Friday, May 28, 2010

Forgotten Books: Kingdom of Blue Corpses - Brant House

I’m not sure the Secret Agent X novels really qualify as Forgotten Books, since they’re being reprinted regularly by several different small press publishers, but hey, in the minds of the general public, they’re not exactly front and center.

“Kingdom of Blue Corpses”, from the December 1935 issue of the pulp SECRET AGENT X, is one of the more oddball entries in the series. It’s very comic-booky (if that’s a word), with a master villain who calls himself the Blue Streak and wears a blue rubber suit, somewhat like a frogman’s outfit, emblazoned with a lightning bolt. His minions – every self-respecting master villain has to have minions, of course – wear black rubber suits that look even more like frogmen and drive around in a sinister black hearse. The Blue Streak’s weapon in his campaign of terror is an electrical cannon that fires lightning bolts, and as a side effect, the corpses of the people struck by it turn bright blue. No explanation is forthcoming for this side effect, but that’s all right. This yarn isn’t very rigorously plotted, even by pulp standards.

Which doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun, as Secret Agent X tries to bring the Blue Streak to justice in a series of extremely fast-moving, action-packed confrontation. As usual, “X” employs several different disguises, and his girlfriend/assistant, beautiful blond reporter Betty Dale, even gets in on the act this time, as “X” disguises her so she can take the place of a young woman he suspects of being involved with the Blue Streak.

The actual identity of the author behind the “Brant House” house-name on this one hasn’t been established, as far as I know. The first part of the story reads like it could be by Paul Chadwick, the creator of the Secret Agent X character and the principal author in the series in its early years. The style changes somewhat during the course of the story, becoming more terse and action-oriented, which has led some readers to speculate that maybe Chadwick started the novel and from some unknown reason, another author finished it. This seems possible to me as well, but at this point, we just don’t know. Whoever wrote “Kingdom of Blue Corpses” did a good job of keeping things moving, even if they don’t always make complete sense. An affordable reprint will be available soon from Beb Books, and if you’re a Secret Agent X fan, or just a fan of over-the-top pulp yarns, you’ll want to read this one.


Anonymous said...

Hey James,

Tom Johnson and Will Murray's Secret Agent X: A History says that Kingdom of Blue Corpses was by G.T. Fleming-Roberts.
I haven't read this one, but I got a kick out of a couple of the other Secret Agent X yarns he wrote-- Dividends of Doom, Slaves of the Scorpion, and especially Faceless Fury.
Seems like there's always at least one wildly outrageous scene in every X novel.

John Hocking

George said...

KINGDOM OF BLUE CORPSES fits the Forgotten Book description to me. Great review! I'll be looking for this one.

Tom said...

I collected "Kingdom of the Blue Corpses" in my anthology, "THE ADVENTURERS: The Rivals of Doc Savage" that came out in 2008.

Will Murray provided an introduction for the book, discussing contemporary heroes that attempted to cache in on the popularity of Doc Savage and the pulp hero explosion of the 1930s.

This book collects the following novel-length works:

• Secret Agent X in "Kingdom of Blue Corpses" by Paul Chadwick (writing as Brant House)

• Captain Hazzard in "Python Men of the Lost City" by Paul Chadwick (writing as Chester Hawks)

• Super Jim Anthony in "Dealer in Death" by Victor Rousseau (writing as John Grange)

• Rush Randall and Adventurers, Inc. in "The Crazy Indian" (a rejected Doc Savage novel) by Wm. Bogart, who ghost wrote several Doc Savage novels.

Will Murray states that "Kingdom of the Blue Corpses" is by Paul Chadwick. Regardless, it is a very good story, with misdirection, twists and turns and a plethora of possible suspects.

According to a statement by the editor, the manuscript for "Blue Corpses" was so enjoyable it was passed round to several editors to read and none of them could identify who the real culprit was before they were revealed in the story.

For those interested my anthology can be found here:

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

James Reasoner said...

What I'm wondering is if this story was started by Chadwick and finished by Fleming-Roberts. Having read several SAX entries by each of them, that seems plausible to me, based on the writing style.

Richard Robinson said...

Very interesting indeed. Firstly, who'd have guessed you would have Secret Agent X while Evan has Agent X-9? No of course not at all the same, but just the character names...

I have ordered - and hope to soon receive (hint, hint, Tom) THE ADVENTURERS: The Rivals of Doc Savage" and am eager to read this and the other stories.

Evan Lewis said...