166m 03/46 Terror and the Lonely Widow

Chuck Welch
March 9, 2006 - 1946 / Bantam 157-168 / clark / degrouchy / larkin / needs / novel / pulp

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Doc and crew are en route to the South Sea Islands where an evil mastermind plans to start WWIII by selling an atomic bomb to the highest bidder — but Doc’s search is cut short when the madman hijacks their plane!

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  1. Thomas Fortenberry says:

    Well, this is one of the later-day Docs, so you know what to expect in the post-war spy days going in. It also uses a title ploy virtually identical to Trouble on Parade (in which Parade was an island, and here the Lonely Widow is the name of a lost craft), so we’re in familiar territory. However, this book is still a bit different from any I had read before.

    For one it has Doc pitted pretty bitterly against the government, even as he is working with them. They’ve (naturally) called him in to save the day at the last possible minute with nothing to go on and no help, and then try and impede or outright destroy him throughout. So he isn’t pleased with the situation at all. In fact at one point (Bantam Omnibus 10, p 348) when Ham suggests they ask for some extra fed help, Doc yells, “That’s out! Definitely out!” and a moment later explains, “We never work for anybody.” Damn. Doc puts the government in its place. There is also a telling scene where a local cop says he is ashamed at the heavyhanded secrecy of the US government (p 352), which is equally relevant today.

    When things quickly turn bad (no, in a Doc adventure?) you also throw in some police who absolutely hate his ass and want him in prison. So there’s some harsh antagonism here between Doc and co and law enforcement, as well as an honest portrayal of local law pitted against overpowered federal law enforcement and not liking it one bit. This is of course the more human, more nervous, angry, and doubtful Doc, but his superhuman prowess and reputation are still in existence here. There are some very nice descriptions of Doc and also the impression he makes on strangers and his own crew in this novel. Also in one spot it is noted his aids think he is a “freak” who “survived” his upbringing. (p 342)

    Here’s something that isn’t a spoiler (as it is the novel opener and revealed on page 3) but should get your attention: Doc is a sniper trying to kill a guy! Even mentions his great skill with the weapon, and most strange of all is this passage, when he goes to put it up: He places the rifle in the case with care. it was his favorite rifle. (p 341) Doc has a favorite gun now? Wow, times really have changed. At any rate, he’s trying to scare the hell out of the guy and succeeds very well.

    Here’s the downside, the mystery of the book is kept a mystery for virtually the whole book. Now I love how Doc always unfolds the drama, but come on. This book refused to reveal ANYTHING for almost half the entire book, and I mean anything. What the mystery was or who was involved or what was at stake. It was just continual nailbiting murk with no one knowing what the hell was happening, least of all the reader. This is a problem, in that after a while you get bored and lose focus since NO mystery seems to be developing at all. But the first whiff of mystery does eventually roll onstage and at least it is good. A serious tale with very modern implications (like most Doc works it stands the test of time very well and could have happened today as a breaking CNN headline rather than in 1946). I want say anything more about the mystery for fear of giving it away. i just wish it would have been mentioned earlier on, before burning away half a book in endless gyrations around in the dark.

    Some interesting highlights for Doc fans: In this book there is a scene with a criminal high on drugs. He admits smoking a few “ju-jus” (p 346) when Doc and crew question him. In one scene Monk is said to be wearing aviator shades, which makes him about 50 years ahead of Tom Cruise and the whole 1980s fad. Also, Renny is said to have a “foppish” habit of wearing his unruly curly hair greased back with heavy pomade. Plus it says Renny is physically incapable of whispering due to a physiological abnormality (p 356) In this book there exists the first time in the series that I know of when an entire important scene (throughout the 370s) with Doc and antoher character is stolen by a fly. Yes, a housefly. It is simply incredible to read. We miss the first serious discussion about the whole mystery because of a fly buzzing around the room. This has to be the first time in the series a non-sentient creature/object upstaged everyone, including Doc. In another scene, it is said that Ham’s superfirer pistol uses mushrooming .22 caliber Hornets (p 408). This is the only time I remember the explicit mention of caliber and type of ammunition for the machine pistols ever in the series.

    Also, though I won’t say what, there is a threat to NYC on p 380 which is pretty damned modern. Holds up extremely well in our current climate. This book, though it has some problems, overall has a thrilling plot device that is just as real and threatening today as it was back then. Another good Doc ahead of his time.

    [c 2003 Thomas Fortenberry]

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