Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 20, 2020


 The Frightened Fish (Doc Savage #186) by "Kenneth Robeson" (Will Murray), 1992

Pulp hero Doc Savage blazed his way through 181 fantastic adventures in the pages of Doc Savage Magazine from March 1933 to Summer 1949, "righting wrongs, helping the oppressed, smashing the guilty."  The stories were all by-lined "Kenneth Robeson," a house name used most often by Lester Dent who wrote or co-wrote all but 22 of the novels.  A final Doc Savage novel, The Red Spider, was scheduled to appear in the magazine but the magazine folded before it could appear.  This novel was eventually discovered among Dent's papers years later and was published in 1979 as the 95th book in that series (the Bantam series was not published in the order that they had appeared in the magazine).  In 1973, legendary Philip Jose Farmer published a fictional biography of the Man in Bronze, Doc Savage:  His Apocalyptic Life (Farmer had previously written several pastiches about the character).  In 1991, Farmer wrote his own authorized Doc Savage novel, Escape from Loki, which explored a seventeen-year-old Clark Savage in World War I and his first meeting with the five men who would become his aides.  In 1991, Will Murray, who had been literary executor for the Dent estate, published Python Isle, the first of at least fifteen Doc Savage Adventures based on outlines written by Dent.  The Frightened Fish was the third of these novels.

A man sits in a restaurant.  When the neighboring table orders fish he goes berserk and tries to kill himself.  Two other customers restrain him...A man passes a market.  In the window there is a large fish laying on a tray of ice.  He panics and yells something about he can't escape the "frightened fish."  He tries to throw himself in front of a taxi but is restrained by passersby...A man is at a newsstand and notices a rack of postcards which picture a swordfish.  He screams and knock over the rack, yelling that the fish are hunting him.  He is restrained by other customers...Outside the skyscraper where Doc Savage has his headquarters on the 86th floor, three men are surreptitiously drawing a large fish on the sidewalk.  Doc is informed that something strange is going on outside his building and decides to investigate.  From a distance, he follows the men's conversation by lip reading:  They are all members of Max Woods' gang and everything that had been done that day was to learn if frightened fish meant anything to Doc.  If Doc knows anything, he should be getting ready go to Quincy. Massachusetts.  When George, the man who was the one who continually and loudly made a scene about frightened fish, approached, he would once again go into his act.  With luck, Doc would capture him and interrogate him.  If it turns out that Doc does know something about about the fish or about Max Woods' plans, the men are to eliminate Doc.  The other member of the gang, George, approaches and begins to go into his act.  Doc interrupts them and tells them to drop the act.  They shoot Doc and flee.

Doc is wearing his specially designed bulletproof vest and is unharmed.  Back in his headquarters, Monk tells Doc that there is an irate woman who is demanding that Doc tell her what he had done with her fiance,  Doc agrees to see the woman.  Celia Adams is young, beautiful, privileged, and will brook no nonsense -- Doc know where her fiance is and had better tell he at once.  She is the daughter of state congressman Manet Adams and a descendant of John Adams and of John Quincy Adams and wants to know what Doc has done with her ichthyologist fiance.  Doc has never heard of the young man but things are beginning to tie together.  Fish, a missing ichthyologist, and Quincy, the girl's home town...Doc, Monk, Ham, and Johnny head off to Quincy with the ever-annoying Miss Adams.

Something strange is going on in Quincy.  All the fish have left Quincy Bay.  Every.  Single,  One.  For some reason, the fish have been frightened away.  Two weeks earlier, the waters of the bay had turned black during the night and had soon returned to its normal state.  Celia Adams is kidnapped while they were in Quincy.  The trail soon leads them to Plum Island, just off Newbiryport, Massachusetts.  There, the marine life seems to have committed suicide -- seven whales had beached themselves.  

There they  also find Celia's fiance, Baker Eastland.  During the war, the young ichthyologist has developed a chemical that could frighten fish.  The chemical could be used off the waters of Japan to pressure that country, whose main food source was fish, to surrender or face starvation.  But the war ended soon after Eastland had developed the chemical and the War Department was no longer interested in the discovery.  Somehow a man named Max Woods learn of the chemical and bought the formula from Eastland.  Eastland (naive as an ichthyologist can be) finally wonders why Woods would want with the formula.  He tells his fiance he is going to consult Doc Savage (of course, he doesn't tell her way), and on his way he feels he is being followed.  Rather than see Doc Savage, he goes to an old cabin on Plum Island to hide out.  Shortly after finding the ichthyologist, Doc and the gang are shot at.  They manage to capture the gunman, a polite and closed-mouthed Japanese.  So it's off to Japan.

The action begins to pick up and Doc finds himself facing a evil mastermind whom Doc has faced before and thought was dead.  Both Doc and the villain villain were trained by the same man years ago.  Now Doc must use all his wits and talents to avoid a new global war.  To add a wrinkle to the affair, Savage actually falls in love (!) -- an affair that cannot end happily.

Murray captures much of Dent's fast action style and humor, realizing that Doc Savage must appeal to action-loving readers of all ages.  Murray knows his pulp, he knows Doc Savage, and he's able to add a fresh perspective to the saga.

If you like Doc, you'll love Will Murray's version of the Man of Bronze.

1 comment:

  1. Will Murray seemed to have the knack of channelling Lester Dent when he wrote his Doc Savage pastiches.