Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 26, 2020


Hades by Lester Dent (1936)

Alexander Titus wa a standout at the 1932 Olympics but he refused to cash in on his glory.  Now, four years later and living in a cheap rooming house with his best friend Haw Gooch, Titus is nearly broke and needs money to finish his final year of medical school.  Following a visit to the unemployment office, Titus is approach by film producer Roger P. Quinlan, who wants to hire him as a bodyguard.  When you hire Titus, you also hire Haw.  Quinlan agrees and, although refusing to say exactly what he was afraid of, is soon settled safely in Titus' rooming house.

Safely?  That night when someone sneaks into Titus' room, Titus tackles the intruder and discovers that he is a she -- a very gorgeous, very angry she.  Just then screams are heard from Quinlan's room.  Rushing there, Titus finds Quinlan in flames.  Titus extinguishes Quinlan although the fire continues and eventually burns the building.  Quinlan has a few minor burns and Titus' intruder has vanished.

Quinlan comes up with a fantastic story.  He has literally gone down to hell and has accidently released a demon.  Hell, it seems is located through a cave at the foot of the Superstitions Mountains of Death Valley.  Quinlan claims to have made a film of his journey and has also retrieved some unusual rocks that he had filmes as proof of his claim.  A copy of the film lies with movie distributor Carl Brockman.  When Titus shows up at Brockman's house, the distributor is dead, burned.  Titus calls the police and soon finds himself arrested because the cops have a recording of Brockman saying that Titus was on his way to kill him.

Titus' beautiful intruder then shows up to give him an alibi.  She is Lea Vale, an actress who is one of four of  Quinlan's crew of stock actors.  The others are aged cowboy Tiny Quigg, a cigar-smoking amazon named Herculena Johnson, and large-footed voice actor Thomas Town.  Soon Lea is arrested with Titus as an accessory and the two are taken away in a patrol car.  Titus gets angry and knocks out the five policemen in the car (he is very large and very strong), and escapes with Lea.  Titus and Haw reunited with Quinlan and his four actors.  Quinlan, however, seems to have gone insane, saying that he demon needs a human sacrifice.  He pulls a gun and escapes with Lea and Town, intending to make them the sacrifice.

The demon itself is a green, glowing, large amorphous blob whose blood is a greenish acid.  Titus has seen the demon several times and once impaled it with a lance to no effect.  In addition to the demon, there is a gang of human neer-dowells -- someone had taken rifle shots at Titus and Haw and someone was responsible for the anonymous phone calls to the police linking Titus and Lea to Brockman's  murder.

Skince Titus, in his home-spun Missouri way, has decided that Lea is the woman he is going to marry, he heads to Death Valley and the cave entrance to hell with haw, Herculena, and Town.  Titus is determined to save Lea.  Near the mouth of the cave, Herculena and Town are arrested by a phoney sheriff and his "deputies."  The deputies are searching the area for our two heroes, determined to kill them.

Since this is a pulp novel, all ends well in this moderately humorous thriller.  Hades first appeared as a three-part serial in Argosy magazine on December 5, 12, and 19, 1936, and was Dent's first appearance in that magazine.  Street and Smith had hired Lawrence Donovan as a backup to Dent for the Doc Savage novels when they planned to take Doc Savage to a twice a month basis; the scheme fell through but not before Donovan had turned in nine Doc Savage novels, giving Dent the time needed to write for other markets.  Argosy was a higher-class pulp and demanded more careful writing; Dent would publish three novels in the magazine before moving on to other markets while still devoting the majority of his time to Doc Savage.

Hades had a lot of the Doc Savage flavor, though Titus, as a hero, was an "ordinary" guy and did not rely on super-gadgets, unlimited funds, and an encyclopedic knowledge of everything as did Doc Savage.  Titus was the same height and weight as his creator, Dent, and had red hair.  Instead of having five assistant, Titus had Haw -- a former boxer, short but as wide as he was tall, and able to come up with old jokes that he thought he had made up at a moment's notice.  Both titus and Doc Sa age have "cabled" muscles.  As I mentioned above, this is a moderately humorous thriller.  Not ha-ha-laugh-out-loud humorous, but more of a lighter humor that that does not interfere (much) with the fast-paced action.

Never one to let ideas go away, Dent later incorporated elements of Hades into two Doc Savage novels, The Mystic Mullah and Up from Earth's CenterHades was later reprinted in an omnibus volume with another Argosy serial, 1937's HocusPocus, in 1979 by Pulp Press, a small publishing house founded by Roy Walsh and Robert Weinburg.

An enjoyable and mystifying read occasionally marked by typos and strange sentences, Hades will leave you wondering if the demons are real.  This one is top-notch Dent.

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