If you picked up 1939’s THE GOLD OGRE for the adventures of Doc and his crew, you might be surprised. It’s actually the adventures of four American teenage boys with Doc in a supporting role and Monk and Ham coming in near the end.
The story opens with a man named Worth confronting a golden, midget caveman (I presume “ogre” sounded better than “dwarf” in the title) that knocks him unconscious. Soon the ogres are all over town, people are disappearing or going crazy (a side effect of getting hit with that spiked club on the cover). Suspicion falls on local business kingpin Marcus Gilt, who owns a collection of gold caveman statues (for no particular reason) that have disappeared. It’s the kind of situation Doc often gets in the middle of—but instead, we have four local boys taking point:
•Don Worth, son of the initial victim, an all-American Hardy Boys type. Quiet, but he knows how to fight.
•B. Elmer, who’s determined to get rich and sees money-making opportunities everywhere.
•Mental, the brainy one, with a constant stream of philosophical quips (though I actually like “A worm is the only creature that never falls over.”).
•Funny, the wisecracking fat kid.
According to Savage-ologist Bobb Cotter, Street & Smith hoped to spin the kids off into their own series, but reader interest was non-existent. Just as well, I think. Where Doc’s group have physical, visual quirks (Renny’s massive fists, Ham’s brilliant clothes, Monk’s apelike physique) the boys all have verbal ticks (equivalent to Johnny offering to bet on sure things) and that makes their conversations annoying and repetitious. Funny cracks wise. Mental makes with the epigrams. B. Elmer discusses how whatever’s going on could make them rich. It would have gotten annoying fast.
As for the bad guys’ scheme, which will eventually give them control of Gilt’s millions, suffice to say it’s way more elaborate than it needs to be, and not entertaining enough to justify it.
THE FLAMING FALCONS, by contrast (and may I say I love that James Bama cover?) is much more fun, one of Doc’s ghostbusting adventures. The book opens with vagrant “Hobo” Jones discovering a mysterious plantation out in Arizona, with a high-tech control room hidden in a fake haystack. And inside the control room, Jones discovers a dead man with a goat-sized bird perched behind his shoulder, with eyes like “blood-red blisters” and feathers “the hue of the skulls in doctors’ offices.” Said bird eventually explodes in a puff of fire.
A baffled Jones hooks up with pretty Fiesta Robertson (unusually we don’t get any quirky explanation for the name), and together they try to contact Doc Savage (as usual the bad guys try to stop them telling Doc anything). By the time Doc arrives in Arizona, the plantation has vanished. Clues eventually lead the good guys to another plantation in Indochina. In between, the falcons keep showing up, people drop dead, and the falcons turn into flame.
It turns out the plantation is growing a hybrid rubber plant that can thrive in the American southwest, so the U.S. will have its own rubber supply (Harold Davis used the same McGuffin in the less-interesting Land of Fear). The operation has been taken over by crooks, while other crooks—representing the established rubber industry—try to shut the operation down. The falcons are a tool to intimidate Crook Group A, with their tricks all explained by chemistry (Dent has a footnote that of course the chemicals are real, but for security reasons he can’t get specific). What isn’t explained is why someone growing plants in the Southwest would have a second plantation in the very different climate of Indochina—wouldn’t the Sahara be more logical?
Both covers by James Bama, all rights reside with current holder.