew, a nurse was shaking him and telling him that he could see Pat.
Dent likes to toss in general human observations and this has a few good ones:
Presently the dying young man threw a great chestful of air out of his lungs. It whistled past his parched lips. He was now done. He was dead. It was his last breath, his last pulse. He had proved that the young die hard, even the immoral young.
The old man seized his flashlight in fright. He had been sitting in a chair in the line-shack office, half asleep in the guilty way that old watchmen sleep when they're not supposed to be asleep.
In the post-uber Doc Savage period Dent downgraded Doc's mission from defeating super-villains to being a crime-buster. This is well done:
RAIN, in fine droplets that swirled in the taxi headlight-beams like small gnats, began falling as they turned into Boone Street and headed north. Doc gave his name. He said he was Clark Savage, Jr., and that his profession, if one would call it that, was investigating and coping with criminal activities. He said that he considered himself in no sense a private detective, inasmuch as he became involved only with what interested him, and did not accept fees. He did not attempt to explain why he had such a profession, did not justify in any way any of its peculiar aspects, such as the non-taking of fees. He did not build himself up. All his statements were matter-of-fact.
The girl burst out laughing in his face. “I've heard of you. That's a marvelous job of understatement you're doing. You've got a worldwide reputation as a scientific genius, mental marvel and mechanical wizard.”
That silenced him.
A feature of later novels is to have the aides act/react as if they're new to the game of life-threatening danger:
Monk, leaning forward to watch, suddenly saw a small hole appear in the windshield glass. He realized this was a bullet hole and that they were being shot at. He felt that he should be extremely frightened, and in a moment decided that he must be, because when he tried to tell Ham there was a bullet hole in the windshield, he couldn't talk.
These were interesting. The idea of grabbing what he can from a dead man to look at later is new, and Weem's wearing a dead man's tie because "I guess he won't mind". Finders keepers dead men leaking gooey fluids!:
The man in tweeds was obviously dead. Doc took what he could conveniently find out of the man's pockets and put it in his own pockets. He did not take any time to look at the stuff, just took it.
DEPUTY SHERIFF WALTER WEEM took a cigar out of his mouth to gesture and say, as he stepped backward with the opening door, “I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you.” The deputy didn't look as seedy nor as tired as when Doc had last seen him. He was wearing a flashy yellow necktie without any trace of egg on it. He explained sheepishly, “I took a shower and shave while I was waiting, and borrowed one of tweed-suit's neckties.” He fingered the necktie, added, “I guess he won't mind. Where's your homely pal?”
Old timey technology and A/C as a fly trap. My gym does this with speakers in front of the building so you can hear how douchey the music will be before you enter:
He made a discovery that bothered him for a moment. The telephone was not the type which automatically summoned the operator when the receiver was lifted. It had to be rung. There was a crank on a box beside the desk, fastened to the wall. The box had a bell that would doubtless ring loudly.
He finally solved the noise problem adequately, if not too successfully, by jamming a match in between the bells and the clapper-shield, thus keeping the clapper from more than buzzing when he spun the crank.
There was a pay telephone sign on the other side of the mezzanine. He got up, moved toward it, and his route took him past another occupant of the mezzanine. A young woman. He hadn't noticed her before. He felt, suddenly, a blast of icy air, one of those jets of refrigerated air which movie theaters sometimes propel across the sidewalk to entice pedestrians inside.
Is this a thing?:
He caught Monk's eye, beckoned with his jaw, and Monk followed him outside. They moved down the hall to get out of earshot, and Doc said, “She's up to something.”
I'll leave you with examples of Doc Savage not being, thinking, or talking like Doc Savage:
Doc glanced at the sky. It looked like rain, and, following the rain, it would probably get chilly. “I want a raincoat,” he said. “I'll pay you for the raincoat, and this will be your commission. Also, I want to park on the mezzanine floor where I can watch the lobby.”
“What's the deal?”
“Let's see something to prove that. Don't detectives carry licenses, or something?”
“Not always. Get me the raincoat and put me inside. Then you can telephone Deputy Sheriff Walter Weem and ask him about me. Describe me to him. If he doesn't okay me, you can throw me out again and you've made ten.”
“That,” Doc said grimly, “lacks a lot of being all right. When will she come out of it?”
“I don't know. Did you ever hear a doctor commit himself on a thing like that?”
Doc was anxious. “Does the doctor treating her look as if he had any sense?”
“I think he's all right. He knows who she is, and he's heard of you. You'd think he had just been appointed physician to the queen.”
“Tell Deputy Weem about the black spots,” Doc directed. “I gave him a rough outline of how we came to get mixed up in this—how somebody called us for a meeting at the airport and arranged the black spot as a password. Except that I left out about the black spot. I thought something might be gained by holding back about the black spot password—I think I didn't tell the deputy about that because the story sounded goofy anyway and would have sounded more so with the spot in it. But you might as well give it to him now, together with anything else that he wants to know that you know.”
“Weem is just practical enough to figure the spot stuff is danged silly.”
“Probably. But tell him anyway. The deputy is clever, and has the advantage of looking like a moron. He can be a big help on this, and we don't want to handicap him by holding back facts.”
DOC SAVAGE, practically in the act of dropping over the balcony railing, saw that there was no rug on the lobby floor directly below—the scrubwomen had rolled up the rug and had been working there; he could hear them running—and he decided there was too much chance of breaking bones when he hit the slick, dark floor. The chances of getting shot had some bearing on it, too, because the bow-legged man had almost reached his gun.
Doc threw a steel smoking stand at the bow-legged man. It was not very effective, and the man was able to dodge. The fellow threw up his arm, the gun enormous and shiny at the end of the arm, but he did not shoot when Doc Savage threw himself back out of view.
A DARK-HAIRED small nurse with a cute figure tripped into the hospital waiting room, looked at Doc Savage and giggled. She said, “Congratulations, sir, on a fine bouncing boy.”
Doc Savage was shocked beyond words, and found himself unable to speak until the nurse added, “A marvelous ten-pound boy. Ten pounds!” Whereupon Doc said bitterly, “What is this place, a psycho ward?”
The nurse placed a startled hand on her cheek. “Aren't you Mr. Ginsberg?” Her eyes were large and northern-mink-brown.
Doc breathed inward deeply, controlled himself and demanded, “Do I look like an expectant father?”
The little nurse gasped, “Oh, I'm sorry!” and retreated in confusion.
“If you have, be warned that it isn't a tiddly-winks game you're playing. Murders are like mushrooms, where one grows, others can grow. There have been two tonight already.” He frowned at her. “Are you really feeling okay? That rap on the head didn't crack anything?”
Doc nodded. “This time,” he said, “we'll outsmart her. Here is what you do: you go back in there and go through the motions of guarding her. Don't let her give you the slip. When she sees she can't get away from you, shell try the next best thing—talking you into a partnership with her. She'll probably become a very pitiable little girl and ask you to help her prove that she'd make us a good assistant. That's what she's been working on for a long time...
Doc nodded. “Enough,” he said, “to find out what she knows that she's not telling us. When you know that, get in touch with me, and we'll clap her in the hospital or jail or somewhere where she'll be safe, then go ahead and use her clue.”
Doc Savage had looked out of the different windows, deciding he did not care to jump from any of them. Nor was there an accessible fire escape, the building being of fireproof construction, evidently.
It wouldn't take a lot of effort to make Death Is A Round Black Spot a real live Doc Savage novel. Correct the characterizations and toss in a gadget or three and this would be a nice, taut little thriller.
160 - Colors For Murder:
"A kidnapping, a killing, and a young woman on the run set
Doc on an explosive trail of conspiracy and intrigue that leads straight to a
group of mysterious, multicolored whales!"
This June, 1946 short story/novella is a re-hash of the 1935 novel Spook Hole where whales are made sickly to have them produce Ambergris, which in 2015 money goes for up to $10,573.93 per ounce(!):
“What surprises me,” said Joe Collander, “is what is this ambergris stuff? What the hell, you'd think it was diamonds.”
Doc Savage told him, “It is, almost. You see, ambergris is the most effective odor fixative that has ever been found. Perfume manufacturers will pay far more than its weight in gold for it. It's a waxy substance which when ground up finely and dissolved in alcohol, need be used in the ratio of only a few ounces to a gallon of perfume.”
Joe was confused. “Whatcha mean—odor fixative?”
“Ambergris has an uncanny power to absorb and retain the fragrance to which it is exposed.”
“What's it worth?”
Doc said, “Five to eight hundred dollars an ounce on the market now.”
Here in the post-hero era Doc is an above average guy almost making it up as he goes along as much as planning things out. There's no mercy bullets or much of anything else besides this assurance Doc's a tinkerer:
Walter, she recalled, had told her that Savage was addicted to mechanical gadgets, according to what Renny Renwick, the engineer, had told him. But she wanted the man, not one of his gadgets.
The car, while not so old as to draw attention because of its age, certainly wasn't new, and it had been selected for its unobtrusiveness. There were few outward indications that the machine was loaded with gadgets, armor-plating, a special motor, some of which might sometime come in handy, and others which were there only because Doc liked to tinker with such things.
Reference is made to his size but he's not particularly a skilled fighter. Dent's efforts to make Doc Savage more average fail because it does just that. Monk doubts him a little. Doc's anxious at times and isn't above calling people idiots:
MONK said, “Oh, my God! The dirty rats! The stinking, dirty rats!” He ran headlong toward the struggle sounds.
Doc shouted, “Be careful, you idiot!”
Doc said sharply, “Get out of that window, you idiot! You make a perfect target!”
Colors For Murder is a small story that could take place from start to finish within a few hours. As short as it is it can be made workable by making Doc more "Doc" and removing exposition padding which wastes precious squid juice and old growth forests. It starts off well with a narrative approach that's Third Person Limited bleeding into First Person as it sees fit:
Something should have happened to Walter in early youth to give him one of those hidden fears the psychiatrists talk about, something that would make him more cautious, less trustful. If it had, she was sure Walter would have gone farther, been more successful. As it was, at twenty-eight, Walter was a darned competent engineer, but he had been unable to advance any farther than field jobs, construction foreman—little better than common labor. His employers quite frankly thought he was dumb. A big, amiable, likable young guy who liked everybody, and who unfortunately would trust anyone. Too dumb, though, for responsibility. It was too bad that a thing like that, the right thing not happening to you when you were a kid, could thwart your career. For the lack of a kick in the nose when you were young and tender, you were a big genial guy and they thought you were dumb.
“He looks,” remarked South, eyeing the body, “like a guy who deserved to die.”
A passenger overheard this and stared at him in horror, so he wished he hadn't said it. The statement was made sincerely, because South didn't like fat men, and he didn't like drunks; too, he needed, and this was important, to assure himself that there was a reason for what he did. The reason did not need to be large, not anywhere near enough of a reason to justify the act before a jury of South's peers. But if there was a reason for an act—any act, even murder—South could accept the reason as a good and sufficient one, and feel justified. He could even feel quite holy about it, as if he'd done the world a favor...
South was not his name, but it was as good as any because for years he had not used his genuine name, nor employed any one name for very long at a time. The airline trip was in a southerly direction, so he had told them I. B. G. South. The I. B. G. part was for I Be Going. He was, in his skeleton-rattling way, a humorist.
God, how she could run! The sidewalk came up and hit his feet madly. He was a soft man, disliking exercise, and he specially detested running. But he was gaining. She twisted her head, wild-eyed, gaping-mouthed, to glance at him. She hadn't thrown away her purse. That, he thought, is a silly woman for you. Hang on to her purse, when she could throw it away, and outrun me. Close now, he threw out a hand to seize her.
It's wonderful writing that can't last forever as after a point such density becomes about itself, and that's not the job of pulp fiction. The story manages to be interesting until about Chapter 4 where it becomes a cat and mouse game with small players and small stakes played out on small stages. Doc is better-than-average, Monk is there being mostly agitated, and Ham is immediately captured. Dent still manages to add some creative flavor here and there:
Doc, watching Pogany's eyes, saw the man go cunning and weigh his chances against Monk, and find them slim. Pogany did not get up. He was not afraid; he had simply decided there was no sense in getting knocked down again. Doc was suddenly convinced that Pogany could think coldly and rationally in a crisis, while battered by pain and indignation. Such an ability threw a new facet of Pogany's character to the light. The man was an eccentric, but he wasn't a flighty emotionalist.
I highly recommend reading the first few chapters of Colors For Murder. Dent does an excellent job defining characters through their inner processes, and while it lasts it's worth your time. After that Doc and Monk meet someone who might be bad, they go to a second location, they see whales of different colors, that winds up being no big deal, and sickly whale gunk is the MacGuffin. It's all low budget and minimal effort. Doc wins. The End.
Doc frowned. “You're wrong there, Sergeant. If I have any effect on them, it's to make them want to make a fool out of me. Something gets hold of them, and they invariably want to lie to me. It's a fever they get—” he stopped, because Sergeant Ellis was laughing. “What's so funny about it?”
“You mistaking female nature and cussedness for a fever,” the Sergeant said. “But if you figure this baby is going to lie to you, what do you want to do?”
The sweet-faced man, South, had a pen knife in his hand. Normally, Doc would not have thought much of the tiny blade as a weapon, but the way South used it, plus the poor illumination reflected back from the headlights, suddenly filled him with horror of the weapon. South tried twice, with lightning speed, and expertly, to cut Doc's wrist sinews. It would have disabled him for life. He evaded the slashing. For a moment they played a horrible little game of handies.
[Nice] “But you're not dealing with the police now, Miss Nelson. I assist the police, and they coöperate with me, some of the time. Not all of the time, I might add, for as a matter of fact they have had me in jail a couple of times, on occasions when they didn't approve of my methods. I do things my way. My methods are the ones I think will most quickly and thoroughly right wrongs and punish evildoers. In other words, I get justice by methods the police don't think of, or are prevented by law from using.”
[I weep for Doc Savage] Doc, watching him intently, decided the pilot didn't have a gun. He had his own hand in his coat pocket, a finger outthrust menacingly. He said, “My name is Savage.”
“If there's anything that makes me tired, it's a smart-aleck!”
Monk pretended to have an opinion already formed on this point. Actually he did not know whether Doc Savage was making much sense out of the situation; Monk himself certainly wasn't. But Monk believed, knowing Doc well, that Doc had wanted to give the impression that the thing was in the bag.
Doc's got it in the bag,” Monk said quickly.
“Where'll we really be?” Monk demanded. He didn't look as if he thought too much of Doc's whole idea.
She was a registered nurse, as stewardesses on many airlines still were...
[Nice succinct telling of it] Monk and Ham were very close friends in a rather peculiar fashion, for neither one ever said anything pleasant about the other if he could avoid doing so, and their normal conversation was a series of insults. But either would, if necessary, risk his life for the other.
[Sign of guilt, or maybe not...] Before Doc could restrain Pogany, the man had leaped from the window into the rain.
Doc said sharply, “Now you've spoiled any footprints!”
“Damn me for a fool! I may have done that, haven't I?” Pogany grumbled, sounding ashamed of himself.
[Doc once knew the difference between footprints, and he always carried a flashlight] WITH a flashlight, which Pogany produced in response to Doc Savage's demand for one, they gave the estate a cautious searching for a prowler. They didn't find one, and the foot prints under the window that had been open were too tangled to give information. It was impossible to tell which prints belonged to Pogany and which to a prowler.
[Untrue to the point of nonsensical] Monk Mayfair was mystified as to why Doc Savage should seem to suddenly acquire a plan of action at this point, but that was what happened. He listened to Doc with puzzled interest as Doc said, “Monk, you stick here with Miss Nelson, whom we have reason to believe is in danger, since assorted attempts were made on her life.”
[How does Doc know Al Ginson, a person who only exists in the story in this exchange?] “Better lift your hands, until I go over you for a gun,” Doc suggested.
Red complied. He seemed eager, in a frightened uneasy way, to establish his neutral intentions. Suddenly, as if he had just thought of it, he asked, “You know a TWA pilot named Ginson?”
“Yeah. I know Al. He's a half-way friend of mine, and I wish to God he was here now. He could vouch that I'm not a guy who would go into a thing like this with his eyes open.”
Doc made no comment.
161 - Fire And Ice:
"Doc saves a beautiful woman stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. But he soon finds more than he bargained for as a black box and a tall, dark and dead man lead Doc to Manhattan on a thrilling mission to solve a macabre puzzle."
"There was nothing surprising about a girl pilot ... not even a girl pilot named Patience ... but there were plenty of surprises to follow in a fast and furious chase around the country! Doc Savage and the boys find hot and cold trouble in FIRE AND ICE ... read it now and see if you don't think it's a swell novel."
"He had a feeling she was terrified about whatever it was that frightened her."
Well, that was quite an inconsequential Doc Savage story! Written by William G. Bogart with an assist from Lester Dent, July, 1946's Alaska to New York adventure reads a bit like it belongs on The Lifetime Channel. It also reads low budget production costs and b-roll filler of beautiful Alaska settings. As a ghosted novel it has a personality of its own but it's less bad than harmlessly composed of dilly and dally:
“I wish Doc was here.”
“Say,” Monk remembered, “he won't know where we are!”
“I was thinking of that. Tell you what. You remain here and continue to watch the house. I'm going to check the airport again. And I'll leave word at headquarters in case I miss Doc and he goes directly there.”
“What about Patience?” said Monk hopefully.
“I'll try to find her too.”
“Don't leave this doorway,” instructed Ham. “Wait till I get back.”
Doc's alone (sans assistants) until the late move to NYC - a reversal of the usual geographical routine at a later time in the story than normal. It could have been easily split in half as the Alaska scenes are drawn out with events like Doc going back to someone to ask the same questions and getting more complete answers. It's odd that Doc's in a plane surveying the land for an investment in post-war tourism he wants to make. Since when does he perform basic grunt work?
Bogart is an odd writer with a weird take on women that Miss Andrist and her sisters would strongly reject as all varieties of "ist":
She looked like a pretty little girl who would be almost fearful of traveling from Brooklyn to the Bronx by subway. And she had just completed a mad dash from Alaska to New York by air. Modern women, Doc thought, you never knew what they were going to do next!
His take on Doc's teenage feelings of lust and fear towards women is also oddly weird:
[The very idea of a female pilot sent Doc reeling backwards] “I hope you're all right,” Doc called as he ran. “I thought for a moment —”
He stopped saying that and started, drawing up three paces from the pilot.
Dark, brunette hair tumbled down as the pilot whipped off the flying helmet....
“OH!” Doc Savage said. After that he added, “My!”...
She didn't move. For a brief instant she tilted her head back slightly in order to glance up at him. It was necessary for her to do that because of the difference in their sizes. The mere glance sent electric flashes coursing through him.
Suffering from a slight amount of shock, Doc guessed. He was positive she was not injured. Her eyes were clear. Blasted disturbing eyes, too. Like wondrous little-girl eyes...
It was the very first time she had spoken. Sound of her voice gave Doc Savage a double shock. First because she had spoken so suddenly — also, because it was such a sweet, pleasant, well modulated voice. An unusual mixture of young-girl-voice and reserved, well-trained older woman's...
“I know, but —” She smiled sweetly, and Doc felt his scalp tingle right down to the roots....
At last the door swung open partway.
He expected to see Patience clad in negligee, pajamas, nightgown or whatever it is a sweet-looking girl of her type wears to bed...
The second shot was lower down. His gingerly probing fingers told him this. That second shot had drilled right through the spot where Patience would have been sleeping in the bed — had she been there as planned.
Doc felt a shock just thinking about it. A fine girl like her!...
Doc put his hand on her shoulder. It was a nice, smoothly rounder shoulder. He took it away again.
I have no idea what the title means. There's no mysterious killing device, scary phantasm, treasure, or threat to world peace. It's almost as much of a Doc Savage story as it isn't. Doc carries and shoots a gun while Ham & Monk get their hands on guns and shoot bad guys in the legs.
[What?!] Passing his traveling bag, still on a low rack near the foot of the bed, he reached up, felt around among some clean shirts and located his gun. Then he started a cautious approach to the window...
Using a very corner of the window for a gun sight, Doc sent two quick shots toward the treetop.
The .45's thunder was loud indeed. It sounded as though a small meteor had fallen on the sleeping village.
[Doc breaks his vow to never lie] “Hardly,” he said. “I had the light turned on — couldn't get to sleep. The shade was up and I was moving about.” He had to be glib about the thing in order to make it convincing. “Anyone could have seen me. Therefore they could see that you were not in that room.”
[1946 Super Highway] The highway was smooth, modern macadam. Two wide automobile lanes made up its spacious width.
[Poorly written as later on it's that Doc heard Spark's radio call, not him screaming outdoors. As written even that's confusing]
Frantic now, he dropped the mike on the desk and ran outside. He jumped up and down and yelled at the top of his lungs. He had a tremendous voice built for hog-calling. His bellow rolled up and down the mountain-side.
“Help! Help! Help!”...
SOMEWHERE approximately four thousand feet above the Alcan Highway, the pilot of the speedy single-engine plane heard Sparks' mule-skinner bellowing...
It was while he was changing wave-lengths that he happened to pick up the “Ham” radio operator's excited yelling. Doc Savage heard the word “Help!”
First, it slid off on one wing and lost a thousand feet of altitude, as fast as you could say Jack Spratt.
Next, it climbed. Wearily, as a kid who has been shoved down a snow bank six times and it desperately trying to reclimb for the seventh time.
“Apparently,” Doc pointed out, “they used that bottle of ink eradicator you have here on the desk.
[Batman reference] “One of them called to the pilot and said, 'See you in Gotham, Alfred'"
“You know,” Willis added, “a kind of Lou Costello — that radio fellow — build, but only much heavier.”
The character "Yukon" is fun in the Old West/Old Timer tradition, and an attendant works in Doc's basement garage. I can't say it's worth rehabbing Fire and Ice just based on how small it is on every level with a payoff that barely earns a shrug. For completists only.
162 - Three Times A Corpse:
"Doc, Monk and Ham's Miami vacation is interrupted by a failed attempt on Doc's life which lures them into a sinister sea snare in a tale entitled: Three Times a Corpse." "A bullet interrupts Doc's Miami vacation, as does poison, feuding gangs, and a girl named 'Lucky'."
August, 1946's Lester Dent entry starts off as a slightly above average post-uber tale but by midway it lies down for a rest with long passages of nautical jibber-jabber, and then concludes with all the tension of a larger gang quickly overpowering a smaller gang. Whatever was building up with running gags and interesting characters is dumped for Doc lying perfectly still in a box filled with wet sails, fearing the worst and waiting nervously for it. The Sanctum reprint indicates Dent was majorly ill with the flu and maybe at a certain point he just closed his eyed and dictated sailboat gobbledygook into a Dicatphone.
Monk is extra intimidating, Ham is perceived to have actual use, Doc is accomplished human-level but thankfully not as internally crippled with "feels" as he can be otherwise, and this month's femme, Lucky Jones, is one of the better day-players. Too bad she doesn't get to be in it as much in the second half as the first, or even close to it.
In a rewrite I'd give a hint or two along the way that Sam maybe isn't who he claims to be, completely redo Sam's pal Petey because he doesn't it, make Doc more "Doc Savage", and dump everything after Doc hides in the boat for a story that continues forward with all the original players in the foreground. And of course write an ending that does more than end. Having just finished The Angry Canary I'm using that as a guide to what Doc Savage should be if you want to make him less Uber. Make Doc here like the one there and Bob's your uncle.
Three things I learned from Three Times A Corpse, a great title but meaningless to the story; 1) Some hotels were too elegant for an elevator, 2) Some boats are more "yachty" than others, and 3) "The first rule for winning a homicide detective's favor is: Don't move the body."
In what has to be the best unintentional dirty humor to be found in Doc Savage, pummeling into surrender men "ejaculating" their words, is this line from Lucky Jones:
Miss Lucky headed for the bedroom and her hat. “Try and keep me away! And if you want to see a first-class job of eating a guy out, watch me work on him.”
[Wait for shock and applause to die down, and... continue]
Did Doc really have to stick his head out of a moving car window to look at house numbers?:
Doc Savage applied the brakes. His head was out of the window, and he was inspecting such house numbers as were illuminated.
In 1946 was firing a rifle into a crowded restaurant something you could get away with because it was just a gag for a pal?:
Send the officers up,” Doc directed.
Sam was upset by this. “You ain't got nothing on me!” he said hastily.
“Only enough to get you about twenty years for attempted homicide,” Ham Brooks, the attorney, informed him.
“It was a gag!”
“The whole thing!”
“How do you know?”
“That's what the guy told me.”
You think people really looked for food under folded sails by punching them hard?
“Oh — You see anything looks like grub around here?”
“Nah — Unless it's under some of these sails.” The man began to jerk the sails about in the lockers, punch them with his hands. A moment later, he gave Doc Savage a hard blow in the stomach with his fist and, immediately afterward, a second blow on the broken ribs.
DOC was sure he yelled in agony. He could not, he felt, have repressed an outcry. He was also quite certain he blacked out for a few moments from the effects of the blow. But when reality—sounds, the clammy feel of sail-cloth against his face—took tangible being again, nothing more had happened. The schooner must have been pounding into a wave when he was punched, and the puncher must have mistaken his body for a bundled sail.
A nice visual gag involving violence:
“Tell 'em!” Sam said grimly. “Tell 'em, or I'll take you by the ears, put a foot in your mouth and pull you on like a boot.” He did not sound as if he was fooling.
You don't find out if and what Ham accomplishes but it's nice Doc thinks highly of his legal skills:
Doc Savage called Ham Brooks over. “Ham is our legal blade,” he advised Bridges. “Ham, will you see if you can give Mr. Bridges food for thought, preferably the sort that will give him indigestion.”
Doc didn't think so. He thought Ham Brooks would probably wrap Mr. Bridges up in legal phrases until he resembled a package of confused silence.
Monk = Monk:
Petey said he was telling this, damned if he wasn't, and Monk inquired how he liked his teeth, the way they were, or on the floor. Petey considered this, and decided to give them a translation.
“Don't say it,” Monk advised him. He had evidently sized up the clerk's character better than Doc had supposed because he added, “And how would you like for a nice noisy ambulance to pull up in front of this hostelry and take you off to a hospital to get an arm put back on you?”
The result, probably from Monk's I'd-as-soon-mangle-you-as-not appearance rather than the words, were satisfactory.
Doc contemplates his upbringing by holding his chin in his right hand and gazing off high stage right:
The vacation, he suddenly decided, had been a bust, and it was not the first one that had bored him. For some reason, he seemed constitutionally unable to take a vacation and enjoy it the way, he imagined, other people did. Monk and Ham were not affected; they could drop the serious side of life at any given instant and start quarreling over a female or some other object and be perfectly relaxed. But not Doc.
Doc frowned. He supposed the cock-eyed kind of youth he had lived was responsible for some things he found in himself that he didn't particularly like, and which certainly kept him from having a normal life. He had been placed, by his father, in the hands of specialists for training from cradle age, and all his recollections were of dead-pan, too-serious mental marvels trying to cram what they knew into his head by one method or another. The result had been to give him remarkable abilities—he appreciated this, but felt people over-estimated him most of the time—but had also rendered him psychologically unable to be just plain susceptible.
He wondered what effect Lucky would have on his psychosis. Something explosive, he'd bet.
Doc being Da Man:
Doc Savage did not say anything and did not let go, and Sam, whose idea of a fight was to get it over with quick, and anything would go, made am ambitious attempt to kick Doc in the stomach. Doc moved just enough so that the kick missed. He hooked an arm under Sam's leg and jerked, and Sam came down on the floor, hard. He was fortunate enough to keep his head from cracking the floor more than enough to daze him momentarily. Doc leaned down and planted a fist on Sam's third vest button, not appearing to hit very hard. But the result stopped Sam's breathing, and most of his other functions, for a few moments.
Doc being reasonable in the situation:
Desperately, he sawed at the ankle ropes with the knife. He had anticipated less difficulty getting loose than he was having. There was not enough air in his lungs, and he had, furthermore a grim suspicion that one or more ribs might have been cracked by the impact of the bullets against the vest. The vest was supposed to give protection against such an eventuality, but the blows of the two slugs had been tremendous; he had, for a few seconds, been practically knocked out, in much the same condition as a boxer who had taken a hard blow over the heart. That was one of the reasons he had not continued the fight. Other reasons were: he might have been shot in the head if he had continued; he was outnumbered; he wanted information. There were plenty of good reasons for taking this out.
Now Doc being less so, starting with thinking his only option is dying, and then getting in a lucky kick:
He was plagued by grim thoughts about the likelihood that they would take the sails out of the forecastle to dry them, which would mean his certain discovery — In which case there would be almost no chance of his escaping alive, the water in these mangrove creeks in the islands usually being nearly as clear as glass, and the mangroves offering little protection from bullet.
SURPRISE was on his side. He was glad of that. He had wondered if it would be. His feet were free first, and he used the right one to kick the nearest man, having marvelous luck and hitting the man on the point of the jaw.
He had no liking for being chased about on a small cay by ten or a dozen armed men who had already killed two, which was what would happen once the two prisoners awakened and gave an alarm.
Doc was silent. He watched the sea. Usually he could keep fairly close track of time, but now he was confused, and could not tell whether the dinghy had had time to go half a mile and return. It was important.
I just found that I did a review of this in 2011. Here's part of my take on it then, all those many years ago:
According to this publishing record it was written by Lester Dent, but I'll wager fifty internet monies it was adapted at the last minute from a dusty story outline with Doc Savage as the lead instead of Dirk Fistly, Girth Johnson, or any other publisher-rejected character. There's nothing Doc Savage about Doc Savage in this story, and it's one of the later books where his namby-pamby inner dialogue renders him less Superman and more Freudian neurotic. This one isn't horrible in this regard like the next novel, The Exploding Lake, whose meta-perspective of Doc's inner-turmoil is unreadable unless you hate the character. In Unce, Tice, Fee Tides A Corpse Doc's more lucky than skilled, and there's no mystery to be figured out or wild new idea explored. The entire novel is improvised and fleshed out with esoteric boat descriptions that only prove Dent loved and knew all about his favorite hobby. It listlessly moves from Point A to Point Z, where it ends because the minimum word count has been reached by the author, who immediately went back to sifting through a ton of sand for gold flakes.
163 - The Exploding Lake:
"A lake vanishes in a fireball, a gregarious blonde with an ocelot cub, and a far-off land of mystery spell trouble for Doc and his crew — and finis for the world as we know it."
"This months Doc Savage novel takes you to the mystery land of Patagonia, where nature plays curious tricks and the schemes of evil men conspire to make it a country of dread. Read it and see if it isn't a real thriller."
“I'm a son of my gun,” the fat man said.
Harold A. Davis wrote the first draft of what came down to a nazi in Argentina attempting alchemy to turn lead into gold. Lester Dent was forced into a complete re-write under the possibly correct assumption that Davis shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a Doc Savage story. The Sanctum reprint contains a message from Dent to Davis that opens with the insult of "You missed on this one rather badly". Ouch.
September, 1946's The Exploding Lake contains the basic plot of a decent story and the day-players are all better than average - it's the telling that's average with many minor actions and a chatty disposition that repeats itself while also falling back on recaps to fill space. It works too hard to set up a complex mystery while also providing a reveal that's proportionately much more minor. The reveal of the exploding lake is sooner than expected but more than feasible, and things wrap up fairly quickly, but there's no need to stretch it out with more run & fight choreography. Doc Savage books are not immune to ending with a lot of action but minimal substance.
In an act of brazen laziness the tale opens with a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica about the region (not the store) called Patagonia. The Exploding Lake closes with what might be the most artistic ending to a Doc Savage adventure with a jarring shift to Third Person Limited that pays off beautifully:
HANS BOEHL ran, once he was through the lodge door, with head-back, arm-pumping effort. He was, he knew, in excellent physical condition; good body trim had always been a fetish with him, even in his youth, before the time of the Nazis, who had put physical training on a god-like plane. He was not even particularly scared; danger, the taking of desperate chances, had been a part of his life for a long time, and he had developed a hardness toward it. There was a perverted ecstasy in danger, for him; his mind had never seemed more clear, more facile.
There was, seven miles to the south, a plane in a hangar, and a man there, a man who was merely a pilot, a hireling. Once Boehl reached the plane, escape would be simple, and he would go somewhere, probably another part of Patagonia—they wouldn't expect that, the fools—and begin again. Already he had snatches of plans for the future. He hardly heard the two shots behind him. Everything seemed crystal clear. He felt free; free and agile, strong, superior to all things; he was Hans Boehl, and he had been a great man in Nazi Germany; as great as Hitler, and he could remember, so clearly now, that he had been superior to Hitler. He was running lightly, very lightly; he had no weight at all; he was on the sand of the lake beach now, and it was hard dark sand. He could feel the sand; it was between his teeth, hard and gritting, with no taste at all, no taste at all.
“Is dead as anything,” Orlin Dartlic said presently. “Is run fifty yards after I shoot him through brain. What do you know about that, no?”
A few things stand out as not particularly "Doc Savage", either by editorial decree, Davis' input, or a decision/ error on Dent's part:
Thought was best diverted, and Susie was a good diverter. He even, to the alarm of Monk and Ham, and the astonishment of Renny Renwick, went through the motions of playing up to Susie somewhat.
[Odd because Doc's saying to vote to not rescue Monk & Ham and leave them to die] But before we land—I think you should have a vote in this.”
“Vote on what?”
“Landing here. I think we're deliberately doing what has been planned for us to do. That means a trap. In brief, the situation is this: we can play safe and maybe never solve this thing and never find Monk and Ham. Or we can walk into their trap and depend on fighting our way out.”
[Doc's back to his old ways?] Doc fired; the report of the rifle hurt his head, deafened him. Cort released his revolver, walked backward wildly a few feet. Doc had tried for a shoulder shot, not particularly because he wanted to spare the man's life, but a blasted shoulder was the quickest means of forcing the gun out of Cort's hand.
Ham Brooks sauntered over and, without being very obtrusive about it, flipped a switch that got a wire recording gadget in operation. The device had quite a sensitive pickup, and would record whatever was said in the laboratory. Doc frequently used it to record the second-to-second behavior of scientific experiments which he made, in that way managing to get, he insisted, clues that might have otherwise escaped him in solving a difficult piece of research.
“Look, take a deep breath and relax,” Renny suggested. “Somebody should have told you about Doc. He goes along apparently getting the worst end of the deal and completely confused, it would appear, and all of a sudden you discover he hasn't been going down—he has been going up. In other words, don't be too surprised to find out he already knows what is what and who done it.”
Ham Brooks had perched on the edge of an instrument table. Around the bush go was right, he reflected. He was tempted to suggest that they in a straight line go, but restrained himself Ham had an air of dignity to uphold, a rather phony air which he felt went with his position as one of the most important alumni the Harvard Law School had ever turned out, an attorney with an international reputation.
He listened to Ham's description of Orlin Dartlic's violent arrival in the uptown building—Ham glorified that part somewhat, made it plain that he was somewhat of a hero—
MONK MAYFAIR, the chemist, was a short, wide and extremely homely man whose nickname was aptly applied. He was rated as one of the great industrial chemists of the day, but there was nothing about his appearance to betray the fact, and his behavior hit a consistent tone that was somewhat less than dignified.
[The recurring routine of assaulting already unconscious men is disconcerting] Monk Mayfair was wandering around the room, a large rock in one hand, and, as he came to an unconscious man, he rapped the rock against the victim's head. He said, “None of these guys had better have thin skulls.”
COLONEL JOHN RENWICK waited, suitcase at his feet, in front of the shabby hotel on Twenty-eighth Street where he lived.
[The Gumps] Where Juan got his idea of humor was a question, but it was probably from American comic strips. His humor was of an obvious sort. He had, for instance, christened his pack mules Andy and Uncle Bim.
[Wasn't this the name of a book Doc wrote?] JUAN RUSSEL had met Doc Savage once, several years ago, while attending a special meeting of metallurgists in New York City. There had been a notice on the convention bulletin board:
CLARK SAVAGE, JR., WILL SPEAK TUESDAY AT 2 PM ON “THE MOLECULAR STRUCTURE OF SEVERAL LESSER KNOWN METALS.”
[The postwar migration of top nazis to Argentina]“There are bad men in Argentina,” the fat man said.
“I'm glad you admitted that,” Ham told him. “It saves us arguing the point.”
Dartlic looked gratified. “I am glad you understand. These men came, we do not know quite how, but perhaps by submarine, many of them. We are not sure. There were many mysterious submarine stories after the Nazis fell—they may have had basis in truth. Natives, too, came with rumors. We tried to find these men. We could not.”
“Everybody knows,” Ham said, “that Argentina is being accused of keeping the Nazi ideology alive. . . .
Ham Brooks and Monk Mayfair were very close friends, and if the occasion demanded—if it demanded very hard—either one of them would probably have risked his life for the other. However, they had not exchanged a civil sentence, as far as anyone could testify, since their first meeting. They seemed to enjoy each other's company enormously, and either one would spend infinite time and pains and effort—energy that would have earned good money if more sensibly directed—to perpetrate a dirty trick or an embarrassing practical gag on the other.
Even, eventually, Dartlic himself seemed to be enjoying Susie's company. Susie had a certain rattlebrained effervescence that was amusing and, after a time, one began to suspect it was something she was born with, just as she had been born with the blonde hair, and that, underneath, there was quite a bit of hard-headed sense...
Doc Savage devoted considerable thought to Susie during the southward trip, without reaching much of a conclusion as to whether she was rattlebrained or had keen intelligence. He distrusted his opinions about women anyway.
“The lake business was probably staged,” Doc said.
“Uh-huh. What'd they use, you figure?”
“High-test gasoline, conceivably. That lake is very shallow. It looked to me like the bottom had been smoothed off and levelled ahead of time. Probably three or four inches of gasoline, maybe less—probably less, too, considering the difficulty of getting it in here—was used. A spark at the right time, and up it went. From a distance, it would be remarkably effective. Literally a great explosion. The stuff would evaporate, the whole vicinity would be saturated with explosive vapor, and it would be, in effect, a great explosion.”
[How to tell Perling isn't dead - it happens off-page] They passed Bernard Perling's body.
“Is he—” Susie stopped. “Is he—”
Perling lay on his back, mouth widely open, a thin red smear having extruded itself from a bluish spot on his forehead and partially filled one eye, then spilled along the side of his face.
A man gave the girl a shove. He said, “He's dead and with nothing to worry about. Which is more than you can say for yourself.”...
[How to tell Perling is the bad guy] THEY found Bernard Perling in a rear room. They heard his wailing first, terrified pleas for help, demands to know what had happened. Perling was tied after a fashion and there was adhesive tape hanging to one of his cheeks.
In this story the screening room for meeting Doc on the 86th floor is on the seventh floor in Room 710. That function can't seem to stay in one spot. The Exploding Lake isn't bad but it deserves to be drained of its wordiness and pumped up in its pacing. It's not a crime that the story is an involved Rube Goldberg device to get Doc down to Argentina to work on the impossible for a greedy nazi putz, but with all the work that went into it the bad guys might have had an easier time going to New York and kidnapping Doc Savage directly.
164 - Death In Little Houses:
"A group of bearded mountain men steals pieces of a miniature model home and a lady trucker is marked for death — only Doc can put the pieces of this bizarre puzzle together before murder rules the road."
"Model homes for vets, strange bearded men, and truck routes around Lake Michigan lead Doc Savage to a ruthless killer!"
I'm going to pay a psychic to conduct a séance and call back to this mortal realm the spirit of William G. Bogart so he can apologize for having written October, 1946's Death In Little Houses. Can a story be bad if it barely exists? There's so little going on it's hard to keep track of what actually is happening. The treasures of this post-war tale are stolen patents, blueprints, and "plans for the low-cost production of new, light-weight materials for prefabricated homes". Consider my nails bitten.
The opening chapter is more about the art of storytelling than what's going on with Doc Savage. The first two paragraphs are nice as a writing exercise but this literary posturing carries on for most of the book:
IT was mid-afternoon, a July afternoon, the hour when the bright sun hammered down and the air hung motionless and still as if the whole universe were suspended in a sort of quiet interlude.
The lake was an endless expanse of tinted greens, like plate glass painted with an artist's brush and then laid out in the warm sunshine to dry. Surface of the water was as smooth as a bowl of lime-colored gelatin. Against the horizon, far off, a triangular wedge of white sail stood motionless against the water as if it were a tiny flag marker pinned into a huge map.
Because of this the story is weighed down by reams of descriptive language, and it keeps itself busy without moving along with insistence. Chapter after chapter it's Bogart trying to tell a story and prattling on about trivial details adding up to a whole lot of nothing. The last act consists mainly of driving a truck and checking off points on a travel itinerary, while a chunk of the first part has Ham and Monk wandering around in search of the of-course attractive Speed Calloway, who elicits the usual professionalism of you-know-who:
MONK rode one of the jump seats in the cab. The girl sat between Doc Savage and Ham. The chemist sat sideways and told Doc what had happened aboard the cruiser. He thought Speed Calloway had beautiful legs.
There's clumsy exposition in the opening chapter when a taxi driver, given a full personality like he'll be a part of the story for a while, recounts everything his passenger (Doc) has done since being picked up. Later on Bogart breaks up a lengthy speech from Ham by having Monk interject "'Well—go on,' Monk prodded" and "'Get on with it,' urged Monk". Mostly it's a seemingly endless parade of words glossing over a plot that's barely there.
The only memorable thing about Death In Little Houses is that Doc gets badly beaten up off-page. It's a big thing quickly detailed and dropped almost immediately:
Still staring, Ham backed up against a chair in the large suite and sat down. Doc Savage remained standing. Every part of his body, stripped above the waist, was bruised. Arms, massive shoulders, back, chest. Ham detected two dark blotches on his face, but the unusual bronze coloring of Doc's healthy skin made them almost unnoticeable.
Here's a taste of mind-numbing verbiage:
MICHIGAN AVENUE was crowded with evening traffic. The park across from the hotel was filled with people enjoying the clear cool breeze coming in from the lake, a quarter mile beyond, but cut off from view by the rising slope of green lawns. There was bright laughter and conversation from the hundreds of gay strollers along the wide sidewalks. Display windows were lighted. Double-deck buses rumbled along, also crowded with sightseers enjoying Chicago at night. One of the world's greatest thoroughfares—Michigan Avenue—ribboned with bright lights against the velvet of night, as far as the eye could see!
Any other time it would have thrilled Ham Brooks. But as he left the cab and hurried into the great busy hotel, there was a tenseness in him. He knew Chicago. Once or twice in his life he had brushed with that part of it that is not gay, boisterous and hearty. Deep below the surface, as in any great city, there are shifting undercurrents—strange events that happened with swiftness and mystery. How little the average person knew of the greed, hatred, fear, the danger that oftentimes lurked within arm's reach. Perhaps just beyond a hotel-room doorway.
An elevator whisked Ham to the fifteenth floor. The hotel was even larger than the one where they were stopping. They said it contained three thousand rooms. Multiply that by the people living in these rooms, a day, a night, a few hours at the most. People from every walk of life, arriving, leaving, seldom knowing not even one of their thousands of neighbors. Hundreds and hundreds of people, each in his own secluded little world, each unaware of the tremendous number of life's incidents constantly taking place beyond soundproof walls.
“It is not only the clue,” she said. “The card is the solution to grim murder. That's why everyone is after it.”
“But who has it?”
“I don't know.”
“Does Doc?” asked Ham.
“I . . . don't know that either,” said the girl slowly.
For several moments they were all silent, thinking about it.
“Shove off,” the redhaired girl said quietly.
“I—” Monk looked at her.
“Start hi-balling, jockey.”
Monk gulped. “Beg pardon, miss?”
She said coolly, “Take that transport out of creeper gear and let her roll. Shove off!”
[Beards don't grow on foreheads] Nearly all his face was covered with a shaggy dark beard. His hair was long, falling to the shoulders of his light-weight coverall jacket. The beard also grew from his upper lip and forehead, long and scraggly, so that his mouth and eyes were almost completely hidden, like those of a Scottie dog...
The quaint-looking fellow looked like a character out of the hills. He wore a kind of brown robe with a cord sash tied around the waist. His beard covered forehead, cheeks, mouth and jaw. Hair came down to his massive shoulders. He was tall.
[A weak to non-existent reason in context] Monk sighed. “You'll have to do better than that, shyster. She knows blasted well we don't belong in this room any more than she does.”
Ham considered identifying himself and Monk, but decided this might lead to their connection with Doc Savage, and Doc tried to avoid publicity of any sort. A great many people in the world knew nothing about his far-flung activities.
[Yikes] Watching her from the corner of his eye, watching the two men hammering at him from assorted directions, he was kept as busy as a colored boy using his head for a baseball target in a carnival midway.
There's no gadgets to speak of and Doc does nothing worth recounting. Death In Little Houses is thankfully short. The pulp cover is great as visually it makes no sense whatsoever and is fun to investigate as such.
165 - The Devil Is Jones:
"A man, a woman, or the devil himself: who — or what — is the elusive, mysterious Jones? Doc better find out quick, before he’s framed for murder!"
The Devil Is Jones is a very bad Doc Savage book. As a filler story in a generic detective pulp magazine I assume it would be considered adequate filler material.
The cover of November, 1946's The Devil Is Jones is surreal in a disconcerting yet appealing way, like listening to The Shaggs. Works I found by artist Charles J. Ravel indicate he wasn't particularly ambitious and was most likely compensated accordingly, but I can stare at this cover and the one he did for Death In Little Houses in an awed state. Every component is drawn and colored well enough but the proportions, angles, and layouts are nonsensical, and hopefully done on purpose so you can't but gawk to compile a list of its defects. The ice pick guy's right arm is five feet long and he's about to stab himself in the back of the neck, and there's No-Neck shooting a gun twenty feet to the right side of his intended victim, who's surrendering to someone twenty feet to the left of No-Neck. The phone might also be in the hands of a ghost. Good stuff, and my favorite after my hero Walter B.
The Devil Is Jones is fifty shades of excruciatingly painful reading, a prime example of what I referred to last week as a Doc Savage book so un-Doc Savage and so wrong it can't be saved by a re-write and should be never spoken of again (after this review). I'll bet five internet monies Lester Dent adapted this from a detective story he outlined but couldn't sell. The Big Sleep came out just before this Doc novel, and I wager five more monies Doc was shoehorned into a Humphrey Bogart role of playing cat and mouse, but who's playing who, hmmm? There's also a Agatha Christie parlor mystery influence, with names upon names piled on top of each other until you can't remember who's who or who's why or why am I reading this.
Paul Ben Hazard speaks in run-on sentences of cryptic lyricism that must, if not originate, at least tip a hat to Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. I noted one other literary affectation I found equally as annoying as what I'm comparing it too. Daymon Runyon wrote about past events in the present tense. I found that unreadable, like mini, migraine-inducing time traveling. Thankfully isolated to the opening chapter of The Devil Is Jones, Dent has Doc identify himself as "Mr. Savage" and is called the same by someone else, but the narration identifies Doc singularly as "he" in every reference to Doc Savage. Therefore you get this, where "he" is not Hazard but Doc Savage, because "he" always equals "Doc Savage":
Hazard did not offer to shake hands. The window drapes were thrown back, letting the southern sunlight flood the office, and he was a little surprised when Hazard said suddenly, “I detest shadows, and have a perverse inclination to see them when in evil fettle. I defy that. I make a practice, once each hour, of doing something that it is difficult for me to do. I feel much benefit can accrue from such a practice.”
Doc less acts than reacts (mostly with indignation), and doesn't react much as he's seemingly being bounced around like a hacky sack by the various players in this little mystery of no import. He's the hick private detective who's rented his first tuxedo to attend a garden party for old money who feel confident he'll fail.
You know this isn't really a Doc Savage story when Dent has him say "Eh?", not once but twice. The smartest man in the world responds repeatedly with an idiot grunt question:
“You've been here a week. Haven't you dug up anything at all?”
“Just barely enough to make us feel foolish.”
Monk. Doc said, “All right. Where is he?”
They moved through the station-like club building to the street, and the small filthy man looked about vacantly. “He's gone,” he said.
Doc's a generic detective, making with the clever and/or tough talk:
“Eddie says you're Doc Savage,” the waiter said.
“Eddie talks too much.”
Above Doc whines “You've been here a week. Haven't you dug up anything at all?”. And here Doc lets us know he might have no idea what's going on:
Doc Savage examined the small man intently, suspiciously, decided there was something fishy about the affair, and demanded, “What are you trying to pull?”
Doc Savage, pushover putz:
DOC SAVAGE, enraged, gave most of his attention to keeping a resemblance of a composed expression on his face, and keeping his words civil, while he was being pushed from one guest to another; all the while he was wondering just what was going on, whether it was some kind of sinister doings, whether it was a gag, or just the obvious sort of thing it seemed. He had never met any of these people; he had nothing in common with most of them probably; and he should not be interested in them nor they in him—if he disregarded the mystery of the sinister Jones and the death of Sam Karen.
Being the 1940s Doc hates himself on the inside, where it counts:
his streak of stupidity—he should have known the number would not be
listed this soon—he got the number from the information operator.
Getting more disgusted with
himself, Doc Savage went below into the cabin. There was no danger,
unless they hit a floating snag, but he did not like this kind of a
party—possibly because he had never learned to play. It seemed senseless and
without purpose to him, and he was irritated merely because of that.
Doc liked neither the exaggeration that he was one of the most widely known men in the world, nor the intimation that he was employed by Hazard—he had come, not on Hazard's urging, but because the governor of the state was anxious for him, and because the whole thing was interesting.
In The Devil Is Jones Monk is a dullard. "'Okay,' Monk said. 'The police ain't dug up nothing on Sam Karen's murder.' This bit I did enjoy as a more human expectation of how well even a smart person should be expected to remember a secret language like Mayan. It's also noteworthy because Doc's basically thinking Monk's a loser. Go Team Savage!:
Monk changed to Mayan, which he could speak understandably, if not fluently...?
Doc listened in silence, reflecting that if there was anyone on the wire who spoke Mayan, which was unlikely, or it there was a recorder on the wire, which could be possible, the translator who tried to decipher Monk's statements would have a job on his hands. Not only was Mayan a virtually unknown tongue in the civilized world, but the way Monk was murdering it, it was nearly a language of its own.
Racism circa 1946:
“Really, he's not a schizophrenic, though; a better and more modern term is cerebrototonic.”
Smokey said, “What are you talking? Wop language? I hate wops. I'm a wop.”
“We're discussing Paul Ben Hazard, honey,” Georg Lanier told her. “What kind of a wop are you?”
“I'm a borrowing wop,” she said. “But I'd better not let Lorna Overman catch me borrowing you, had I?”
Ham's not a wop but he's surely a pretentious fop:
HAM BROOKS, eminent attorney, was a slender, dapper man with a wide mobile orator's mouth and a fund of words. He had been mentioned a few times around New York, where such things were sometimes considered important, as belonging to the mythical group of ten best-dressed men in the nation, and he valued this highly. He affected a Harvard accent and overdid it, and spent considerable time, that could have been better used at something else, thinking up snide tricks to perpetrate on Monk Mayfair.
If you'd like to leave the first comment at Amazon for Lysol Morning Dew air freshener, instead of noting it's bouquet of chemical hatred, compare it more to a coprophiliac's first base conquest:
Consideration of Overman as a suspect was interrupted by an encounter with Smokey, who came wandering in alone, saw Doc, yelled, “I'm freezing to death. That dew! I hate dew. It's like a dead man's breath.”
The Devil Is Jones is in no way related to the film The Devil In Miss Jones, which according to Wikipedia has a more interesting plot and better character development.
166 - The Disappearing Lady:
"Doc Savage unravels the million-dollar blackmail and murder scheme of The Disappearing Lady" "The cloying scent of gardenias and a very strange auto leads Doc Savage on a desperate quest to find a kidnap victim deep in the heart of the underworld."
December, 1946's The Disappearing Lady was William G. Bogart's 12th Doc Savage credit and his first solo effort. I gather Lester Dent & Street & Smith didn't have full confidence in Bogart's writing skills. In this book it's good but not complete in scope. The story is small but at least the mysteries and motivations are well thought out. I thoroughly enjoyed Bogart's passages on Doc's thought processes as they related to events in real time. There's no second-guessing, insecurity, or self-loathing as found in a number of Lester Dent's similar efforts. For this alone the book deserves praise. The story lingers too many beats on sequences crying out for a handoff to something different (Doc reads maps in his car), and there's too much going on unexplained in shadows and darkness. The word "Dark" appears over forty times in this short work. As a suspense mystery the feel is right but there's a detachment Bogart isn't compensating for when he lingers on darkness and "things" happening in blackness. The payoff didn't compensate.
I'd like to say there's less action in this book than there should be but that's not exactly right. It doesn't help that Doc, Monk, and Ham have nothing to do with the capture of the bad guys at the end. The police take care of that as they arrive. Doc stands front and center to solve the mystery and pulls the masks of innocence off the bad guys, close with a Ham & Monk joke, and bow. Generally too much happens out of sight, which creates atmosphere but the payoffs have to be great. Here they're small yet not bad.
The interior art was provided by Bob Powell in his classic comic book style.
Here's two long examples of Doc's thought processes. They're fantastic but would work better in the Doc Savage world by not overstaying their action-world welcome :
THE thought he must have missed the car by only a moment or so, for the smell of gasoline fumes still hung in the alleyway. Whoever had driven the custom-built sedan, in his haste at a fast getaway, had used the “choke” in order to prime the engine quickly. Thus the lingering gasoline odor.
Doc stood there a moment, a plan of pursuit forming in his mind. The machine's ultra-modern design should help him. He imagined that it was one of the first post-war models of its kind. The moment he reached his own, parked right out front, he'd contact . . .
Strangely, he found his feet still rooted to the spot. Ordinarily he would have swung into action, now that the plan was formulated. Something held him there.
It wasn't the odor of gasoline. This other was more elusive, vagrant . . . touching him with the softness of a drifting feather.
Upstairs, alone in the banker's private office, listening to the haunting words of Sybil's song, he had thought he had imagined noticing the odor. He'd decided it was a trick of the imagination, song and picture of her combining to delude him.
But no! It had been there, just as he caught it now, already fading, quickly drifting away into nothingness.
And he understood how it could have happened the first time. The air-conditioning system, of course! He recalled the soft hum as it had switched on while he was there in the quiet room. Somehow the gardenia smell had been picked up by the air-circulating system, to be gently wafted through the bank to that room where he had stood alone.
Doc was moving swiftly toward his car, parked facing up the hill, a one-way narrow street leading over Beacon Hill. His mind kept turning the thought over. Gardenia. Strange! What was the explanation? What significance did it carry?
He temporarily filed the incident away in his thoughts as he swung into his car. Right now there was urgency. Later, he could think about this other thing . . .
He blinked his eyes. Probably it would be wise if he got up and found some sort of shelter. It wasn't very smart lying there in the snow—especially hot snow. There was no sense to that. He started to raise up. At least, he thought he did.
Nothing happened. He was absolutely helpless. Come on, body, get up! Move! What's wrong with you?
Body ignored him. It just wandered away from there and said the hell with you. His brain was left behind. And his eyes. His eyes watched the snowflakes. They kept pelting him relentlessly and they were as hot as boiling water. They got into his mouth and gagged him.
The sound scared the snowflakes away. They retreated. They became hundreds of little marching columns, all in neat rows, far off.
Then the columns started marching toward him from all sides. Mass attack! The columns broke up, deployed, and each individual snowflake started an independent attack upon him.
Next, they started shooting darts at him. He knew they were darts, because he felt the tiny prickling shocks all over his body. He tingled all over.
He'd had enough of this!
He concentrated every faculty on getting up from there, away from the snow. Sweat rolled off his brow. Muscles strained. For the barest instant he was able to think more clearly and he knew something was wrong with him. Get up! Get up!
Doc gave a tremendous jerk. Whatever it was he had been lying on was no longer beneath him. He was falling. He fell through space for a long time.
Finally he struck the floor. It jarred beneath him. He was flat on the floor, face down.
But he couldn't push himself up. Arms, legs, his entire body had pins stuck to it all over. His muscles were soggy sponges. Sweat continued to roll off his face in sheets.
Briefly, his mind cleared again.
As though he were viewing a strip of movie film, tiny pictures flashed before him. Each was a frame in the film, and was there only an instant. They came one after the other.
Reading this I thought Dent would channel Ernest Hemingway:
The lights went off completely. They sat in darkness for perhaps ten seconds. Then a bright spot came on, searched across the dance floor and found the girl. The white beam climbed up shapely, bare legs, across slim, boyish hips, then fully bathed the rest of a trim, lithe figure. She had auburn-red hair and bright, eager features.
Doc doing things I marginally don't enjoy:
She was brunette, tall, slender, and probably in her late thirties, though he had found that he was never positive about women's ages. She wore an expensively tailored black gabardine suit and a white pleated waist beneath. He wondered if you would call her pretty. Attractive, yes—in a neat, quiet, subdued businesslike manner.
They had reached a wide, carpeted stairway at the rear of the banking room. Velma Lang paused momentarily before starting up the steps. “You have an unusual memory, Mr. Savage. All those years!”
His eyes, shrewd, intense, thinking eyes, bored into Doc's and waited for the bronze man's reaction. Doc remained relaxed in his chair, knees crossed, studying the banker's round pink face.
Otto Preminger's classic Laura came out in 1944, and if Bogart didn't bogart from it I'll eat my shoe:
But it was the face that held him. He took it apart mentally, put it back together again, and could find no flaw anywhere. Calmly beautiful, just the trace of a smile on the delicate small mouth, he imagined her a person of deep sensitivity. It was in the eyes.
A man could be mistaken, of course. Perhaps you couldn't completely judge character from a photograph, a picture that must have been taken at least five years ago—for the banker had said he had never seen his wife again since their separation.
And yet—yet Doc Savage could not quite conceive that a woman with that kind character mirrored in her eyes would be the instigator of a vicious blackmail plot such as Green had outlined.
No need to glance at the photograph again. He saw her vividly. She was there, almost, her ivory white face framed against the dark background of the room, a room that was almost in darkness now, for night had settled down outside.
A face as white as a delicate flower set against a background of soft black velvet. A gardenia, for instance. Doc shook his head slightly. Odd that he should think that. A gardenia. Almost as though he smelled the deep, rich fragrance of the flower itself . . .
Bogart tossed the classic Doc Savage gun rules aside like they never existed. So now and then did Dent by this time:
Doc said quietly, “Give me your gun,” and started back through the long room. The .38 was cool against his hand. Then, as the darkness ahead thickened, he ordered, “Light—and watch yourself.”
The flashlight reminded him that he had returned big Reilly's .38. Doc was carrying no weapon himself. He reached down, his right hand feeling beneath the dashboard beside the steering wheel. There was a hidden compartment there, cleverly built into the car. And there were several guns in the compartment.
He selected a pistol with a long barrel, a target pistol with a good range. Doc slid the long barrel down inside his belt, beneath his suit coat.
It appeared Doc Savage had two guns he had obtained from the local police. “All they could spare,” he told them. “They have only a small police force here. They'll need any help we can give them.”
He handed one of the guns to Ham, kept the other for himself.
I've always enjoyed the "Doc is your boss" routine:
Doc spoke up. “Would you mind if I talked to your man in the tower?”
The manager frowned. “It isn't customary—”
“This is Doc Savage,” said Sam Blake. “He happens to own a couple of well-known airlines.”
“Well, gosh!” said the stout little manager, staring at Doc. “I'm sorry. . . . Sure, you go right ahead up there.”
If it was my job to improve The Disappearing Lady like a film I'd edit it differently by not sticking with scenes and characters longer than necessary, and by adding more shots of action and people to make it less detached and more visual. Of course I'd have an ending where Doc & Co. fight and win the end battle. Dur! The core of the storytelling is solid enough.
167 - Target For Death:
"When a seemingly innocent letter leaves a trail of dead bodies, Doc tracks the mysterious sender halfway round the world to stamp out a killer whose punishment is long overdue."
William G. Bogart wrote January 1947's Target For Death and it's close to being a perfect story. He could have gone another way with it, and I was hoping he would, but as a later period Doc Savage tale it's a workable script source for a multi-part television show - the one some Doc Savage fans fantasize could easily be made with the novels as source material. Ripped apart like carrion and stitched back together as better, tighter, and more consistent scripts, definitely, but not close to it in their present form.
As a shorter novel it does everything the longer ones do but it leaves out superfluous adventures to secondary locales and doesn't take the reader on guided tours of scenery, foliage, and lingering descriptions of planes, trains, and automobiles. The constantly forward-moving plot and swift action are the story, and this one creates scenes in the mind that play out in real time. It's devoid of hoopla and hype but everything you need to know about Doc's size, authority, and abilities are laid out simply and definitively. There's a noted lack of any science mystery or strange, unexplained death. Target For Death is a straight-ahead crime thriller and it was a pleasure to read.
For me in this new round of reading the stories the approach to storytelling is new and fresh for Doc Savage, with a number of the usual action sequences concluded quickly with no further explanation provided or needed. Fight scenes with Renny and Monk are awesome in their brutal eye to detail and cinematic appeal. The bad guys are deathly efficient but you rarely encounter them. The story focuses mostly on the good guys and their side of it. Doc is exactly who I picture he should be and he displays the appropriate set of emotions for the peak human Uberman he is and should be. Monk and Ham work well as a team who argue only when bored, and Renny is perfectly realized as a man-mountain with an engineer's focus on the task at hand. Brave-o, Mr. Bogart!
Target For Death opens as a Pat Savage story, and for a few chapters I thought the novel would focus on her and the tale's day-player protagonist, Sally Treat. Renny helps them out and Sally and Pat could have gone off and solved the case of their own with maybe some unseen or minimally requested help from Doc and the gang, but Bogart goes the opposite way and sends Pat back home and relegates Sally to a secondary role. It's made plain Pat's not up to the task, but Bogart could have easily made her more competent and the story's hero. It's a missed opportunity for something that could have been great but the book's very good and in the long run you just have to wonder what the hell was up with that.
I first suspected this wasn't written by Lester Dent when I read this line. I don't remember Dent describing men like this:
The clerk said, “Are you expecting any mail, Lieutenant?” The clerk was a good-looking young man and he put a smile on his clean features which made him even more handsome.
This line was cute:
“Oh,” Sally said, her tone tumbling down the scale.
Ham and Monk get along well and except as a story-ending punchline only insult each other for fun. I like how Ham tries to come up with something and decides to nap instead:
Ham tried to think of something to say to start an argument. He was bored. They had been at sea now for many hours.
Monk finally finished cleaning the deadly weapon. He inserted a reel of fresh cartridges into the machine gun and carefully replaced the weapon in the rack. He patted the smooth metal.
“Baby,” he said, “maybe we'll drum up a little trade for you.”
Ham had dozed off.
Doc, thankfully considering these later years, doesn't bitch and moan and writhe with internal doubts. The two times he shows his lighter side are happily and gratefully subtle and not forced:
The telegram arrived from Pat Savage. Reading it, he smiled a little. Also, he felt relieved that Pat was out of this and safe in New York.
The wire read:
I THINK YOU'RE A BUNCH OF STINKERS
“I think,” she said worriedly, “you'd better do something about Monk and Ham.”
“They got into a fight,” said Sally.
“Fighting is one of their pastimes,” Doc said, smiling a little.
This stuck out as nice:
The big man knew he was dying. The viciousness had gone out of him. He was probably afraid. He was losing consciousness so fast that Renny had to bend close in order to hear his whisper.
Doc's size is mentioned here and there sans exclamation points. here's one example:
Randall had appeared big standing in the cockpit doorway. Now, near Doc Savage, his size was somewhat dwarfed by the bronze man's presence.
I'm a sucker for descriptions of Monk:
The speaker was short, very wide in the shoulders, and built like a man made for lifting five-hundred-pound weights. His face was so homely that it was interesting. His clothes were loud enough to have been made from a patchwork quilt.
If you want to read something beautifully written, try this:
IT was raining, and there was a strong breeze, so that the curtains billowed into the bedroom. The rain whipped in also, driven by the gusts of wind. It splattered on the polished floor beneath the windows and big drops of it reached to the bed.
It was the rain that brought Doc Savage from deep sleep.
He lay there, feeling the rain, puzzled by the fact that it was so completely dark. He'd been dreaming he was driving along a highway at breakneck speed, racing the streamlined train that flashed across the countryside. Naturally it had been daylight, because he remembered waving to the train engineer. And it hadn't been raining.
He decided to get out of the car and see what was wrong. He fell out of the bed.
For a moment he could not move. His legs, arms, body . . . every part of him was strangely numb. His head throbbed as if a dozen little iron mallets were attacking it. His throat was dry and his tongue felt large and swollen.
He knelt there on the floor, putting out his hands, supporting himself because his arms felt like rubber. He became aware of the wetness beneath his hands. Wetness splashed against his face also, and brought him more fully awake.
He realized, then, that he was in his hotel bedroom. His mind cleared. He felt around, touched the metal base of a bridge lamp, started to climb to his feet. He had to grasp a chair to keep from falling.
The heavy, sweet, cloying odor struck his nostrils. It seemed to be everywhere in the room. He wondered . . .
He managed, finally, to stand erect. His skull felt like as if it were going to burst. He snapped on the lamp.
Doc stepped to the window, let the rain and the wind pour over him, and drew in deep gasps of air. The terrible drowsiness started to leave him. His mind overcame the complete weariness of his body, which wanted only to go back to bed.
He sniffed the air.
Here's fight scenes involving Monk and Renny that evoke vivid images and lay out every move of choreography. Sweet!:
Powerful Renny had already reached down to take hold of one of the men. He lifted him up off the divan as if the man were a sawdust-filled rag doll. Holding him clear of the floor with one hand, he frisked him. He found a small automatic and dropped it into his pocket.
Next he shook the man. He shook him until the fellow's teeth rattled.
He gave the other the same treatment. The second man carried no gun. Renny held onto the second man and said, “Tell me things, pally.”
The fellow gritted his teeth.
Renny cuffed him. Redness showed through the stain on one cheek.
“I said, tell me things,” said Renny again.
The fellow's eyes glazed. Sally Treat shuddered as she looked at the man's eyes.
RENNY dropped the man back on the sofa and picked up the other one. He whipped off the man's coat, searched the pockets, found nothing. There was a tightness around big Renny's mouth.
“All right,” he said. “The ball's in your corner, pally. Let's have it. Fast!”
Renny was now holding the man with the lean, foxlike face. The man's eyes were as restless as marbles rolling around in a saucer.
He said two words. The words weren't the kind used around women. Renny's face flamed. He cocked his arm, his hand held open, palm forward.
Sally, across the room, screamed.
“Renny! Behind you!” she cried in horror.
The big engineer spun, still holding the lean-faced man. In fact, the man spun around with him, like a sack of meal suspended by a rope. His legs dangled.
The third man had arrived in the living room from the back of the house. He stood in the wide archway to the dining room. The long-bladed knife left his hand just as Renny turned around. The heavy knife was thrown in the way an expert hurls a knife at a target.
It came across the room in the instant of time it takes to blink an eye.
There was no chance for Renny to yank the knife's human target aside. In fact, he himself would have been struck had not the man been in front of him.
The heavy-bladed weapon thudded into the fellow's back with the sound a hand makes slapping against a leather cushion. A peculiar sound came from the man's lips.
Renny dropped him.
The one man seated in the lobby had climbed to his feet and was walking slowly toward the desk. He was big, wide, and there were scars on his heavy features.
He said to Monk, “You heard what the man said. Get out!”
Monk hit him.
The chemist had unusually long arms for his size, he had speed, and he loved nothing better than a good fight. And when he was mad he was an explosive atomic bomb.
The bomb that was Monk's right fist landed on the bruiser's jaw and the big man landed on his back. He rocked like an over-sized beer keg and managed to get to his feet again. He put a nasty look on his ugly face, pulled his head down into his thick shoulders and rushed the chemist.
Monk straightened him with a fast uppercut, jabbed him in the stomach so that he doubled forward again, smashed him in the jaw for good measure. When the fellow staggered around dizzily, Monk booted him in the rear with his foot and drove him down on a moth-eaten divan.
The man fell off the old couch, crawled slowly along the dirty tile floor on his hands and knees. He moved two or three feet, then decided he was tired of doing that and flattened out on the floor. He didn't move again after that.
Renny could see the expression of hate that dropped like a curtain across the tall man's face.
“Damn you!” Herman snarled, and he lunged forward. His hands were reaching for the girl's throat when Renny came out of the closet doorway and hit him. His fist drove the big man backward against a wall.
But Herman was hard-muscled, quick-moving. He came back off the wall and lunged at the engineer. His fists smashed toward Renny's face.
The girl cried out.
Renny hit him again. His huge fist sent the man reeling out to the hallway. Something flashed. A knife! Renny grabbed the wrist of the hand that held it, twisted, heard the man curse with pain.
The knife clattered on the stone corridor. The man bent down as though to retrieve it, then butted Renny in the stomach with his head. It was a driving lunge, and Renny went staggering backward into the room.
A door clanged shut. The iron door that separated this section from the rest of the jail. Renny was leaping down the hall as the key grated in the lock. Herman must have taken the keys when he knocked out the guard.
He was gone!
Target For Death was great. If you want to listen to a great synth-pop song titled "Target For Life", that's here.
168 - The Death Lady:
"Doc and the gang head for the Brazilian jungle to rescue a missing heiress, but instead of a damsel in distress they find a lovely lady with a heart of darkness."
These days when I choose a Doc Savage book to read I look for titles to make fun of. Because I'm a Brooklyn Intellectual. I'm also more tolerant of the later books than I once was. I used to be literally offended these lazy efforts of Doc Savage not being Doc Savage existed in the first place. Now I have a better understanding of how these books were put together, the attention and creative spans involved, and the financial and industry imperatives that moved everything forward no matter what. I'm curious as to when the series first stopped caring about what was appearing in its pages and if anyone spoke up after that time about putting out a consistently good product with stories directly created for the title characters. And if there was even a practical need to do so. The unfilmed Arnold Schwarzenegger-as-Doc script wasn't a Doc Savage script at all, so it's not like endless time and millions of dollars means anything to an industry that may (sadly) know its audience all too well.
February, 1947's The Death Lady was written by Bill Bogart in 1946 from an idea he first submitted to Lester Dent in 1940. There's no science mystery or strange goings on - just a basic detective-action-adventure with a resolution that's neither implausible nor simplistic, while also being neither original nor overly interesting. The memorable offering of the book is a character named Mary English, who exists to be a perfectly marriageable mate for Doc Savage so that everyone can talk about it like Doc should marry her just because. An attempt is made at bedroom farce but since there's no sex in the Doc Savage world beyond references to dates with store clerks and getting engaged to a relative stranger at the end of an adventure, all you have is Doc being flustered to death having to share connected rooms in a hotel suite.
Doc Savage in this book is The Man Of Exclamation Points, which is not really Doc Savage but Bogart's trying to have fun with Doc's befuddlement mit die ladies so cue the slide whistle and strap yourself in for some light flustering:
As she told Doc just before they went aboard, “I'm not the famous personality you are. Most of my work as an agency operative has been done quietly and undercover. Nothing really adventurous has ever happened to me. Do you wonder I'm so excited?”
Doc said, “I'd feel better if you were a homely woman with buck teeth.”
“I don't believe that.”
“Well . . .”
She held his arm. “Darling, it's time to go aboard. Hurry!” She gave him the smile of a thoughtful dutiful wife.
Doc grunted something.
Monk asked, “How's the missus?” Doc attempted a strained smile.
“She sure is a honey,” added Monk. “I wouldn't mind being married to something like her.”
Doc growled, “But nobody's married!”
“I'll bet she would marry you, though,” said Monk. “She'd jump at the chance.”
“I always said,” Monk said seriously, “Doc needed a wife around. Of course, you'll find him a little hard to manage at times . . .”
The book flew across the room and barely missed the homely chemist's head.
“Out with you!” Doc rapped. Ham shoved his partner toward the door. “You heard what the man said,” he ordered.
“Good!” said Long Tom. “The only other detail will be your posing as Mary English's husband.”
“What!” exploded Doc.
Doc's not really Doc, but that was common by 1947. Monk and Ham's relationship is less annoying in The Death Lady and more of a healthy friendship, at least in the beginning. Later on they revert to children but for a while I liked how they interacted. Long Tom is the other aide to appear, and he's a major player, but it's obvious the role was written for Johnny but not carried through because of his big word imperative, which only works in tiny doses as a character affectation. Long Tom is not tall and he has no reason to be involved with lost civilization explorations. They did the 1947 version of "Find and Replace" and switched the names, which isn't as bad as "You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you?", but then again, what is?
A hip drug reference in a Doc Savage novel alert!:
Ham stopped. “No, look,” he said sharply. “One thing at a time. You saw something a while ago that's made you act like a guy on a reefer jag. Out with it, pal! Just what . . .”
Doc's a gun man in this one, which always makes me think the story was written generically and then adapted for Doc Savage. Another clue is this weird bit:
Someone's elbow caught Ham in the face. It stung more than a fist. It jarred his teeth and sent pain shooting through his skull. Right then he started fighting like a demon.
He managed to hang onto one tall, lean fellow long enough to get him down on the ground. He had an idea that Doc didn't want anyone killed. Just shake them up a bit to let them know who was boss.
In 1947 Ham only had a vague understanding of Doc's No Kill policy? Really?... Really?
The Death Lady. Yup, it's a Doc Savage novel. You can read it if you want to, and you can dance if you want to.
169 - Danger Lies East:
"War is about to break out in the Middle East — unless Doc and his men can stop a fanatic from giving the word to his millions of crazed followers. Doc’s quest to find the madman becomes a terrifying race to save the world from total annihilation!"
I'm finding generally positive reviews for this March/April 1947 post-WWII Middle East espionage tale, but to me it's another lesser effort starring one of the Bizarro World Doc Savages. Lester Dent, by this time convinced he'd left Goody Two-Shoes behind for a career in two-fisted adult detective fiction, found his replacement was coming up short on deadline and squeezed out another Doc himself post-haste.
Doc evolved from 6' (too short and they probably caught on quick) to a 6'7"-ish demigod, which I generally found fantastic except for the occasional excesses beyond peak human capacities. I don't recall exactly when Dent went the other way with a Doc Savage pestered by internal debates and lessened everything, but I do know that when WWII ended in 1945 the public wished to move from fictional super-heroes fighting real super-villains to something more positive, fun, and future-forward.
Blame for the latter-day barely-contained neurotic, half-ineffectual, skills-diminished, borderline has-been Doc Savage has to fall directly on Lester Dent's shoulders like poop in an aviary. No reading audience could possibly have demanded this. Reading the books now I can list ways to make Doc more conversational and "human", and none of them involves Doc shrieking dissatisfaction or talking like a smart-alecky gumshoe with a skid row-adjacent office. Doc could be easily evolved down but Dent either didn't know how or more likely didn't care and did it out of some kind of spite. Dent answered to editors at Street & Smith, and that they let this happen might parallel what went on in the comic book industry since day one, where quality would be nice but getting product on the rack on time is what really counts with forms of literature seen as lowbrow even by the people making it. Another thing about Dent - why was there no real consistency or continuity with Doc Savage?
The setup of Danger Lies East is gripping and terrifying post-war current events, with fears of new world wars involving Patton advocating invading Russia and the Middle East being the Middle East. What starts off as tenseness via imperative eventually settles into a meandering Lester Dent story that takes the long way home. The story could have used more efficient storytelling and less inner-mind meta-definitions. Either he was trying to prove he could write a distinctive type of detective fiction, or this is how he filled pages with words on mental autopilot.
Doc Savage in Danger Lies East is prickly, emotional, and morbidly creepy, as when he ships a corpse to someone in government as a retaliatory prank. His language skills are diminished and he's just barely keeping abreast with events as they unfold. The story could have used shortening to jettison scenes included for word-count.
Here and there Dent comes up with something noteworthy for its alluring oddness, as with these:
had once read somewhere that many of history's great men, or notorious ones, had
been victims of spasmophilia, which was a five-dollar psychiatrists” word
meaning a tendency toward convulsions. It had relieved him not a little to read
this. He himself had been addicted to tantrums when he was opposed, and it had
worried him. He feared it might indicate insanity. But this thing he had read
had tagged it with greatness, so he was no longer bothered. He had heard that
Hitler had frequently fallen to the floor in a tantrum and chewed the carpet,
and he understood exactly how the fellow felt. It was, Wickett supposed, an
affliction of empire builders, something that went with a certain type of
genius. He himself had constructed a petroleum empire, and he certainly had
occasions when he went completely berserk.
DOC SAVAGE did not fall after he was struck, but he came unhooked from reality. He stood there and his arms hung down. He couldn't think of anything particular to do. . . . Unexpected head blows had always held more terror for him than almost anything. There was a kind of black, abysmal, meaningless shock about a head blow that upset him. The moment of unexplainable surprise afterward was a thing of terror, like being pushed into a chasm. If you were knocked out, it was not as bad, although still bad enough, because unconsciousness would come quickly. But it was worse when you were dazed, and trying to get organized, figure out what had happened and why, and defend yourself.
Dent does well with these insights into Monk and Ham's situations, and they work nicely in the postmodern Doc Savage era he otherwise couldn't figure out too well:
The hairy ape's name was Mayfair.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, to give him his full title. He was
one of the world's outstanding industrial chemists, and had so been recognized
for a number of years. It was generally agreed that he was too contrary and
lazy to work at his profession except when he was broke or when he had strained
his credit with his friends to its utmost. His friends were wise to him,
so his credit didn't stretch far. The thing he preferred to do, and which he
did most of the time, was pursue excitement.
HAM was Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, and he preferred that no one call him Ham, including his friends. Everyone called him Ham whenever possible. . . . Ham was a lean, dapper man, an authority on clothes, and an example always of what to wear for the occasion. He was an eminent lawyer, often mentioned as one of Harvard's most brilliant alumni, but his attitude toward the practice of law was much the same as Monk's toward the practice of chemical engineering. Ham preferred excitement. He had better judgment than Monk with money, however, and was usually broke no more than once a year. He was also Monk's friend, in an evil-eyed sort of way.
Once again let's visit the inner dialogues of Clark Savage, Jr.:
dragged a chair over and sat on it. His knees felt a little too flexible. This
was not the first time in his life he had felt a fool, but it was certainly one
of the occasions. He was completely discomfited, and for a moment debated trying
to cover up, pretending to be more wise than he had been. He decided against it.
DOC SAVAGE, when he found Monk and Ham were safe in the hotel—this did not happen for some time—was knocked speechless by relief. He could do nothing but stare at the pair, then abuse them joyfully, after which he demanded what had happened.
Exactly half of this I like because it defines a post-Doc Savage Doc Savage in a workable context. Another one quarter I don't because I reject any hint at the hurt inner-child Doc Savage. The other quarter I leave up to you, Dear Reader, to comment on with permanent marker on your computer screen:
CLARK SAVAGE had always considered it a great misfortune that he was a big bronzed man who was as conspicuous in a crowd as—Monk had once put it this way—the fig leaf on a fan dancer. His noticeable physical size and muscularity had on more than one occasion nearly been the end of him. In another profession, it would perhaps have been an asset, but he could well do without it, and he made a practice of dressing as quietly as possible, in plain suits, and using a low voice and an unobtrusive sort of politeness. Too often, this was mistaken for spectacular modesty, and did no good at all.
Doc was also hampered by a reputation. He did not like publicity, and discouraged it whenever possible, with the unfortunate result that he was considered somewhat of a man of mystery. Consequently he was pointed at, whispered about, discussed at cocktail parties. And there was another end result of being thought of as a genius—when he was handed a job to do, it was usually something that everyone else had gagged on. He did not mind this. Trouble was his business. Trouble and excitement.
He was not a detective, although frequently his work was something that a high- grade detective would have done. He was a trouble-shooter and, regardless of whether it sounded corny or not, his usual object was to right wrongs and punish evildoers who were outside the law. This was a rather Galahadian motivation for what he did, and he usually denied such high ideals if they were mentioned to him, and certainly never expressed it that way himself. He had been trained for the work by his father, who had possibly been a little cracked on the subject of crooks, particularly of the international sort. Doc as a child had been handed over to a succession of specialists and scientists for training, and his youth had not been at all normal. But the results were remarkable, in that they had produced Doc Savage, who was supposed to be able to do anything.
Corpse Check Pro-Tip #1:
Ham went over and punched Trussman. He didn't like the reaction, and looked, somewhat horrified, at his finger. With great revulsion and difficulty, Ham Brooks forced himself to make one of the most positive tests for learning whether life is extinct. He touched one of the man's eyeballs. There was no sensitivity.
Spinal Tap Quote Intro:
They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover
Nigel Tufnel: Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean there's no...
Ian Faith: Sex-IST!
David St. Hubbins: IST!
Out of the blue comes this line: "Monk, who had seen her picture, said, 'I wish she were a little more sexy-looking.', followed later with:
She was a woman they had never seen before, a half-caste, but beautiful the way a Pekingese lap dog is beautiful. Some- thing to be kept, petted, and utterly impractical for anything else.
If you were hoping for creepy on a grand scale, howza bout dis?:
She had been a schoolteacher in Ohio, and lived a completely ordinary and dull life. She had known she had an Uncle Ira Crockett in the Mediterranean area somewhere, but she had not seen Uncle Ira in years, and recalled him only as a crisp little old man, full of chuckles and cunning little sayings, who had bounced her on his knee when she was twelve years old, and, she had thought, a little too big for knee- bouncing.
Pre 9-11 whimsy:
Airline passengers are expected to give their names, and he gave one. He gave a name. It was Alexander Trussman. It was not his name.
Doc wore a hat because that's what men did. Score another one for the pulp's filler artwork:
Doc asked, “The police find anything in Homer Wickett's office?” DOC SAVAGE had lost his hat somewhere in the house during the goings-on earlier in the afternoon. The loss had escaped his mind, but he thought of it now, and began hunting, and presently learned that a policeman had picked up the hat and tagged it as an exhibit in evidence. The officer retrieved it and gave it to Doc.
170 - No Light To Die By:
"An eerie illumination in the moonless night sky lights a path to destruction for Doc Savage — as the Man of Bronze must defuse the most explosive threat to mankind since the atom bomb!"
"That's oil from some of his bananas you're giving me”
No Light To Die By is not even the featured story in the magazine titled "Doc Savage" and dated May/June 1947. That honor belonged to an oddball character whose business cards read "No Address. No Phone. No Business. No Money. Retired". The other 1947 pulps led with Doc Savage adventures so this must have been an exception due to Gresham's fame the year before with "Nightmare Alley". According to the Sanctum reprint, Lester Dent had taken another break from writing Doc Savage stories and penned this one in hopes of jumping on the gravy train of a movie serial being produced with Doc Savage as much less superman and much more "science detective". Which never came to pass.
Another slight to Doc Savage is the first-person narration provided by one Sammy Wales, an average Joe drifter with hardboiled detective literary aspirations. Lester Dent is no Dashiell Hemmett or Raymond Chandler, so what comes out of Sammy Wales reads too much like desperation to always be cleverly gritty and honest. Bits like this were good:
"The carpet nap against my face was thick and soft and did not smell of dust. It was the first carpet my face had been on that did not smell of dust." and "You had to like the homely baboon. He was uglier than a mud fence. A mud fence would have looked like a piece of silk ribbon beside him. But it was an amiable kind of homeliness—you felt the same way toward him that you feel toward St. Bernard dogs, who also have faces which don't take beauty prizes."
Good lines pop up here and there but when others fall short they do so with a thud.
It's nice to get a different perspective on a Doc Savage adventure, one that's reliably objective and not written in narrative superlatives. The problem is that Sammy Wells is a bit of a douche and his prose is windy and scattershot. Cheese like this worked best with Johnny Dollar, the two-fisted insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account!
If Dent made Sammy more likeable and employed some humor in his descriptions the story might have been a success. As is, No Light To Die By is less about Doc Savage than a putz who thinks he's Sam Spade and won't shut up about it. On the plus side Doc's in control of the goings on and he gets things done with wealth, connections, and police support. On the down side what Doc does seems to be off in the distance because this is Sammy's stream of consciousness typed on paper.
The science is au courant circa 1947 but altogether not that exciting. A makes B happen but not when it was truly intended to do C. The payoff isn't accorded its due from the build-up. Possibly the appeal for readers back then would be in line with 1931's film adaptation of Frankenstein, where all you had to have was a dog-and-pony show of electrical sparks, large machinery with dials aplenty, and a Tesla arc
Which leads to what "futuristic" technologies would appeal to audiences today in a new Doc Savage film. You don't need to be futuristic from today but futuristic from the 1930s, done cleverly and presented as awesome to those experiencing it then. One example could be a small screen that reads thumb prints and allows access to a room.
YOU are about to read a manuscript written by a young man named Sammy Wales. Quite probably you have never heard of Mr. Wales. I certainly had not heard of him until quite recently when the incidents described in his writings occurred. Sammy seems to feel what happened was extremely fantastic and exciting. It was.
MEMO FROM THE DESK OF DOC SAVAGE:
To: Sammy Wales.
Mr. Kenneth Robeson, the author, advises me that you have written a first-person account of a recent adventure which brought you in contact with myself and my group of aides. He states that you intend seeking a publisher for this manuscript, and that you have refused to sell it to him. I disapprove of this. It is true that Kenneth Robeson has written a hundred and sixty-eight novels around the adventures of our group, but these were fictionized versions and in no way hampered our work. It is not satisfactory to me to permit publication of an account written by an unskilled outsider. I hope you will drop the matter.
[First and only reference?] I had the fortune, or misfortune, to receive an odd training as a youth. My father, victimized by criminals, imagined that he could turn me into a sort of modern Galahad who would sally out against all wrongdoers who were outside the law, and who would aid the oppressed.
THE telephone had a voice like a truckload of coal banging down a tin chute, straight into my ear. My head felt just about big enough to hold a truckload of coal, too.
It was probably a beautiful morning outdoors, for the sunlight stood through the hotel room window in bright hard bars and dust mice rode up and down them. I rolled over and took hold of the telephone very gently, before it killed me, and answered. The voice that came out of the receiver was as sweet as honey on ice cream. It said: “I want the moonlight man.”
The carpet nap against my face was thick and soft and did not smell of dust. It was the first carpet my face had been on that did not smell of dust.
“Who's the big copper-colored guy?” I asked another waiter.
“That's Doc Savage.”
“I know, but what makes him rate?”
“Boy, you're kind of ignorant, aren't you?” the waiter said, and walked off.
[Talking to Doc] “What do you want to know?” I gasped.
“Use your judgment,” he said. “As long as it's the truth.”
I didn't stop to figure out why I suddenly wanted to talk—it obviously wasn't a time for pausing to figure out reasons. Not that he was exactly threatening me. He didn't sound like one guy laying it down to another on a street corner, not a lawyer bulldozing the opposition witness, and least of all did he sound like a ballplayer mistreating the ump. He'd merely said I'd better talk, and I knew that was what I'd better do, if I didn't want them collecting me off the sides of the elevator with a putty scraper. I'd never had anybody scare me so much so quick.
[Talking to Monk] “I don't think I can lick you,” I told him. “But you call me a bum again, and I'll test it out.”
“Aren't you a bum?”
“Only to my friends.”
He grinned, and I was glad he did. I was going to hit him, and he would have ruined me.
[Sounds good whatever it means] There was an enormous ancient safe, a table of inlaid woods that was the most beautiful thing I'd seen in the way of tables, and no furniture that you needed to look at twice before you sat on it.
“Wilfred, you're fired!” said the good Doctor Hodges. “And I am going to kick you a good one in the pants.”
He sounded funny, the dignified way he said it, but at the same time as if his mouth was full of knives. He was an eminent-seeming old codger, quite likeable. And so help me if he didn't lead Wilfred out in the hall, and we could hear him put his foot against Wilfred's seat. It sounded like a good one.
I said: “That guy thinks he's going to lose his job. His wife is in a family way, and it might go hard on him.”
Savage was concerned. He told Monk Mayfair to send Edsing a note of thanks, and say that if Edsing would call so-and-so hospital, Mrs. Edsing would find her hospital services wouldn't cost her anything.
I asked: “Ain't that a kind of expensive tip for the reluctant favor the guy done?”
Monk said: “Doc owns the hospital. So what?”
"No Light To Die By" is short and worth reading as a change of pace and an effort that had potential but fell short.
171 - Monkey Suit:
"Why are people being murdered for a rented, moth-eaten ape costume? Doc and his crew battle to unmask the deadly mystery — and to keep a billion-dollar scientific breakthrough out of the hands of gangland gorillas."
July/August 1947's "Monkey Suit" was one of five Doc Savage stories written in the first person. You can read them all in the Bantam Omnibus #5 paperback or this one in #57 of the recent reprints. The sanctum reprint says nothing about it except that it exists, but the volume includes two illustrations from legendary illustrator Edward Daniel Cartier and an intro by Lester Dent not in the electronic version. It's as if he's addressing me directly:
"Recently, after having written some one hundred and sixty-eight book-length Doc Savage novels in the conventional way, it came about that a different sort of story saw print: A first-person piece, told by a narrator who was there. The reason: It was a manuscript told by an on-the-spot character who, while his prose might set Shakespeare spinning in his crypt like one of Mr. Mahdi's dervishes, at least owned authenticity. Well, to bob the tail of what could be a long explanation and put it briefly - here is another Johnny-on-the-spot narrative.
In this case, Henry-on-the-spot would be more apt. You may not like Henry. I can well understand how you would find him personally insufferable, and yearn to lodge at least one firm kick in his slats.
Anyway, no apologies for this different sort of a Doc Savage yarn. Just a rather grim expression and - as Henry gets it in the neck from time to time - a not too repressed grin. For Henry is, frankly, best described as that unmentionable southern part of a northbound horse."
Was Dent forced by his editors to passive-aggressively apologize in this manner or did he realize on his own the only thing a reader would experience is a blind hatred for the narrator? Mr. Henry A. E. Jones, D. Sc., President, Jones Research Laboratory, is a nasty, sniveling, petty turd of a man who lends no authenticity to the story because all he references is his own loathsome qualities. Shouldn't the narrator represent the reader in a way, or at least not be someone you want to repeatedly kick in the groin? There's no satisfaction when Henry gets his frequent comeuppances, both large and small. This is Dent's fault for focusing so hard on fleshing out Henry with obsessive thoroughness. Here's Henry at his worst:
"My mind is logical, accustomed to analysis and reason-grasping, so that it was clear to me that my growing disfavor in the lovely girl's eyes was not my fault, but due to the fantastic—and cheap, I felt—spectacularity with which this Doc Savage person and his stooge, Mayfair, were operating. They were not my type, and in comparison I suffered. In the long run, of course, Miss Farrar would certainly recognize my superior qualities. But the trouble was, I couldn't seem to compose myself for a long run. I was impatient. I wished to shine before the young lady, and shine now."
In a way Henry is the worst version of Ham Dent had in the back of his mind.
Doc Savage is shown to be awesome even though he does equally half of everything off-page. Monk is the only aide, and if you could only have one he'd be the best choice. "Monkey Suit", like "No Light To Die By", does present Monk in a more humanly realistic manner, considering his education, so at least there's that, and there's this neat bit which I've seen happen in real life:
"Miss Lila Farrar was waiting at a soda fountain, and a young gentleman had obviously been attempting to strike up an acquaintance with her. This fellow noticed me, and was not impressed, but then he saw Mr. Mayfair, and he literally fled."
The entirety of the story, even the title, is a MacGuffin. Dent wanted to flesh out a character he had in his head and "Monkey Suit" is the result. It's another interesting experiment and a wrong choice played out to the end.
172 - Let's Kill Ames:
"The Man of Bronze provides a beautiful con artist with an antidote for murder in Let's Kill Ames."
As with Terror Wears No Shoes (appearing a few months earlier in 1947), July/August's Let's Kill Ames would make an excellent later-period Doc Savage book if it were tweaked with the right fan-editing. It offers an optimal take on Doc Savage as a reasonably defined peak human crime fighter and it doesn't waste time or ask for a personal loan until Tuesday for a hamburger today.
Let's Kill Ames is one of five Doc novels told in the first person, this time by a leggy grifter named Miss Travis Ames. Doc doesn't show up until Chapter VI, a creative risk but Dent's efforts at writing from a female perspective are entertaining. Being a he-man I know the female mind as well as Dent and our boy Clark Jr., so I'm guessing Dent's best effort was to have her intimate repeatedly that men are marks and losers.
Two changes I'd make are: 1) Dent adds hard-boiled detective similes to Miss Ames' narrative at will, which turns simple sentences into run-on sentences and fails hard when it doesn't score high. When Dent doesn't have her think like a campy detective she provides intelligent, trustworthy, and straightforward narration. Her personality works better and makes more sense without the affectation. Take the very end of the book, where Ames tosses in a simile in the first paragraph and then doesn't for the rest. The word picture is less effective than straight first-person narrative:
So I had been pretty smart. I was the one who was going to use Doc Savage to rake the chestnuts out of the fire, then I was going to grab the chestnuts and leave him with a foolish expression. Sure, I had been smart, the way a cat is when it sticks its head inside the milk bottle then discovers that the head that went in easy won't come out.
I remembered that I had left my purse in the car. I went and got it and took a look inside. The two thousand wasn't there, and it wasn't too much of a surprise. I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn't say anything about my vanished profit.
And I didn't, and a couple of weeks later I got an awfully nice letter from a cancer research fund, thanking me for the fine donation of two thousand dollars. So I didn't feel too foolish.
2) Ames' expertise in chemistry is introduced in the middle of Chapter II and it comes across as a convenience to the story in the same way Daphne on Scooby-Doo is an expert on ancient swords because an old boyfriend collected them as a hobby. This bit should have been placed in the first few paragraphs with an explanation that she specialized in cons that fit her training:
In college, I specialized in chemistry. Afterward, I worked at it for a couple of years. I worked for the American Union Chemical Foundation until one of their dopey chemists perfected an improved production method for penicillin and was going to just hand it over to our employers. I had just about persuaded him to take the idea and go into business for ourselves when they fired me. They had a lawyer with bright ideas, too, but all they made stick was firing me.
Dent via Ames does a great job describing a fantastic Doc Savage doing great Doc Savage things in the post-Doc Savage era. Doc's not stone-faced and he's not contorting his face either for the benefit of the cheap seats. Check out the subtlety and effectiveness of this one sentence, "Savage smiled slightly. He had a nice smile." See, it's not so hard to not screw up Doc Savage! Here's more good stuff, and you learn a lot about Ames as a person in the telling:
DOC SAVAGE was alone in the dining room. There were thirty-odd other people eating breakfast there, but for practical purposes he was alone. He stood out like that. He wasn't twenty-feet tall and lit up with neon, but that was the general effect.
His manners were good enough. He
stood up and held a chair for me, and we exchanged perfectly normal preliminary
words. He was Doc Savage, and I was Miss Ames. But from there on, business
He listened to my story. He was considerably more than six feet, but with a symmetrical build that kept him from seeming that large except when you were close to him. There were several unusual points about his appearance, two in particular—the deep bronze of his skin and an odd flake gold coloring of eyes that were striking.
Toward the end of my story about the prowler at the door, my wording became a bit disconnected. I was making an unnerving discovery about him—I couldn't read him. This was something unusual, and not expected. He had the most natural of expressions, and it changed in response to what he was hearing—his face showed logical mounts of surprise, curiosity, admiration for my nerve, all at the proper times—but I had the feeling that it meant nothing and had no bearing on what he was thinking.
“Thought of anything you forgot to tell me on the telephone last night?” he asked.
Just like that. Not a word of follow-up on the prowler. No questions about how it felt to hear a fellow had been outside your door with a bottle of hydrocyanic.
“Any thoughts,” I said bitterly, “were scared out of me.”
“You seem very competent,” he
said, and proceeded with his breakfast, letting me draw whatever conclusions
I had heard somewhere that he was
afraid of women, that he didn't understand them; that, as a matter of fact, he
had a phobia about the point, and never allowed himself to form any kind of
attachments of that sort. Just because he couldn't figure a woman out. It would
be nice if that wasn't the hooey I was beginning to think it was.
Savage really did right wrongs, and he really was a present-day Galahad. This was a little hard to believe—he probably had an angle, and the angle must be good. Of him, I had heard the following: He was a remarkable combination of physique and mental genius. He had a source of limitless wealth. He had a group of five associates, all scientists, who worked with him either singly or together. His name alone was enough to inspire terror in any crook who really knew his capabilities.
On the other hand, I had heard: He was a gnarled freak whom nobody had seen. He was really two other men. He was a front for the F.B.I., and he was really the whole F.B.I. He was financed by the U. S. Mint. He was the U. S. Marines.
Some of the last—not all of it was spoken in jest either—sounded about as sensible as the former. I was quite curious.
He sounded like a sporting proposition.
I also enjoyed immensely these descriptions of Doc in action:
Savage went to Earman. He took
hold of Earman with the casual manner of a good forward taking the basketball,
and Earman seemed to try hard to do something about it and succeeded in doing
absolutely nothing. Savage sat Earman down in a chair on the far side of the
room. He did not appear to sit Earman down hard. The bottom split out of the
After I had found the water and was pouring it on Sonny Conover as directed, Savage came back into the room dragging J. X. Smith by the shoulders. Smith didn't look at all the same, wasn't worrying about it at the moment, but would later.
The title is the run's most whimsical, so an extra point for that too.
173 - Once Over Lightly:
"Sudden death turns a carefree vacation into a captive hell, as Doc races to prevent a terrifying transaction that could reduce America’s cities to radioactive rubble!"
“You'll want to scrub up, honey. You look like you'd been pumped here through a pipe”
The Sanctum reprint comes through with useful information on this Nov/Dec 1947 first person Mary Olga Trunnels ("Mote") adventure, with guest appearances by Monk and Doc Savage. The fourth (of five) first person perspectives printed in a row, Once Over Lightly is the leastest of the bunch but not by much. Mote is more likeable than the first two first-persons, which counts for something, but as with these others the effect is asking a non-writer to write detective fiction and they come back with a manuscript written too thickly and it's obvious they know little about detective fiction and writing in general. The payoff is supposedly street-smart verite, which Once Over Lightly confuses with observational ramblings by someone I didn't find all that interesting:
IT was quiet in the lodge bar now, and cool and semi-dark, rather like a sepulchre, for the day was done and a couple of hours of the night had gone, and they were having a party in another part of the lodge, which accounted for the bar being empty. A party. On the house. Everyone was there. The dead are dead, and the living must live. The bar was dank and still, a repository for me and my fears.
I moved my glass back and forth and it made wet smears on the table and they were symbolic of something or other, the mess things were in, probably. The waiter went past silently, like a ghost walking on eggs. There was only one waiter, and he would look at me each time he passed. He didn't seem to see me.
It's a valid question to ask if Lester Dent resented, hated, or ever liked Doc Savage. Did he name his schooner the "Albatross" because that's what he thought of Clark Junior? It was no secret he sought escape from the literary ghetto of pulp fiction, and he worked hard to get Doc Savage made into a weekly radio series. He also wrote for other publications and Once Over Lightly started as a submission to his agent in hopes of launching a glossy magazine series about two former WACS and their wacky detective adventures. It collected dust until it was time to submit another Doc Savage albatross, so inject Doc & Monk and foosh came a check through a pneumatic tube from Street & Smith.
I had no idea why the work was titled Once Over Lightly, an expression that means a hasty or superficial treatment or examination. From the reprint I learned Dent gave it that name to indicate his efforts to convert his own work into a Doc Savage story were barely made. The final product is happily not as bad as all that. Doc and Monk's involvement are fine and they come in and out of Mote's story with sufficient regularity. Did whatever Doc and Monk contribute to the story wind up further "fictionalized" in this first person telling? I asked rhetorically?
These first person novels were good for their outsider observations and some soft-boiled detective one-liners. Once Over Lightly is more lightly than overly in these regards, but at least it didn't try too hard and overstay its welcome.
Mote's special skills come from being an office worker in a detective agency for three years, making her a junior detective by association. Monk talks like a normal, educated person, and another of Dent's famous educated Indians who like to say "Ugh" makes an appearance. The bit with inheriting a half-wit person made me wonder what the hell was going on.
At this point the magnet for all the gaping interest appeared. He was a bronze man with flake gold eyes—that description sounds a good deal more casual than it should sound, probably. But that was all he meant to me at the time. A bronze man with flake gold eyes. I did notice that when he passed near another person or a piece of furniture to which his proportions could be compared, there was the rather odd illusion that he became a giant. Not quite seven feet tall, but almost. Otherwise he was just an athletic-looking bronze man with gold eyes. Striking. But nothing to fall over on your face about.
Help you?” His bronze face registered a great deal of astonishment, all for me. “Good Lord! This is a matter for the local sheriff. A murder. Why should I be involved? Particularly when I'm on vacation.”
He was big. I suddenly got all involved with trying to accept just how big he was. It wasn't just his physical size that I was feeling now, although there was plenty of that, without it being out of proportion, and without his being in any sense a physical freak—except that he could probably tie knots in horseshoes.
It was the intangible size of him that was flooring me. Because he was all that they said he was, and more. The way they had looked at him in the lobby yesterday, the awed way the phony Indian named Coming Going had spoken of him. Glacia's idea that I was a dope for not having heard of him—those were the things that had told me what he was. He was all they indicated. He was probably more.
“We've been watching Mr. Montgomery's party for days,” Savage told me. “We didn't want him alarmed. Monk will alarm him —which, incidentally, is my understatement for today.”
“Then you're all secret agents,” I said.
Savage snorted slightly. Quite a display of emotion for him. “Mr. Going might be remotely so classified. But I haven't been able to do anything secretly for years.”
I found out why he was interested in whether or not I had a strong stomach. The plane he had was a little two-place grasshopper affair, sixty-five horsepower, the pilot seated ahead of the passenger. A kite with an engine.
THE job had a snake in it somewhere. But two days passed and nothing happened and I was lulled into a condition that might be called somewhat puzzled peace of mind—the kind of an attitude where you don't think you'll have to swim, but you take your bathing suit along just in case.
Coming Going shrugged. “I'm not his historian. Strikes me you should have heard of Savage. How did you miss it?” He gazed at me with more approval than he had evidenced hitherto. “You seem to be a pleasantly ignorant wench. The type I admire, incidentally.”
She said, “Uncle Waldo is—is—” She gagged on whatever the rest was and arched her neck, all of her body rigid. She held that for a moment. Then she said, “His face—his brains are all over his face.”
I scraped off Mr. Montgomery's chicle and tucked the thing inside my frock where no one with good manners would find it.
If he doesn't answer, I thought, I'm going to exercise feminine rights and scream like hell.
Nothing in the rooms on the other side of the door made any more noise than a fly scrubbing his eyes, so I tried the knob.
Colleen came forward walking with lithe strides. She looked about as scared as a cat at its cream saucer. “It's Nell-the-girl-detective,” she said. “Well, snatch my girdle and call me unrestrained!”
There was urgency in Mayfair's voice. Not fear, but sick urgency. A quality that made my hair feel as if it was being combed the wrong way.
Somewhere somehow I had gotten the idea that Doc Savage never told a lie. Where the notion came from, I don't know. But it was a lie. There was no radio in the walking stick. Or maybe, the way he had told it, he had merely stated a hypothetical possibility so convincingly that it seemed truth.
Once Over Lightly is another harmless experiment in doing something different when you're not allowed to do something else completely. Its best feature is how Dent incorporated Doc and Monk into the story just enough to satisfy the requirements of both first person and Doc Savage.
174 - I Died Yesterday:
"The corpse of a young man in a beauty parlor, an ice pick, a camera, plants, chemistry, and Doc's meddlesome cousin Pat Savage all add up to a frightening plot-and an all-out mission to save The Man Of Bronze!"
There's a variety of first-person narratives and five Doc Savage novels are written from that perspective: No Light To Die By, The Monkey Suit, Let's Kill Ames, Once Over Lightly, and I Died Yesterday. This will be the fourth I've reviewed. So far there hasn't been an unreliable narrator but the stories offer different takes. Mundane drifter Sammy Wells in No Light To Die By writes like Street & Smith paid him to pen an overblown hard-boiled detective novel based on his adventure with Doc Savage. The imagery is over the top and forced. Let's Kill Ames runs along the same lines with less try-hard but it's also more interesting as the narrator is a smart female con artist, so you can read it from that perspective to have an opinion on what works and doesn't. Henry in The Monkey Suit is unlikable in every way and his story reads more like a confession to the police where they encourage Henry to incriminate himself. Where Sammy would be proud of his mediocrity and the intelligent Ms. Ames most likely wanting a re-write upon reflection, Henry can't stop being his own worst enemy.
Jan/Feb, 1948's I Died Yesterday is narrated by Pat Savage and functions as the pulp run's single opportunity to define and highlight this major secondary character. Portrayed in her scattered appearances as a pesky little sister in a house filled with boys you get a sense of who she is based on looks, familial personality traits, occupation, and assertiveness, but it's mostly surface. In I Died Yesterday Pat is relaying her story conversationally with honesty and a voice you can imagine is hers in everyday conversation. She comes up with noir imagery but it's not exaggerated and as a fully realized individual this is probably how she thinks and speaks. Lester Dent did a great job making her everything you'd want and expect her to be. The story loses steam and focus at the denouement, and two other things need to be addressed, but for the most part I Died Yesterday is a nice McGuffin of a tale that gives Pat a chance to shine.
The title's arresting even if it doesn't refer to anything in the book. D.O.A. came out two years later and "I Died Yesterday" works just as well. The tone of the novel is a veneer of coolness under which bubbles insecurity, fear, and confusion. Pat Savage runs an exclusive spa for rich society ladies and her reputation as a person of action has been gathering dust until danger appears at her door. She does what she can without involving her famous cousin as he will sideline her in a heartbeat, but in the course of action that eventually does includes Doc and Monk she proves herself more than worthy of a reputation that draws the rich to her business because she's a substantial person - a Savage family member.
Pat is effective with decisive actions and good decisions on the run, building in confidence but sometimes held back by never having run a show like her cousin regularly knocks out between meals. In a series of humanizing passages she also experiences the fears associated with near-death experiences and of not knowing what to do or what might be laying in wait around the corner. The book's major fault is not seeing it through to the end. A distinctly rote end battle takes place in the dark away from Pat, left crouched in a car hoping Doc and Monk make it all go away. She could have done something to help since she was proving herself right up until that point. She could have done something that impresses Doc enough for him to stop treating her like a nuisance. But, no. The book's second shortcoming is having Pat's assistant, Miss Colfax, provide esoteric exposition. There's a small payoff later but she comes up with this tidbit of knowledge for no particular reason:
“Exactly. He's a plant man—I mean plants that grow. A botanist, or whatever the word would be. You can start with that.”
“The word,” said Colfax, “might be phytotomist, phytobiologist, mycologist, dendrologist—” She stopped the big words, looked away fixedly.
Just because you date a botanist doesn't mean you become an expert on the subject just to have something to chat about. Doc Savage can be like Scooby Doo so I may have to take that back. Here Colfax should be asking questions of Pat, and Pat should be providing exposition. Why Dent chose this way is a stumper:
And now Colfax, so help me Colfax began a cool-voiced dissertation on her theory of how the goggles worked. She said, “They're effective on light of wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, ultra-violet or infra-red light or something like that. And the smoke is transparent to the light. You can see with goggles. . . . I remember reading that something of the sort was developed for vision—in darkness, not in smoke—during the last war.”
There I was sitting holding my teeth together so hard that my whole head ached. My fingernails biting into my palms. And Colfax was theorizing.
She added, presently, “But they would need a projector for light, wouldn't they? Where are they getting the infra-red light? Did they take a lantern with them?”
A third problem is that important and weirdly interesting secondary characters are introduced and built up nicely but only appear on the last page to say thanks. If you carry forward Pat's positive contributions, remove Miss Colfax's expositions, and make the effort to bring back Rich and Lucia Thomas for a middle appearance and a fully resolved ending, I Died Yesterday would be a consistent work and the citizens of Pulp Fiction Town would weep with joy.
The No Fat Chicks Rule was in full effect in 1948, enforced by wimminz no less!:
I walked on. I was just passing anyway. Miss Colfax was an iceberg, and she was hired to preside at the door and throw out fat women who thought they could just walk in and become customers. It was part of the system. To become one of our customers was a shade more difficult than being presented to the court of St. James. That was part of the service they got for the prices we charged.
Pat caters to rich suckers:
Our analysis rooms were like the settings they made for ten-carat diamonds; they were intended to emphasize the richness of the merchandise. Number Three was done in blonde mahogany and pastels of azure and dove, and it was calculated to make a frustrated customer feel that she had stepped upon the threshold of symphonic harmony with nectarian living; it was a room ambrosial with the muscadine vibrations of the psyche aesthetic and the body sublime—that was the way the decorator had put it, or words almost like those, and he had achieved something that would be about like that if put into words. There was a more earthy way of putting it: the room was guaranteed to impress over-moneyed, over-jaded rich-witches who were accustomed to being impressed. It did the job, too. We charged them fifty dollars for just being in the room.
Passages on Pat's reputation internal and external:
I began to think seriously of throwing him out the hard way. I'm supposed to be pretty good at judo.
“Would you like to go out head-first or feet-first?” I asked coldly. “We don't usually extend a choice, but you're beginning to seem like a special case.”
Stowing the family treasure in a handbag a little smaller than a valise, I went out to look for murderers.
The hired help, who were never called by anything as vulgar as hired help, watched me depart with a collective expression of hair-on-end. My reputation was on the upswing, I gathered.
Miss Colfax did not smile, and said, “Quite the contrary. I imagine some of them wouldn't be adverse. He's not bad looking.” Then she lowered her eyes to her hands and examined one of our best ten-dollar manicures. “I think they're looking forward to watching you throw him out,” she added.
“The hired help.”
“Oh, they are, are they? And what is behind that kind of anticipation?”
Colfax lifted her head at my tone and said, “You've got me wrong. . . . It's just that they've heard about you.”
“What,” I asked, “have they heard about me'?”
“Things. About excitement.”
“I'm afraid you haven't been living up to your reputation,” said Colfax quietly.
I told her that some others hadn't been living up to their reputation around here, one of them being Miss Colfax, who was supposed to brush off pests. I said I would brush off this pest personally, then we would go into the other matter, the one about maintaining reputations.
In 1948 Doc's abandoned his famous gadgets. Really? Regardless, Pat's been hoarding them for personal use and the ways she utilizes them are all highlights:
Doc Savage, earlier in his career, had shown a flair for creating gadgets which he employed in his adventures. He no longer used them as much; I sometimes suspected that was a phase of his life that he was trying to live down. Doc had explained it a little differently: “A man who has a good tool is inclined to come to depend too much on that tool, and if it's taken away from him, he's helpless,” he told me once. “I used to think that applied particularly to a man with a gun, which is why I've never carried one. Now I've concluded it applies to any mechanical aid, and so I'm not depending as much on tricky gadgets. A quick wit and a sharp mind are better. You can't be disarmed of those so readily.”
That was fine, if you could devote a lifetime to developing a quick wit and sharp mind, as he had. For the rest of us, who didn't have a tribe of grateful Mayans to keep us in spending money, gadgets were not to be sneezed at.
Personally, I had been grieved that Doc no longer made as much use of gadgets. His astonishing scientific devices, which he pulled out of his hat at the most unexpected times, had given him a great deal of color and a weird touch that I liked. His contraptions, and some of them were stunning in their ingenuity, were symbolic of Doc's wizardry. Yet he seemed determined to drop away from using them, and that spoiled a lot of Doc's special flavor for me.
The fact was, I'd made a collection of his past gadgets. Sort of a museum of them. I had enlisted his aides—principally Monk Mayfair, but the others had helped too—to assist in assembling them. I had a couple of hundred of them—and I didn't have near all of them, which gives an idea of Doc's prolific ingenuity—and I knew how to use them. I'd rigged a special room, adjacent to my office, for their storage. Someday, when I'm a doddering old lady, the Smithsonian will probably be very grateful for them. In the meantime, I had them, had learned to use them—and I intended to make use of them now.
Examples of how Pat thinks and speaks:
I knew, of course, that the vertebrae are the backbone, but the word myelin was only doctor's abracadabra as far as I was concerned. I asked him to explain that, and anything else he could get across in plain English.
I was after the gun fast. I was after it while it was still in the air, before it hit the shiny parquet hallway floor—after it and praying it wouldn't bang off a bullet in my direction when it hit the floor. It was an old gun built for simple business, and it had no foolishness like safeties.
“I'm glad,” said Colfax, shuddering, “that I don't have the sort of malady that makes one crave danger.”
“Without the disease, you'll never have the wonderful fever that goes with it, Colfax,” I said, and slid behind the wheel and drove the station-wagon away.
The inadequacy of what I could tell the police made me feel stupidly inadequate. Except for the sparrow and his dull shadow, I couldn't even be sure how many. Seven or eight? Ten? I didn't really know. There could have been ten, and certainly not less than six. The police seemed to think it was a pretty fair description of everyone, considering circumstances, but probably they were accustomed to the vague descriptions most spectators give.
Monk's small, squeaky, child-like voice had the same sort of distinction that a cricket has in a barrel. It didn't sound like Monk looked, nor did Monk act in keeping with Monk's reputation. Monk was an eminent chemist; it could be said without much exaggeration that he was world-renowned, but he had the manners and dignity of a fourteen-year-old hooligan from the wrong side of the tracks.
So I told Monk that a young man had walked into my beauty shoppe with an ice-pick blade in his back, and was going to die if Doc didn't do surgery and save him. I made it dramatic, coating the story with terror and tears—you could lay it on as heavy as you wished with Monk, because he was a sucker for any female. He would accept the most preposterous lie for gospel, if a woman told it to him.
Monk was a wonderful guy. He was direct and primitive, in spite of the ability as a chemist that had made him known worldwide. You never had to guess what Monk was thinking or feeling. He was discouraged now, and angry at his helplessness. He demonstrated his state of mind by suddenly kicking over a chair.
This was a cool scene:
“Pat! Oh my God, Pat!” He turned around and bellowed, “Somebody get a doctor, an ambulance!” His small voice was now big the way it was when he got excited. It was a circus calliope. “Get a doctor! This girl's shot and out of her head and—”
I became vaguely interested in a detached far-dreaming way, but there wasn't anything very personal about it. Some girl was injured—I was actually that far from it; I didn't seem much bothered about who the girl was. Just slightly interested, just barely enough to raise a hand and touch my face and notice how sticky it was, then bring the hand far enough from my eyes to focus on it.
The color red was on my hand, and if the color red can get into a scream, it was in mine.
Pat's famously large and heavy gun phallus:
I went into my office, opened a cabinet, and took out a family heirloom, a little more than four pounds of old-fashioned single-action six-shooter. Hoglegs, those implements of mayhem were called in their day. I had inherited it from my father, who hadn't exactly used it as a paperweight in his time. I could stick five matches in a crack in a fence post at thirty yards and light at least four of them with it, and that was my father's doing too. He had shown me how.
Doc's kind of a sexist, opinionated prick, ain't he?
“You may return to the practice of that refined piracy you call a beauty salon, young lady. . . . And just let me make one flat statement—you stay out of this, you understand?”
Pat has Doc Savage prestige envy:
THEY stood, a group of fifteen or so nurses and internes, in the little anteroom that was the professional entrance to the hospital. They were wide-eyed, subdued, expectant; there was not much conversation, and one interne was doing most of that—he'd seen the operation, and he was telling two other internes about it, his voice a song of breathless wonder. . . .
I thought: I wish they'd wait with bated breath this way to see me pass by. I wish that I'd done one thing in my life, just one, to make me worthy of that. And I turned and went back to the limousine which we'd parked in the sweeping driveway, and Monk asked, “Is Doc coming?”
“In a few minutes, they said.”
The amount of prestige that Doc Savage had—where it counted, with people with enough specialized skill themselves to understand Doc's skills—always awed me profoundly. It wasn't just a thing like being hero-worshipped; that sort of idolatry means little and tomorrow is gone. This was fundamental, sincere, and I don't think any of the hospital people loitering there envied him as much as they sincerely admired his ability. I know that people have worked a lifetime for just a little of what he was receiving here.
Pat on Doc and her family tree:
Impatience, presumably, is a sour taste that everyone has in varying degrees. Some bear it better than others. We Savages, I think, carry it poorly. I know my father was that way, and his father before him, our grandfather had been little inclined to sit in his log cabin waiting for the Indians to attack, but had gone out looking for them instead. A grand old guy. There were villages named for him all over the northwest.
The thing that would interest Doc Savage, and the only possible thing that would persuade him to let me come within a mile of him when I was even faintly tainted with excitement, would be an appeal to his Galahadish side. Doc would function as an angel of mercy, but he wouldn't even listen to me if I came with a ready-made package of trouble. He would welcome the trouble separately, if it was interesting trouble, but he wouldn't tolerate a package deal with me included.
Doc Savage led a wonderful life. His name could make men shudder in the far corners of the earth—the sort of men who should shudder, that is. Someone tried to kill him at least once a month. It was always the very best talent that tried, because the idea of going up against Doc Savage would scare a second-rater green. Doc was appreciated, too. He could, by making the mildest sort of a request, get unbelievable coöperation from any governments of the right sort. He did things daily, as a matter of course, greater and more exciting than most people achieve in their lifetime. He really did. He was my cousin, and members of a family usually underrate the accomplishments of the rest of the kinfolks. He was probably even better than I thought he was.
Doc Savage and I had our differences. Personally, I could use money, and I didn't mind chipping it off those who were heavily plated with it. Doc was independent of money. He had—and this was true, far-fetched or not—a lost tribe of Mayans in Central America who supplied him with fabulous quantities of gold, out of gratitude for a service he'd done them. That was the way Doc Savage was. A little unbelievable.
But the main difference, and point of dissension, between Doc Savage and myself was this first matter of liking excitement. Danger affected me in a way that was—well—a little abnormal, as I am sure it did Doc also. To me, excitement was a heady thing, irresistible, fascinating, drawing wildly at me. Not that I didn't have fear at the prescribed times. Whether it was a normal amount of fear, I don't know, because who can measure a thing like that in himself or herself? What do you use for a yardstick?
Oh, to sum it up, Doc Savage and I were bitterly at odds on one point—he wouldn't let me take part in the wonderfully exciting adventures he was always having. He called it keeping me out of trouble, because I was a girl. He was stubborn as a mule about this. He didn't even let me know when he was in New York part of the time, for fear I'd horn in on something.
Naturally, I jumped in whenever I could. Who was I to defy a family trait? It was too interesting not to defy it.
175 - The Pure Evil:
"Suddenly, a creature of pure evil has materialized in our world! Can Doc dive into the mysterious land of the occult to confront a demon -- before the demon ends his brilliant career?"
Mar/Apr 1948's contribution to the Doc Savage catalog is quite decent and surprisingly relaxed and competent, with shifts of narrative focus and the use of three assistants only when needed. Monk is on hand for most of it with Doc, but Ham and Renny are bit players who pop up on call. Its best feature is its lengthy considerations on metaphysical evil, which Lester Dent must have given a lot of thought to on his own:
It was, however, connected with the construction of human beings, and in the following way: People when they were born were equipped with a body, or the immature makings that would develop into a body. They were also equipped with less tangible things which can be lumped under the general heading of character—in other words, they had things in them that would cause them to be good people or bad people, regardless of environment. Environment was a factor, all right, because a kid who had crooks for a father and mother was rather apt to develop into a crook himself or herself, and nobody would be fool enough to deny that. But this was artificial. It was some carpentering that was done on character by environment, and just a misleading factor when one approached the whole matter of why some persons were evil and some weren't.
The answer to evil was one of the intangibles. Evil was something that the growing mind absorbed the way plants absorb the effects of sunlight. Where was it absorbed from? Well, that was what Mr. Morand had discovered after about thirty years of study and applied concentration—evil was abroad in the world just as much as sunlight is abroad. Or darkness, rather. Because it would simplify things to regard evil as the night, and the other nicer abstract mental qualities as the sunshine.
The Pure Evil opens not as a traditional Doc Savage story but a non-Doc thing focusing on Gail Adams, a good character, whose brother was the first to die in a locked-room mystery. Doc's first mention is in Chapter 4 and his first appearance the next. For a while after that the narrative focus is on her thoughts and experiences. Eventually the focus tightens on events set in motion by Doc, and Gail becomes more of a passive participant.
Monk is granted normal intelligence and conversational skills. Serving the Gods Of Expedience, Renny shows up in Chapter 10 to explain major plot points, and the unknown soon enough resolves itself in a flash where everything is seen or heard without the bad guys or the reader knowing. Which is fine as the story's appeals and strengths are in other areas and stand as a solid enough foundation for a more than decent book.
She saw him produce from his clothing somewhere a small notebook which seemed to have variously colored pages and assorted-colored sections on these pages. She watched him tear out different colors and shove them into the crack at the bottom of the door, then pick them out again and inspect them.
It dawned on her finally that he was making chemical tests for poisonous vapor, and that the slips he was using must be some variation of the old-time litmus-paper used for testing for acids and alkalis.
“I want the functioning of that light tested when we land,” Doc said. “If there's any doubt about my authority to request such a test, consult your operational vice-president.”
“Yes, sir,” said the puzzled captain. “I don't question your authority, sir. I happen to know you own a considerable interest in the airline.”
Doc Savage, who had hardly spoken—Gail had gathered by now that Doc preferred to learn by watching the effect the impulsive and blunt-mannered Monk had on others—Doc now suggested that Mr. Morand's story was interesting, and should be heard through.
[Surprised Doc's insanely Uber like this in 1948] Now Doc Savage had Gail outside. This was a second-floor office, the brickwork was sheer, the concrete sidewalk below suggested broken legs, and Gail felt herself swung into space. She still screamed. She was helpless to aid herself. They were dropping. It was an incredible jump downward, not less than twenty feet, but Doc Savage landed without too much jar, and kept Gail in his arms, an accomplishment that a professional acrobat no doubt would have considered adequate. Gail, looking back on it, rated it impossible.
“The competition in the spectacular has been pretty lively, but give Doc time,” Monk told her confidently. “He's a slow starter. In the last act, just before the curtain goes down, is where you get your money's worth from Doc.”
Gail remarked wonderingly, “You seem to know the city. You haven't asked a question about the route, nor taken a wrong turn.”
“Had a look at a map of the city before I came down here,” Doc explained.
Doc Savage's hand went up arrestingly. “Now wait a minute. I'm not in the habit of letting anyone hand me anything. They are perfectly welcome to hold it out for inspection, and then I decide whether I'm interested.”
[Monk, always the d-bag] “Delman Tremaine?” Monk asked.
“Oh, you know him?”
“Uh-huh. You say you dated him? He's usually pretty choicy about his girls.” Monk sounded more interested. “You're probably not a bad looker.”
“My brother died this afternoon and I'm hardly in a frame of mind to discuss my looks!” Gail said quietly and bitterly.
There was a silence. Monk Mayfair was evidently uncomfortable. Presently he said, “Go ahead with how you happened to call on Doc.”
“Unusual,” Monk said, “is a weasel word for Doc. In fact, I don't know that words would do justice to Doc. And that comes from a broken-down old chemist that has been associated with Doc for quite a while.”
“Look, Miss Adams, a telephone can be the next thing to a broadcasting station if the wire happened to be tapped or you were overheard. Do you think it would be smart to announce we were rushing to take the job, that it is the screwiest thing we've had come along in some time, and we wouldn't miss it for anything? Sure, that would be great. Our necks way out. Start shooting, anybody who doesn't like our company. . . . Oh, no! That kind of advertising begets trouble.”
Doc Savage told her quietly, “You'll get to understand Monk, possibly. To him, the shortest distance is a straight line, even through a brick wall.”
Monk told Mr. Morand ominously, “They make me count to a hundred before I get drastic. I'm on ninety-nine now.”
Dan looked at Gibble. Gibble was a fairly average-sized man who looked small, and a moderately neat man who looked sloppy. The color of his face, eyes and hair were all shades of sand.
Insurance policies didn't pay double in case of suicide. They just didn't.
Gail hesitated, then decided there was nothing to do but follow his suggestion. So she told the story, not using too many words, but putting enough to convey the full gist. Half-way through, the long-distance operator was asking for more money, but Monk Mayfair said something sharply—it sounded like some kind of company code—and after that the operator remained off the line. Monk Mayfair sounded interested.
Now the last passengers came aboard, the pilot and co-pilot passed forward into the control compartment, and the stewardess made the door fast. The usual white-clad lineman wheeled his fire extinguisher cart to a position near the port engine and waited until that engine was running, then went to the other engine.
If she breathed, she would die. The notion filled her brain. There was no room for any other thought. She was going to die here in the plane seat. If she breathed the stuff, she would die. If she struggled, there was the knife, and she would die anyway.
Now Doc Savage and Monk Mayfair had a conversation, using a language Gail had never heard before—a guttural tongue, not particularly musical, but not unpleasant either. She listened wonderingly. She had studied French, Spanish and a little Esperanto, but this bore no relation to any of these tongues, nor to anything she had heard before.
It was Morand's theory, formed early, that there must be something behind the idea of ghosts and evil spirits. The thing that had convinced him of this, more than anything else, was the fact that all tribes and races had such tales and beliefs. The feeling about ghosts was as prevalent as the feeling about religion, if not more so. Mr. Morand was not a believer in God as a spiritual force taught in the Biblical sense. He said frankly that he could never remember having believed in the regular God. But he did believe there was a scientific explanation for both God and ghosts, and since the subject had a fascination for him, he had spent his life so far in pursuit of the theme.
Doc nodded, reflecting that it was obvious. Morand was probably sane enough. But his preoccupation with the supernatural over the years indicated a trend of mind that had led him to this sort of thing. Sane? Well, maybe not exactly. But it was more a combination of neuroticism and criminality.
I found the intellectualism of The Pure Evil fascinating and expressed well by Dent. The quick resolves of both plot and physical action might have been negatives if they weren't effective, but the book had already accomplished its goals with style. For as long as it lasted the various locked-room mysteries were nicely handled. As Doc tells Gail Adams, "The more utterly impossible a thing seems, the more blatant the trickery, usually”, so as long as the answers are reasonable it's not the worst thing to happen that everything gets explained like tumbling dice.
176 - Terror Wears No Shoes:
"When one of his trusty crew mysteriously vanishes in the Orient, Doc’s investigation leads to a beautiful glamour-puss, a deadly virus, and a diabolical plot to poison America!"
Terror also gets no service because Terror wears no shirt. What a great cover. Whatever drug the artist was on was probably once sold over the counter. The title is completely random and unrelated to the story. The third to last of the original book run is a short (to borrow something I just read) "espionage thriller" with Doc, Frick and Frack, and Long Tom in the role of a lifetime. Reading this 1948 Cold War tale made me think about fan editing books because with a few changes this story is nearly perfect. Mainly I'd remove Doc's "Does this fat suit make me look fat?" internal doubt monologues and have the narrator stick to tangible observations.
The stakes are terrifying and au courant, and Dent imbues events with a blunt edge of danger and an eye-for-an-eye honor system. In the Doc Savage universe Monk alone periodically exercises a vindictive violent psychopath streak. In Terror Wears No Shoes a brutal code of control and payback starts from the top with Doc. No excuse needed but I'm reminded to post this perfectly executed piece of filmmaking from Director Robert De Niro and Star/Writer Chazz Palminteri:
If Quentin Tarantino made a Doc Savage film, Doc would be a lot like the Capo Sonny from A Bronx Tale, and his aides his crew.
The short length of the story is a nice break from the slower pacing of the full-length novels - the weaker ones padded with scenes in country homes and on decrepit boats that always begin with a slow approach and usually end with an explosion. I read this quickly and never thought the story was stalling for time. Dent gave his own writer's guide the day off.
Here's Doc Savage making sure no bad deed goes unpunished:
Doc Savage frowned. “That rascal, the Honest Pole, doublecrossed me. He told the four men to beat me up. To stop it, I'm almost afraid I had to appear a little too good in a brawl.”
Monk grinned. “I'd like to have seen that.”
“See if you can't arrange for something mildly unpleasant to happen to the Honest Pole,” Doc directed.
Monk nodded. “Can do.”
She nodded. “It was when I heard that our friend the Honest Pole had met with an accident.”
“Accident?” His face was as enigmatic as hers, but he was wondering what Ham Brooks had done to the Honest Pole, and whether it wouldn't have been just as pleasant for the Pole to have let Monk do it.
“Accident,” she said, “spelled b-l-a-c-k-j-a-c-k. According to my information, the Pole will not look the same again.”
“Let's hope not.”
She frowned sharply. “You're cold-blooded.”
“Me?” He feigned astonishment.
“Matter of fact, I don't even know the gentleman, do I?”
Oh Monk! Not only does he break the helpless guy's jaw, he makes a mental Post-It to come back and do something even worse:
Canta and Monk reached the dropped man. The latter was still conscious. Monk leaned down and took care of that with a fist blow that shaped the man's jaw differently. “That guy,” Monk said with satisfaction, “had been trying to elect himself as my executioner when the time came. After he wakes up I'll be back and give him another treatment.”
Et tu, Long Tom? Beating semi-conscious men on the head with a table leg?
Long Tom Roberts finished lining up the prisoners, tying those who seemed to need it, and prolonging the unconsciousness of those who showed signs of reviving, using for the latter purpose the leg of a chair. There was no fully intact chair in the cabin, and no other piece of furniture that was quite like it had been before.
Best ending ever in a Doc Savage book:
But he had trouble with the suitcase. It was locked. He couldn't seem to remember where he had put the key, in which pocket. He got a hand stuck in a pocket in hunting, and tore that pocket out, and then tore out another pocket, fell on the contents that scattered on the floor, and got his key. He unlocked the suitcase.
Canta pushed the chair at him again. He kicked it away. He had the suitcase open. He scooped out currency, a dozen of the membrane-wrapped packets, and hurled them in Canta's face. She screamed then again, the most genuine scream she would ever give.
But it seemed that the membrane was a protective wrapping. Because Makaroff began trying to open the packages. He picked at it ineffectively with his fingernails. He started to try his teeth, changed his mind about that, and again fell on the floor, pawing in the litter from his pocket, seeking his pocket-knife.
He was doing that when Savage came in and took him by the throat.
While not especially a fan of the Monk vs. Ham squabbles, I enjoyed the casual efficiency of this:
The homely one addressed the overly-dressed one as Ham, and was in turn addressed as Monk. That was the extent of their civility. They began quarrelling, not as men who really had a deep-seated grudge, but more as a matter of habit. They spent the next forty minutes thinking up insults, and the dapper one unjointed his cane, which proved to be a sword cane, and while continuing the squabble, freshened an application of some sticky drug which was applied to the tip of the sword blade. He made no comment about the cane, and Monk did not seem to think it was extraordinary, hardly noted the operation.
Here's a Fail in the story. How do you say "Washington Smith" in Mayan when that name's supposed to be a secret, and then why switch back to English and say Long Tom's name when that's also a secret?
Monk said, in Mayan, “We
exhausted the last possible clue as to the identity of Washington Smith today.”
Doc Savage dropped the Mayan and said in English, “Well, we've got to find some trace of Long Tom Roberts somehow.” He said this as if it was the matter they had been discussing.
Some background on Long Tom, with an excuse for not including him in more stories:
He thought of Long Tom Roberts.
His associate. One of the small group of five specialists who had worked with
him for a long time. Long Tom Roberts was an electrical engineer—and that was
merely a statement of Long Tom's profession, not his ability. The man was an
electrical wizard. So fantastic as to ability in fact, that he had been one of
those few dozen men who had vanished mysteriously early in 1942, been heard of
not at all during the whole course of the war, and only reappeared a few weeks
ago. In short, he had been top secret like the big bomb and a few other things.
But Long Tom Roberts had missed even that. Long Tom had gone into top-drawer seclusion looking his normal anemic, thin, sickly, probably-fall-over-in-the-next-breeze appearance. He had come to the light of day again twenty pounds heavier, tanned, looking as if he might whip a fourteen-year-old kid—quite robust for Long Tom—and declaring he'd never felt worse in his life. Which was probably true, because he'd developed a stomach ulcer. His anemic system wouldn't have supported an ulcer before.
Doc Savage, maybe literally a "man's man" and freaking out about it?:
She took him deviously, very deviously, to a geoow-lee'en-dee on Fung Street, and he was a little embarrassed. It was a hairdresser's place that catered to wealthy native and Eurasian ladies, and he didn't feel at ease there. The parlor where they were closeted was too effeminate in the cloying Oriental fashion for his taste, and he said so.
I enjoyed Dent's political directness, a nice change from the vague generalities of the series as a whole:
“The money,” said Makaroff easily, “will be paid through the usual channels to our cells of workers and fellow-travelers in the States. Such payments have been regularly made in the past. The American F. B. I. is aware of this, knows most of the agents to whom it is distributed, and will happily watch them as it has before, believing that a full check is being kept on our American operations.”
“Our workers in the States will distribute the money—”
“They won't know. They'll just spend it. They spend it like water anyway.”
“Then they'll die also!”
“Why not! Of what real use are they? They've failed in their work of converting the United States to our way of government and our philosophy of human economy. Why shouldn't they be punished.”
Hulk like book.
177 - The Angry Canary:
the mountains of India, Doc and his crew battle a madman genius whose
frightening invention can doom the entire human race."
July/August 1948's The Angry Canary is a first draft in need of another go-round and a polish, but all-in-all it's a good Doc Savage story and Doc himself is exactly who he should be both in the post-Ubermensch era and today in a film if you want Doc to be more verbal and "expressive" - the latter in quotes because you (meaning me and so should you) don't want Doc slap-happy or unprofessional. The story opens strong with a long and entertaining scenario of two working schlubs manning a package check-room in what is Grand Central or Penn Station. A canary cage with two birds in a perpetual state of mutual hate is sought by two customers with no claim-checks, and the story takes off from there.
What the story needs most is a more exciting and complete battle climax. There's a good sequence that leads to the good guys getting into the house where the evil machine is situated, and then the scene (and basically the story) ends with:
Monk threw two grenades through the door, winding up like a baseball pitcher. The house thumped in all its stones from the impact as they let go. No more eggs came in the shattered door.
A moment later, a fresh salvo of blasts sounded outdoors. They had the typically nasty quality of grenades. Ham had found a way to the roof.
There were a few erratic rifle shots. Silence.
“You don't reckon,” Monk said wonderingly, “that this is all of it.”
Strangely enough, it is. There's no reason for the fight to be over, but there you have it. Show's over, folks. Lester Dent could have finished the fight so the bad guys are defeated or killed by their own actions, and he could have worked in the machinery to be a potential catastrophic event that needs to be neutered. Nope.
Another item left unfinished was Doc taking Audrey's shoes to leave a false trail. Why her shoes? To switch them with special moccasins Doc fixed up special for science detecting! Fine, but then why leave a trail of her shoe prints? No reason. If Doc thought her shoe prints would mean something to the people trying to kill them I can see a point to it, but that's not the case. This can be corrected by having Audrey's husband see the prints and thinking it's her being away from the others, thereby letting his guard down.
Ham and Monk are "dating" the same woman, Audrey, a poor man's or desperate rich old man's Betty Boop. At a younger middle age she could have been played by Cyndi Lauper. I knew her inclusion on the journey meant something but I thought it might be comic relief as a sad commentary on Monk and Ham's dating lives. On an annoyingly regular basis they hit on the pretty-lady-of-the-month, but they also fight over the same fetid pool of local talent. Ham, for all his money, looks, education, Harvard accent, fancy men's club and fancier clothes, is a bottom-feeder when it comes to women. Monk trolls women with masochistic self-esteem issues because what else does he have to offer besides insincere interest and the hope of Death By Boyfriend, but you'd think Ham would be as snobbish and high end about his choice of female companionship as he is with summer waistcoats. One more note re: Audrey is that Dent should have mentioned earlier how she came to know Monk and Ham. Doing so would help the conspiracy angle in hindsight. As the story progresses Monk works up a good hate towards Audrey, and here's the relevant Monk as abuser quote:
Monk contemplated Audrey's rather plump throat, and it occurred to him that his fingers would fit around it very nicely, and willingly, too.
The story has a lot going for it, especially how Doc Savage himself is handled. It works perfectly for what the character possibly needed at the time. Too many of Dent's other efforts failed hard.
In assorted tidbits, the US population in 1948 was 140 million and the world topped out at 2 billion; where's the second half of that torn thousand dollar bill?; what happened to the second bird?; have you ever heard this sound "And Audrey near tears was like a kitten drowning"?; "Neurenergenics" is now spelled "Neuroenergetics"; Doc's little steel grapple hook on the end of a knotted silk cord makes an appearance; and radiation helps with detective work but leads to balding and early death.
Doc does well in The Angry Canary being everything as advertised in the Ubermensch period but loosened to be more of a regular person without coming anywhere near average. He's comfortable speaking and words leave his mouth with authority and intelligence but with less monumental import hanging over each thought. If someone's worried Doc Savage is too stingy with words to be a film hero - well, shut up, because Batman and The Punisher and Mad Max. If you want Doc to be more verbal you can't go wrong with how Dent has him here:
Monk found Doc Savage in the laboratory, which was the largest room, composing over two-thirds of the skyscraper's eighty-sixth floor, that lay behind a library containing Doc's amazing collection of scientific tomes. Monk asked uneasily, “Our little fuss bothering you?”
“It was shaking the whole neighborhood,” Doc Savage said briefly. “Female trouble again?”
“Yeah,” Monk admitted sheepishly.
“Audrey,” Monk muttered.
Doc Savage's metallic bronze features remained expressionless, and he said thoughtfully, “Do you fellows know what is going to happen to you sometime? You're going to get so interested in one of these competitions that some blond fluff with dark blue eyes is going to ring one of your fingers.”
“How'd you know she had dark blue eyes? You never met Audrey,” Monk demanded.
“They go with peroxide, don't they?”
“I think I should resent that,” Monk said. “What makes you think we might get hooked?”
“Because you'll be so busy watching each other, you'll forget to watch the girl.”
After a vague glance at Audrey, one that held no recognition for the blonde, Miss Prince resumed staring at the floor. She wrinkled her forehead repeatedly. Then she lay back, determined to wait for her mind to clear.
“Good idea. Wait until your head stops ringing,” Doc said.
“It isn't ringing,” said Miss Prince dully. “Its full of fog, or mud, or something.”
“You're on a plane. A big one. A Trans-Atlantic airliner. We're cornered in the rear part of the ship. A number of men, including a Kelvin and a Mr. Plott, control the rest of the ship and are flying it. Likewise, they are trying to kill us.”
Miss Prince closed her eyes again for a moment. “I don't,” she murmured, “think I like the joke.”
“It's true, anyway. The stocky man is Monk Mayfair, a chemist. The slender one is Ham Brooks, an attorney. Both men are associated with me. The lady is Audrey, who came along for the ride.”
“The ride,” said Audrey bitterly, “is one I won't forget for a day or two.”
Miss Prince stared at Doc, her dark eyes open wide. “You wouldn't be Doc Savage?” she asked wonderingly.
Doc's 1940's introspection is sometimes horribly self-defeating to the legend of Doc Savage. In The Angry Canary you know what's going on inside but Doc doesn't wallow in self-doubt or stare at himself in an internal mirror staring at himself in a mirror staring at himself:
Doc said, “It is,” and walked away from the cab, and away from the car, which was empty. Parked, too, near the terminal building itself. He stopped in the shadows, and used his pocket radio in an effort to raise Monk or Ham, but there was no response. Bothered now, more wrapped with the grim feeling that things weren't going well, he scowled at the terminal. What had he overlooked that he should reasonably have done? The canary that Jim Presse had taken? He might have searched for it. But he was still certain, as sure as he'd been back in Jim Presse's room, that the canary was in the possession of the man he had met on the steps.
In a space of time so short that Doc could feel it in the pit of his stomach, they came to the point where Doc had separated from the others. They over-rode the trail there, shouting, and gave Doc a ghastly few minutes when he imagined his side-trail hadn't diverted them. Then they bobbed into sight, fanned out again, riding hard, following Doc's phony trail. He waited long enough to count them. They were all on the false scent. Excepting, of course, those who didn't have mounts, and who had remained where the plane was now a darkened carcass that leaked smoke.
He watched Plott, wondering if the man was the mind behind this unpleasant and improbable thing, and he concluded presently that Plott was. The conviction, held back half-formed in his mind for some time, loosened and stood full-bodied, an ugly thing. He regretted bitterly the fiasco in New York. It was preposterous to be trapped in the cabin of a plane and hauled off to India, and do nothing to prevent it. He believed he saw, looking back, two or three possible moves they might have made, either toward escape or aggression. He had thought of these at the time in each case, but they looked a great deal more workable now than they had then. Probably lying here alone in the dusk with trouble all about had something to do with the hindsight optimism.
Too, it occurred to him that he was worrying, so he stopped that. To flatly say, All right, stop worrying, and make it stick—that was one of his better abilities.
Rub dirt in it, walk it off, and save the world. That's what Doc do! The last line is great:
There was music above, small seductive strains that was more a mood than sound. The compartments had plastic doors, solid panels of lightweight stuff that looked like weighty glass doors but probably weighed a couple of pounds apiece. He gave each little room a sharp glance as he passed. He saw no one he knew. Nobody seemed scared by him. Neither fact meant anything.
This is a job for Doc Effing Savage. Fan pandering at it's best. Monk tells Ms. Stupid who's who. Sweet touch with his foot going through the wall in his efforting:
“Sorry.” Combination locks, the sort which opened by twirling a little numbered button, were tough. Doc added, “Get down on the floor as much as you can. The seats will stop handgun bullets.” He rolled over once more, and laid hold of the handcuff links which fastened Monk's wrist to the seat arm-rest. “Let's see how good stuff they put in the chain.”
The blonde, Audrey, said thinly and shrilly, “You can't break those in a million years. Monk tried.”
“Thanks, baby,” Monk said. “But I'm just an ordinary strong-boy. I need two hands to straighten out a horseshoe. Now watch the real thing.”
Everybody was speaking with the casual air of the fellow in the dentist chair asking, “Is it going to hurt, Doc?” But even that sort of composure was unexpected from a baby faced blonde, so Doc filed a fact for future guidance. Audrey, in a crisis, became about as soft as one of the diamonds she wore.
Doc set himself against the chain. He had good purchase for pulling, except that one foot presently went through the rear bulkhead. Then the seat arm-rest gave. It came out, literally, by the roots.
“I don't believe it,” Audrey said, wide-eyed with amazement. “A ten-ton truck couldn't have done that.”
Grit is added to how Doc's truth serum works:
The man stared with wordless intensity at the needle. He watched Doc Savage show him the label on the container which had held the ampoule, and a thin mist appeared as by magic on his upper lip. “You can't shoot that stuff into me! It's illegal!” he blurted, using a voice considerably more high-pitched than the one in which he'd last spoken nearly an hour ago.
“It's illegal, he says,” Monk remarked. “Now that's reasoning for you. He only shot at me a couple of times.”
“I think he knows what it is,” Ham remarked. “I suppose he should, at that. A couple of national magazines have carried stories about its hypnotic qualities on the human mind.”
Monk went over and stood behind the man, remarking, “It may be illegal, you potlapper, but you're going to talk your head off in a minute or two.”
Suddenly he seized the man from the rear, pinioning his arms, clamping him to the chair.
The man screamed. “That stuff's dangerous!” he shrieked. “I read where—oh my God, no! Don't!”
Doc Savage had his left arm now, and Ham his legs, and the man's howling clawed at the busy silence in the room for a few moments longer, then began to change in quality. The drug was quick, and would produce fairly complete anaesthesia in hardly more than twenty seconds. But it was not anaesthesia Doc wanted, so he checked the flow carefully. He glanced at Ham, said, “Begin feeding him questions. You've done it before, and know about the results to expect.” And to Monk: “Set up the wire recorder, in case there is something that might interest the police.”
The following half-hour was a monotonous matter of applied effort, livened only occasionally by a gem of pertinent information. Since the man talked in a twilight state, his mind free of conscious control, there was dullness spotted with bursts of hysteria, and the whole was incoherent as to form. Only Ham's steadily repeated questions gave it a plan and progress.
Lester Dent dissertates (12 Scrabble points) on Doc Savage's status in a post-Uberman world and has it both ways:
THE possession of a reputation had long ago saddled Doc Savage with a few handicaps. Out of somewhere near a hundred and forty million U. S. inhabitants, not each one had heard of Doc Savage, but the percentage who had was respectable. Impressive, too, considering the care which Doc had taken to avoid publicity, or at least notoriety. Since the scientific genius of the man, his startling physical ability, and his unusual Galahad-like occupation of righting wrongs and punishing evildoers, was not unknown in quite a few odd corners of the world, perhaps the total terrestrial population of around two billion two hundred million should be considered in the percentage table. The point was, that out of a number like that, there were sure to be screwballs to make life irritating.
Doc Savage's work, the righting of wrongs and punishing of evildoers whom the normal fingers of law enforcement did not seem to be able to grasp and crush, was itself enough out-of-place in a currently war-cynical and distrustful civilization to make it a subject of disbelief, and on the tongues of the ignorant or disillusioned, of ridicule. That sort of thing perhaps had been believable in the days of Galahad, but it had become as unfashionable as tin pants, rescuing damsels in distress, and knighthood in general.
In plain words, the gag had been worked to death. Charlatans had used it. Too many politicians had instigated wars to save humanity, until it was becoming pretty clear that what the world needed was saving from the leaders who were continually getting control of the masses. The world was getting wiser, or at least more cynical, about the whole saving business with its iron curtains and goose-stepping. Do-gooding was out of style these days. A guy was supposed to have an angle. And if the angle wasn't at once apparent, the thing to do was be disbelieving and hold an air of ridicule.
Doc Savage's “angle” wasn't apparent, and for a pretty good reason. He didn't have one. He did good, righted wrongs, punished evildoers, did scientific work so completely for the benefit of humanity as a whole that money-minded corporations, or publicity-minded “foundations" wouldn't finance it, and the only return he received was inner satisfaction. It was well that he expected no other return, too. Satisfaction was frequently all he got.
Doc Savage was a man of fantastic feats and good deeds and taking return only in satisfaction had not made him a meek nor an impoverished man. He was a spectacular person. Physically, a giant bronze man with hair a little darker bronze and strange flake-gold eyes that could be sympathetic, firm, or scare the hell out of a wrongdoer, he could do things with sinew that were not quite believable. Mentally, he was a phenomenon that a biographer would find hard to make convincing. A man simply didn't accomplish such scientific or psychological feats. It was a difficult fact to sell.
178 - The Swooning Lady
"Hot on the trail of two million in diamonds, Doc is caught in jungle treachery by ruthless thugs, head-hunting natives — and a lovely lady with cold-blooded murder on her mind."
“She's hungry,” Monk muttered. “She's had a hard day swooning.”
Book #178 of 181 is a digest-sized adventure that never leaves New York City and serves as a nice, simple story played out in real time. The first chapter is excellent and it keeps going until the middle of Chapter 3 where the humanized Doc Savage's inner contempt peaks out its head and portends six more issues of diminished Doc Savage stories - cut short by the series getting the axe in the summer of 1949. The Swooning Lady was the Sep./Oct. issue of 1948.
The shortcomings of the story can be easily remedied. Polish the infrequent but grating Doc-as-agitated-and-sometimes-self-loathing-uber-everyman elements and that diminishing nonsense goes away. Tighten up the last two-third's production note material and the story will flow and be better. It'll be even shorter but additional scenes with the charismatic criminals Juan and Jolla would make for an excellent replacement. The lady in the park swooning is a great piece of whimsy, and Doc's interactions with the police more interesting than usual. Ham's not a major player but Monk is very good as a literate and conversational version of himself. He nicely cuts off Ham's childishness with this bit of dismissiveness:
MONK MAYFAIR, feet on the inlaid desk at Doc Savage's headquarters, looked up from the ghastly crimson necktie he was admiring. He held the tie aloft for their approval. “Bought it just before the stores closed. Pretty sharp, eh?”
“Utilitarian, anyway,” said Ham.
“What's that mean?” Monk asked suspiciously.
“Well, if you get your throat cut, it's certain no one would notice any difference.”
Monk grinned. “You're usually funnier than that. Say, I hear there was a rumpus uptown. Maybe it had something to do with the swooning babe. Think I should investigate?”
Ham and Monk are broke and once again I wonder why Doc doesn't pay them a salary since the book states he owns the Empire State Building. Richie Rich's friends were depression-era hillbillies but that's a comic book. Doc Savage was a real Wold Newton person.
He did notice, though, that she glanced at the tires when she was on the sidewalk. She needn't have bothered; that was all taken care of. One tire was flat. This taxicab was part of Doc Savage's working equipment, and a very special job. You could punch a button and flatten a tire any old time—inflate it almost as quickly, if that was necessary.
[Doc's gadgets not perfected] “By the way, that's the new type of contact lens you are wearing to change the color of your eyes. How do they work? Do they have the drawback of the old ones, the pigment in the plastic cutting down vision efficiency too much?”
“They're not too much improvement,” Doc confessed.
“The bait we're hunting is in the heels of the shoes Ham Brooks is wearing. A radiant substance—merely a couple of small pieces of the proper metal that have been placed in an atomic pile and energized. Radium would have the same effect. Give off emanations. In the heels of Ham's shoes, as I said. The stuff is dangerous—the radiations, that strong, can give a severe burn if exposure is over an appreciable interval. For protection, the energized bits are enclosed in metal shields—not lead, but a more effective shielding alloy which Doc and I developed about a year ago. The rubber heels—really metal with a coating of rubber—were the caps Ham wore for safety. He'd managed to tear them off.
His clothing was his armament, his gadgets. An example was a pencil which he now used. It was a pencil, all right, but also other things, including, when he stripped the sections out to full length, a telescoping tube.
[The humanized Doc Savage] “Huh? You're uptown here?” Monk was dumbfounded. “What's the idea?”
“Things were slow, and this seemed interesting,” Doc explained.
“Oh, you got a look at the babe too, did you?”
Doc said dryly, “We're turning east on Fifty-ninth Street, if you care to join the procession...
THIRTY minutes later, Doc Savage was back on the radio and in contact with Monk again. “I must have a hole in my head today,” Doc said bitterly...
Doc smiled unhappily. “Of all the causes for a man making a fool of himself, impatience is probably one of the first. Let's grant that. I was impatient. In short, why not learn what is supposed to happen when Miss Morgan swoons for Roxborough.”...
It meant something to Juan, too. Instantly—and right here Doc Savage began to have a low opinion of the efficiency of the contact lenses, deeply blue in coloration to disguise the spectacular gold flake of his eyes—Juan had a blackjack of his own in hand. He swung it with skill and speed. The left side of Doc's head seemed to depart with a crash; he was vaguely aware of the hard dark feeling of the path pavement against his hands...
The conversation was particularly irritating to Doc Savage because it was carried on during the climax of as vicious a hand-to-hand encounter as he had ever experienced. Not that they had damaged him greatly. But it is almost impossible, as he had known, for one good big judo man to do anything with two good little ones. The whack on the side of the head was no help, either...
SELF-DISGUST had now built up into quite a lump inside Doc Savage; it was unpleasantly in his face that there had been too much bad luck in the last few minutes. Tough breaks did not come that many to a package. This was the kind of thing earned you by stupidity, poor planning and over-eagerness...
“If you can't follow any other instructions, at least stay there!” He said it angrily.
Now Doc removed the contact lenses. He threw them, with a rare venting of sheer impotent rage, as far as he could. Nearly trapped by one of his own gadgets, he thought bitterly. Then he crawled a few feet, got behind a tree, and took a chance on a look around.
Doc Savage got up and set out after the two polite—and capable—men and the girl. Passing the thicket where the policeman had gone, he saw the officer sitting there, service revolver in hand.
“Hey, you!” the officer yelled. “Stop!”
Doc said, “Take it easy, Grant,” and then when the officer raised his gun, added, “Grant! Detective Squad, the Twentieth Precinct. Don't be a fool!” The gun lowered a trifle then, and a moment later Doc was out of sight.
Doc sat up and pressed the starter and the engine began turning over. He looked at the policeman; the latter wrenched angrily at the door, which wouldn't open, then gave the window a blow that should have shattered it but didn't. Doc said wearily, “You think I got time to argue, Stevenson? You think that?”
Roxborough grinned thinly. “I had always heard you were a man of great culture, a scientist, a mental wizard, Mr. Savage. The impression I have now is that of a common thug. Does that interest you?”
“Need I identify myself?” Juan asked.
“It's not necessary,” Doc said grimly. “And let me tell you something, fellow: If my friend Ham Brooks is harmed, you and the rest of your outfit are going to regret it right into eternity. And don't underestimate that threat just because you seem to have been rather successful in South America—”
“I'll do the talking—”
“And you'll do the paying if Ham is harmed,” Doc snapped. “I make a threat very rarely, about once a year as a rule—”
[Doc saying something "bitterly" is a low point] “Will you,” said Doc bitterly, “keep it a little lower.”
Ham, having been too busy for some time associating himself with the adventures of Doc Savage, and neglecting the law business as a consequence, was short enough of funds to be money-conscious.
Ham Brooks, lying on the grass a short distance from the path, decided to get up. He seemed to make the decision very carefully, then placed both hands on his head, lifted the head with some difficulty until his face was off the turf, and with more of the same care, endeavored to rise. The downfall of the project came when he thought it necessary to release his head in order to convert the use of his hands to getting himself erect; when he did that, the weight of his head jerked him back to earth.
Mr. Mayfair's headache, a trivial affair that had resulted from absentmindedly sniffing the wrong test tube in the laboratory yesterday, was more irksome to him because it carried no pleasant memories of a night out on the town, than for any other reason.
[Weight down from the usual 250] “I resent the little part,” Monk said. “I weigh two hundred and thirteen pounds without my fountain pen. What if I am five foot five? You think it worries me?”
[Shades of Lou Costello] He was wearing his usual ghastly yellow necktie. She jerked this tight, flipped a knot into it—he couldn't breathe. He was wearing his favorite hat, the one which looked as if it had been used frequently to fight bumblebees.
“Forty bucks a day,” Monk said. Monk's financial status was currently similar to that of Ham, so forty a day impressed him. “The swooning business is profitable.”
SHE used a way of walking, arms held rigidly down and a little out from her body, shoulder-blades twisted back, that made it seem she might be impaled on something. Impaled, meaning the way a butterfly would be on the point of a needle.
Nice-looking. Undeniably nice-looking, not flashily dressed and not cheaply either. A trifle over average height, generally sweet honey in coloring, and, as to figure, the very best of everything in the right places.
She walked like that for a few yards, then went a little faster and got up on tiptoes in an unsteady way, and it seemed a very fortunate thing the lamp-post stood just there, where she needed it.
Mr. Monk Mayfair's interest was, by this time, well stirred.
 The path at that point was near an entrance to the park from Central Park West, which was an avenue walled with apartment houses where the rent for two rooms was five hundred dollars a month and up.
Miss Dannie Morgan looked at them. She was well into the Kansas City steak, and she chewed and swallowed the piece she was currently working on. She did it gracefully, and it was done along with some rage, so it was doubly graceful.
“Acting is a little like cab driving—you don't have to be screwy to do the job, but it helps.”
Captain Scoffield held one, then two, then three fingers in front of Doc Savage's face, shouting, “A policeman shot in the shoulder, the park filled with loose bullets, the front end knocked out of a store! . . . You know what the brass downtown said? 'Scoffield,' he said, 'Scoffield, Doc Savage is one of the most effective enemies of crime and criminals in the world today, and you damn well better give him every assistance.' Okay, that's what the brass said. Now, you know what I've got personally to say?”
She nodded up at him. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I have—the police—I think they're still on the wire—” A small voice that came from somewhere else, apparently. She was at least fifty and a ghastly example of what peroxide and cosmetics will do when mixed with terror.
Dannie thought for a moment. “The ocean,” she said, “is fairish-sized. I don't see that this helps us so much.”
“It's a lot better,” Doc said, “than nothing.”
“So what? If we kill them, they will not care then. If we do not, then they will take us. Savage is a man who either dies or wins. I have heard that of him. In the latter case, will we care? To be tried for one more murder. What difference?”
Juan had been having a ghastly time trying to decide which way his knife should go; now he turned, ogling Doc Savage, and suddenly threw the knife. He used the underhand delivery best for short range; the knife did not turn over in the air, but traveled point-first and sliced through the bronze man's clothing, hit the bulletproof mesh undergarment Doc was wearing, and bounced visibly.
The Swooning Lady contains a number of nice touches and observations, and it deserves to be cleaned up and tightened down. There's no mystery deaths, fantastical hidden valleys, or masked mastermind who talks through a toilet paper roll to disguise his voice, but the fanciful opening, interesting bad guys, and good female day-player Senorita Oristezza make this a title that's not bad as you read it but better as you think back and consider what can be done on the cheap to make it even better.
179 - The Green Master
"In a secret fortress high in the Andes, Doc and his crew are enslaved by a race of extrasensory super-blondes who worship a strange green stone with a life of its own!"
“Because your council, like a lot of intellectuals, hasn't the gumption of an idiot in a practical matter”
The Green Master headed in the direction of a return to form to the old Doc Savage format in the midst of anything but, like a breath of fresh air in a fart factory. It was the third to last issue dated Winter of 1949, in the short digest size. The opening two-thirds is easily some of the best written Doc Savage you'll find. It sputters and falls apart somewhere in Chapter 8 (of a 12 chapter story) as Doc, Monk, and Ham (the rest warrant no mention) are flown to a remote section of Brazil by members of a lost civilization who can control others with their minds, with the exception of anyone holding a piece of green meteor that conveniently fell in the region where the ability of mind control is possible. The Green Master works until it doesn't.
A nice opening chapter continues its tone for a long time and an uber yet more conversational Doc Savage is presented as a viable upgrade from the stoic Doc of old, answering the question of how to make him more verbal for the radio or screen:
Doc asked the bellboy, “What's your name?”
“Fred,” the boy said miserably.
“Sit down, Fred,” Doc told him. “Sit down and relax. You did what I would have suggested you do. Don't worry about it.”
“Hold your breath,” Doc said.
“What?” said the bellboy.
“Hold your breath.”
“I don't understand,” said the bellhop in wonder. “What happened to that guy? What dumped him like that?”
“It's too late now,” Doc told him.
Monk mostly speaks like an standard educated adult, which is how he should be, and Ham is his usual obnoxious self. Ham = Zachary Smith. He's the worst.
Everything's chugging along on all cylinders until Dent decides to describe his last "lost world" in excruciating detail while talking around things in long passages instead of talking directly about them:
[Layout] Doc discovered what he meant. They entered a narrow channel in the stone, and this became a tunnel, now wide and high enough for upright walking. This proved to be a false entrance, merely a way through a ridge of stone, through a great fold of flinty material that at some time long ago had dropped off the face of a much greater cliff above them, leaving an amazing overhang. Once through, they turned to the right, on a path now. The path dipped into a stream and out of it and on, but each man, coming to the stream, turned to the left walking in shallow water. The water was not cold. It had a faintly perfumed quality.
[Fashion] FOLLOWING the unpleasant man, and trailed closely by the swarthy guards, Doc noticed—and was fully impressed for the first time—the oddness of dress here. It was not fully traditional Incan, which had made considerable use of robes woven from rare bird feathers for ceremonial occasions, but it certainly wasn't what one would find anywhere else. The footgear was a stout shoe affair rather than a sandal, suitable to the rocky going, but clumsy looking. There were shin guards covering the knees also, worn only by the swarthy guards, and short skirt affairs of cloth, no two of which seemed to have the same color pattern. Topping this were capes, affairs which could be draped so that they were no longer than waistcoats, or worn full-length swinging to the knees. These were leather, embroidered, and decorated in some cases with exquisite spangling of what seemed to be pure gold and silver. There were a few jewels, all semi-precious, flashy but not particularly valuable in the outer world. The slaves all had crock haircuts, the hair was simply cut off at the ear level, with bangs a little above the eyebrows. The blond men all had rather modernistic crew haircuts. The effect was bizarre, and Doc felt some surprise that it had not affected him as so before.
[The Mind Control Thing] Now he began to ask Auca direct questions. Monk didn't understand at first why Doc went back to the origin of the “whammy,” back in the historical picture—about seven hundred years ago, apparently—when the first blond man, who was probably not a blond man, had come up with the weird ability to wield a steel-band influence over his associates. Then, abruptly, Monk understood why Doc had done that. The discovery had been an accident. A man, a primitive Incan, a profound thinker probably, had discovered the secret. He had, additionally, understood something of the process, which made it a great deal different.
Doc told Ham Brooks, “You see the difference? Many a man in history has stumbled on the secret of influence to some degree—Genghis Khan, Mohammed and many religious leaders. Most of those men gained their place by connivance and violence, but it's hard to deny they had a mysterious quality of power. But the difference is that they probably didn't know what they had, only thought they were great men, and had no idea how to develop and pass along to others the use of their accidental possession. This fellow here in the Andes, seven hundred years ago, was luckier than the others. He began to grasp how it was done.”
“Put the stone back in the safe. You know how the trick lock in the safe works?” Doc asked. “The one that supersedes the combination, so that no one can open it but myself?”
THE little radiophonic pickups—they worked on the same principle as the oscillators which enable some types of record players to reproduce music through home radios without connecting wires—were on four slightly different frequencies, but Doc had equipment for monitoring them simultaneously.
Doc nodded to Monk, who went over to a panel of controls and pressed a series of buttons, noting whether lights showed green or red—they were all green—as a check on conditions upstairs. Any forced doors or windows, anyone concealed in the library-laboratory-reception room suite, or prowlers in the hall outside, any of these would have shown on the warning indicators.
They were in the special elevator, traveling upward quietly. The lift, an experimental model using pneumatic power rather than the conventional cable mechanism, was capable of terrific speed. Monk, showing off, gave the control a slight extra touch, and the effect of inertia took their breath.
[In the lobby of Doc's building] Doc Savage moved to an inconspicuous spot, a telephone booth which had one-way glass in the door, and waited there where he could watch without being seen. The booth, kept perpetually unoccupied by an out-of-order sign which was never removed, had been prepared a long time ago and used a number of times.
Once each three months for a couple of years now, workmen had been carefully repainting the inside of each door that opened into the shaft of the private elevator used by Doc Savage, without knowing that the paint, which rubbed off readily on contact, contained enough radioactive substance to activate a detector device at a distance of several feet.
“I don't know how to open the darned safe, now that the trick lock is on,” Monk reminded.
“Get a magnet out of the lab, an ordinary electromagnet, and put it against the floral design on the safe door, starting with the left red petal in the rose, and following the stem up and to the right, then down the stem. Then grasp the handle and turn. That should do it.”
[In later years Dent went out of his way to repudiate the Galahad angle] Doc Savage's profession—it was not as much of a Galahad affair as it sounded—was righting wrongs and punishing offenders who seemed to be untouched by the law.
Doc was one of those men who—he considered it a great handicap—looked fully as unusual as his reputation. He was a physical giant with a startlingly bronzed skin, hair a little darker bronze, and eyes that were like pools of flake gold always in motion, a rather unnerving effect. He had a handsome face, but its handsomeness was a matter of angles and strong lines, which he felt redeemed it somewhat.
[A rare memorable line from Doc] The bellboy looked at Doc Savage as if he were inclined to class the bronze man as a screwball also. “Not that I've noticed. Say, who are you? You look familiar, somehow.”
“I'm a fellow trying to get five dollars' worth of information,” Doc said pleasantly.
He listened intently, frowned, and wondered at first if the apparatus was out of kilter. The language they were speaking was only about fifty per cent understandable to him. That, to an individual less trained than Doc, might not have been extraordinary, but he had imagined he had at least a conversational familiarity with almost every spoken tongue.
[Dent had walked back Doc's universal celebrity] Doc was identifying himself to the policeman downstairs. The officer, the patrolman on the beat, was confused enough to listen to advice. He had, fortunately, heard of Doc Savage.
“Enough things have happened to me,” Doc said quietly, that I'm not too quick to disbelieve.”
Doc did not have much faith in Monk's ideas of good-looking females. Monk leaned toward cultivated and obvious beauty.
There were a few things about the honey-blondes that puzzled Monk. Traffic lights seemed to confuse them. They showed a somewhat comical fear of cars; they crossed streets with about the same air that they would ford an alligator-infested stream. Not that it wasn't all right to be wary of New York traffic. But they overdid it.
Doc Savage made no comment. As far as he could recall, neither Monk nor Ham had spoken a pleasant word to or about each other for years, and it could get a little tiresome.
He swung from the door and picked up the telephone. The operator downstairs was near enough hysteria to make it difficult to get information out of her, but he managed to draw a general idea of what had happened.
There had been several men—the telephone girl said twenty, so six or seven should be a fair guess—in the raiding party.
“You have a power,” he said. “I'm not sure I like it.”
“I haven't used it on you,” she told him.
“I'm glad you didn't.”
“I could have,” she added. “But it is better not. It would destroy your confidence. I need your confidence.”
Doc Savage pointed at a chair and said, “Be seated, and take it easy.” He said this in the Incan language, after some difficulty thinking of the words.
She nodded and sat down. Two seconds later, she had a double-take on his use of the language, and shot to her feet.
Monk gave Ham a look, and received one in return. With slight persuasion, both would have jumped out of the car.
“Do you? Let's find out. What would you do if you were called in on a thing like this?”
Doc said instantly, “There would be two answers to that question. First move would be: Keep the wrong people from getting hold of what I'm really beginning to believe you've got.”
“And the second move?” she prompted.
“To see it properly safeguarded, put to the best use, and its benefits directed to the best interest of humanity as a whole, rather than any special group,” Doc replied.
She suggested, “You might consider my people a special group?”
“That,” Doc said, “couldn't be answered now. But it might come out that way.”
She nodded. “That's what they feared.”
The Green Master deserves a new last third that falls in line with everything the other two were getting right. The exposition is endless and the denouement a wordy obfuscation. These can be easily adapted to the tone of the rest of the story. The defeat of the bad guys is an afterthought. These too can be remedied. The green stone being a magical nullifying meteor is weak. Definitely a classic if repaired, and it should.
180 - Return From Cormoral:
"When an eccentric young millionaire suddenly starts predicting the future with unerring accuracy, Doc has to find out how and why fast — because the next prediction is of his own death!"
"You fellows use some coffee? I brought out a thermos. And some moose sandwiches. You like moose?”
The next-to-last Doc Savage adventure was a quarterly publication dated Spring, 1949. It wanted to be the best of both worlds with 30s and 40s elements combined to make Doc Savage more regular-guy conversational yet still thwarting big schemes of major import. Return From Cormoral is ultimately about uranium and bad guys trying to get the rights to it from underachieving nice guy MacBeth Williams, heir to a 500 million dollar estate of major industrial holdings. This book is a middling experience that should have stuck with the strengths of its opening half.
The last act gets caught up in the procedurals of flying planes and doing stuff to defeat the bad guys holding Ham hostage. The latter was never in doubt and the aviation material was about as exciting as a blow-by-blow account of making a bologna and cheese sandwich. Not that it was handled boringly, but 180 books in the zeitgeist of Doc Savage had firmly moved into espionage and detective work, and Return From Cormoral was chugging along nicely as a small and relaxed tale of con-job hocus pocus in the name of a financial swindle. It moved along so well on its own small scale that the Canadian uranium switch felt like an easy-out that traded explosions for the maneuvers of intrigue.
Doc is presented as fairly semi-retired both as a scientist and adventurer, and he carries with him an "old federal commission" he hopes is stall valid, like an expired coupon:
surgery and scientific research could hardly be called his main occupations any longer.
“I don't hunt excitement for excitement's sake. Someone has to be in trouble, deserving of help, and beyond the assistance of the normal processes of law. And the case has to be unusual and interesting. Those are the qualifications.”
His involvement with MacBeth Williams initially reads like a consulting psychiatrist taking a vacation in sunny Miami, and Doc pulls the strings of his investigation with all the outward excitement of someone sitting poolside holding a mixed drink. A nice feature is that the hook of William's prognostication skills is quickly seen to be a scam, and Dr. Austin Ulm is so blatantly the mastermind Doc comments on it directly:
Austin Ulm whistled. “My boy, you're beginning to cook with gas, as they say.” Ulm sounded excited and awed. “It's all right to play around with who is going to win at a crap table, but it would be a little more worthwhile if a business deal involving a million or so was the stake. Macbeth, that's what I've been saying. Why waste this thing you've got?”
“It's pretty clear something unpleasant has happened to Miss McGuiggan,” Doc told him.
“The hell it has! Crikeland and Swanberg are nice guys, and I resent your suggestion!”
“He's awfully difficult at times,” Macbeth said apologetically.
“A trifle obvious, too,” Doc added.
The book's opening chapters are written in a stodgy and stagy style that made me think everyone was talking with a British accent. This phases out once Doc Savage gets involved and I wonder if the opening was written long before what later followed. Doc lives in a series of Manhattan hotels, never staying long enough to attract notice.
“But you let them go!” Ham blurted.
Doc nodded. “Each with a plaster cast on his arm.”
“Containing,” Doc added, “one of the little radio tracing gadgets we spent so much time developing, one secreted in the thick part of each bandage.”
Doc Savage removed three rather bulky and heavy equipment cases from the plane, and the two men helped him lug these to Macbeth's rented car. Ulm, who seemed to have a large bump of curiosity, asked, “What's in this case? It's heavy.”
“Two-way radio,” Doc told him. “I usually carry a set powerful enough to keep in contact with my associates in whatever part of the world they may be.”
THE jet had not been in the air more than a couple of minutes, and Doc Savage was adjusting an experimental contrivance which, if he ever perfected it, would enable a radar signal to distinguish between certain basic types of metals at a considerable distance. The gadget, for military purposes, would be quite convenient; metallic ingredient in a paint applied to a plane would afford instant identification as enemy or friend at a distance of a hundred miles or more. The only problem was that there were plenty of bugs in the thing; the principal one at the moment being a reflective dispersion of the reflected signal, the bounce-back, which rendered the gimmick highly undependable at a distance of more than fifteen miles. It was marvelous up to about fifteen miles; beyond that, it was a headache.
His work—surgery and scientific research could hardly be called his main occupations any longer—was a profession for an inconspicuous man. Preferably an invisible man. Certainly a bulletproof one. It also fitted back into history, back when knighthood was in flower and gentlemen wore armor, possibly a little better than it did into the middle of the twentieth century. His work was righting wrongs and punishing evildoers, preferably under unusual and interesting circumstances.
“I'm not,” Doc reminded him, “a practicing psychiatrist.”
“I know. You're a practicing adventurer.”
“You've got it a little wrong, Williams,” Doc told him. “I don't hunt excitement for excitement's sake. Someone has to be in trouble, deserving of help, and beyond the assistance of the normal processes of law. And the case has to be unusual and interesting. Those are the qualifications.”
[Well written] Doc Savage, going backward and down, believed he was hit somewhere in the chest region. In fact, there was not much doubt, because in a moment the shock localized in the central chest area, a logical part of him for it, since that was the largest target he presented. When he was down, partly of shock and partly of his own accord, he turned and, reaching and stretching, was able to strike the door with his hand and get it shut. That closed off the light, such of it as did not come from the moon...
He got up then, not erect, but lunging forward and to the right, then the left, with one hand exploring in some alarm about the center of his chest. He could feel the bullet, a small thing to have kicked him so hard, lodged and misshapen against the chain mesh of the bulletproof undershirt he was wearing. There was some padding under the chain mail of the best alloy metal that chemist Monk Mayfair had been able to create for such a purpose, but not enough padding, because he had some apprehensions about a rib or a breastbone being broken. But after he had gone a short distance, he decided nothing was cracked.
“You can depend on us to be the souls of caution,” Monk assured him.
“Your idea of caution,” Doc said dryly, “frequently stands my hair on end. Try to be a little conservative this time.”
Hallucinations,” he remarked, “are one-man dogs.”
Gridley began screeching. He let out one hysterical howl after another, charged with terror and emotional instability.
About halfway into the third squeal, the telegraph office filled briefly with a much louder noise, and Gridley's forehead changed shape very slightly and the back of his head considerably more.
[Yeah, but Doc should have tossed them a few dollars when they were broke because they were working with Doc to save the world on a continual basis] Monk and Ham were excellent aids, and he was fully aware of it. Both men were eminent in their professions; Monk was widely known in the industrial chemistry field, and Ham Brooks was a noted lawyer. They were not—and Doc was fully aware that this was an important matter—employees in a salary-drawing sense. Their association with Doc was voluntary. They liked excitement and high adventure; they were pushovers for the appeal of the unusual. It was a better bond then any material payment would have created.
The car drew away. The white suit was a faint blur inside it. Doc Savage, with no car available, seemed defeated, but then luck touched him. A car drove into the street from another direction, occupied by someone bound for the club. It slowed and the driver hunted for a place to park where he wouldn't get stuck the tip that was mandatory in the club parking lot. When Doc, running hard, reached the car, the driver looked up, startled. There was a girl with him. Doc said, “I want your car to chase another car. Quick. Don't argue.”
The driver had a considerable quantity of jaw and it snapped up and thrust out. The muzzle of a gun followed it. “No, and you better not argue either. I'm Springlatch, Miami police department, detective first grade.”
“That's fine,” Doc told him. “Now catch the car if you can. Ask all the questions you want to, while you're chasing it. Better put the girl out, because our friend is free with a gun.”...
“All right, who are you and what's the scoop?” Springlatch demanded.
Doc told him. Essentials. His identity. The fact that white-suit had fired on him. “There's a silencer on his gun, a pretty good one,” Doc finished. “So don't expect noise. Incidentally, I have a special commission from the Miami police department, if it's not outdated, and if it is, there's a federal commission that should serve.”
“I've heard of you,” Springlatch told him.
SWANBERG had removed his beard. This had left his face mapped grotesquely in brown and white, and he had attempted to dispel some of the oddity by coating the white with suntan make-up. The effect was slightly bizarre, but he had a lean face that was handsome in a cold way.
[Nasty recurring sadism found in Doc Savage] Swanberg had intended the remark for humor, but it hadn't been, and both were silent. It was Crikeland who leaned over and struck Carlie's jaw a hard blow when she began to show signs of reviving.
Doc Savage is a good Doc Savage in Return From Cormoral. The setting never should have left Miami and the plot should have stayed with bad guys trying to trick MacBeth Williams into believing he had psychic powers so he would take ownership of his inheritance and be ripe for plucking with bad investments and other frauds. Once uranium came into the picture the charm of the book imploded into another treasure "thing".
181 - Up From Earth's Center:
"A shipwrecked lunatic, a mysterious cavern, and a plump little man with a fear of fire lead Doc on his strangest and most legendary adventure ever — straight to the gates of hell itself!"
The last Doc Savage adventure didn't know it would be the last, but Summer, 1949's Up From Earth's Center ends on a high note with Doc descending into "Hell" and screaming in mortal terror. He's been everywhere and done everything, so as Doc himself points out, "That's one place I haven't visited as yet." This is the most effectively scary writing you'll find in all of Doc Savage:
Clawing its way to Doc's feet, the creature clamped its paws about his ankles. "Help!" it gasped.
Suddenly, Doc screamed, probably the first shriek of unadulterated terror he had given in his lifetime. He kicked wildly at the creature, which had buried its bony claws in his legs.
He fought madly The thing began to climb up his body, sinking clawlike fingers into his flesh, reaching upward for another handhold. Doc slugged, pitched about; with ghastly persistence, the thing clung to him getting nearer and nearer his face. Then the creature was at his throat, trying to drive small blunt teeth through the skin. Doc stumbled and fell, conscious of the thing gnawing, gnawing like a vile rat, seeking his jugular and his blood.
The tentacles of the creature that embraced him, indeed the thing's whole body, felt spongy and slimy, and about it was the odor that Monk had noted, the sickening odor of fear. It seemed to have, except for its ability to remain fastened upon him, no real strength; he felt its teeth gnawing madly at his throat with a futile desire to eat.
He remembered then about their fear of flame. His hands were free; the creature seemed to have no desire to pin his hands. He fumbled insanely in his pockets, found his cigarette lighter and thumbed it into flame. Instantly, the repulsive thing flew away from him, covering many feet in one leap, and flattened itself against the broken stone, wailing with maniacal terror. Doc Savage sprang to his feet, more filled with fear than he had ever been, and began running. He did not look back. He had no desire to look back.
He climbed until he was spent, shaking, and then continued climbing, until the pounding exhaustion brought some return of clear thinking. After that, he kept his eyes open, and at last chose a place where his final grenade, judiciously placed, would bring down a great section of cavern roof, choking any channel below.
You have to read the whole thing and then ponder it to have any opinion on the book as it is and does things commonly not found in Doc Savage. Lester Dent has it all three ways by having it be a gas dream, a real descent into Hell, and maybe a bit of both. In all prior cases Dent went with "Science!" or "Science!" applied to fantastical sci-fi fiction, but here he lets whatever he's written stand on its own for your consideration. The reader doesn't know everything and they're not supposed to, and Dent does a very good job laying it out.
Doc is obtuse, impatient, shows disapproval, sighs, and says things "Dryly" ("in a matter-of-fact or ironically humorous way") thirteen times. The last word before "THE END" appears at the close of the last Doc Savage novel is "dryly". Doc also does sarcasm: "I see," Doc Savage replied. "Well, if that is your story, stick to it."
The general tone of the story is gripping, eerie, and a bit disorienting by design. Dent manages to maintain the vibe throughout without it becoming overbearing. Monk is broke. Ham's along and Renny warrants a name-check as an absent plot point.
Mr. Wail, a pint-sized edition of Santa Claus who faints at the sight of fire, is one of the series' best characters as he's taken at face value and allowed to remain that way. Here's his best lines that work out of context:
"Shout?" said Wail bitterly. "You can refer to such a noise as a shout? I can assure you that no man ever uttered a worse squawk on finding he had been assigned to hell, and I have listened to some excellent efforts in my time."...
"They've sent one of the boys to check on me," Mr. Wail said gloomily.
"One of the boys?"
Wail jerked a thumb downward. "From down below. They probably think I haven't been doing my best. To tell the truth, I haven't."...
"You didn't see the head boy," Wail told him with an air of certainty. "You wouldn't be standing there unscorched, jumping up and down like an ape, if the head rascal had paid you a visit."...
"Unfortunately, my body for the time being is as human as yours...
"If he's a junior grade imp, like myself, we haven't much to fear. I mean, you can cope with these fellows who rate as about ninety-ninth assistant devil. But if the chap has more rank, your goose is cooked." And in a moment, Wail added gloomily, 'And so is mine."...
Wail groaned. "What kind of place do you think hell is? It's full of devils, and they keep in practice with their work by deviling each other."...
"I'd have liked it less, only I arrived with a pretty good record." Then Wail added thoughtfully, "I got in about a hundred and seventy years ago, when the entrance requirements were stiffer."
"Oh, you died a hundred and seventy years ago?"
"That's right. 1781, to be exact." Wail sighed. 'A bunch of colonials were chasing me with the notion of hanging me, and my horse stumbled and I fell off and broke my neck. I wish they'd hanged me, because it would have looked better on my record. Maybe I could have made better rank than junior grade devil by now."...
"The object hasn't been to kill Gilmore?"
"No, of course not. That would be worse than his staying alive on earth, although that wouldn't be good either. He would be sure to pass around information about our place down there, and people would find out about conditions in the future, and it would make the deviling business tougher. A lot of people don't believe there's a hell. That makes our job easier."
"And if Gilmore died?"
"Oh, he'd go packing his information off in the other direction. That would he bad for our side. You see, Gilmore Sullivan got a good look at our layout, and he'd have firsthand information to pass along."...
"Gilmore Sullivan was down about fifteen miles, exploring. And he came across the crack, and peeked through. You can imagine how he felt, and how quick he got out of there. I was despatched to bring him back, not because I was a qualified devil, being only junior-grade, but because I was the handiest man at the time."...
"Not too good for you, Wail," Doc told him dryly "The police have about concluded you and Williams were in cahoots, and after the secret of a vein of valuable ore you thought Gilmore Sullivan had found in the cavern."
"They're nuts," Wail said pleasantly "I was a devil, junior-grade, sent up to silence Sullivan. Williams was a slightly higher-grade devil sent up to ascertain why I was dallying with my job."...
Doc nodded. "You're likely to spend a few years in jail, if the police have their way." "No, I won't." "No?"
"I'll just walk out," said Mr. Wail blandly "Stone walls and iron bars do not a prison make, not as long as I've got a few of my devil powers left over."
The powder was stuff he had used often before, and it should not have seemed as important to him as it did now. He stared at it and could not think why it was so prominent in his mind. There didn't seem to be a good reason. It was just stuff that would stick to your shoes, and a little would rub off as you walked during the next day or two; the particles that rubbed off would be microscopic, but with a good black light projector, and preferably in darkness, a trail would be left that could be followed. Also the trail could be photographed with the proper equipment, if evidence was needed in court.
[New version] Monk hurried forward, drawing his pistol. He did not share Doc Savage's feeling that a firearm was a source of trouble and a crutch which a man should not come to depend upon, and whereas Doc never carried a gun, Monk went armed with a type of machine pistol which he and Renny Renwick, the engineer of their organization, had developed for their own use. The gun could get rid of an astonishing number of cartridges in a few moments, and handle a variety of missiles - explosives, armor-piercing, so-called mercy bullets, gas pellets, thermite slugs for melting metal and incendiary purposes.
The man's physical build, Dr. Karl reflected, was more of a clue to his adventurous nature. Linningen was not small, but Doc Savage dwarfed him, and there was a metallic efficiency about the man, a dynamic force, a quality of power under close control, that was disturbing. Savage was not a man whose stature shrank on lengthening acquaintance.
"Miss Sullivan," Doc told her quietly, "we're here to help you, you know. I'll admit that curiosity brought us, but that's a motive that gets us into quite a few things."
"And, Monk, don't take too lightly Miss Sullivan's statement that Wail isn't what he seems.
Monk started, then swallowed. "Oh, for cripes sake!" he said. "When you're kidding me, why don't you use the tone of voice that goes with it!"
"Because I might not be kidding," Doc replied grimly. "Get on the job."
Monk began clicking two small rocks together during the rest periods, working out a signal code based on Morse, and Doc Savage, after his initial feeling that the act was childish, welcomed the little sounds that broke the silence.
Driven beyond patience, Doc lifted a fist to strike the man, but the pointlessness of that stayed him. Wail was as terrified as man, or minor devil, could get, it occurred to Doc; if Wail wouldn't talk sensibly now, he never would.
[Doc calls Monk and idiot, usually for good reason, but still] "And you'll never get out of here unless you move fast! Run, you idiot!" Doc interrupted.
He was a short fellow, nearly as wide as he was tall, with a face that would frighten his own mother.
Gilmore made hardly a move to thwart the certainty of freezing to death. It was too much of a certainty for him to compete against. It was inevitable. His pants now were frayed into shorts, and he stuffed them with dry seaweed, and tied seaweed about himself with other seaweed for binding until he resembled an ambulatory pile of the smelly stuff. Actually, it did no good, and it soon became definitely established in his mind that he would freeze to death. He began to wait for death almost as one would await a friend.
"The devil with you!" Linningen shouted. He was halfway to the door when Doc Savage laid a firm grip on his arm, halting him. There followed a brief interval when Linningen debated taking a swing at the big bronze man, and also imagined what would probably happen to him. He grimaced.
He was not much of a swimmer, and the gulls were screaming and crying the sounds that a drowning man might have used to appeal for help.
"Gilmore found hell!" she gasped. "He was exploring in a cave near here, a tremendous cavern which he has been exploring on and off for several months. Gilmore was in the cave nearly two weeks, and when he came out he.. .he had undergone a terrible change. He said he had found hell was exactly where they have always said it was, in the center of the earth, and he'd had a look at it."
"I feel it's the only possible explanation," Linningen said. "In fact, it's quite reasonable. It amounts to simply this: Gas. Gas of one sort or another is often found in natural caverns. There was gas in this one, gas that was a bit unusual in that it opened the way to hallucinations in the minds of the victims. There are, as you know, certain anaesthetics that are conducive to hallucinations on the part of the person being subjected to the effects of the stuff. Mr. Savage, I'm sure, can cite you a number. Personally I recall having some ghastly dreams while having my appendix removed."
The last novel is a worthy bookend to March, 1933's The Man Of Bronze. Times and tasts had changed, and Doc Savage had experienced a creative arc that saw him grow in size and strength to then revert to a big guy detective-espionage-whatever guy, only to grow or diminish in ways that fluctuated like an earthquake graph. If you didn't like who Doc Savage was in this edition, just wait a month or two, a much better one might be waiting for you. Doc's a little too grumpy in Up from Earth's Center but the story he's in is a one-of-a-kind and it doesn't chicken out at the end on all its possible conclusions. Even just for that it's a classic.