In the middle of this month’s second book, it struck me that WW II had begun in Europe, yet there’s no sign of the war here. Just one or two references such as Congress requiring payment up front when the US government ships military supplies to warring nations. Of course the war hadn’t touched America, except as a news story, but it still feels weird.
HEX by William Bogart is a straight-up Halloween story (it came out November, 1939). An engineer planning a Massachusetts highway through a ghost town near Salem suddenly starts babbling insanely. Rennie, a fellow engineer, steps in, and winds up babbling too, then both men disappear. Doc, Monk and Ham show up (Pat has an annoyingly brief role — like Poison Island, just serving as a courier) and discover assorted oddities: a mysterious garden in a seemingly abandoned building, the Screeching Lady of the Marsh, the sinister witch Hannah, and a descendant of Cotton Mather (not to mention a black mass midway through). Meanwhile there are reports of wealthy men who’ve started babbling the same way Rennie and his colleague were. What’s going on?
It turns out the bad guys have developed a strain of plant (in the hidden garden) that produces a new kind of truth serum. If someone asks you questions, you babble insanely for a couple of minutes, drop in the answer, keep babbling — and remember nothing afterwards. A perfect way to interrogate someone without the victim or others realizing what’s been done (Monk bluffed some captives about a similar drug in Poison Island). However the highway would force the villains to relocate the garden, and the plants are too delicate to transplant yet. Hence the scheme.
It’s a fun one, with one curious note (as Philip José Farmer points out in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life). When Pat catches Monk hitting on a young woman, he’s positively embarrassed. That’s not Monk’s usual style, even given he likes Pat a lot — should we assume maybe they more-than-liked each other? Probably not, but still…
THE DAGGER IN THE SKY by Lester Dent is one I liked a lot as a kid, but drops a little due to not living up to my expectations. Which is not the book’s fault as much as it is my reading so much of the series so fast — plus I already know the big reveals.
The plot has the bad guys fomenting a war between the Country of Good and the Country of Evil, which is being equipped with all the best weapons for the job (compared Land of Long Juju, though this resembles Dust of Death too). When Doc takes off on vacation, the villains assume he’s heading to Cristobal in South America (Country of Good) and blow up his plane, after which a 200 foot dagger appears briefly in the air overhead. Smaller daggers show up stuck in people’s chests, then disappear. The daggers are supposedly the wrath of Kukulcan for the government’s transgressions, freaking out the superstitious natives (when not panicked, they’re stereotypically lazy and laid-back). It is, of course, a trick.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this one. Doc’s vacation is another example of him rebelling against his training: he wants to kick back for a month, camp out, fish, eat unhealthy foods and generally not be superhuman. When he’s traveling through the jungle with Sanda, daughter of Cristobal’s leader, she’s so distracting Doc finds himself thinking what it would be like to kiss her, and stumbles into a trap.
I wonder if that attraction is why Dent emphasizes Sanda is a blend of Scots and Castilian blood (her family’s ancestor was a Scots businessman who settled there). This seems an odd mix, but as it omits any native blood, was it to avoid any hint of miscegenation?
And then there are the villains. The brains behind the war are seven of the world’s wealthiest men. As one of them explains to Doc, they’re fed up with the government oppressing the wealthy by income tax, inheritance tax, forcing banks to insure deposits (a policy created in response to Depression bank failures, of course), etc., etc. So they’re going to conquer Cristobal, relocate themselves and their businesses there and make it a tax-free haven (the natives will Know Their Place or get shot). That’s a scenario I don’t think even Occupy Wall Street could have come up with. Of course, they lose, and Doc’s crime college brainwashes them into becoming philanthropists. We end with Sanda showing up in New York to hit on Doc, and Monk nobly sacrificing himself to hit on her first.
Both covers by James Bama; all rights to current holders.