Tuesday, March 8, 2011


From May 1941, this is a very minor but enjoyable case for Doc and his crew. After slogging through a few dreary Laurence Donovan misfires, it's a treat to see again how deftly Lester Dent keeps the story flowing, providing just enough information to make the situation clear while not giving everything away. Not that this is one of Dent's better efforts, but it's a decent little mixture of action and mystery that rolls along and provides a few hours' diversion.

This book shares with THE SEVEN AGATE DEVILS (where Doc leaps at a speeding car and kicks the front wheel with both feet to make the car swerve), the "Oh, Come ON! Award" Here we find from out of nowhere that Long Tom, while infiltrating a gang of suspicious crooks, has concealed carrier pigeons in some old clothes and has covered up their cooing by pretending to have asthma and hiccups. Sounds like a scene from a British sitcom.

The type of story is a Mad Science gimmick (as opposed to a Lost Race or Warlord or Enigmatic Clue Mystery) and here something is turning people a bright, bubble-gum pink-- even their teeth and eyes. From the opening chapter, when a panicky pink lady bursts into a hotel lobby during a thunderstorm and is brutally burned to death by gasmasked thugs (or IS she?), one development flows another in a well-crafted thriller. Trying to summarize the complex twists and reversals in the plot, where suspects are telling conflicting stories and posing as each other, while at the same time Doc is juggling some of his more intricate schemes, would really be difficult to do clearly. If you haven't read this particular story yet, you might want to pay closer attention than usual.

Despite the fact that the opposition in this adventure are rather ordinary hoodlums, with no masked mastermind or world conquest scheme, the crooks are well organized and resourceful. They put up a real struggle, and at one point, things look so dismal and hopeless, that Doc picks up a book and glances through it nervously while he thinks.

All five aides take active part in this book, and each gets a bit of characteristic dialogue or action. Monk, who has been turned invisible in THE SPOOK LEGION, here goes pink, as does Long Tom (but in a fake guise as an undercover agent). Renny tells a gangster wearing a bulletproof vest, "Pal, I can shoot the pupils out of your eyes without touching the whites." Ham tries to do some research on color in Doc's library but is left scratching his head; we're told many times in the stories that he's a great lawyer and linguist but knows less science than the average man.

One of the characteristics I enjoy about Dent is the confident way he throws out casual details a fill-in writer might hesitate to include. Long Tom leaves a zig-zag mark representing electricity as his personal insignia; it's also the brand used "on a small cow ranch which he owned in the Jackson Hole County of Wyoming." And we're told Doc used to carry an explosive formula in a fake wisdom tooth, but then he grew a genuine wisdom tooth and has no place for it. Irrelevant touches like this don't further the plot and will probably never be mentioned again, but they do bolster the illusion that these men have actual lives and histories outside of the adventures we read.

Doc goes about solving the mystery in his competent, deadpan way. He uses the full range of gadgets and some elaborate ruses and trickery to work on the case, but doesn't hesitate to fall back on bronze knuckles when necessary. He has his hands full with a pair of muscular fighters trained in close quarters combat, showing he's at the upper levels of human development, but then other people can approach this also. Doc keeps going with a dislocated arm, not the first one he's suffered. And the mention of clothing ripping indicate that this might one of the cases where he actually looks the way he's depicted on the Bantam reprints. ("Another shirt ruined-- well, at least the right cuff's still attached....")