Thursday, February 2, 2017

Always Wear Your Bulletproof Underwear

 Read/Watch 'em In Order #76

The Devil Genghis from Doc Savage magazine, December 1938.

Someone or something is driving men insane. An Eskimo, a pilot and a rich guy in a Monte Carlo casino all go nuts, exhibiting the same strange symptoms despite never having been in contact with one another.

It's the sort of case that would attract Doc Savage. But even before Doc hears about the epidemic of insanity, someone tries to kidnap him. The idea is to wait for him to come out of a building after a rare public appearance, use a machine gun to pump him full of mercy bullets, then use a fake ambulance to haul him away.

Fortunately, Doc rivals and perhaps even surpasses Batman in being Crazy Prepared for anything. Chain-mail long-johns stop the bullets, though Doc pretends to fall unconscious anyways--willingly going into captivity because that's the most straightforward way to find out what's going on.

But there's nothing straightforward about this case. What follows is a series of plot twists involving successive captures and escapes that make this excellent pulp novel very, very difficult to summarize. Doc soon realizes he's up against a tough opponent and by the time the action has shifted from New York to London, two of Doc's men are missing and a third has been rendered insane.

It's actually a bit of a spoiler to tell you that the villain behind all this is John Sunlight. Presumed dead after his last appearance.two issues earlier, Sunlight has not only survived, but had also managed to hang on to several of the terrible weapons he had stolen from Doc's Fortress of Solitude.

But this is the second half of a look at the John Sunlight stories, so there's no way to hide that particular spoiler. In the first story, Sunlight was front-and-center on the first page and frequently reappeared throughout the story. Here, he's hidden for most of the tale--sending out his minions to tangle with Doc while he builds an army in a remote Asian location.

Because of this, Sunlight has a slightly less impressive impact on the readers than he had in Fortress of Solitude. But despite this, I would still rate The Devil Genghis as the better of the two Sunlight books. Lester Dent (writing, as usual, as Kenneth Robeson) is at the top of his game here. The action sequences, especially a thrilling aerial dogfight, are intense. The various mysteries that Doc must solve along the way (such as how and why men are going nuts) are all intriguing.  The plot twists come at such a white-hot rate that it would probably render me insane if I did try to write a detailed summary, but everything properly follows the internal logic that exists in Doc's universe. The action moves from New York to a ship at sea to London to the skies over Asia to a remote mountain near Afghanistan, with Doc and Sunlight's minions scheming and counter-scheming against one another non-stop. The story never stops to take a breath--nor does it need to. This is simply great storytelling.

That's it for John Sunlight. When we return to the In Order series, we'll look at the first few Solar Queen novels by Andre Norton. There are, I believe, seven in the series and we'll go through at least the first three. I'm as yet undecided whether to continue beyond that.

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