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column 164m 12/42 The Devil's Black Rock column
 

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A mysterious black rock with the power to unleash deadly explosions is about to be sold to the Nazis -- the destructive mineral will change the outcome of the war unless Doc can muscle in on the buy!




Categories:

1942 - 1942
B157 - B157
Clark - Clark
Larkin - Larkin
Nanovic - Nanovic
novel - novel
pulp - pulp
   
   
column Comments  column
 

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Note: Comments may contain spoilers.

Thomas Fortenberry

The Devil's Black Rock is a good Doc Savage. It has a lot of usual elements (especially for the war years): begins in the desert with an old prospector, ends with Nazis out to conquer the world, and involves a terrifying, strange new destructive thing which is of course instantly diverted into criminal use. Now, to be honest, the "black devil" aspect, as the explosive is called, is overplayed a bit too long and melodramatically, and we keep getting fed the gigantic black devil standing upon the trembling earth in a roar of fire type line in scene after scene long after we all know it is a super-powerful explosive. That said, the scenes are very well described and the awesome power of the explosions is captured perfectly. You really stand in awe at the sight of the earth being ripped apart, as in one scene when it occurs in the city suburbs and we see "...the earth heaved up over this burrow for a distance of a quarter of a mile at least. Houses standing of this heaved up section canted strangely on their foundations, long ones breaking in parts, and the inhabitants ran shrieking into the streets and yards." (Omnibus 10, p 87)

There are some amazing or weird moments in this book: 1) at one point the villians use a cannon, yes a real cannon with an artillery shell, on the 86th headquarters, nearly kill them all, and destroy the wall of the study. There is nothing left between the desk and elevators but a mound of rubble. At the end of the book they are still repairing it. Also, in this scene is an interesting moment when they are being shot at with a rifle through the windows. But now the windows are bulletproof (Renny remarks here, "Holy Cow! Been a long time since anyone tried to shoot us through those windows!" (p 72) Yeah, what, like since the amazing start of book one? So, while under fire, Doc, Monk and the rest just walk over and stare out until they find the marksman, all the while they are being pegged in the face with bullets. Little spiderwebs just kept appearing around their faces as they used binoculars and scanned the buildings. That must really dishearten a criminal assassin when they just ignore you completely and then chase you down. 2) One criminal in here uses a pair of trained killer dogs, which he has to carry in cages, because they have spiked collars on which are coated in poisons. These animals are starved and trained to kill anything that moves. Pretty scary beasts. 3) There are some rough Monk moments. Throughout this entire adventure the gang of four, led by Ham of course, are all in cahoots to ride Monk mercilessly about his womanizing. At one point Monk growls, "Keep riding me and we're going to have a wreck." (p 32) Every page has someone chastising him about his susceptibility, and much to Monk's dismay Doc even joins in. The worst is when Doc a few times asks him to remain behind or not be with a woman, as if he cannot be trusted. It hurts him and makes him very gloomy and so nervous he eventually goes overboard, calls the cops on a girl he is supposed to be protecting in order to just get her away from him, and ends up flubbing the whole deal with the criminals. In another similarly themed scene he gets so charged he ignored Doc's orders and dives out of the autogyro (letting it crash) and is nearly killed when the car he jumps on wrecks. 4) At one point it is explained that the reason Johnny doesn't teach at the most prestigious universities, when he is the most gifted and respected expert in his field, is because of his obsessive love of excitement with Doc. But he is still the absent-minded professor, because he is nearly killed in one scene and has to hide under a car when the shooting begins, because as he later sheepishly explains, "I forgot to wear my bulletproof vest today." (p 60) Not a good idea, Johnny, if you want to hang with Doc.

One other very nice thing about this book: it is connected to the series like the very early tales used to be. It not only is set up in a previous book, with the victim here putting out ads in the papers for Doc in both that book and this one, but follows it directly with Doc and gang just getting back from that adventure in time to breathlessly dive into the middle of this one. Not a second of rest here. Plus, it mentions other adventures in the course of this one, when they are similar (like mentioning an army that once chased Doc and crew in a previous tale overseas -- perhaps King Maker or the like, though I haven't researched this yet). Then, it ends with the beginning of the next adventure (and Doc thinking, as only he could, that he must be "slipping" if he didn't notice this new mystery sooner!) and you see their life is completely non-stop. What a whirlwind! This connectivity is very welcome, especially in these later books which generally stood alone and ignored each other. I wish they were all so well connected.

If I must find fault, beyond the overplay of the hook, it would be in the finale. It seems a bit rushed. The build up is good, but then we leap straight to the final battle. Must have run out of time on this one. It could have been developed further.

Thomas Fortenberry

- | - August 13, 2003 01:55 PM

Tim Bateman

This is one of the better wartime stories (having said which, I had better point out that I really quite like the wartime yarns, which I didnt originally; they have grown on me as Ive read more of them). The plot is a variation on the Doc-must-stop-scientist-with-dangerous-invention one, except that this time the guys got what is basically a naturally occurring Atomic Bomb to play with (read the descriptions of what it looks like when it explodes - and then Docs explanation of how it works at the end of the yarn).

The villain, Wickard Cole, is well-portrayed, even though he is little more than a standard-issue gang boss. There are two standout Dent supporting characters: the prospector Donkey Sam Davis and Paramount (Para) Summers, a female P. I. The hint of romantic development is never carried through on, and we dont really get to see enough of Para for my taste (or, I suspect, Monks).

Thomas Fortenberry is completely on the mark about the ending. It reads as though Dent was in danger of overshooting his word count so decided to wrap it up quickly because he didnt have time to write to the end of the material he had in mind and then go back and excise wordcount from the middle of this adventure. In an ideal world, this would have been 5, 000 to 6, 000 words longer - more Para and less rush at the end. To be fair, this rush does not completely ruin this story, and in its own peculiar way the ending works.

- | - June 18, 2004 12:39 PM


   
   

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