We’re now in 1946, and the tone of the books feels as though it’s shifted slightly. Nothing as big as the difference between the 1930s and WW II, but the first couple of books feel very spy-novel to me. And there’s more sexism than usual: Doc tells the female spy in Terror and the Lonely Widow that the government shouldn’t send a woman on a dangerous mission (he’s run into plenty of female spies without saying that), and Monk expresses the same feeling to Pat in Death Is a Round Black Spot. Oh, and bother the second and third yarns this month make what’s presumably a Superman in-joke in referring to reporters for “The Planet”
TERROR AND THE LONELY WIDOW starts off with Doc, Monk and Ham trying to terrorize a crook, Worrick with a series of staged attacks. The goal is to convince Worrick there’s another gang of crooks in the game, targeting him — but when someone whacks Worrick for real, that plan goes south. It doesn’t help that Doc is once again arrested as a murderer. An intelligence official frees him, but that just makes him the subject of Doc’s ire: whatever’s going on is so big, Doc prefers to play it his way, without being buried under manpower and red tape. Ham cynically suggests the government only called them in because they’re like an E/R — if the patient wasn’t near death, they wouldn’t be needed.
This is one where the McGuffin is worth all the build-up. The Lonely Widow is the plane that would have dropped an A-bomb on Nagasaki if it hadn’t been shot down. Post-war, a gang of crooks operating in the South Seas discovered it, killed the crew and then tried to figure out what its payload could be. After Hiroshima, they knew. Now they’re out to sell it to the highest bidder, though they’re open to that being the U.S. government.
It’s a solid thriller, even if Doc is once again, just a competent action hero. It’s also the first novel to make a drug reference, as Worrick quips at one point that he’s not drunk, he’s been smoking pot.
FIVE FATHOMS DEAD opens with a gang of hoods led by Whitey, an intimidating figure with eyes the color of bone, and his right hand Colorado Jones taking over a Nazi sub still held by the Navy. Killing the Navy men aboard, they take off for the high seas. It’s effective, and I would never have guessed Whitey was secretly Doc, except Colorado’s massive mitts make it obvious he’s Renny. The murders were, of course, staged for the benefit of the gang.
We then jump to Brenda Linahan, a talented journalist who “had been a remarkably stupid little girl, people thought, which only meant she hadn’t given a tap about doing the things little girls do.” Her weekly assigns Brenda to investigate a series of modern-day pirate attacks; with her editor Pete, Brenda winds up aboard a liner that becomes the target of Whitey’s sub. Also on board: Govern, who turns out to be a representative of another nest of pirates, also using subs. He is very, very keen to meet the new guys and convince them to join forces rather than compete. Govern’s group are ex-military men who decided to put their war-taught skills to commercial use. Their leader is “Cavu,” for the aviation term “ceiling and visibility unlimited,” a nom du crime reflecting he sees further ahead than others do.
Doc gets to meet Cavu, but Govern pegs who they really are. When Cavu’s mob leads them into a trap, Doc has to outwit them without letting on he knows that they know. Again, it’s effective.
DEATH IS A ROUND BLACK SPOT (no connection to The Black Spot) was relatively disappointing. It opens with Pat having already horned her way in on the case: she knows a man invited Doc to meet him in a small Midwestern town, and that the man will identify himself by an image of a black spot (a “You are here” marker in a magazine ad). She finds the guy. The guy dies. Pat runs, gets tripped and knocked cold and spends most of the time in hospital. Brenda came across a lot more adventurous.
The set-up is intriguing, nonetheless. Doc, Monk and Ham (the latter two as reporters for the New York Planet), investigate and discover we have two groups of crooks out to eliminate each other. It’s well-written, though one female character feels more like a concept than a person (she’s almost perfect but there’s always one detail that’s a little off), but it’s too mundane to hook me the way the first two this month did. A shame as the background is quite good: the gang have been holding stocks, bonds and other U.S. investments for wealthy Nazis and now they’re disagreeing about how to divide up the loot.
Hard to believe that I’ll be done with the series this year, but barring disruptions, I will be.
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