Saturday, October 10, 2009

Secret Agent X: The Golden Ghoul -- Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Here we go with another novel from the pages of the pulp SECRET AGENT X, this time “The Golden Ghoul” from the July 1935 issue, which will appear sometime in the future as a reprint from Beb Books. (If there are any FTC spies lurking out there, the reason I get to read these volumes ahead of time is because I proofread the reprint’s page proofs for the publisher. Make of that what you will.)

The author behind the “Brant House” pseudonym this time around is G.T. Fleming-Roberts, known for his science-fictional plots and the fact that his Secret Agent X novels often feature a femme fatale. The latter is certainly true in this novel, as adventuress, blackmailer, and murderer, the beautiful Drew Devon, plays a big role in the action. Things get off to an inauspicious start, as the criminal mastermind known only as the Golden Ghoul is carrying out one of the most overdone schemes in pulp fiction: threatening to kill rich men with his mysterious, gruesome weapon called the Amber Death unless they pony up big payoffs. Naturally, Secret Agent X, utilizing a wide variety of disguises, sets out to stop the Golden Ghoul, expose his true identity, and bring him to justice.

Despite the rather weak plot, several things make this novel worth reading if you’re a fan of pulp fiction. Fleming-Roberts’ prose is pretty terse and hardboiled, and there are several really good action scenes. There’s also some nice skulking around in the musty old catacombs underneath an opium den, where the Golden Ghoul’s headquarters is located. Then there’s the gimmick that the Ghoul’s henchmen use to mysteriously appear and disappear, and it’s one that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. I don’t know if it would actually work or not, but it seems like it might. I can’t say any more without venturing into spoiler territory, though. And finally, Drew Devon is a pretty good character, the sort of villain that you can almost root for at times.

Fleming-Roberts is often regarded as the best author of the Secret Agent X novels, and that’s understandable given the fast pace of his work and the nice flourishes he includes. Myself, I have a fondness for the purple prose and over-the-top melodramatics of Paul Chadwick, who created the character and wrote many of the early novels in the series, but I like the Fleming-Roberts entries, too. “The Golden Ghoul” isn’t a top-tier Secret Agent X novel, but it’s a good, solid pulp adventure yarn and well worth reading.


Evan Lewis said...

Is Beb Books the outfit that's planning to reprint the entire Secret Agent X series? I read just recently that Richard Sale wrote several of the X stories and look forward to seeing them.

James Reasoner said...

Yeah, I think the plan is to get all of the novels back into print eventually. Somebody gave you some bad info, though. Richard Sale might have written some of the back-of-the-book short stories in the pulp, but he didn't write any of the SAX novels themselves.

beb said...

Beb here. I reprint vintage pulp stories very cheaply using laserjet printers and staples. $5 an issue is a pretty good bargain. I do have photocopies of all the stories and plan to eventually reprint the entire run. Altus Press (Matthew Moring) has been using my text files for his Omnibus soft and hard cover reprints. My reprints come out first. His editions make a nice row on a shelf.

As for the authors of Secret Agent "X" they are Paul Chadwick, Emile C. Tepperman and G. T. Fleming-Roberts with one story identified as by Zaget and another that can't be placed. I very much doubt that it was by Richard Sale. Sale did write write some of the back-up stories in "X." Some of these have been posted at where they exist as free PDF files.

Rittster said...

James, how do you feel about Aventure House? I have a number of their pulps, and they seem to re-print pulps from a wide variety of genres, have great cover art and original interior art, and are very affordable. Also, I'm wondering what your take is on the Shadow reprints by Nostalgia Ventures and Girasol's Spider pulp doubles. Again, great cover and interior art, and affordable. Besides the Spider doubles, Girasol has great pulp replicas, but they're a bit too expensive for me. I've really enjoyed reading some of the Shadow pulps (when I was a kid I only knew about the Shadow from old radio shows I owned on LP, which were great), as well as some of the more off-beat titles, like VICE SQUAD DETECTIVE, the collection IT'S RAINING MORE CORPSES IN CHINATOWN, and the "weird menace" pulps like MYSTERY TALES. I'm just wondering what your take is. Most of this stuff I never even knew existed until the past five years.
Oh, and I mustn't forget, a company called Pulpville has published a number of thick, meaty volumes of Bellem's Dan Turner stories.

James Reasoner said...

I think the Adventure House reprints and replicas are great. I've read many of them over the years. To be honest, I love all the reprints and replicas and would buy every one of them if I had the money and the space for them. I've had to be more selective on both counts the past couple of years, but I still pick up a lot of them. I ordered some stuff from Pulpville Press just the other day, in fact.