Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 14, 2018


The Red Spider by "Kenneth Robeson" (Lester Dent) (1938, or 1979 -- take your pick)

Pulp hero Clark "Doc'' Savage blazed his way through 181 issues of Street & Smith's Doc Savage Magazine, from March 1933 through the Summer 1949 issue (the title changed to just Doc Savage starting with the November 1937 issue and, during the last few years of publication the words Science Detective were added to the cover until...but more of that in a moment.  Since then many other Doc Savage adventures have been (and are being) published, most of which have been written by Will Murray.  The vast majority of the original Doc Savage stories were written by Lester Dent under the house pseudonym "Kenneth Robeson."  All the original magazine adventures were published in paperback by Bantam beginning in the 1960s.

One of Dent's Doc Savage novels, title "In Hell, Madonna" was never published in the magazine.  The story had been scheduled for the October-November 1948 issue but was killed by editor Daisy Bacon.  The magazine just skipped that issue and went to the Winter 1948 issue; by that time few people noticed the missing issue. The remaining two issues of the magazine (all with Doc Savage adventures by Dent) appeared in 1949 as quarterlies.

What happened?  World War II had ended and a new global threat began to emerge as the Cold War began.  Doc Savage and his crew were re-purposed for what were basically spy stories, with emphasis on global politics and propaganda.  Doc Savage became an international troubleshooter for the U.S. State Department.  After returning from maternity leave, Doc Savage editor Babette Rosmond soon resigned in early 1948 to pursue a free-lance career..  Taking over the reins from Rosmond was William J. de Grouchy, who stayed in the position for only a few months but, while he was there he commissioned Dent to write a Doc savage novel, working title "In Hell, Madonna."  De Grouchy hated the proposed title but, as far as I can tell, never settled on a better one.  Enter de Grouchy's replacement, Daisy Bacon, the respected editor of Street & Smith's Love Story and Detective Story magazines.  Bacon soon saw that sales of Doc Savage were dropping, and the magazine got many letters from readers complaining about the spy/Cold War motif of recent issues.  Readers demanded a return to the old Doc -- the fantastic hero of so many fantastic adventures.  That convinced Bacon:  no longer will "Doc Savage saving the world" be the thrust of his adventures.  So Daisy Bacon scuttled the poorly named "In Hell, Madonna," as well as the October-November issue.

The words "Science Detective" were dropped from the next issue's cover as the bronzed hero returned to his roots -- all in vain, however, Doc Savage (as noted above) only lasted for three issues after the missed issue that was to have "In Hell, Madonna."

Time past.  Dent died.  And in 1975 pulp author and historian Will Murray discovered hints of an unknown and unpublished manuscript while going through the files of Street & Smith.  a two-year search ended when Norma Dent, Lester's widow, came across a carbon copy of the novel among Dent's papers.  Two years later, the story -- renamed The Red Spider -- finally saw print as #95 in the Bantam Books Doc Savage reprint series.


A long journey, but worth it.  The Red Spider is considered one of Dent's best Doc Savage novels, a pared-down, fast-moving tale with plenty of action and humor that takes Doc and two of his assistants to Joseph Stalin's Russia.

The Red Spider is an unknown Soviet official hidden in the center of a web, holding the strings of all Stalin's secret plots, including a rumored plan to build an atomic bomb.  Doc's mission:  find this "spider," pump him with truth serum, get a recording of everything he knows, and escape safely with the recording to expose Russian plans to the world.  Easy peasy.  Not really.

Caught and faced with a firing squad, Doc Savage must use all his talents and resources to complete his mission.  Along the way, there is enough misdirection and trickery to worthy of Robert Redford's movie The Sting.

Dent clearly wanted to take Doc Savage into modern times but, because of editorial and publishing realities, was not able to.  It's a shame but still we are left with a wonderful, pulpish action hero, as well as with this novel, so I can't really complain.



  1. Jerry, I have heard about Doc Savage but never read any of the adventures. I had no idea there were so many. After your post I'm tempted to read a few; hopefully they're available in paperbacks at my secondhand book haunts. If not, then I'll have to look up the magazines online.

  2. Excellent post, Jerry! I was unaware of this Savage adventure, and for a moment, seeing the title, thought it might be a The Spider story.

  3. Fascinating background. Hoping Red Spider is on Kindle!

  4. Jerry, it was 181, not 191, issues. Daisy Bacon was a great editor. It was Rosmond who had turned Doc into a sort of detective stumbling about. William J. de Grouchy had been an assistant editor under John Nanovic and was know for his heavy-handed editing.

    1. You're right. Thanks for the correction. I've fixed it now.