Doc Savage, Ghostbuster! (#SFWApro)

Doc Savage tales were never supernatural until the very last one, Up From Earth’s Center (which at my present rate I’ll get to in I don’t know, six years). However the series did a thriving business in fake supernatural threats. This month’s reading includes the first two.
The Thousand-Headed Man opens with Doc stopping off in London after flying back from his Balkan adventure in The King Maker (after The Sargasso Ogre, he should have known to go straight home). When he disembarks, a desperate man hurls a package containing “three keys to the city of the Thousand-Headed Man.”
According to a Far East legend, the eponymous horror (as you can see, the name refers to countless vestigial heads rather than the uber-Hydra I envisioned from the title) took over a lost city in Indochina, sending the inhabitants fleeing. There’s treasure there and the Asian mob run by Sen Gat wants it, therefore the keys. To get them, Sen Gat frames Doc for murder again (the first frame was Czar of Fear). Doc, of course evades the cops and is off to Indochina, as are the desperate man and the book’s female lead (the first woman who doesn’t show any interest in Doc). What they find … well, it’s a really cool lost race setting (much better than The Phantom City). The Thousand-Headed Man is creepy and his secret weapon (a strange rustling followed by paralysis and unconsciousness) is great.
The only downside? If you don’t want to read a book where someone refers to “slant eyes” every few pages, this is not for you. And I don’t get why Sen Gat is a black-skinned Asian—would a 1930s audience have picked up that he was mixed-race without Dent saying it?
EDIT: One minor note I almost forgot: Apparently the existence of spitting cobras was considered debatable back in 1934, because Doc’s very skeptical about it when the subject comes up.
The Squeaking Goblin is one of my favorite covers from the Ballantine reprint paperbacks, catching perfectly the look of the villain. It opens, unusually, without Doc appearing and nobody even mentioning him until the chapter’s end.
The story opens on the yacht of Chelton Raymond, a Southern millionaire who’s being hunted by the Squeaking Goblin. The Goblin has been waging war on the entire Raymond clan, reigniting their feud with the Snow clan (Robert Cotter’s reference guide to the series says Dent originally had a lot of references to inbreeding in the story, but the editor removed them). Like the Snow ancestor for whom he’s named, he fires a rifle that squeaks like a giant mouse, with bullets that disappear after they kill (as happens when he takes another shot at Raymond). And when Doc or anyone else gets close, the Goblin disappears just as effortlessly.
The hillbilly stereotyping isn’t as bad as I remembered. Tobacco chewing and feuding, but they aren’t dumb and some of them are shown to be pretty smart (the college-educated blond Frosta is another one who doesn’t fall for Doc, as she’s already engaged). The Goblin’s hench-dupes among the mountain folk are neither smart nor interesting, but the Goblin’s impressive enough to make up for that.
This shows Doc’s tech includes the latest in safe-cracking equipment (X-ray to probe the contents, electronic ear to detect the sound of the tumblers turning).
While it’s a minor note, I wonder if one bad guy’s record of risky stock investments wouldn’t have sounded much more sinister to a Great Depression audience than it does now (much as the villainous Czar of Fear made his fortune in selling short).
Overall, two solid entries in the series.


Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

10 responses to “Doc Savage, Ghostbuster! (#SFWApro)

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