Thursday, February 4, 2016

Death Rides the Ceiling.

We've visited with master spy and ace pilot G-8 before. Robert J. Hogan, who wrote all 110 G-8 novels, could always be depended upon to give us bizarre but internally consistent plots peppered with great action set pieces. Frederick Blakeslee provided wonderful covers, with this one (November 1936) being particularly action-packed.

The story that goes with it is equally action-packed, even though it starts with both the hero and the villain on vacation. German mad scientist Herr Doctor Krueger is recovering from the near-fatal injuries inflicted upon him by G-8 pretty much every time the two butt heads. When he learns that
G-8 is taking a few days off on the Riviera, the doctor decides to combine recuperation with a little spying and arranges to be smuggled into the Riviera himself.

I'm not sure this is the world's most brilliant plan, but the book allows the Germans to be extremely clever opponents to the Allies throughout most of the novel, so I'm feeling forgiving about this. Anyway, the end results of these shenanigans is that both G-8 and Krueger learn that some sort of powerful magnetic force is being used in the German town of Neurthrum--something that can literally pull planes out of the air. Krueger orders a strafing attack on G-8's hotel, but the spy survives and soon manages to capture the German.

So far, the novel is off to a swift and entertaining start. But it gets better. G-8, disguising himself as an old woman, enters Neurthrum and gets a job scrubbing floors in the town hall, which seems to be the epicenter of the magnetism. He soon makes progress in spying (and in cleaning--he's all over that place with his mop and bucket). He pretty much figures out that the head janitor is behind the magnetism.

There is a plot thread left dangling here. Does the janitor intend to use his invention to help the Germans or does he have his own agenda? He does use his device to help G-8 escape a firing squad later on and there's a scene that implies he's later tortured by Krueger to give up that device. Is he pro-Ally? Neutral? Just plain nuts, as most scientists in G-8's universe seem to be? This is never resolved.

It's actually an indication of how much fun this novel is that a significant plot thread left blowing in the wind doesn't spoil the story at all.

German agents in Paris pull off a complex but really very clever plan to rescue Krueger from his prison cell. This puts G-8 at risk, because Krueger knows the spy has gone to Neurthrum. This results in an edge-of-your-seat escape sequence, in which G-8 (still in his old woman disguise) has to fight past a guard, steal a car, survive being strafed by a Fokker, crash his car, steal another car and then steal a plane to get away--taking a bullet to his shoulder for his troubles and then nearly getting shot down by his own men. This is Hogan at his best, presenting the entire sequence in clear, breathless prose.

Another great sequence comes later when one of the Battle Aces, Bull Martin, flies a solo mission to
try to blow up Neuthrum's town hall, only to be caught in the magnetic force.

As the novel approaches its climax, we learn that Krueger already had a plan in the works to lure thousands of Allied troops into a trap. Now the super-magnets are used to support this effort. Mounted in the wings of Fokkers, they deflect any bullets fired at the planes. Invincible fighter planes give the Germans complete air superiority.

G-8 has to improvise plans to take out these Fokkers and save the American army. But another twist comes when he finds he's been fed false information by Krueger, causing his initial plan to fail miserably. Now he literally has just minutes to improvise yet another plan before countless Allied soldiers are slaughtered.

This is great stuff. G-8's escape and Bull's doomed mission are the highlights, but the entire story moves with lightning speed and is enormously fun from start to finish. Another satisfying element to the story is G-8's cover story when he's posing as an old woman--"she" explains that all four of her sons have died in combat and now she just wants to serve the Fatherland in any way she can. G-8 literally makes several German soldiers fall all over themselves to get "her" a job at the town hall.

I also really do appreciate that the bad guys are smart--as demonstrated both by their plan to spring Krueger from the slammer and Krueger's later successful effort to feed G-8 bad information.

This is one of my favorite G-8 stories, containing all the elements that make G-8 one of the great pulp heroes.

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