Friday, December 09, 2011

Forgotten Books: Slaves of the Scorpion - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Secret Agent X returns in "Slaves of the Scorpion", another hardboiled crime yarn by G.T. Fleming-Roberts writing as "Brant House", from the June 1937 issue of the Agent's pulp magazine. The three main authors behind the "House" name (that must have given some yuks to the editors) each had a slightly different appeal. Paul Chadwick, who created the character, turned out stories that have bizarre villains and feature prose that approaches that of the Weird Menace pulps. G.T. Fleming-Roberts' stories are more concerned with crime and gangsters and have a hardboiled, rat-a-tat-tat style to them. Emile Tepperman's entries in the series fall somewhere between those of Chadwick and Fleming-Roberts. I like all of them.

This one features the old "master criminal who wipes out other criminals so he can take over their gangs" plot, but Fleming-Roberts does a good job of it with some ingenious murder methods and the unusual angle of tying in the plot with the labor unrest of the time period. This new mastermind is called The Scorpion, and of course the crooks think that he's really Secret Agent X operating under a new name, since both the police and the underworld believe the Agent to be a criminal. Actually, X is trying to uncover the real identity of The Scorpion. The fact that the Scorpion's true identity should come as no surprise (I spotted him as soon as he first appeared) doesn't detract from the novel's enjoyment. Most criminal masterminds from the pulps might as well be wearing neon signs announcing their nefariousness.

The real appeal of these yarns is watching Secret Agent X get into and out of trouble, along with his sidekicks, plucky girl reporter Betty Dale and square-jawed private eye Harvey Bates. Bates is never very well-developed as a character, but in reading these stories I've come to have a real fondness for him. Betty Dale can be scatterbrained, but she's usually pretty helpful, too.

The last couple of chapters of "Slaves of the Scorpion" have sort of an apocalyptic feel to them, as a blacked-out Manhattan is under attack by an army of gangsters. Something like this, of course, is where a Spider novel by Norvell Page would begin, instead of end, but that's the difference between The Spider and Secret Agent X. Personally, I like both approaches.

This story will be available soon from Beb Books as an inexpensive reprint. I enjoyed it a lot, and if you're a pulp fan, you should check it out.


Jerry House said...

I must dissent, James. The "House" name is not "yuk"able.

George said...

I'm ordering SLAVES OF THE SCORPION right now!

J F Norris said...

One of my favorite pulp writers. Under-appreciated to be sure. How can you not admire someone who creates a character like Captain Zero who seems more suited for a Marvel Comic than a crime fiction magazine?