The Touch of Death (1954) [Dr. Palfrey #16]
The Terror (1961) [Dr. Palfrey #20]
The Depths (1963) [Dr. Palfrey #21]
The Inferno (1965) [Dr. Palfrey # 23]
The Unbegotten (1971) [Dr. Palfrey #28]
-- all by John Creasey
Dr. Stanislaus Alexander Palfrey, "Sap" to his friends and co-workers, heads up an international crime-fighting organization known as Z5. Z5 is funded by governments, large and small, but is independent from any government control. It does not concern itself with local politics, only with crime that crosses borders of two or more countries. Z5 has agents and offices scattered around the world, all connected by a sophisticated communications network. In addition, there are thousands of "part-time" agents willing to help the organization.
Althoough its brief is international crime, Z5 increasingly finds itself against large, well-funded plots to take over the world (or, at the very least) large parts of it. At the heart of these plots is usually a mysterious, previously unknown, megalomaniac or a mad scientist who has managed to recruit a dedicated and zealous following willing to die for their cause. The victims in each of the books tend to number in the thousands, the damage runs in the billions. After each threat, the world seems to go on as before, basically ignoring the damage done, although there may be some passing reference to previous cass at times. In this sense Palfrey's world is a renewable playground.
The threats, often of Biblical proportions, are often science fictional. A world-wide flood, devasting earthquakes controlled by the bad guys, the ability to control and target tidal waves,the human control of fire, material that cause instant death, the sudden sterilization of a population, highly controlled atomic weapons...The book titles cn give you a clue: The Plague, The Drought, The Sleep!, The Flood, The Famine, The Blight, The Smog...
And the villains...many of them are able to construct large, elaborate, city-like lairs under the sea, underground, or in space, all without the awareness of or detection by the world's greatest intelligence and defense agencies.
And Palfrey? His wife and only son were killed in an earlier book, leaving him to pursue the villains with single-minded purpose. Palfrey can be as cold-blooded as they come and is not averse to torture (or worse) to get the goods on the villain. He has been known to sacrifice his own people in order to destroy his enemies and he will unblinkingly cause the destruction of thousands in that pursuit. Nice guy, huh? Yet his people love him.
In The Touch of Death, a rare radioactive by-product of the Hiroshima explosion is discovered to cause instant death to anyone who comes in contact with it, or comes in contact with anyone it has killed. This compound can be weaponized further by applying it to animals. ("O, look at the pretty kitty, Mummy! Can I pet it?") This silent killer is able to wipe out large chinks of the population withut warning. This is the one book of the five I read where Drusilla, Palfrey's wife, was still alive.
The Terror appears to come from space in the form af a nuclear-armed rocket aimed first at Russia, then at the United States, and finally at England. The world is blackmailed -- give up and destroy your weapons and disband your armies or face total detruction.
Someone has figured out how to control and target tidal waves in The Depths, destroying ships and coastal areas at random. Top scientists are disappearing at a disarming rate...could they have been "captured" by these massive waves? Just as the governments of the world are about to give into a madman's demands, Palfrey manages to eliminate the threat in the most chilling manner.
Fires in the major cities of the world are being set from a single location in Englnd in The Inferno. To begin with, these "intelligent" fires target slum areas but the threat looms large. The fires can advance or retreat at will.
In The Unbegotten, three wide swarths of Britain are experiencing zero population growth. Women are no longer getting pregnant. This phenomena soon spreads world-wide, affecting tenpercent of the population and threatens to get larger. The human race is dying out and no one can figure out why. Then there's Sam. a child-like woman captured after a rocket crashed. She has a hard time trying to understand lowly humans and their disgusting, animal approach to sex. Palfrey begins to gain her trust by giving her chocolate cream candies -- something she soon becomes addicted to. It may not make much sense but it's a major plot point.
Pure melodrama, requiring a severe dispensation of belief, written to hurry you along to an eciting conclusion. This is not great literature, folks. But it is enoyable reading.
The Palfrey books are lkke peanuts. Best not to have just one but to consume several at the same tine.