Wednesday, August 26, 2009
One of the more interesting characters of the shudder-pulps was Dr. Death. A sinister figure who wished to destroy human civilization, he had no qualms about doing it by any means necessary. Years before radical environmentalists fantasized about destroying cities and returning humanity to the jungle, the Dr. Death character tried to carry out his evil plans in the short-lived magazine of the same name.
But where did the figure of Dr. Death originate? It turns out he was the prime villain of four novelettes by writer Edward P. Norris in All-Detective magazine, from 1934 to 1935. But this Dr. Death didn't have plans of world dominance; he's a criminal mastermind with a silver hair helmet and a frightening visage. He also wears a school masters black robe with a gun underneath. His principle antagonist is "Nibs" Holloway, a natty young man who works for Joseph Calweiner, the Jewelery King. Calweiner had come up the hard way and still needed Nibs to take care of problem accounts.
The first story, "Doctor Death" introduces the title character. Here, the government of Abyssinia gets tangled up with a large missing gem. Dr. Death seems to die at the end. The second story "Cargo of Death" is the most interesting one in the collection. Once again it involves stolen gems, but a group of lepers figure into the plot. "Death's IOU and "Thirteen Pearls" conclude the collection.
Most of the stories are written in 1930ish colloquial style, which can make them a little hard to understand if you aren't familiar with the references. A lot of the dialogue is on the level of: "It's a five-spot for every minute under the half hour." In some ways this is part of the charm of the old pulps.
The collection also comes with a nice introduction by Tom Johnson.