QUEST OF QUI is a lost race story that starts well but for my taste runs out of steam midway through.
The story opens with nothing less than a Viking attack on a luxury yacht, which they board, leaving the passengers to the long boat. After the longboat beaches Johnny, as the archeologist of Doc’s crew, investigates and discovers it’s the real deal. Researching news reports, he tracks it back to the frozen north of Canada, which as I’ve mentioned before, was a popular frontier setting back in the pulp days. He gets ambushed though he puts up a hell of a fight first.
Back in New York, alarm clocks ring in Doc’s and Monk’s skyscraper apartments (the look at Monk’s pet pig’s luxury wallow is a hoot), followed by attacks with Viking weapons, thrown by invisible killers. Ham gets kidnapped by another impossible assailant. Soon Doc and Monk are off to the frozen North to investigate the secret of “Qui” that’s behind it all.
And here’s where the book runs out of steam. Qui is a generic lost land, nowhere near as colorful as the Land of Always Night. The Vikings of the opening turn out to be modern-day thugs putting up a front. There’s a disappointingly mundane explanation for the invisible killers (and they never do explain how they kidnapped Ham). It’s a competent pulp adventure, but the opening had me hoping for more.
This does, however, give Johnny a nice showcase. We learn that his muscles are freakishly tough, so that he can run long distances without tiring. He pulled a few spectacular races in college, but his academics took up too much time to be a sports star.
SPOOK HOLE works better because it doesn’t promise so much. It’s a straight, action-packed adventure from the get-go and nothing more. Doc and his crew stumble into a war between various crooked factions seeking to gain control of some mysterious McGuffin hidden at Spook Hole, an island beyond the tip of Patagonia. Hezekiah Law has made a discovery there and the bad guys are determined to seize it. The McGuffin, much like Mystery on the Snow, is mundane, but I didn’t mind that as much, given the story starts out mundane.
What Spook Hole does give us is Pat Savage’s return. What happens here is the prototype for several later books she appears in—she wants in on the action, Doc objects, so Pat finds a way to talk him into letting her join in. In this case, she gets a major clue to what’s going on, and demands a share of the thrills for giving it up.
Dent has definitely come a long way as a writer by this point: The straight actioners are much more readable than The Polar Treasure or Quest of the Spider. Still I’m glad the next couple get us back to Doc vs. super-villains, as you’ll see next month.
(First cover by James Bama, second I’m not sure about. All rights belong to current holders)