Secret Agent X is back, this time facing “Death’s Frozen Formula” in a yarn of the same name from the February 1937 issue of the Agent’s pulp magazine. This one was penned by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, probably the most hardboiled member of the stable of scribes that wrote the Secret Agent X novels. It shows, because this is a grim, gritty crime story that has the Agent taking on a drug ring rather than a mad scientist with some super-weapon that threatens the security of the entire country.
Roberts doesn’t pull any punches in his descriptions of the damage being done by the hard drugs dealt by the criminals in this novel, and although he threatens to veer off into REEFER MADNESS territory a few times, he never really does. For the most part, it’s pretty serious stuff as a number of characters die, including some that I didn’t expect. The action scenes and the death traps from which the Agent escapes are fairly realistic, too.
There is a super-weapon, of course, a method of instantly freezing somebody that almost does in the Agent and his friends on several occasions. And there are some bizarre monsters, too, but really, the secret behind them is pretty easy to figure out. These elements are almost afterthoughts, as if Fleming-Roberts felt he had to work in a few hero pulp conventions somehow. The mean streets stuff makes up most of the novel, though, and it’s in these sections that Fleming-Roberts’ writing really shines. For that reason, “Death’s Frozen Formula” goes in the top rank of the Secret Agent X novels I’ve read so far. Pretty good cover on the pulp, too, depicting a scene from the story.
This one will soon be available as an inexpensive reprint from Beb Books.