I notice I frequently describe Doc Savage novels in this period as lots of chasing around. Dent and his various ghosts do a lot more of that than in earlier stories — one person gets kidnapped, gets snatched back, Doc goes after someone, finds they’ve already vamoosed, goes back to HQ finds out Monk and Ham have disappeared on another trail. All of which were elements in previous years, of course, but it seems much more frantic here (without sitting down for in-depth comparison, it’ll have to remain a subjective assessment). Case in point, the first of this month’s stories.
THE PINK LADY starts off with a bang: beautiful Lada Harland staggers into a hotel lobby during a storm, and when the shawl over her head slips, it turns out she’s a bright pink. Seconds later, men bust into the lobby and kill her, despite the intervention of young, good-looking Chet Farmer. When Chet learns Lada was trying to reach Doc Savage, he contacts him and asks in on the investigation.
More pink people turn up. Monk is turned pink at one point. And then comes lots of chasing and running and fingers pointed at various characters before we learn what it’s about. As with earlier novels such as Spook Hole or Mystery on the Snow it’s not a super-weapon but a business breakthrough, a ray that can change the colors of things. It could, for example, turn fabrics any color you wanted without the cost of dye supplies. The villains are turning black industrial diamonds into blue-white beauties. And it can turn people pink to pressure them into cooperating in return for a cure (gotta say, as threats go that’s not one of the better ones in this series). Despite all the chasing around, it’s enjoyable. And it did threw a twist I didn’t expect — instead of being one of Dent’s drifter heroes, Chet’s actually a disgruntled crook who wanted a bigger cut than the boss was willing to grant.
Alan Hathaway’s THE HEADLESS MEN, by contrast, is a super-weapon story, and quite an effective one. The masked villain’s tech can laser off a human head in an instant (that’s not the term they use, but the heat ray has the same effect), burn down a building — oh, and he has an army of headless corpses rising up to do his bidding. I figured the latter was a trick (although my explanation was wrong) but it’s still effective.
The mastermind seems to be pressuring the targets of his attacks into sending their payoff money to the Central American dictatorship of San Roble, thereby taking it away from any easy tracking by American banks or Doc Savage. The bad guy is also several steps ahead of Doc, sabotaging his dirigible, sending killers into Doc’s underground garage, and equipping himself with the kind of ultraviolet goggles Doc and his team frequently use. Despite some implausible details here and there, it’s pretty good. Certainly better than Hathaway’s debut effort.
The Cotter book on the Doc Savage series argues that books like this are turning into anachronisms: as Dent’s Doc Savage became increasingly down-to-Earth, these ghostwritten turns hark back to the more spectacular SF stories of the 1930s. Cotter seems to prefer the turn to a more realistic Doc; I’m not the only fan who disagrees. But that’s what makes horse races.
Covers by Emery Clark, all rights remain with current holder.