031 12/34 The Annihilist

Chuck Welch
December 31, 1994 - 1934 / bama / Bantam 025-036 / baumhofer / nanovic / novel

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The dread Annihilist was slaughtering the criminals of New York in wholesale lots. Hundreds of men were found mysteriously murdered, victims of the hideous pop-eyed death. The finger of suspicion pointed directly at one man, Doc Savage himself. Even as The Man of Bronze scrambled to solve the terrifying enigma, the invisible assassin began to play havoc with one of humanity’s most important secret defenses — Doc Savage’s legendary crime college.

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Comment Archive

  1. Scott Kimball says:

    Maybe it was just me, but either Lester Dent didn’t write this one or he was working off a hang-over when he did, because it really started off poorly. It just didn’t seem to flow at all for the first few chapters and the descriptions of scenes seemed a bit flat and lifeless. It just had a disjointed feel to it. Then the torture scene was a bit over the top, but then again I am squeamish anyway. It had some cool stuff in it, but I felt like something was missing… maybe that something was “good writing.”

  2. Barry Ellis says:

    I couldn’t disagree with Mr. Kimball More! This could well be a “top-ten” Doc (and certainly at least a “top 20” one). This story is one of those rare integral tales that establish the Savage continuity and is a FABULOUS pulp-read! The crime college, Hardboiled and GANGSTERS are wonderful elements of this story. One of my personal favorites.

  3. After reading your comments earlier this week, Scott, I reread The Annihilist, and I disagree with your assessment of the book. If I were listing my top Docs, it would be in the No. 10 easily. Look at all the great things it has:
    Pat Savage actually acts like a competent woman rather than the Bimbo of Bronze.
    Renny has a great fight scene.
    The ultimate Monk-Ham spat. The rivalry never got any better or funnier than this.
    Doc’s clashes with Hardboiled, and the warm-hearted resolution at the end. It was hard to predict, and yet is was perfectly logical, given that Hardboiled is tough, but honestly wants to stop crime.
    A good job of diverting suspicion from an obvious super-villain.
    It think it is a trifle disjointed precisely because that is actually how such an adventure would happen. The Crime Annihilist and Boke’s gang had nothing in common until Leander Court’s death drew in Doc and the Fightin’ Five (remember Boke would say a few pages later that it was inevitable that his gang would go up Doc soon), and Sultman’s invitation caused the Lorrey brothers to visit his house.
    I agree with Barry; this is a masterpiece of pulp writing.

  4. Scott Kimball says:

    I appreciate the different opinions expressed above. Different strokes for different folks, as they say… for example, I loved MURDER MELODY, yet I hear people all the time just going off about how absolutely dreadful it is. Regarding The Annihilist… It is possible that I was having an “off” day when I was reading it… maybe my brain was a bit “disjointed” rather than the book. Anyway, I will give it another go when my negative bias has had some time to wear off.

  5. Surely the best of the Bama covers? I have reservations for Death in Silver and Sargasso Ogre, but if I was choosing up favourites, I guess it’d have to be this one. (Darn! Now I have to re-read the book!)

  6. Todd Pence says:

    “The Annihilist” is a wild tale even by the standard’s of Doc’s earlier adventures! A strange phenomenom which threatens all of NYC, a plot involving the crime college, and some of the most memorably offbeat characters to appear in a Dent novel make up the basis for this corker. And a real unexpected twist at the end that reveals the Crime Annihilist villian as a figure of pathos. One of Dent’s best!

  7. Paul Cook says:

    This must rank as among the greatest Doc adventures of all. Moreover, it makes considerable use of the Crime College and there’s a hilarious trope in the story about Monk always getting headaches when the Annihilist is using his mysterious weapon that is only supposed to affect “criminals”. This novel is also important because Doc suffers one of his most serious injuries in the entire series (though in the Forties he’ll get shot a number of times). An excellent Doc, all the way around.

  8. Mark Carpenter says:

    The premise of “The Annihilist” is terrific, and I was really pulling for the story all the way through, but the ending was such a letdown that it soured me on the whole book. Specifically, the identity of the Annihilist was a total washout. It’s like Dent wasn’t even trying. I know the author wasn’t interested in being Agatha Christie, but if you’re going to base your whole book on the identity of a villain, the reveal better be pretty damn good. This wasn’t.
    Sorry to slam an otherwise great book, but after classics like “The Sargasso Ogre” and “Fortress of Solitude,” I expect a lot from Dent.

  9. Lee Dorrance says:

    After reading this book for the first time, I am convinced that Lester Dent was not the author, but perhaps this was the first book written by one of the ghost writers. There were a couple of key inconsistencies near the beginning of the tale.

    First, Dent has gone to great lengths in describing Doc’s wish to stay out of the public limelight, driving very non-descript automobiles, avoiding the press, etc. When Doc first arrives at the scene of the pop-eyed murders, his car bears the license plate “Doc-1”. Why would someone wishing to remain out of the public eye have a “vanity” plate? It seems very out of character for Doc.

    Second, we are all aware of Doc’s fabulous five and their true names and military ranks. So how did Ham gain an extra star on his shoulder to become Major General Theodore Marley Brooks? More importantly, how did his rank increase while not on active duty?

    Aside from the above, the story is very exciting and I enjoyed learning a little more about Doc’s crime college. Hardboiled Humbolt was an excellent character and Monk and Ham’s interactions brought some needed levity to an otherwise grim story.

  10. Steve D says:

    Y’all are crazy. It’s been ages since I’ve read any of the SAVAGE books and I wanted to jump back in with a bang… so I selected this one, based in part on the excited reviews on this page.

    Talk about a massive disappointment!

    This is exactly the kind of story that killed my love for Doc when I was a kid. Dry, turgid prose, characters by the dozen who are mere ciphers, conspiracies layered on conspiracies, and a “plot” that consists mainly of repetitive action and pointless running around. The glimpses of the Crime College and the insights into Doc’s “correctional” methods are tantalizing — but even they end up being disappointments. And don’t even get me started on the “surprise” reveal of the villain, a character who both the reader and Savage’s crew have already suspected and cleared multiple times. And if the heroes are off their mark, the antagonists act even dimmer.

    Are we really supposed to buy that one group of heavies are following a trail of notes dropped out of an airplane? Or that the villains would kidnap a PIG?

    I found the book a grim, grim thing to slog through… with occassional points of excitement, of the variety that made me want to hurl it across the room. Silly, poorly thought-out, and it all definitely reads to me like Dent was up against a deadline or passed this off to a ghost.

    Fortunately, it wasn’t so awful that it destroyed my renewed interest in the DOC books. FEAR CAY — now THAT’s a classic adventure story!

  11. Ignatz says:

    Lester Dent, in his famous monograph on how to write pulps, said that the first thing a pulp needs is an interesting way to die. This one has that, in spades. But, despite that, I found it uneven and disjointed. It has good things – Pat’s great, it’s grisly and weird, it has more than just bad guys, but bad guys fighting both Doc and the chief bad guy, whose sort of a good guy. But it really didn’t hold my attention – it’s uneven.

    Some commenters enjoyed the over-the-top squabble between Monk and Ham. I didn’t. Ham is caustic, but in this book, he comes across as kind of lousy, and that’s not the character I know. The scene with him laughing when Monk’s eyes pop out is really unsetling – “Oh, look, Monk almost died in that really gross way too. Ha ha. Let’s see if I goad him into making that happen again.” Ham would normally put the squabble completely aside and be horrified. Itching powder on the pig is pretty mean, too. And how could Dent call him a Major General?

    I agree – ghosted.

  12. Richard Cording says:

    A great read! Not top-shelf Doc, considering that this is one of the early yarns, but excellent stuff, nonethe less. SPOILER AHEAD! I’m sorry, but I can’t discuss this novel as I want to do without giving away key elements of the plot. So, for those of you who haven’t read it yet, I strongly advise that you go and make a cup of coffee or put the garbage out at this point … What I couldn’t fathom about this story was how the Crime Annihilist’s little gadget was able to make the distinction between criminous thoughts and merely ones of anger. Only criminals suffered the “eye-popping death”, and that only if they displayed homicidal emotions. At one point, the leader of one of the two rival gangs chasing up the Annihilist told his men not to get too wound up, otherwise they would suffer that fate. But excited emotions are excited emotions — it is intention which determines whether they are homicidal or not. Whenever Monk got upset with Ham, his eyes would begin to protrude, frightening him into calming down. Yet Ham could get wound-up with Monk with no perceptible damage being done. It seems a minor quibble — after all, this is pure science-fantasy at play here. But it is a well-known dictum in SF that an author is allowed one implausibility, and after that, everything else must proceed logically from that premise. This aside, however, Dent did excel with this novel. I don’t think that he ever employed in any other Doc Savage yarn the device of having the gangster’s torturing the central mastermind. A very good touch. And even though the identity of the Crime Annihilist himself was reasonably easy to work out, the identity of Boke was a stunner! So, a rather mixed review for this one — definitely 4 stars.

  13. rgdmalaysia says:

    One of the grimmest Docs – The torture scene is almost too much to bear. I like it – Gritty and powerful and an effeminate (euphemism for gay?) villain. I like the Ham and Monk scenes of this one.

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