After missing last month, it’s time to return to the Man of Bronze, with two different stories dealing with international conspiracies.
THE SEVEN AGATE DEVILS (by Lester Dent with help from Harold A. Davis) is a good example of Dent’s axiom that you start the book with a weird method of murder. Not that he always followed his own advice writing Doc (which is good), but the series did include memorable death-devices in Red Snow and Dust of Death. Here it’s a mysterious Something that rips a hole in a man’s body, then burns up leaving a tiny little devil figure in agate behind. Like many of his pseudo-supernatural tales, it turns out the gadget isn’t as impossible or weird as it looks.
The case is set in LA, where Doc, Monk and Ham have been summoned to investigate “the Camphor Wraith”—all the victims of the death-device have the smell of camphor on them. The story has ties to the movie industry (one character’s a stuntman) but it doesn’t really exploit Hollywood or movie-making the way many stories back then did. It’s also oddly lacking in an imminent threat, despite the colorful deaths: the international spy ring behind everything isn’t about to gain some valuable intel, it’s just generally evil.
HAUNTED OCEAN by Laurence Donovan is a better science fictional thriller than his The Men Who Smiled No More. The title is a bit weak though, as vaguely referenced oceanic disturbances only play a minor role. The main plot concerns The Man of Peace, a visionary who plans to end war with an energy that simultaneously shuts down all electricity (that angle comes off very The Day The Earth Stood Still) while providing tremendous power to his own subs and planes. The combined threat, he believes, will enable him to force the nations of the world to disband leaving him as the sole military power.
He’s actually planning to use this power for good, but other people aren’t. The real villains are various schemers plotting to seize his technology and sell it to the highest bidder (curiously nobody seems interested in seizing it for their own use).
Other tech includes a bizarre treatment that makes men cold-proof and a surgical miracle Doc performs at one point to revive a drowning victim. Apparently coming up with even a pulp-science explanation was more than Donovan could manage.
An interesting trivia point, this is the only story in the series to date where Doc is completely helpless. If his team hadn’t shown up, he’d be dead. As they saved him, I’ll be back with more reviews.
(Covers by William Baumhofer and James Bama, all rights to current holder)