Monday, October 25, 2010

Doc Savage - The Stone Man

Published date - October 1939.
Featured aides - Monk, Ham, Long Tom, Renny. Missing - Johnny, mentioned as investigating claims concerning claims of origins of man.

This is almost a perfect followup to reading Kuttner's Doc Savage-lite Thunder Jim Wade in "Waters of Death" and the Secret Agent "X" novel "Death's Frozen Formula" in that it shows a bit of the untapped potential in the concepts from both novels.

The novel starts off in typical Doc Savage fashion, in the middle of action and verbally painting memorable characters. In this case it's Spad Ames and Waldo Berlitz, two cold-hearted killers fleeing the Law in an aerial pursuit. Eluding their pursuers, they crash in the canyons of the Arizona Badlands and shortly stumble upon a secret that costs Berlitz his life in the form of being turned into a "stone man".

When we next see Ames, he's white-haired and trying to get together a crew to kidnap a pair of strange siblings and get back to Arizona to get the secrets of a land beyond the mists.
This isn't one of the best of the lost races of the Doc Savage novels nor the best of the incredible menaces. It takes a little long to get to the hidden land and build the tension. A lot of stuff seems set up that really goes nowhere. Spad Ames and his partner Mr. Locatella and their mutual distrust though they are both intriguingly characterized. The hidden land/lost race are only described in the most broad strokes and only a little part of the actual novel. The climactic action comes all too quick and speedily and conveniently wraps everything up. If ever a story needed an extra ten to twenty pages...

But, it does show off what the Doc novels did so well. The secret of the mysterious menace isn't all that mysterious other than it's sci-fi angle, at least not to the adult 21st Century me. However, to a kid from 1939, it would probably be fairly fantastical especially when done in connection with a hidden land of mysterious people in the American West. The main bad guys were interesting, the interaction between Ham and the other aides (he had played a practical joke on Monk and Renny) and Doc is fun and well-done, like visiting old friends. The action and locations are varied from New York to the Badlands and to the land beyond the mists. The supporting characters have conflicting goals and concerns, putting the lie to the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" being automatically true.

It shows how even a mediocre Doc novel is often more readable and fun than the better ones of other series.

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