From the August 1935 issue of the pulp SECRET AGENT X, this fast-moving yarn opens with the Secret Agent surreptitiously boarding an ocean liner at sea that’s bound for New York. It seems that the Agent has discovered an infamous criminal known only as Dr. Marko is trying to slip into the country so he can take over all the gangs and organize them, as well as using his scientific genius to commit terrible crimes. Unfortunately, Dr. Marko is as much a master of disguise as Secret Agent X himself, so it’s going to be difficult to find him among the hundreds of passengers and crew members.
Approximately the first third of this novel is set on the ocean liner, and it’s an excellent sequence featuring the near-constant switching of disguises, whirlwind action, a couple of grisly murders, and a beautiful damsel in distress (not reporter Betty Dale for a change, although Betty does show up later and play an important part in the plot). After the boat reaches port and the action moves onto land, the story loses a little of its momentum as it turns into a more standard capture-and-escape, foil-the-villain’s-evil-plans pulp adventure. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. MONARCH OF MURDER still manages to be pretty entertaining all the way through.
The author behind the Brant House name in this case is Paul Chadwick, the originator of the Secret Agent X character and the primary author of the series early on in its run. With Chadwick’s work, you can usually count on plenty of action and a few scenes that are genuinely creepy, and MONARCH OF MURDER delivers on both counts. The villain’s true identity doesn’t come as a complete surprise, but it’s not telegraphed as blatantly or as early in the story as sometimes happens in these pulp hero novels.
This one is scheduled to be reprinted soon in an inexpensive edition by Beb Books. It’s one of the better Secret Agent X novels I’ve read, and if you’re a fan of the series it’s well worth reading.
Suzette Haden Elgin, R. I. P.
15 minutes ago