Beyond wrapping up one more year of novels in 'Doc Savage Magazine', 'The Devil Genghis' is notably important to the series because it marks the only time a villain returned for a second attempt at the particular prize he seeks. I'd call it the only true sequel in the annals of the Man of Bronze, but I could see an argument there for 'The Golden Peril' exactly a year earlier, which did return Doc and his men to Hidalgo and the Valley of the Vanished, the locations of the very first Doc Savage novel, and we're treated to a number of returning characters, like King Chaac and Princess Monja.
The villain who got a second shot is John Sunlight, who had been introduced a mere two months prior in 'Fortress of Solitude'. While Doc inevitably got the better of him in that book, nobody ever found a body in the Arctic, just a copious amount of blood and torn clothing after what was presumably a fight with a polar bear. Author Lester Dent must have planned Sunlight's return before writing that finale, because he must have had this novel well and truly in process by the time Street & Smith received any audience feedback.
The only counter to that assumption is the fact that, one brief but recognisable appearance early on, Sunlight doesn't even get mentioned, let alone actually show up, until over half the book is over. We don't even hear about the Genghis of the title for the longest time, content to play along with Lester Dent as he teases us with setup. And it is good setup, because it's agreeably dark and mysterious but also light-hearted and playful.
An Eskimo hunter called Kummik walks out onto the ice in search of food but returned naked with only a harpoon for company. An aviator named Fogarty-Smith sets out by plane from an Arctic base only to come back on foot. And, on the Riviera, Park Crater, an American millionaire manages to conquer the heart of the incomparable Toni Lash, only to return to her broken. Each of these wildly different men fight the air, incessantly and with dedication, as though faced with an invisible foe. Kummik is bound by his people and left to freeze to death, because they believe he's fallen foul of Tongak, the invisible spirit. Fogarty-Smith and Park Crater are institutionalised.
Soon afterwards, in New York, Doc is attacked, which is hardly a new occurrence but the circumstances are a little different. This time, he's performing on stage at the Metropolitan in a charity concert, on the violin initially and then the clarinet, as part of a swing number. He's leaving when he's shot down with a machine gun, bundled into a conveniently close armoured ambulance and spirited away. We're even treated to the identities of the perpetrators: the beautiful Toni Lash is in charge and Cautious is working for her, a man whose fingertips have been burned away by acid.
Of course, at every moment where we're supposed to believe that Doc has been surprised, we aren't at all shocked to discover that he's just setting them up to think they have him, a step ahead at every turn. There's a superb scene, after he's been injected with a drug to knock him out for a week, nailed into a coffin and placed into the hold of a ship bound for Europe, where he just wanders into his own headquarters and shows the inevitably bickering Ham and Monk the front page of the newspaper he brings with him, highlighting how he's been shot and kidnapped and is presumed dead.
Monk and Ham are the majority of Doc's support here and even they don't get much to do. Long Tom is in Alaska, working on a hydroelectric project; Renny is in France, consulting on a chain of airports; and Johnny is still in Egypt, exploring a newly uncovered Pharaoh's tomb. Doc does call in both Renny and Johnny and they answer the call, but they're quickly captured and Renny is stricken with the wild ailment of fighting the air. For the most part, this is a solo Doc adventure, though Monk and Ham do get a particularly memorable scene.
They're on board the Maritonia bound for Europe, with Doc in disguise as an old lady, given that he's supposed to be unconscious in a coffin in the hold. Quite why they brought the pets along on what we are told is an undercover mission, I have no idea, but Habeas is a crucial part of this scene. Toni Lash has suckered them out into the open and they conjure up a bet over who will get a date with the most beautiful girl on the ship. Monk wins on his first attempt, using a hilarious ventriloquist routine with Habeas playing Abbott to his Costello. I adored this scene, even without the wild stakes: drowning the "what is it", i.e. Chemistry against eating Habeas for breakfast.
Frankly, Doc's most effective assistance here doesn't come from Monk or Ham, or anyone who we've met before as part of his entourage. I won't tell you who it is, because that way lies spoilers, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed her performance here and truly wish that the various authors behind the various Doc Savage novels would have taken the lead that Lester Dent set here by bringing back certain memorable characters for further appearances later in the series.
I liked this novel a lot, but mostly because of that unexpected support and the patient prose through which the adventure is delivered. I also thoroughly appreciated the fact that Doc is consistently able to outwit those who think they've outwitted him, yet still be kept enough in the dark about the grand scheme of things to fail to make much headway towards solving it for the majority of the book. Maybe he figures out a few details as he goes, but we're halfway through before he ever mutters the crucial name of John Sunlight and it's a lot further before we can remotely accept that he's turned the tide and has the upper hand.
What I didn't like was the fact that, once John Sunlight finally shows up for some memorable cat and mouse scenes towards the end of the novel, they're over too quickly. The man has grand plans to take over the world, believing himself its saviour, and we've been led to believe that he has a good shot at it, especially given all the wild and wonderful inventions he spirited out of the Fortress of Solitude in the book of that name which haven't been seen since. Yet, his downfall, as inevitable as it was, comes exactly at the point that we're happy that he's back in the picture. It's almost depressing to get that far and promptly lose. I wish Dent had taken his sweet time with the third act.
This is a more abstracted novel than 'Fortress of Solitude', far less personal to Doc and his men, but it plays just as well (and just as annoyingly, given how little time John Sunlight is given in either novel). What I'll take away from it most is the delightfully teasing prose that Lester Dent patiently expounds to us, that magical scene with Monk (Ham gets a cool, albeit not as cool, opportunity later on) and an element of surprise that John Sunlight is seen by so many Doc Savage fans as his best opponent. That never really crossed my mind. There are far too many I'd place above him and I'm still, seventy novels in, not even halfway through the series. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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