Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 in the American
Intelligence Service, is back to save the country from complete and utter
destruction, rescue his kidnapped girlfriend/plucky girl reporter Diane
Elliott, and demonstrate a magic trick to his ward, scrappy Irish lad Tim
Donovan. And if there’s any time left over, he’ll worry about his dad, former
intelligence operative John Christopher, who has a bullet lodged near his heart
that might kill him any time if he exerts himself too much. The devastating
menace this time around is a super-corrosive agent that melts almost everything
with which it comes in contact, making the title of this novel, THE MELTING
DEATH, particularly apt. It’s the fourth yarn in the Operator 5 series,
originally published in the July 1934 issue of OPERATOR #5 MAGAZINE. (Why does
Jimmy Christopher refer to himself as Operator 5, when the title of the
magazine is Operator #5? I have no idea, but I’ve wondered about that
This one starts with the dedication ceremony for a magnificent new bridge
spanning the Mississippi River. If you can’t guess right away that the bridge
is going down, causing massive death and destruction, you haven’t read any of
the other Operator 5 novels. Or any pulp hero novels, for that matter. I mean,
the title of the novel is THE MELTING DEATH, for cripe’s sake. Jimmy
Christopher is on hand for the dedication and manages to rescue as many people
as he can. Then he’s immediately ordered by his superiors, all the way up to
the President, to find out who’s responsible for this atrocity. A group of
European warmongers known as the Purple Shirts are believed to be connected
with the attack. One of their spymasters is somewhere in the country, so Jimmy
Christopher quickly gets on his trail.
The melting death attacks continue, with military installations and skyscrapers
being destroyed. Jimmy Christopher races from place to place, trying to thwart
the plans of the evil plotters who are trying to scuttle the disarmament
movement and not so coincidentally take over the American steel industry and
become filthy rich at the same time.
Eventually Jimmy Christopher emerges triumphant and the hidden mastermind is
exposed, just in time to prevent the destruction of the United States Capitol.
Now he can catch his breath, enjoy spending time with Diane, and maybe show Tim
another magic trick. But this respite won’t last long, because the very next
month there’ll be some other horrible threat to the country that only Operator
5 can deal with.
As I’ve said before, don’t get me wrong. This series lends itself to a little
gentle ribbing, but man, is it fun. Frederick C. Davis, who wrote these early
entries under the house-name Curtis Steele, really knew how to spin a yarn.
Jimmy Christopher and his supporting cast are very likable, and the action
seldom lets up for more than a page or two. I’ve read enough of the later ones
to know that in some ways they get even better as they go along. I’m going to
continue reading the series in order, including the ones I first read in
paperback reprints decades ago, and I fully expect to continue having a great
time. Operator 5 is one of my all time favorite pulp hero series.