Friday, September 18, 2020

Forgotten Books: HADES & HOCUS POCUS by Lester Dent (1936, 1937, 1979)

These two Lester Dent novellas were published in Argosy way back in '36 and '37. "Hades" in three parts beginning Dec. 5, 1936, and "Hocus Pocus" in another three starting May 22, 1937. I've been wanting to read them, and the longer Argosy serial "Genius Jones" for a long time. 

So recently I delved once again into some of the Black Dog Dent collections (Dead Men's Bones, The Skull Squadron, Hell's Hoofbeats, Terror Inc. and Fists of Fury.) They're all pretty dang entertaining, so I figured it was finally time for Hades and Hocus Pocus

I guess I was wrong. I should have read them as soon as I was able, when Pulp Press did its reprint back in '79. Maybe then I'd have expected what I got - a lot of Doc Savage style story and prose. These days, having read his two Black Mask stories, his later novels and some of the pre-Doc pulp stuff, I was in the mood for something different.

Dent's Doc writing is good, of course, and better than anything else found in the hero pulps. But there's a sameness about it, and I found too much of that sameness in this book.

As Will Murray reveals in the Intro, Dent was able to take time out from Doc and write these because Street & Smith had been pushing to go twice monthly and backlogged a bunch of stories by Laurence Donovan. Dent had always wanted to write for Argosy, and jumped at the chance. It would have been great if he'd taken advantage of the opportunity and tried historical adventure, or a Western, or even a detective mystery. But, as evidenced from these stories, his brain was so deep in Doc-mode that he just churned out more of the same.

"Hades" got a nice Argosy cover, but "Hocus Pocus" was gypped.
Its debut issue featured a baseball story by Richard Sale. 

"Hades" is the worst in this regard. The hero, Alexander Titus, is a Doc clone, accompanied by a Monk clone, and the supporting cast consists of quirky Doc guest stars with different names. The plot, too, involving a filmmaker who claims to have visited Hell and made a movie, is right out of Savageland. Ho hum.

"Hocus Pocus" is a bit more interesting. Cal Merton, a magician, is closer to an average human being, and his sidekick is less Monky. The story does not feed on the fantastic, and the other characters do not (for the most part), carry cutesie names or behave in distinctly outrageous manners. The problem is, the story just isn't very good. The mystery confronting Cal Merton is What the Heck is this All About? No one will tell him, and he, and the readers, are given very few clues. There's a lot of fighting and running around, and some of the obligatory kidnappings you'd find in a Doc novel, but the mystery remains a complete mystery. Cal has no idea until the final pages, when all is finally revealed. And the whole thing turns out to be pretty underwhelming.

So. I can finally check these stories off my list. Sadly, I was also looking forward to reading "Genius Jones," recently reprinted by Altus Press. But that one sounds pretty Docish, too, so my enthusiasm has dimmed. Guess it's back to the Black Dog books for me.

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