I’ve written about several of these Secret Agent X novels here on the blog, so obviously they’re not forgotten by me. There are also quite a few of them available in reprint editions, so pulp fandom knows about them, too. But I think it’s a good bet that the character has faded from the memory of the general public, and since this is a particularly good entry in the series, I thought it deserved a Forgotten Books post of its own.
Like a lot of other stories from the hero pulps, the Secret Agent X novels often feature some mysterious criminal mastermind who wears a mask or a hood or some such. There’s usually some bizarre murder method as well. Those elements appear in this novel, but for once, they’re actually minor. For the pulps, THE SINISTER SCOURGE, from the January 1935 issue of SECRET AGENT X, is pretty realistic. This time around, the Agent is engaged in a grim, gritty battle against a drug smuggling ring that’s flooding the country with a new super-drug. The main touch of typically over-the-top pulp business is the Agent’s uncanny ability to craft perfect disguises as a moment’s notice. Mostly it’s gun battles and fistfights as the Agent works his way higher and higher up the chain of command in the drug ring. At times this yarn reminded me a little of a Mack Bolan novel as Secret Agent X takes on organized crime.
The author behind the Brant House pseudonym this time around is Paul Chadwick, the creator of the Secret Agent X character. Chadwick is best known for his novels in this series, as well as a series of novelettes about investigator Wade Hammond that ran in the pulp TEN DETECTIVE ACES. His prose has a sweaty, breathless, almost overwrought quality to it that makes it easy to distinguish, and it works better than usual in THE SINISTER SCOURGE. There are also some welcome touches of wry humor amidst all the blood and thunder. While this novel isn’t really all that typical of the Secret Agent X series, it’s also one of the best I’ve read featuring the character.
A number of Secret Agent X novels were reprinted in the Sixties by Corinth/Regency, an offshoot of the publishing empire founded by William Hamling that also put out Nightstand Books, Midnight Readers, etc., the line of sort-core sleaze novels written pseudonymously by Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Robert Silverberg, Evan Hunter, Harry Whittington, and many other authors. I couldn’t find a cover scan from the original pulp to go with this post, so I used the cover from the Corinth paperback reprint instead. The art is by Robert Bonfils, who provided many, many covers for books published by Hamling.