Doc Savage … dating? Weird Valley, Jiu San and Satan Black

I’m guessing it was part of Lester Dent’s ongoing efforts to humanize Doc that instead of the crimefighter’s usual shyness around women, he ends the second and third of this post’s novels with a date.

WEIRD VALLEY gives away its twist by telling us up front that leathery old “Methuselah” Brown successfully fooled Monk. That can only mean his claim to be 300 years old is a lie. Brown says he wants Doc to research and share the secret of his immortality (derived from a lost valley in Mexico), but someone murders Brown a couple of chapters in.

This rather “meh” story almost feels like Lester Dent is self-parodying his earlier work. Doc Savage stories have given us names like “Fluency” Beech and “Leases” Moore for years, but here Doc dismisses Brown and “Arctic” Rogers as names a hack writer would come up with. And it turns out the people of the lost valley (in Mexico) aren’t really lost, because that’s impossible in the aviation age. So they just present themselves as being blandly normal Native Americans and steer seekers off into the mountains. And the secret of eternal youth is a mix of Secret of the Su and Fear Cay: the secret isn’t a fountain of youth, they’re just high-powered sulfa drugs that enable the natives to survive the usually lethal tropical diseases that would kill them young.

This is another where Dent plays Doc as tough but human. Instead of carrying his anesthetic glass balls on his person, he leaves them with a pack of equipment in the jungle; bullets hitting his bulletproof vest hurt way worse than they do in earlier books, implying the armor isn’t that impressive. There’s some fun in all this, but not enough.

JIU SAN is much more interesting. The initial POV character is Carlta Trotter, a wartime correspondent assigned to Alaska and frustrated the Japanese invasion she expected never came. She suspects her lecherous boss — he hires women with brains and beauty, then sexually harasses them — manipulated her into going north as a punishment for turning him down. Dent clearly doesn’t approve of this, but Carlta’s matter-of-fact acceptance of the way things are probably wouldn’t fly in a story today.

Then Sgt. Doc Savage shows up, having been busted down from honorary brigadier general because he’s talking appeasement with the Japanese. Trotter spots him talking to Japanese POWs held on the base and when Doc breaks them out she winds up on a stolen plane heading to Japan. So does Monk, who’s horrified Doc may genuinely have switched sides.

Not to worry. It’s all a cover for Doc to make contact with the key men in the Japanese government we want in charge after the war. They’re enlightened enough to see things have to change, but they have enough standing in Japan they won’t be rejected as American puppets. Unfortunately one of them is also the mysterious Jiu San, out to force the other future leaders into covertly making him top dog in post-war Japan (this came out in October, 1944). Doc’s mission, of course, is to stop him.

The setting, the story and the politics make Jiu San interesting, but it has the inevitable array of anti-Japanese stereotypes. They’re monkey men. They’re innately devious. They’re inscrutable, hiding their feelings. They don’t think like us. Doc at one point finds himself thinking they all look alike, then kicks himself for that.

And yes, at the end of the book Doc takes Carlta out. Monk and Ham had bet her $1,000 he wouldn’t, though Doc tells Carlta they don’t have the money to pay off.

Unusually, this has a continuity reference to The Shape of Terror, when someone mentions Doc stopping Nazi plans to build a superweapon.

SATAN BLACK is one of those where Doc is just a tough, capable investigator, indistinguishable from dozens of pulp heroes. Likewise, the book and Monk himself acknowledges that the pranks he plays on Ham are juvenile and stupid, which isn’t typical for the series.

The plot involves a pipeline carrying oil to the Atlantic to power our invasion of Europe (this was written pre-D-Day, but came out several months later — though I doubt the need for oil was any less). Part of the pipeline runs through Arkansas, where the mystery villain has, a la The Squeaking Goblin, revived an old feud between the Colbeck and Morgan clans, which provides a smokescreen for the bad guys’ sabotage (though it isn’t Nazis behind it, just a crooked financier who wants to take over the company).

The routine plot involves framing Doc for murder and hunting an implausible McGuffin, a dagger one guy made in prison, now hiding a vital clue. Dent calls the dagger a misericord, but that’s actually a particular style of church seat. Equally weird, the title makes zero sense — is it a reference to oil? To the villain’s evil heart? The most interesting thing is that Renny gets to shine, exercising his engineering skills to get the pipeline back into action.

And once again, Doc dates, asking out an attractive woman at the end of the book.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Modest Stein, Bob Larkin and Steain again, all rights remain with current holder.

1 Comment

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One response to “Doc Savage … dating? Weird Valley, Jiu San and Satan Black

  1. Pingback: Doc Savage and Branding | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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