Doc Savage, Digested: According to Plan of a One-Eyed Mystic and Death Has Yellow Eyes

We’re now at the beginning of 1944, when paper shortages caused by the war forced Doc Savage Magazine to go digest-sized, trimming the stories even shorter. Not that length would improve ACCORDING TO PLAN OF A ONE-EYED MYSTIC.

Oddly, the novel opens with Rennie taking a fishing vacation, which seems an odd thing for a hero to do in the middle of WW II. On a passenger flight to Kansas City where he’ll meet fishing guide Norman Monaghan, Rennie meets and offends the prickly eyepatch-wearing weirdo of the title. The big engineer drifts off to sleep … and wakes up a day later in someone else’s body to discover said someone being a woman-beating thug and killer. Oh, and Rennie’s body apparently murdered someone in the intervening day; the newspaper conveniently prints a photo of the killer’s prints and Rennie recognizes them as his.

This is, of course, the opening of Mad Mesa and with almost the same gimmick, using makeup to distort Rennie’s appearance while he’s drugged enough to be confused. But that doesn’t make sense as the first thing he notices is that his massive hands are now normal; I don’t see how makeup could pull that off.

It turns out Monaghan is recruiting Rennie to help investigate a mystery, so the “mystic” and his gang use this technique to get Rennie out of the way. It’s hard to see what this gains them that doping him wouldn’t, though I suppose it does keep Rennie and Doc, once he shows, distracted. The mystery involves a new superweapon the mystic wants to seal and sell to the Nazis. In yet another variation on The Man Who Fell Up it’s an air-to-air rocket that automatically targets planes by the electricity in the engine. This time though the story emphasizes how important this will be in context of the air war in Germany: no high-altitude bombing, no night bombing raids. Utlimately though, the story is just dull.

Trivia note: Bantam shortened the title to simply One-Eyed Mystic for the paperback release.

DEATH HAS YELLOW EYES starts with Monk and Ham visiting Washington for another shot at getting into combat. They’re staying at Ham’s family home in DC, a gloomy manse with portraits of Brooks ancestors. Monk becomes convinced there’s something in the room, invisible except for its yellow eyes. Ham scoffs, but then the invisible something takes Monk down inside a locked room, then escapes with him.

This, of course, leads Doc into a trap, and then into one of the best frames in the series: the bad guys rob a bank, bring Doc, Ham and Monk into the vault invisibly (and unconscious) and leave them there. All the evidence indicates they’re guilty. Johnny busts them out, but before long they wind up captured again, on the bad guys’ plane headed to Europe. Where they talk. A lot.

Of course Doc Savage novels always involve talk and exposition, but the flight over is a long, dull stretch of discussion. We learn that behind it all, as in Hell Below, is a bunch of Nazi schemers plotting to high tail it out of Germany before the axe falls. To finance their luxurious retirement, they have the location of several Nazi caches of gold, and invisible cloaks to hide themselves in while they steal it (though the wearers’ eyes glow yellow through some fluke).

As usual there’s no reference to past adventures such as the invisible crooks of The Spook Legion. Nor is there any use of Doc’s array of gadgets; once again he’s an exceptional guy, but hardly the superman he used to be. Bobb Cotter thinks this is an improvement; I don’t.

One curious detail of Yellow Eyes is that the female lead is named Doris Day. According to Cotter, Dent deliberately named her after the real Day, a popular singer of the day. By the time I arrived in America, though, she was a much bigger star (movies, TV) so it’s a lot more jarring to read now (the difference between naming a character Sandra Bullock 30 years ago when she was doing TV movies and using the name today (or did readers find it jarring back then, too?).

#SFWApro. Covers by Modest Stein, all rights remain with current holders.

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