Penultimate Doc Savage: The Swooning Lady, The Green Master, The Return From Cormoral

Given my general dissatisfaction with the post-war Doc Savage series, it’s a pleasant surprise that the three I’m reviewing here — three of the last four in the series —were mostly fun, and none were awful.

THE SWOONING LADY kicks off with a beautiful Latina putting on a swooning act when men dressed a certain way come near. Monk fits the description but when he tells her he’s not “Roxborough” and still tries to make time, she throttles him with his own tie. Realizing she’s clearly Up To Something, Monk calls in Doc and Ham: what’s her game, and who is Roxborough? Doc’s on board, of course, though he’s still PO’d at Monk’s lechery getting them into trouble in The Angry Canary.

A well-placed bug reveals the woman is one Dannie Morgan, an unemployed actor working for tough South America crooks Juan and Jolla, trying to lure Roxborough into a trap. They’re putting her up at an expensive hotel and paying $40 a day for the gig, so Doc realizes this is something big. Juan and Jolla proves themselves smart and tough and evade capture. Monk tracks down Roxborough, though, who turns out to be a wealthy businessman in town checking up on business associates he claims are cheating him. The swooning Dannie, he claims, is a pawn of his partners to entangle him in a scandal; then when notoriously prudish Latin American millionaire Señorita Oristezza shows up to do business and learns he’s a sleazeball, she’ll ruin him.

It turns out that the señorita and Dannie are one and the same. She suspects Roxborough of making off with a $2 million diamond shipment of hers, came up here to investigate and much like the disguised Doc in The Freckled Shark, let the role unleash her wilder side. Dannie is easily the most interesting thing in the story, a self-made millionaire in a male-dominated culture; the rest of the story is competent but minor (Juan and Jolla are tough, but they’re not strong enough to be the lead villains). It turns out Roxborough did make off with the diamonds and the elaborate scheme is designed to cover that up and make him look like an innocent. Several details were left out of the Bantam version which chopped off the last few paragraphs of exposition in the finish. I can’t say I’m on tenterhooks about it.

This was, by the way, the end of Doc Savage, Science Detective as a title and the end of the digest-sized magazine (Will Murray’s Writings in Bronze has details on the editorial decisions of the era).

THE GREEN MASTER is a much stronger story. It opens with Monk discovering multiple blonds, mostly men but one beautiful woman, pursuing him despite their bafflement at life in the city (they don’t know how to avoid traffic, how to hail a cab, etc.). When Monk confronts one of the guys, he suddenly finds himself agreeing with everything the man says and answering all his questions about Doc’s current work (though Monk doesn’t know much, which he feels ashamed about). Ham has the same reaction later. The man implants a story in their heads he figures will send Doc off on a wild goose chase, but at Doc’s offices they touch a green stone that arrived in the mail — something the man asked about — and immediately regain clarity.

Tracking the blonde clique and bugging their hotel room reveals they’re here on a mission; Auca, the woman, warns the others that one of them is betraying the others by reaching out to Doc. The investigation gets  complicated when a Westerner named Swingles (I don’t think the name, which is never explained, would have had the sex connotations then that it does now) shows up and tries to keep Doc detained while his confederates go after the blondes. Swingles tells Doc that Auca is the one who sent him the green stone, while setting her cohorts against each other.

Eventually “Jones,” the leader of the blondes, puts the whammy on Doc, Monk and Ham (Monk’s faking it — he has the stone hidden on him). Doc is terrified to realized he’s completely powerless to resist whatever power this guy has. Auca later explains the power lies in the green stones, which somehow energize the leaders of her people to mesmerize others, though the stone held in other hands provides a counter-spell. Doc is forced to fly to the lost city in the Andes, besieged by Swingles’ gang, who it’s implied are working for Sinister Foreign Powers (this was a bigger part of Dent’s story proposal but the editor said Terror Wears No Shoes proved political intrigue didn’t sell). Not that the lost race are the good guys: they’ve enslaved dozens of local tribesmen who wander into their city and used them as slaves. Doc manages to obtain enough of the green stones to free the slaves, and with their help takes down Swingles’ gang. The story ends with a U.N. commission moving in to sort things out, study the power and see that the blondes don’t take more slaves.

The series’ last Lost Race story is a good one all around. It also has a nailbiting scene where Doc has to land a plane under difficult conditions: Dent had acquired his pilot’s license at some point and he puts his knowledge to good use here.

Macbeth Williams (again, no explanation of the name) and three other scientists RETURN FROM CORMORAL a rocky Atlantic island they’ve been stuck on since the research foundation funding their expedition went belly up. Fortunately a tramp steamer found them and took them back to Miami. Macbeth’s girlfriend, Carlie, meets them and we learn she’s a little frustrated because her beau is tentative and doesn’t have confidence in his judgment — not the sort of man she wants for a husband.

But things have changed. On Cormoral, Williams somehow acquired the ability to make uncannily accurate predictions. He can’t do it if he concentrates but if he just does it without thinking, he’s almost always right. Has he become precog? Is his judgment better than he thought? Is it finally time he assume control of his half-billion inheritance instead of leaving it to financial managers?

Williams is unsettled enough to contact Doc by telegraph; as someone kills the telegraph clerk right afterwards (but not in time to stop the message) this was obviously a wise call. Doc discovers that Williams ability — psychic or just intelligent as it may be — is real, but why would that drive people to kill him? And why is it the foundation that stuck the scientists on Cormoral doesn’t seem to exist?

It turns out that the entire thing is a scam and the other three scientists are part of it. They’ve discovered rich deposits of uranium on some of the land Williams has inherited but haven’t been able to get the managers to sell. If they can convince Williams to assume control, he’ll probably be more cooperative as the land’s apparently worthless. The trip to Cormoral and the aftermath are part of a Big Con to convince Williams he has the gift or the judgment to manage all that money and property.It’s a fluffy but fun tale.

Next month, we wrap my long, long reread up with the final novel, Up From Earth’s Center, and In Hell, Madonna, which didn’t come out until the late 1970s (it was slated for the issue that became The Green Master).

#SFWApro. Top cover by Walter Swenson, next two by George Rozen, all rights remain with current holders.

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