Two books built around a spectacular gimmick, the second being much the better
THEY DIED TWICE starts with Doc working on a new project for the military, leaving Renny free to investigate a device that the inventor claims dredges up ancestral memories. Renny is so horrified by his ancestor’s (a Caravaggio-like brawling artist) behavior he finds a statute of him in a museum and smashes it. Doc agrees to undergo the same treatment and gets a nasty surprise: when Clark Savage Sr. discovered the Mayan Valley of the Vanished (which debuted in the very first novel, The Man of Bronze) he concealed it from his partner “Secret” Stevens instead of sharing the wealth. Guilt-ridden, Doc agrees to take Stevens to the Valley. This doesn’t make much sense as the series has always been clear Doc gets the gold from the valley only with the Mayans’ consent — it’s unlikely they’d have signed off on Stevens, and Doc wouldn’t accept taking it by force.
Of course this is just a scheme by the bad guys to get the Mayan gold. The machine just puts people into a light hypnotic state where they think the films they’re seeing represent real ancestral memories. The crooks need Doc to guide them to the Valley; this seems like one case where playing along with them was a mistake. In addition to their schemes, Doc has to deal with an elite Mayan sect that wants to cut off all contact with the outside world and figures whacking him and his aides would do the trick. It all works out in the end and Doc says goodbye to the valley and Princess Monja. They don’t reappear, though they crop up in several post-pulp stories, such as Millennium Comics‘ short run. She was the mother of Diana Savage in my own The Savage Year, even though the story doesn’t spell it out.
THE DEVIL’S BLACK ROCK is one of those that opens with a guest character, “Donkey Sam” David, a grizzled prospector who discovers local schemer Wickard Cole has played a prank on the teetotaller, switching the cigars in his pack for a bottle of rotgut. When he flings the bottle away in disgust, something rises out of the ground: “It had no shape, or rather it had a shape that changed so fast it was impossible to tell just what it was. The monster of the black stood on the Earth like by far the most awful thing Donkey Sam Davis had ever seen.”
He and Cole investigate together and discover that when the “devil” left it bored a tunnel miles deep. Cole promptly seals the hole with dynamite and begins gathering a crooked gang, something Sam spies on with interest before trying to contact Doc. What follows has way too much stuff that just moves pieces around, like a pretty girl helping Sam who turns out to be Cole’s’s wife — no, wait, she’s the twin sister of Wade’s wife! There’s no point to that twist other than to add complications to the plot. And I’m not sure what Cole gained by sealing up the tunnels the black rock creates. However, there are lots of good bits such as guard dogs equipped with poison artificial fangs (see the cover below)
I did like Cole’s practical approach: he realizes going up against Doc Savage is a losing play, so he’s simply going to avoid the Man of Bronze until he completes his scheme, selling the black rock to the Nazis. The rock’s effects are spectacular and the ending explanation is interesting. While Dent doesn’t use the words, it’s a fissionable element that not only explodes when triggered, it causes a chain reaction that triggers fission in the ordinary material around it. This was actually a serious fear when the early experimenters split the atom, though of course it wasn’t the case (check out Richard Rhodes Making of the Atomic Bomb for details).
A sublot has the guys trying to break Monk of his susceptibility to a pretty face. They actually do (at one point he refuses to let Para’s looks sway him) though it didn’t last, of course.
#SFWApro. Covers by Bob Larkin and Emery Clarke, all rights remain with current holders.