Picking up with Doc Savage again. I’m finding it disappointing when my schedule makes me miss a month, though this month’s pair aren’t A-listers in the series.
THE BLACK SPOT by Laurence Donovan (cover by William Baumhofer, all rights to current holder) has an effective opening as a man lies dead in his study; the blood dripping from his wounds is black, the eponymous black mark lies over his heart. The killers have stolen a fortune from his safe, though leaving a sizable amount of cash on his desk.
Unfortunately this develops into a rather stolid pulp thriller with more robberies, more people dropping dead with the black spot, and Doc risking death to reach the next victims before the killer does (like on the houseboat where he’s saving someone in the pulp cover scene). It has a lot in common with Donovan’s The Men Who Smiled No More—the killer’s agenda is to avenge a past financial crime, using his mystery super-weapon. However this take is much less effective, and Donovan can’t even be bothered to explain the weapon beyond “it’s electro-chemical”—Dent would have provided a rationale, however scientifically absurd.
Oddities include the lack of a good-looking woman besides Pat Savage, who’s described as a golden-haired blonde hair (though as she runs her own beauty salon, maybe she was trying a new dye treatment). Annoyingly, though, she’s not given much to do beyond look good; she keeps one news cameraman from photographing her publicity-shy cousin, but that’s her biggest accomplishment. Likewise, there’s a lack of the oddball supporting characters Dent would throw in. “Jingles” Sporado,” a gang boss constantly jingling his pocket change doesn’t show up until half-way through the book, and he’s not a standout adversary.
Dent’s THE MIDAS MAN suffers from a back cover that gives away the villain’s secret (admittedly I’m going to do that too), and a helmet on the front that looks like a colander with nails sticking out of it (who knows? Maybe that’s what artist James Bama [all rights to image with current holder] used as a model). The story itself is solid, though not a stand-out.
It’s one of those where Doc doesn’t show up for several chapters, and the first two of those he’s in disguise. During that period, a financier apparently commits a financial swindle, then disappears. Johnny is kidnapped in the suspicion Doc has figured things out; to his surprise, the crooks figure out the answer is No without him saying anything.
Of course, that status soon changes. Doc investigates and discovers the bad guys seem to have mysterious sources of financial inside information, enabling them to make a killing in their investments. It turns out the secret is a mind-reading device. While the crooks aren’t above engaging in a spot of violence to cover their tracks or kidnap someone with knowledge they need, the gadget itself is used entirely for learning financial information rather than espionage or world conquest. A modest goal, which I rather like.
As with Mystery Under the Sea, though, Dent ignores the potential in having the super-device end up in Doc’s hands. True, as the story has shown, it’s not infallible, but it’s still very useful, unlike countless villainous inventions or secrets which turn out to be ineffective (the youth herbs in Fear Cay, for instance). But it’s simply shuffled offstage, presumably into the same warehouse where Indy put the Ark of the Covenant.
This does have the requisite pretty girl and eccentric supporting character, though neither is memorable. It also has some of the novel-for-the-time tech that Doc specialized in. There’s an automatic device for unlocking car doors, and Doc’s disguise includes tinted contact lenses (called eyeball lenses here), which are presented as a new thing.