THE PURPLE DRAGON by William Bogart (cover by Bob Larkin) is the first novel to really deal with Doc’s crime college since The Annihilist (I don’t really count The Flying Goblin). The “college” is where Doc’s team of surgeons operates on criminals to erase their memories, after which they’re trained into law-abiding citizenship. This is usually portrayed as being more humane and productive than imprisonment; this book throws in that Doc would sooner have the crooks as taxpaying citizens rather than living on the taxpayer dime.
The book opens with the kidnapping of Hiram Shalleck, a likable lunch-wagon operator. After confronting the fire-breathing Purple Dragon, Hiram regains his memories of life as Joe Mavrik, bootlegger and mobster, with no idea of his other life, or that it isn’t still 1929. When he starts to realize what’s happened, the bad guys whack him. Several more graduates get the same treatment but the evidence indicates they were murdered years ago (the cops have no idea where they’ve been). Doc, however, knows better and begins the investigation. It’s a good, twisty mystery with several in-jokes in character names and quirky touches (Doc has trackers implanted in his team’s socks!). It reuses the wristwatch communicators from Merchants of Disaster and also borrows several bits from earlier books. Monk and Ham are apparently stuck back in prehistoric times (a la Giggling Ghosts); the bad guys gas people and put them in compromising positions (Evil Gnome). There are also lots of minor oddities: Doc’s anesthetic gas is visible as a fine haze when he uses it; Doc uses a utility belt rather than his usual vest.
Those are minor continuity glitches though. The real flaw is that we get no hint how the villains pulled this off. They don’t have anyone inside the college giving them tips, so how do they know where to find all the targets (members of a former NY mob who know where to find their late boss’s hidden loot)? How do they even know the college exists? It’s a serious weakness in an otherwise solid mystery.
Speaking of the college, the time frame shows it was operating in 1929, well before the start of Doc’s heroic career. Not surprising (when we hear of it it’s an established operation) but more fodder for my Young Doc Savage concept.
DEVILS OF THE DEEP by Harold Davis (cover by Emery Clarke) opens with a sea serpent, or possibly a giant tentacle, crushing a small fishing boat. In an odd bit, Monk, Ham and Long Tom offer to investigate, just so they have an excuse to go to the coast and fish. Monk deliberately downplays evidence that there’s something going on so Doc won’t feel the need to go with them. Doc, of course, sees through this.
Unusually the story doesn’t waste any time speculating a possible supernatural threat. Doc identifies the menace as mechanical early on. It turns out a group of engineers have developed an anti-sub device that captures submarines with its coils, then holds them underwater until the crew runs out of air. Bad guys have the device, and they’ve used it to seize a submarine; now they’re raiding up and down the coast.
This is a very WW II book, even though it’s still 1940 and the US isn’t involved. Rather than assume it’s the Axis attack (as opposed to Merchants of Disaster, where the oxygen destroyer is assumed to be a Japanese weapon), the thinking is that one or the other side in Europe is trying to manipulate America into coming into the war as their ally. Then it appears that Doc Savage is the one behind it (not the first time he’s been blamed for something like that). Despite the awkward opening, it’s a solid, competent adventure. It’s the first book since I started rereading these that I didn’t actually have (and haven’t read) though not the last (I picked it up used).