Like The Sea Magician, THE FEATHERED OCTOPUS is one of the Doc Savage adventures in which Doc and his friends seem far more ordinary than usual.
The opening has an elderly man coming to Doc for help (I half wondered if he’d be killed first, as happens to so many help-seekers, but no). He joins a long queue of supplicants Monk and Ham are vetting (something we’ve never seen before, or as far as I recall, again) and pours out a heart-rending story. His little grandson was playing at being Doc Savage when he fell off the roof and injured himself fatally. Would Doc see the little dying child before it’s too late?
Of course, Doc does. And wouldn’t you know, it’s a trap. As Monk and Ham note later, it’s a trap perfectly tailored to lure Doc in without a second’s thought, and it succeeds.
The villains, beautiful Eurasian Lo Lar and her mysterious husband High Lar, have an ingenious plan for Doc. It’s well-known he sometimes buys up companies, turns them around (unlike so many efficiency experts today, the turn around includes fair wages for the workers), then gives them back to the owners worth much more (as he does in The Czar of Fear). So when they use Doc as a front for their plan to take over all the world’s airlines, the owners of the lines are thrilled to sell out.
Pat Savage is the one who figures out that Doc didn’t just fly off to his Fortress of Solitude, though the guys unfairly leave her behind when they go off to rescue her (the story is quite specific that Doc has no doubts his cousin can hold her own in an adventure, but she’s his last living relative and he wants to keep her safe). The bad guys stay one step ahead of them much of the way, before the big finish involving shackled heroes and a hungry octopus.
While not A-list, this is a fun read. Lo Lar, however, is very stereotypical—submissive Asian wife on the surface, sinister Dragon Lady underneath.
A minor trivia point is that in both this and the following novel, several of Doc’s team fall for the pretty girl guest-starring (Lam Benbow here, Alberta Mantle in the next book). With a few exceptions, the womanizing has always fallen to Monk and Ham—I’m curious if the trend continues.
REPEL (published in paperback as The Deadly Dwarf) is definitely an A-lister, a great combination of pulp SF menace and sinister crimelord. It opens with a volcanic eruption on Fan Coral Island in the Pacific, followed by a series of freak events where things are hurled up in the air for no discernible reason.
Doc, of course, suspects the reason. So does Cadwiller Olden. A three-foot tall criminal mastermind, physically perfect except for his height, Olden is one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in his field; Doc comments at one point that Olden could walk into untracked jungle alone with a few thousand dollars in loose bills and nobody who knew who he was would dare lift a finger against him. In a nice touch, he uses the same tailor as Doc’s fashion-plate aide, Ham Brooks, except that Olden’s sword cane is coated with poison rather than a knockout drug.
After the men arrive, a mysterious, invisible being apparently attacks Doc’s men. In reality, it’s Repel, a cavorite-like anti-gravity mineral coughed up from the Earth by the lava. Except Repel doesn’t simply negate gravity, it’s more like reverse gravity, a powerful energy that hurls away anything it hits, except the mineral shell it’s encased in. The shell has cracked, enabling Repel to cause all the freak effects of the book.
After much battling, Olden winds up with Repel and somehow extracts the mineral (he is a brilliant scientist as well as a criminal) to use in ray guns: point the gun at a police car, a bank vault, whatever, and it smashes the target away.
Doc’s crime college (where brain surgery cures criminals of their past actions) plays a larger role than usual here, though not a consistent one: the usual explanation that the surgery erases criminals’ memories definitely doesn’t apply (but Dent’s been inconsistent about that before).
The biggest gadget in play in the book is Doc’s high-tech diving suit. The biggest flaw is Olden’s bodyguard, a stereotypical black Brute Man.
Overall, though, an excellent one. Covers by James Bama, all rights to current holder.