Friday, April 15, 2011

Forgotten Books: Horror's Handclasp - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Time for another adventure of Secret Agent X, soon to be reprinted by Beb Books. “Horror’s Handclasp” is from the November 1936 issue of the pulp SECRET AGENT X, and the writer behind the Brant House pseudonym is G.T. Fleming-Roberts, one of the most prolific and best of the Secret Agent X authors.

This novel opens with a séance (always good for pulpish thrills) which Secret Agent X attends in disguise (naturally) because he’s received a tip that a mysterious criminal mastermind known only as The Fury has something to do with what’s going to happen there. Not surprisingly, there’s a little mystical hokum, but then real danger crops up as one of the people attending the séance is murdered by what appears to be a disembodied hand that carries the touch of death.

From there the story gallops off at the usual mile-a-minute pace, as Secret Agent X tries to foil the plans of The Fury. There are gangsters, an eccentric scientist who claims to have invented a death ray, a beautiful femme fatale who may or may not be a professional thief, a sinister mortuary, shambling, zombie-like henchmen (zombie in the classic sense, not speedy brain-munchers, who came along much later), and a room that’s an electrified death trap like something out of a James Bond movie. That ought to be enough to tell you whether or not you’d enjoy this novel. It’s silly, it’s over the top, the plot’s a little thin, and of course I loved every page of it.

The pulp cover is pretty good, too, and actually depicts a scene from the story. The blonde is plucky girl reporter Betty Dale, Secret Agent X’s sidekick and romantic interest, although like everybody else she doesn’t know his true identity. Overall in the series, Betty is a pretty good character. Sure, she gets captured by the bad guys and has to be rescued in nearly every story, but she’s also fairly competent at times and actually helps the Agent.

“Horror’s Handclasp” is one of the better Secret Agent X stories I’ve read, so if you’ve read and enjoyed other entries from the series, you should certainly give this one a try, too.


George said...

This looks like a winner! I'll have to pick a copy.

Anonymous said...

This doesn't appear in the Altus Press collected Secret Agent X collections - so far - I have volumes 1-3 of those. Where does it come in the chronology?

Bobby Nash said...

Secret Agent X is such a cool character, James. I really enjoy the original pulp stories and I've also enjoyed the two stories I've written with the character (both should appear this year, one in prose, the second in comic book form).


James Reasoner said...

"Horror's Handclasp" comes fairly late in the series. It'll show up eventually in one of the Altus Press volumes.

I've never written a Secret Agent X story, but I'd like to one of these days. I started a Phantom Detective yarn once but never got around to finishing it.

Bobby Nash said...

X was fun to write. I wrote a 15,000 word story for Vol. 4 of Airship 27's Secret Agent X pulp series. I also wrote a short 8 page comic story for the upcoming All-Star Pulp Comics anthology. I also have an idea for a modern day X. I think this is one of those pulp characters that could be translated to modern day fairly easily.


Bobby Nash said...

I'd love to see your take on Secret Agent X, James. I bet you'd spin a good pulpy X story.


BobV451 said...

What makes for a good SA X story as opposed to an Operator 5 or Phantom Detective? I have copies of all of them but seem to lump them all together in the ole memory bin. The Spider and Shadow were distinctive.

The old pulp stuff is wonderful. But is it wonderful because of nostalgia or because of the sheer outrageous power of the story/character?

James Reasoner said...

I think Operator 5 and the Phantom Detective are both more distinctive characters than SAX, who is always in disguise. The SAX stories usually seem to me to me to have more elements that we think of as horror, such as the disembodied hand with the touch of death coming up out of the ground in the graveyard in this one, although they always have rational explanations. That and the fast pace of the stories are what appeal of me about that series.

I think the appeal of the pulps is a mixture of nostalgia and the fact that a lot of them were pretty well-written.