This month’s two novels came out in January and February of 1942, which makes for weird reading. Understandably due to the time lag between writing and publication there’s not a single reference to Pearl Harbor. At the same time, they’re quite openly anti-Axis. Unlike the various stories the past couple of years hinting at A Sinister European Power behind everything (e.g., Devil on the Moon), THE RUSTLING DEATH and MEN OF FEAR make it thoroughly obvious which power we’re talking a about (spoiler: it’s Germany!!!).
Alan Hathaway’s THE RUSTLING DEATH (cover by Emery Clark)has a lot in common with his Headless Men, inasmuch as the villain is a cackling mad scientist (Krag) using a death ray for extortion. Instead of the heat ray of the earlier book, this one is a combination of heat with ultrasonics (causing panic in everyone in the vicinity). To Doc’s puzzlement, the price one senator has to pay for not being zapped is a string of minor bills. It turns out the bills include a dam that will benefit the bad guys.
Along with Krag, there’s the German villain. Not named as such (the Definitely Not Portuguese strategy), but he speaks a guttural mother language, has a somewhat Germanic speech pattern in English and wears a monocle. And he makes it quite clear the US is on the target list once the war in Europe is won.
There’s also a plethora of new gadgets including a throat-mike in Ham’s tie pin, a television unit for transmitting fingerprints to the government and ejection seats in Doc’s planes. It’s not a stand0out, but I enjoyed it.
MEN OF FEAR (cover by Clark again) has a great opening, when Monk, Ham and Johnny inform Doc his latest project is too risky, so they’re sitting it out. Which for anyone who knows Doc’s team is very, very weird. And their friend “Henry” has also convinced them that Doc shouldn’t risk his genius by so much adventure, so before long, they’ve kidnapped Doc. Hmm, is it possible their minds are somehow altered?
Well, of course. The culprit this time is “Vitamin F-E-A-R,” a treatment Doc worked on in conjunction with a European scientist, Prof. Jellant. After a Sinister European Power overran his country, said power’s agents came sniffing around the lab. Jellant fled to the US, but now the agents have him, and they want Doc to make large quantities of the fear-inducing formula. The leader of the enemy agents says thinks like “Sehr gut!” and there’s a reference to Jellant’s sister dying in a concentration camp.
It’s a fast-moving, entertaining yarn, and Pat gets a fair amount of action (she’s been practicing her juijitsu). Unfortunately there’s a throwaway line about how she craves action the way “a pickaninny likes watermelon.” That was painful.
I’m not sure when the magazine actually acknowledges we’re in the war, but it can’t be long.
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