Friday, June 22, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Melting Death - Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis)

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 sometimes.)

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.


George said...

As time goes on and I read more pulp reprints, I'm growing more impressed with the work of Frederick C. Davis. I have some OPERATOR 5 paperbacks on my shelves. Now I want to drop everything and read one!

Stark House said...

Rick Ollerman told me that I needed to read one of these Operator 5 books, so last year I pulled ARMY OF THE DEAD off the shelf--unread for almost 50 years--and was nicely surprised. These books are a hell of a lot of fun! Pulp fiction at its best.