Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, May 29, 2020


Doc Savage Omnibus #5 by "Kenneth Robeson"  (1988)

Most everyone knows of Doc Savage, the bronze-toned, perfectly-honed hero of the pulp era who -- with the aid of five assistants -- rights wrongs and punishes evildoers.  Doc, nee Clark Savage, Jr., is not a superhero,  but is an extraordinary man who was trained to be a perfect physical and mental specimen.  With aid of a large fortune in gold, Doc and his pals roam the world fighting threats both apocalyptical and criminal.  Created by Street & Smith publisher Henry Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic and fleshed out by writer Lester Dent, Doc was designed to capitalize on the success of Street & Smith's The Shadow.  The bronze-skinned, yellowed-eyed, bronze haired hero premiered in the March 1933 inaugural issue of Doc Savage Magazine with the "novel-length adventure" The Man of Bronze.  One hundred eighty original adventures followed, each published as by "Kenneth Robeson" with the vast majority written by lester Dent, up to the final issue in the Summer 1949 issue.  Since then, one unpublished adventure by Dent (written in 1948), an "origin" story written by Philip Jose Farmer, and a number of new adventures written by Will Murray have been published.

Changes were in store for Doc Savage during World War II , editor Charles Moran changed the tone of Doc Savage's adventures to one of more suspense and realism.  Because of wartime paper shortages, although still described as "novel-length" stories, the size of each adventure was shortened.  For the most part, Doc carried on with just two assistants, Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks.  Sales of pulp hero adventurers began to fall and the magazine went to bimonthly issues in 1947, then to quarterly issues before ending in 1949.

In 1964, Bantam Books began publishing the original magazine stories in paperback (not necessarily in magazine order), with each book containing a single story.  Ninety-six books were published in this format, including the recently-found, previously unpublished 1948 story.  The next fifteen paperbacks were published containing two adventures each, followed by a series of thirteen "omnibus" volumes containing four to five adventures each.  Eventually the entire original series of 181 adventures (plus the previously unpublished 1948 story) was published by Bantam, most with striking covers by artist James Bama.

Doc Savage Omnibus #5 contains five consecutive adventures from 1947-8.  These tales -- all written by Lester Dent -- are unique because each is told by a first-person narrator; all other Doc Savage stories were told in the third-person.  The stories provide five different viewpoints of Doc Savage as the narrators try to differentiate between Savage the Man and Savage the Myth.  This first-person experiment did not help the sales of the magazine, however, and the stories went back to the third person narration for the seven remaining adventures.  Which is a shame because these five stories, while not as action-packed as other tales in the Doc Savage saga, are bright and entertaining, character-driven narratives.

The stories:

  • No Light to Die By (Doc Savage, May-June 1947, original episode #170)  Narrated by Sammy Wales, who was mistaken for another Samuel Wales who was an expert on lunar theory.  Sammy gets entangled with a deadly gang who can create both an unnatural light in the sky as well as a dealy dark cloud that murders people.  Doc Savage and Monk Mayfair are on the scene and Sammy is swept up in their investigation which includes the beautiful Paula Fenisong who has captured the eyes of both Sammy and Monk.
  • The Monkey Suit (Doc Savage, July-August 1947, original episode #171)  The narrator this time is the thoroughly dislikable Henry Jones, a chemist whose high opinion of himself is not shared by anyone else.  Dido Alstrong, an old school acquaintance, convinces Henry to pick up a package for him.  Others want the package, too, and will go to any length to get it.  Doc Savage enters the case somewhat circuitously and finds the package contains a gorilla costume once used in an avant-garde "political" drama.  There is also a beautiful girl who ends up having no truck with Henry, as well as a "scientific" breakthrough that could revolutionize modern living.
  • Let's Kill Ames (Doc Savage. September-October 1947, original episode #172)   Travice Ames, our narrator, is an accomplished con artist down on her luck.  Her temporary mark is a loutish scientist who drunkenly tells her that he has been commissioned to poison three prominent people with a new slow-acting radioactive poison which will kill in about four months.  There is an antidote, known only to the chemist, and the victims will be blackmailed to pay for it or lose their lives.  Smelling the promise of money, Travice inserts herself into the situation and cons (she believes) Doc Savage into investigating and coming up with the antidote.  Things do not go so well for her because Doc is ahead of her every step of the way.
  • Once Over Lightly (Doc Savage, November-December 1947, original episode #173)  Our narrator is Mary Olga Thunnels (better known as "Mote"), an employee of a detective agency who suddenly gets a job offer from an old friend, Glacia Loring.  Mote travels to California and to a remote luxury, American Indian-themed resort to meet Glacia, not knowing exactly what the job entails.  Glacia hires Mote as her assistant, still with no undefined duties but with a hint that Mote was hired to protect Glacia.  Mote is introduced to Glacia's Uncle Hugo, who is soon found dead with his head bashed in by an Indian Club.  Hugo's will leaves everything to Glacia, including "Trapper."  What Trapper is is not known.  Also vacationing at the resort is Doc Savage and Monk.  But since when does Doc Savage ever take a vacation?
  • I Died Yesterday (Doc Savage, January-February 1948, original episode #174)  Our narrator this time is Doc's lovely (and somewhat troublesome) cousin, Pat Savage.   The story opens with Pat (for her own reasons) running a high-end beauty salon catering to rich women.  A tall, thin man enters, sits, and refuses to leave so Pat is called to kick him out.  The man calmly asks Pat to look outside and see if anyone has come to finish killing him.  Turns out he has the broken shaft of an ice picks in his back.  Pat Savage has inherited the family trait of being drawn to "danger, suspense or anticipation of violence."  Pat rushes into the street to find the attacker, a "bobbing little fuss-duddy of a man."  She nearly captures him, But he is fast-moving and somehow escapes, along with a slow-moving accomplice, leaving behind a camera.  Doc Savage is called upon to use his surgical skills to save the victim.  Doc does not want his cousin embroiled in this adventure and resorts to tricks to sideline her. In the end, though, It's up to Pat to try to rescue the Man of Bronze.
Good, fast reading -- not as fantastic as many of Doc's early adventures but still solid proof that Lester Dent could thrill readers as much near the end of doc Savage's career than he did at the beginning.

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