Friday, July 01, 2011

Forgotten Books: Death's Frozen Formula - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

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.


Walker Martin said...

Nice review James and you are right about the quality of SECRET AGENT X and Fleming-Roberts.

Most of the hero pulps were aimed at the teenage boy market and frankly I'm puzzled as to their continued popularity among adult collectors. I guess nostalgia has alot to do with it.

Two big exceptions among the hero pulps were THE SPIDER and SECRET AGENT X. An adult can read these titles without the childish dialog of the silly sidekicks that infested DOC SAVAGE, G-8, and other hero pulps.

Tom Johnson said...

I always had a fondness for this one, James. It was one of the first Secret Agent X pulps I picked up (in that Dallas bookstore) after reading the Corinth/Regency paperback reprints. "The Curse of The Mandarin's Fan" is another one by Roberts in this mold.

(Sigh) I'm afraid I am one of Walker's adult collectors who loves the old pulp characters (lol). I just never grew up. (g)

James Reasoner said...

I never grew up, either. Comes in handy when you make your living the way I do.

Anonymous said...

Another one not in my Altus Press collected Secret Agent X collections, but hopefully they'll get there soon as this sounds really good!

Todd Mason said...

Even so, even as a kid, I preferred the better adult fiction I read to most of that aimed at kids...pulp aimed at adults often felt enough pressures to conform...this does sound interesting. (And if Fleming-Roberts knew particularly many writers and other artists, it was probably too easy to take some real models for addict behavior...)

beb said...

Most of the covers for Secret Agent X were not very memorable or well done but this one takes the cake since it has nothing to do with the story!

As for Altus Press, they've just announced volume five which covers the seres from story #17 to #21, while Death's Frozen Formula is #30 or #31. I've reprinted all of them as Beb Books and Altus has later reprinted them in nice trade paperbacks. If you are interested in reading the story real quick drop me a line and I''ll let you know when I have it ready . It should be a week or so after I get the corrected proofs from James.

James Reasoner said...

You should have the proofs very soon. They should have been there before now. I sent them about three weeks ago, and it took that long for the PO to foul up and send them back to me claiming that the address was wrong. (It wasn't.) So they're going back in the mail in the next day or two. I hope they'll get there this time.