Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck

"Disturbing mystery involving madness and genetic abnormalities."
-KEW

The late fantasy and horror writer Karl Edward Wagner once published a list of essential novels in the old Twilight Zone magazine. It sent me scurrying into countless book stacks at academic libraries in search of these novels since I had never heard of most of them. I will say the ones I've managed to find were all winners; there wasn't a dull book among the lot of them. So, in an effort to broaden my horizons, I'm going to take a breather from Operator 5 and look at another book published the same decade Jimmy Christopher was trying to save the country.
The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck was first published in 1934. The author, Alexander Laing, published many books in his lifetime, but he's largely forgotten today. The book was quite popular in it's day, going through several editions. In the 1960's it was published as an abridged edition, so many people who have had the opportunity to read it are unfamiliar with the 376 page, footnoted, original. Fortunately, it's been reprinted, but you can still find cheap editions.
The novel involves the disappearance and murder of one of the professors of "The Maine State College of Surgery". The book is narrated from the point of view of a senior medical student who is keeping a diary about the strange goings-on leading up to the death of Wyck. The narrator is also secretary to one of the other professors at the college and is privy to a lot of faculty gossip. There's also plenty of small town Peyton Place politics. And, of course, the book takes place right in the heart of Steven King country.
In some ways, Dr. Gideon Wyck is similar to Dr. House: cold, aristocratic, and demanding. One of the founding instructors at the college, he generally gets what he wants.
The actual murder of Wyck isn't discovered until half-way through the book. By this time, we've been shown countless people who would want Gideon Wyck dead. So who is the killer? Is it Wyck's daughter Marjorie? Could it be Pendergast, the medical student whom Wyck expelled for cheating on an exam? Is it the nurse Muriel, who might have had a thing going on with the old rascal? And what about Mike Connell, whose arm was amputated by Wyck? The list is extensive.
Furthermore, we learn about Wyck's secret laboratory where he was conducting experiments on poor pregnant women. Experiments which soon bear evil fruit in the still births of deformed infants. The book never delves too deeply into this area, but it is a chilling reminder of how close the Nazi were to experimenting on concentration camp inmates.
The novel is also a mirror of its time. There is an entire chapter devouted to an autopsy of an tuberculosis victim. The significance of this chapter strikes home as one of the students taking part in the examination is himself suffering from an advanced stage of the same disease. It's a good thing to remember how TB was once a death sentence for many people until the discovery of antibiotics.
I've often wondered why Karl Edward Wagner chose certain books for his list. My guess for Cadaver would be that it reflected his own experiences at medical school. The novel is filled with detailed information about the daily life of medical students. I doubt if much has changed since the time it was written.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Final Chapters


Final Chapters
I'm going to cut to the chase here and wrap-up Master of the Broken Men. One of the final chapters has the masked criminal mastermind kidnap the steel magnate and threaten him with death. It's easily the best chapter in the book, just too bad it occurs toward the conclusion. Fred Davies could really build the tension when he was on a roll. Jimmy Christopher is able to convince one of the Indian tribesmen to assist him by besting the men in unarmed combat. Not too believable, but a good attempt none the less. The criminal mastermind also reveals his name: Man Breaker.
Of course, Operator 5 saves the day and even manages to rescue the president himself by the end of the book.
I may be taking a break from the Operator 5 novels for a bit and get in some other reading.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Shells of Men
We get to see more of the masked villain at work in this chapter. The heavy weight champ Gene Lewis, breaks down in the ring. The famous surgeon is unable to treat his son, who the fiendish criminal mastermind has infected with sleeping sickness. And Z-7 is finally rescued from a hidden chamber after having been tortured with noise. This is a criminal more interested in the psychological aspects of controlling people.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Tightening Coils
Walter Hollbrand, the son of the famous surgeon Dr. Gordon Hollbrand, has disappeared. Jimmy Christopher suspects the same criminal mastermind who's snatched Z-7. After searching Dr. Hollbrand's office, he discovers one item removed by an unidentified suspect. Once again, the suspect escapes. Operator 5 assigns Diane Elliot, ace reporter and his love interest, to look after the steel magnate Martin Evarts.
Not a whole lot of information, so far, on who this masked man happens to be, or what is his motivation.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Air Attack
Z-7, in spite of the best efforts of Operator 5, is kidnapped from an airplane by way of a gyrocopter. The president of the United States instantly appoints Jimmy Christopher acting head of the USIS.
The scene of the airplane being attacked by a gyrocopter is quite original. It appears Fred Davis did his homework on how these contraptions work and thought the attack sequence through all the way.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: The Dangling Trap
Not much here, but this telegram Operative 5 receives gives you some idea of the book:

F-1-M…… 13WDC—NEWS FLASH NOW ON PRESS ASSOCIATION WIRES… WORLDS FAIR CHICAGO SCENE OF RIOTING… THOUSANDS INCITED TO DESTRUCTIVE FRENZY RUNNING WILD… SAME REVOLT AS UNION SQUARE LAST NIGHT… DISCONTENT WITH NATIONS LEADERS HAS THROWN CROWD INTO PANIC… ENTIRE POLICE AND FIRE RESERVES OF CHICAGO CALLED OUT TO COMBAT SPREADING RIOT… TEARING DOWN EXPOSITION BUILDINGS AND SETTING FIRES… SYMPATHETIC RIOTING THREATENING IN OTHER CITIES… POLICE ARREST INTERNATIONAL UTOPIAST LEADERS… SCORES KILLED IN WORLDS FAIR STAMPEDE… FURTHER DETAILS FOLLOW… 40-CI

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Trial by Touch
The mysterious masked criminal mastermind who is plotting to bring down the US government has captured a prize fighter, one who is favoured to win the heavy weight title. He has the man "tickle-tortured" until he breaks down. Meanwhile, a large tribesman undergoes the same torture across the room from the box and never even breaks a sweat. The sinister masked man also tells the leader of the IU that he's in this game strictly for the thrill.
Confusion reigns. So what is the masked man's angle? There just never seem to be enough criminal masterminds around who want to destroy civilization for their own amusement.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Twelve Strokes of Doom
A lot happens in this chapter. Jimmy Christopher tries to save the life of one of Martin Evarts marked friends and fails. And the weird sect, The International Utopiasts, stages a massive riot:

“On every hand, failure, weakness, corruption! The leaders of this nation are breaking under their own responsibilities! They are being crushed by the capitalistic machinery that will destroy you all unless you rise against it! Down with false leaders! Down with the weakling who rules us! This nation is crumbling before your eyes as one by one the men who try to lead it hopelessly fall! Rise to the strong, you people! Destroy the fools who would be great—but fail!”


I'm starting to wonder where Davis got the idea for this group. If you figure that the novel was written in 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression, people were scared about some kind of foreign group trying to stir-up trouble and take over. My initial thought pegged The Wobblies as his model for the IU. Similar initials: International Workers of the World (IWW). But now I suspect he had the Communist Party USA in mind.