MAD MESA is one of what I think of as Dent’s straight pulp stories that just happen to feature Doc Savage. It’s fast-moving and entertaining (way more so than The Green Death) but the adversaries are ordinary crooks and for the most part Doc and his team don’t do anything incredibly superhuman.
The opening is a wild one: Tom Idle, one of the countless Depression-era vagabonds crossing the country to find work, wakes up one morning to discover he has a new face, that of convicted killer Hondo Weatherbee. Everyone around insists that’s who he is and reacts with terror, then he’s conked on the head and wakes up in Hondo’s cell (I’m not sure why they bothered with the initial charade instead of stuffing him in the cell immediately). This takes up the first few chapters, then his sister Nona Idle tries to beat the bad guys and get word of what’s happened to Doc Savage. The bad guys, of course, try to stop her. When Doc hears about the case, he investigates and winds up with his own face switched, stuck in a cell (it turns out to be simple makeup tricks, plus things like paraffin injections to make the faces puffier). That leads to the high-point, Doc breaking out of the prison quite impressively, and without the usual gadgets (which don’t see much use in this one) — no explosives hidden in his toenails, just brains and brawn.
The novel gets a little weak at the end, where it turns out to be a remake of The Giggling Ghosts—the bad guys plan to fake a public health hazard to get control of some desert land long enough to mine it for gold (though the body count will be much higher here). Overall, though, I liked it. Having the chief villain revealed as a lawyer, as in The Pirate’s Ghost, made me reflect that Ham gets the least to do in his profession of any of Doc’s aides: even when the villain’s a lawyer, this doesn’t lead to courtroom battles or anything.
THE YELLOW CLOUD (which Doc expert Bobb Cotter says is an unacknowledged ghost-writing job) is a mysterious aerial phenomenon devouring experimental Army Air Force planes (the opening includes a lecture on how much the military needs to catch up with the rest of the world), one of which had Doc’s aide Rennie as a test pilot. Doc and his other aides investigate, and ultimately discover a remake of Terror in the Navy — the cloud is just a scam to cover up that an espionage ring is stealing the planes. It’s enjoyable, but I’d like it better if I hadn’t read the previous book less than a year ago. Pat Savage gets some serious action for the first time in a while, which doesn’t hurt.
The treatment of Monk and Ham is unusual: apparently they’re almost as well-known as Doc himself, as the military immediately starts asking to see their pets, Ham and Chemistry. And both guys reflect on how often the pretty girl of the book has put one over on them and try to do better this time (nope!). We also learn that Doc has another publication out, a landmark book on corporate law.
Hardly my finest month for this reread, but above average. Covers by James Bama, all rights to current holder.