Laurence Donovan’s LAND OF LONG JUJU (cover by James Bama, rights with current holder) effectively combines two of the series’ standard openings. First we have one of Doc’s men stumbling into trouble: In Africa to build a railroad, Renny becomes a target for the Shimba, a revolutionary leader plotting to overthrow one of the local kings. Back in New York, African tribesmen wielding spears and blowguns (no mere automatics for these savages) try to stop someone from reaching Doc for help … though in a nice twist, the attempts to reach Doc are actually booby-traps for the bad guys. The plot that follows is familiar but competent, as Doc tries to save the king from the Shimba, and it includes one spectacular set-piece, where Doc in a WWI biplane takes down the Shimba’s modern air force.
Unfortunately Donovan dives into a pool of racial stereotypes and makes the story painfully unreadable (Okay, I did read it, but you know what I mean). All the blacks (except one Western-educated woman) are ignorant superstitious savages, easily swayed by a few tricks. Oh, and the villains are also cannibals, killers, blood-drinkers (the Masai do use their cows’ blood for food, or so I’ve read, but it’s presented here as something horribly ghoulish) and worshippers of evil gods (the jungle devils attempt to sacrifice Pat to their heathen deities at one point). And they wear all kinds of odd things in the massive holes they have made in their earlobes (that kind of thing was standard How Weird and Exotic They Are imagery back when I was a kid). And Ham remarks that there have to be “white brains” behind this (though Doc does disagree).
I am curious, by the way, why the Masai get presented as part of the savage side—in the books I read as a kid, they were usually on the Noble Savage side of the scale. Not that this would have made the book good, I’m just curious.
THE DERRICK DEVIL (all rights to image to current holder)has a great opening in which the titular monstrosity begins oozing out of an oil well and preying upon hapless oilfield workers in Oklahoma. It’s almost Lovecraftian in tone, though I knew perfectly it would be another fake supernatural threat a la The Squeaking Goblin.
What I didn’t know was that the story would be rather drab. We have two gangs of dueling crooks (one trying to blame the other for the horror) and a scheme to terrorize leaseholders in the oil field into selling out fast. And an unremarkable female guest character who somehow reduces both Johnny and Renny to mush. That’s a mundane but workable plot (The Red Skull had fun with a Southwestern land grab and didn’t even boast a monster) but the execution is dreary. The great opening/routine execution made me think it was Donovan again (I had the same problem with some of his earlier works) but no, it’s Dent all the way.Trivia points include that Doc can shatter glass with his voice; that he never wears a hat, so that when he does, it makes an effective disguise; and his office windows now have one-way glass so nobody can see in. There’s also a description of Savage Sr.’s combat training methods that now seems rather creepy—when Doc was a kid, his father would pay his sparring partners to hit him and hit him hard, with bonuses for each punch they landed.Fortunately the two next up are, if memory serves me, way more fun.