Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: 'Death in Silver' by Kenneth Robeson

3 / 5 Stars

‘Death in Silver’ originally appeared in the October, 1934 issue of Doc Savage magazine; the author was Lester Dent. Bantam re-issued ‘Silver’ as series paperback No. 26  in July 1968.

‘Silver’ is the very first Doc Savage book I ever saw, back in the late 60s when I was 9 or 10 years old, on the shelves in the small library in the upstate New York town where I lived. The great cover artwork by James Bama was of course eye-catching, and has remained in my memory for those 40+ years. 

‘Silver’ deals with the depredations of the Silver Death’s-Heads Gang, who commit crimes clad in unusual garments of silver fabric, with headgear that obscures their faces save for skull-like openings for the eyes, nose, and mouth.

As the novel opens a shipping magnate named Paine Winthrop discovers he has earned the wrath of the Death’s- Heads. A tremendous explosion in the skyscraper housing Winthrop’s offices draws the attention of Monk and Ham, and in due course, Doc Savage himself. 

There are some bloody encounters with members of the Deaths-Heads as Doc and his team struggle to learn why Winthrop was targeted. The activities of the gang are difficult to unravel, but seem to be centered among the slum warehouses on the city waterfront. 

It transpires that the Deaths-Heads are led by a sinister genius named Ull, and he and the Deaths-Heads aren’t too pleased to discover that they have earned the scrutiny of the Man of Bronze. Ull decides that they have to eliminate Doc Savage and his team as soon as possible- and if the deed requires excessive violence, Ull is happy to oblige…

Lester Dent was in pretty good form with ‘Death in Silver’. The action moves at a brisk pace, and Ull is a worthy adversary in terms of his ability to counter Doc’s scientific wizardry.  As with many of the early Savage novels, there are some red herrings introduced early in the plot, and the revelation of the identity of the criminal mastermind is withheld until the last few pages.

‘Death in Silver’ is one of the better Savage novels of the 30s and if you spot a reasonably priced copy on the used bookshelves, it may be worth picking up.

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