Doc Savage on Vacation: The Mystic Mullah and Red Snow (#SFWApro)

After wrapping up 1934 with two slightly off-genre novels, the first Doc Savage adventures of 1935 give us something more conventionally Doc. And in both cases, the heart of the story is a singular, spectacular gimmick.
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The Mystic Mullah (two chapters of which were written by Richard Sale) opens in familiar style: People in trouble are trying to reach Doc, and the bad guys try to stop them. Only in this case, the bad guys include the “soul slaves” of the eponymous spirit-being—writhing, immaterial serpents that float through the air, burn skin at a touch, and either knock you unconscious or break your neck (the 1970s Doc Savage film lifted this for its story). With them, the Mystic Mullah plots to conquer Asia, and perhaps beyond.
The people in trouble are the Khan of a typical fictional Far East nation (absolute monarchy unchanged since the medieval period) and Joan Lyndell, a billionaire American tycoon operating out of the Khan’s realm; although she inherited the business from her father, she comes off as fully competent herself. It’s worth keeping in mind that despite the series’ sexism (women are frequently pretty and helpless and falling all over Doc), a number of competent women show up. Not only that, neither Doc nor Dent ever suggest that they’re not competent or that they shouldn’t be doing Man’s Work, whether it’s Joan here or PI Midnat D’Avis. I can find plenty of 21st century authors who don’t do that.
The Mystic Mullah’s mortal henchmen are surprisingly mundane; outside of women with poisoned fingernails in one chapter, they rely on guns and bombs rather than the usual array of death-traps. Possibly Dent thought the soul slaves were enough of a menace without extra trappings. I’d say he was right. While I wouldn’t put this in the top rank, it does have a great twist and I actually borrowed heavily from it for my story Love That Moves the Sun.
An interesting political note is that when Doc discovers one man is an agent for the Soviet government, he willingly accepts him as a trustworthy ally.
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Red Snow opens with a chapter almost unrelated to the main plot, as a Seminole Indian discovers strange goings on in the swamp and watches the title threat drift down from the sky. Rather like The Monsters,we get several more events setting up the mess Doc is about to stumble into.
And stumble he does. Instead of someone coming to him for help, this has Doc taking a working vacation in Miami (working on anti-mosquito treatments) which convinces the bad guys he’s really there for them (not the last time this would happen). Disguised in black makeup to pass as Negros, they attempt to take out Doc, Monk and Ham (nobody else along this time), either with guns (like the preceding book, they’re low on gimmicks) or with the Red Snow. Mysteriously it forms in the sky, then descends, disintegrating everything under it. Dent used a disintegration treatment back in The Land of Terror, but this one’s both more effective (it covers a much wider range) and the scenes of destruction are much better described.
Plus the goal is much bigger than using the Red Snow for robbery: the mastermind Ark and his men are agents for an unnamed foreign power currently conducting “fleet maneuvers” off the US coast. After Ark finishes eliminating key players in our government, the fleet’s war games will suddenly turn lethal. It’s the first time in the series the bad guy has actually targeted the United States government, so it ups the stakes. Though I can’t for the life of me figure if Dent had any real nation in mind. Under their makeup, the men are olive-skinned, but they’re not “slanty-eyed” so they can’t be Japanese. Was he thinking of Mussolini’s fascists or just didn’t care?
Points of interest include:
•To reach Ark’s island base, Doc has to strip off all of his gadgets, leaving him dependent only on raw ability. Of course, he has a lot of ability. Including hypnosis—it’s been established he’s a good hypnotist, but his stunts here get hard to swallow.
•The pretty girl once again has no interest in Doc, making me wonder if that’s something else Dent no longer feels he has to emphasize in every story.
•The Florida setting really works well for me, as a former Floridian, with lots of little detailed touches.
This one I liked a lot.

11 Comments

Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

11 responses to “Doc Savage on Vacation: The Mystic Mullah and Red Snow (#SFWApro)

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