I don’t usually post my Doc Savage reviews this promptly, but after a productive day, the deeper post I had in mind is a no-go, so …
MAD EYES is another story by Laurence Donovan (cover by James Bama, all rights with current holder) and very different from the usual. Doc only appears for a couple of scenes in the first half of the book, which is a wildly chaotic tale involving insane men seeing terrible monsters, suspicious cops, impossible thefts (it’s not easy to move five tons of metal equipment without drawing attention), mysterious, seemingly invisible vehicles and a female lab assistant who claims Doc kidnapped her.
On top of that, the appearances turn out to be a Doc imposter. The Man of Bronze, we eventually learn, is tightly bound with rawhide in a cellar somewhere in New York’s tenements; the imposter gloats that by the time Doc’s body is found, it’ll be nothing but rat-gnawed bones. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, but that is one of the most terrifying death traps from the series (I can envision getting gnawed alive by rats much easier than getting disintegrated by the Smoke of Eternity in Land of Terror).
It turns out that Jane, the young woman, is the real ringleader of the plot, which involves making tiny protozoans visible to the naked eye (the monsters everyone screams about) and a bacterial weapon that paralyzes its victims—after which the fake Doc will miraculously cure everyone, for a fee.
There are some details of the villains’ tech that don’t quite work; a bigger problem is the scientist on the bad guys’ side is a hideously deformed man whom the text informs us was hopelessly warped mentally by his warped body (paging The Cinema of Isolation …)
THE LAND OF FEAR by Harold Davis (cover art—William Baumhofer?—rights reside with current holder) unfortunately uses another Doc Savage impersonator, though in a much smaller role. A bigger problem is that the African city of Genlee where the climax takes place is actually founded by Confederates fleeing the fall of the South (the name is a corruption of General Lee) to set up a small plantation in Africa. While they refer to the black workers as “field hands” rather than outright slaves, it’s hard not to assume they are. Whatever the concept of GenLee meant to the readers back in 1937, it’s now disturbing as heck.
The novel starts nicely with a very Lester Dent-ish opening (“Customs inspectors can stop contraband coming into the country. They can’t stop fear.”) and the familiar set up of someone trying to reach Doc with a plea for help. As usual, it doesn’t go well; approaching Doc’s skyscraper, the man suddenly transforms into a skeleton.
The skeleton death is an effective gimmick, more so because it’s not presented as a super-weapon in itself: its real power is that it scares the hell out of everyone, including the villain’s mob-boss sidekick “Greens” Gordon (he has an affectation for wearing green). For some reason I liked Greens’ description as a ruthless but cautious killer, always sticking with low-risk, modest-profit jobs until this one came along …
The McGuffin is a hybrid rubber tree the leader of Genlee has developed that will allow the United States to produce its own rubber supply, regardless of what wars and other issues do to foreign sources. This is an interestingly practical prize (reminiscent of benlanium in Mystery on the Snow) though obviously dated now.
Curiously, although the big bad is a master of disguise, able to impersonate Ham and Doc, he never actually uses it that way—instead, he simply uses his disguises to keep his real identity a secret. It’s odd, though not as big a problem as having an Old South plantation in the middle of Africa.