Monday, September 2, 2013

Pulp of the Week - Doc Savage 38

APRIL 1936

The Men Who Smiled No More is a very different Doc Savage tale for a number of reasons. It takes place entirely in New York state. It does not involve foreigners. And 95% of it has no super-science. Yet the plot is entirely about two completely different aspects of super-science. Writer Laurence Donovan contributed this tale.

The story begins with a humble shoe shiner. "Smiling Tony" Talliano was the first to quit laughing" is the first sentence of the story. What follows is a wild story where even Doc himself is afflicted with a strange condition where people become emotionless, flat versions of themselves. It's like they were replaced with a robot replica. The violence is also at a high level with killings perform is a callous and brutal manner. What intrigued me about this is that many people perceive Doc himself to be emotionless like this all the time anyway. That is not true. Doc has emotions, but he rarely displays them openly. Donovan also enhanced Docs' humanity to emphasize the difference when Doc is afflicted by the strange emotionlessness.

Donovan also brings the whole cast of regulars into this adventure, so we get to see Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, Johnny, and Pat Savage struggle and change into lethargic shells, with no humor, or passion in their lives. Chemistry is the only one left out.

The bulk of the tale is set in the Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in New York. Monk, it turns out, has a cabin retreat in the woods and strange things are going on in a neighboring cabin. The man there has a duck pond and gets particularly furious at anyone who comes near his ducks. Then everyone starts getting the affliction. One by one the cast loses their drive, their will to live or to be active about anything. Finally, Doc himself falls under its spell.

The Men Who Smiled No More itself is told far more like a mystery story than any of the other Doc Savage tales I have read so far,and it includes Doc giving a long, detailed wrap up at the end.
I'll give The Men Who Smiled No More an 8.5 out of 10. This is a fun story with a welcome stylistic change of pace - harder, more savage.

For this review, I read my Bantam paperback dated February 1970. The Pulp cover is by Walter Baumhofer and the Bantam cover is by James Bama. Interestingly, that cover seemed to have nothing to do with the story for a very long time. It is an illustration of action from the story, however. Page 124 to be precise. I'm not sure that I have ever read a story with the cover happening so close to the end. Cherie Priest's The Inexplicables is the closest in recent memory, but even that cover was not nearly as close to the end as was the one for this Doc Savage story.

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