The Green Eagle of Mystery Island: Doc Savage again (#SFWApro)

THE GREEN EAGLE (cover by James Bama, all rights remain with current holder) is one of those Doc Savage adventures that reads like a conventional pulp story that Doc somehow stumbled into — mundane McGuffin, mundane foes, Doc and his crew acting pretty much like regular PIs. That despite the paperback’s rear cover claim it’s a “totally new kind of adventure.”

The first 40 pages come off like a Western mystery, something you might see in a Gene Autry movie. Protagonist Ben “Donald” Duck is a cowboy stuck working at a dude ranch to support himself when he stumbles across one of the guests, McCain, searching the unconscious guest Panzer. Mysteriously, Ben blacks out, then wakes up to discover someone’s planted a kid’s toy on his chest. It’s one of those puzzles where you move balls (in this case metal feathers) into holes (in this case in a green eagle image) to win, and comes with a little rhyme on it. That’s the green eagle of the title, not the bird Doc confronts on the cover.

All of this resembles the opening of The Pirate’s Ghost in which Sagebrush Smith discovers the dying scientist. Except this is much more mundane. It turns out that a wealthy man in New York gave his heirs some kind of cryptic message before he died, a message that’s tied to the puzzle. The crooks are interested enough to send pretty Johana “Hicky” Hickman to pose as his niece and get the puzzle from Ben Duck.

Of course Doc and his crew get embroiled in the goings on. It turns out the location of the holes in the toy is a map to a gold mine near Green Eagle Springs. Good guys get the gold, bad guys get death or jail, we’re done.

This is another of the adventures where Doc shows more emotion than usual. Though it really doesn’t seem to deserve any. A minor note is that Doc has a new security precaution when talking to his aides over the phone or radio — ask “what should I do with Elmer?” and if the answer is “Tie ribbons on Elmer,” he knows it’s one of the five. Except he forgets which gets them into trouble. And I don’t believe they ever used the trick again.

MYSTERY ISLAND is a stronger story (though I didn’t find it so the first time I read it), and also shows evidence for Bobb Cotter’s theory (which I mentioned last month) that Lester Dent’s yarns are getting more realistic at this point. Even though the bad guys’ super-weapon can sink entire islands, we never see it in operation — it’s all intrigue, action and double-crosses.

The book opens with a practical joke by Rennie triggering an attack on the team. It turns out they’ve been stalked for a while and the bad guys are making their move. Their target, we learn later, is Johnny, because of his geological expertise (which Doc describes as being a century ahead of anyone else in the field, and doesn’t even exempt himself). Investigating the attack, Doc discovers multiple people involved who keep switching sides. That includes Hester, a blonde who’s attached herself to Monk but turns out to be one of the bad guys and Miss Wilson, who turns out to be a British agent. Both extremely competent; Wilson’s willingness to cuss is fun, though having to write it as “blankety blank” only looks silly.

This feels very much like an early WW II adventure for Doc: the good guys are British agents, the bad guys are targeting England with an earthquake device. Not to create earthquakes in England (a la Man Who Shook the Earth) but to raise the ocean floor, cutting off the Gulf Stream so that England will ice over. But as with last month’s The All-White Elf it’s about the benjamins, not the war (the villains are identified as foreigners, but Scandinavians).

Top cover by James Bama, second by Emery Clark. All rights remain with current holder.

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