Reading Doc Savage: The Sargasso Ogre

sargassoogreOur cover is mainly green, depicting Doc poling a log in what have to be anti-gravity boots because there is no way he would maintain his balance otherwise, towards an abandoned ship. As always, his shirt is artfully torn and his footwear worthy of a J. Peterman catalog.

In this read, book eighteen of the series, we finally get to see another of Doc’s men, electrical engineer Long Tom. I do want to begin with a caveat that this book starts in Alexandria and initially features an Islamic villain, Pasha Bey; while I will call out some specific instances, this is the first of these where the racism is oozing all over the page and betrays so many things about the American popular conception of the Middle East. I just want to get that out of the way up front, because it is a big ol’ problem in the beginning of this text.

We begin, therefore, with the incredibly problematic Pasha Bey:

An American man of letters once said that, if a man build a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to his door.

Pasha Bey was like that. His output was not mouse traps, but it was the best of its kind. Being modern, Pasha Bey had become president of a vast organization which specialized in his product. The fame of Pasha Bey was great. From all of Egypt, men beat a path to his door, which was likely to be anywhere in Alexandria. They came to buy this product, of course.

Pasha Bey’s product was murder!

Pasha is directed by an unseen man to give a note to Long Tom, in order to lure him off and kill him, for the sum of around $200 American dollars. Whether this accurately reflects the 1933 Egyptian murder market is anybody’s guess; it’s around $3700 in contemporary dollars. En route, he encounters the man of bronze.

One look at the big, metallic American scared Pasha Bey. There was something terrible about the giant Yankee.

Pasha Bey turned to watch the bronze man across the lobby. He was not alone in his staring; almost everyone else was doing the same thing. Alexandria was a city of strange men, but never had it seen such a personage as this.

The American was huge, yet so perfectly proportioned that his great size was apparent only when he was near other men to whose stature he might be compared. They seemed to shrink to pygmies alongside him. Tendons like big metal bands wrapped the bronze man’s hands and neck, giving a hint of the tremendous strength which must be harbored in his mighty body.

But it was the eyes that got Pasha Bey. They were weird orbs, like glittering pools of flake gold. In one casual glance, they seemed to turn Pasha Bey’s unholy soul inside out, see all its evil, and promise full punishment. The effect was most unnerving.

Pasha Bey heads on up and we are introduced to Long Tom Roberts, one of Doc’s five right-hand men who we haven’t happened to hit yet. He is described thusly:

The man who soon opened the door was rather undersized, pale of hair and eyes, and somewhat pale of complexion. In fact, he did not look at all robust. He did, however, have a very alert manner.

Long Tom was always my least favorite of the group. He’s very money driven and Pasha Bey plays on this with the note he gives him from one “Leland Smith.”

Long Tom showed pronounced interest. It was true that he had never heard of Leland Smith. But he had himself perfected a device for killing insects. The thing would be a boon to farmers, and Long Tom expected to make a fortune out of it. If some other inventor was likely to cut in on the profits, Long Tom wanted to know about it.

Long Tom hurries off, but leaves a note for Doc and the others. Pasha Bey sends a hireling named Homar to get the note and meanwhile Long Tom gets in the car and settles “luxuriously on the cushions, entirely unaware he was riding to a death trap.”

Homar gets the note, but is followed by Doc, who’s noticed him picking the lock to Long Tom’s room. Off they go to Pompey’s Pillar, a part of Alexandria holding ancient catacombs. Doc’s surprised enough by the sight of Long Tom’s bloody handprint that he makes his usual sound: “a low, trilling, mellow note, which might have been the sound of some weird bird of the jungle, or a wind filtering through the piled stone of ancient ruins around about.”

The surroundings are appropriately gruesome:

…there were many casket-shaped niches cut in the rock, and in these were stacked arm and leg bones, spinal columns, ribs. It was a macabre, hideous place. Compared to these catacombs, a walk through a graveyard at midnight was no more awesome than a stroll through a town park.

Doc finds Pasha Bey, who is swearing first by Allah’s left eye, then by both eyes, that if Long Tom signs over his travellers chequesm, he’ll be set free. Long Tom is understandably dubious. He makes an escape attempt, and in the chaos Doc enters, “a mighty genie of bronze,” and subdues everyone. Terrified, the criminals flee, swinging a rock slab shut to trap Doc and Tom, along with all of the criminals Doc has knocked out.

Doc and Tom compare notes and question Homar, who had been knocked out by Doc earlier. Doc hypnotizes him and finds out a meeting has been arranged for later that day. They escape the vault, using the explosives Doc has hidden about his person in two back molars.

Generally the stuff in Alexandria is clearly drawn from a guidebook that included a number of Arabic phrases, which are scattered through the text like malformed lumps of seasoning salt. Accompanied by piquant phrases like “Wallah” and “Imshi bil’ aga”, Pasha Bey’s conversation turns to betraying the man who has hired them. Off they go to report to him first.

The man, in characteristic Dent fashion, is not shown, thus letting us know we will be surprised by his identity later on. He is described as having a powerful, ringing voice and “capable of speaking good English,” an ability which is not precisely showcased:

An explosive curse blasted through the bars.

“I’m not after any diamonds! I don’t know anything about the gems, except the talk that’s been going around this stinkin’ burg. I ain’t after ice!”

which is followed by a passage I have underlined in red in my copy for reasons which I believe are fairly apparent.

“You do not speak with a forked tongue?” Pasha Bey muttered suspiciously. He thought he detected a falsehood.

He has little time to think about this, though, because he and his remaining men are killed after finding out they were hired to keep Doc and his men from boarding the ship Cameronic that night. Doc and Long Tom arrive only in time to find the corpses, including Pasha Bey clutching an object torn from an attacker:

Doc picked up the belt and inspected it. The thing was perhaps three inches wide, and made of soft leather. Upon the leather was sewed, side by side, more than a score of circular, braided insignia. Each of these bore an embroidered name.

Doc glanced over some of the names.

Sea Sylph, Henryetta, U.S.S. Voyager, Queen Neptune, Gotham Belle, Axtella Marie.

Long Tom and Doc ready to board the Cameronic with the rest of the men: Renny, Monk, Ham, and Johnny. They also learn that an American bank clerk involved in transferring Doc’s diamonds to the Cameronic has been murdered.

On the Cameronic, they find Monk and Ham pursuing “three fleeing brown villains,” who have been meddling with Doc’s luggage. The criminals leap overboard and swim away “briskly.” There’s the obligatory round of insults exchanged by Monk and Ham and Doc hastily heads off hours of verbal fun by suggesting they go check in on the others and Doc’s diamonds, which are destined to fund hospitals and philanthropic projects.

Down below, Renny and Johnny say a suspicious character has been hanging around, a man with a flowing white beard who looked like Santa Claus (presumably not an early incarnation of Mike Glyer). They loiter in the vicinity waiting for him to reappear, but he does not, and the ship launches. Doc sends a radiogram addressed Chief Inspector, Scotland Yard, asking about the name on the belt. The ship plows silently on through the night, accompanied only by a strained metaphor: “Somehow, it had the aspect of a shiny, new coffin fitted with lights.”

Early the next morning, Doc goes above deck to do his exercises, clad only in a disappointingly undescribed bathing suit.

These exercises were the explanation of Doc’s amazing physical and mental powers. They lasted a full two hours. Every second of that time he was working out at full speed. He had done this sort of thing daily from childhood.

He made his mighty muscles tug, one against the other, until all of his mighty bronze body glistened under a film of perspiration. He juggled a number of more than a dozen figures in his head, multiplying, dividing, extracting square and cube roots…

He employed an apparatus which created sound waves of frequencies above and below those audible to the normal ear. Thanks to his lifetime of practice, Doc was able to hear many of these sounds. His hearing was unbelievably keen.

While exercising, Doc spots a fellow gymnast, the aforementioned man with a white beard:

The stranger was balancing expertly on his hands and raising and lowering himself. This was no mean feat, but he was doing it easily. And he did it innumerable times.

He had a regulation exercise of spring cables. Five such cables were all an ordinary man could handle Yet there were more than fifteen strands on this apparatus. After working out with that a while, the man turned a score or more of handsprings, flinging himself high into the air.

Doc hails the man, who immediately leaps to another deck, leaving behind only his false beard, whose adhesive has apparently been loosened by sweat. Puzzled, Doc takes the beard and then takes a dip in the swimming pool to remove that film of perspiration. Returning to his cabin, he finds it’s been ransacked. Only one thing is gone: the curious belt of cap insignias. We discover at dinner discussion that the thief didn’t get the decoy note originally sent to Long Tom:

“He missed it by about half the length of the ship,” Doc replied, and showed where he had been carrying the message, inclosed [sic] in a waterproof, flat box, secured under his bathing suit with a strip of adhesive tape.

(Here, for reference purposes, is what men’s bathing suits looked like in the 1930s.) Johnny offers to bet that the mysterious Santa Claus was the searcher; no one takes him up on it since he’s known to never bet except on sure things.

Checking the writing on the note against the ship’s register, they match it to a name: Jacob Black Bruze. Bruze occupies Cabin 17 on B deck, but investigation finds nothing there, not even fingerprints. Doc visits the skipper of the Cameronic, one Ned Stanhope, at this point in order to get his cooperation, implying they’re been breaking into people’s cabins previously without it.

Captain Ned Stanhope, his name was. He was a little old grandma of a man. His hands were roped with blue veins, and shook at intervals from some nervous affliction. He looked less like a doughty sea captain than any of the species Doc had ever seen.

Captain Stanhope did have the whopping voice of a windjammer master, however. He was very affable.

A reply from Scotland Yard confirms that the names of the ships are all ones lost at sea in the last fifteen years, each having vanished in the Atlantic ocean. Doc and his men scrutinize and search, noticing something off about the first-class passengers.

“Have you noticed what a bunch of mugs are booked in the first-class cabins?” Monk grunted.

“I’ll say!” agreed Long Tom. “First-class passengers are usually prosperous business men and their families. But not these eggs! There’s thirty or forty who look like they had been jerked out of some penitentiary!”

That night they find the belt back in their cabin. An insignia from the Cameronic has been added to it. A little later, a missing life boat leads Monk to declare Bruze has fled the ship; Doc is not so sure.

The journey continues; the ship, passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, encounters soupy fog. Monk, as well as many of the passengers, are admiring a “very comely” young woman dancer, and not noticing the hardboiled mugs casually slipping out of the room. Our omniscient viewpoint, however, does notice, and follows them to the room where all fifty have gathered in order to plot. Bruze is there, and boasting that he can defeat Doc Savage “with my bare hands” while flexing. Nonetheless, he resorts to other means, giving his men six glass bottles, one for each of Doc and his men, and the meeting is adjourned.

Doc, returning to his cabin post-cabaret, pours out a glass of water from his room carafe but upon sipping it, finds it too cold: “His vast knowledge of the human physique had taught him it was unnecessary, if not unwise, to shock the system by drinking excessively cold water.” He pours out the water, but it encounters a chemical already in the sink, and “foul, brownish vapor” fills the room “with ugly speed.” Doc exits, and rushes to Monk’s cabin, then the rest of the men. Monk and Ham are dead; killed by the vapor:

Doc grasped Monk’s wrist, feeling for a pulse. And as he felt, a strange cold fixedness of expression came upon his face. The metal of his mighty body seemed to freeze in a wintry blast of horror.

Monk was dead!

But this is Doc Savage, after all. His remaining men watch with “a sort of incredulous hope”.

There on the corridor floor, under the none-too-bright ship lights, they were witnessing one of the miracles of modern surgical skill.

The hearts of both Monk and Ham had stopped, Respiration had ceased. To all appearances, they were lifeless.

The thing Doc Savage was doing had been accomplished before by other great surgeons. But probably never under such conditions! To the three watchers, who knew but little of such things, what happened smacked of the touch of a supernatural being.

For Doc Savage, introducing adrenalin and other stimulants with a long hypodermic needle, which actually reached the hearts of the two men, caused the pulse to start once more. With a respiratory pump he cleared the residue of the poisonous vapor out of their lungs, and got breathing under way.

An hour, he worked! Two! three!

Revived, Monk and Ham immediately begin quarreling again. Armed with their compact machine guns and their somewhat contradictory vow not to take human life, the group readies themselves.

It turns out other things have developed during the night. The ship’s radio operator has smashed the radio, then killed himself and the other operator. Upon investigation, Doc realizes it’s not a case of suicide…but murder. Doc apprehends the two first class passengers who committed it, and goes to tell the captain. Stanhope also seems to have gone crazy; he orders Doc out of his cabin at gunpoint, saying that the man of bronze has caused all the trouble. The two murderers mysteriously disappear; all evidence points to them having been killed and thrown overboard.

The ship sails on, with most of the passengers somehow able to avoid thinking about the multiple murders, mayhem, or the fact that the ship has no way of communicating with the outside world. This continues for seven days: “Seven years, it seemed! Seven ages in a fantastic world where there was only a dark, sinister sea and clouds and rain.”

Something’s clearly going on with the skipper and his officers, who are holed up in their cabins and refuse to talk to Doc or his men. A brief moment of sunlight allows Doc to figure out where they are, which turns out to be thousands of miles off course. They decide it’s time to take over the ship.

This involves gun battle, while the other passengers who’ve been oblivious to the plot action flee in terror. Doc enters Stanhope’s cabin and finds his mysterious behavior’s explanation: he’s been captive all this time. The captain finally tries to break free and is killed by gunfire in the process.

The criminals break out submachine guns of their own; gun battles rage across the Cameronic. Doc and his men free the other officers but are unable to prevent an explosion that disables the ship’s engines. Luckily Doc is able to quench the fires and prevent further damage.

Above decks, they find themselves in a fantastic setting:

“Blast it — look!” Monk leveled a furry arm at the sea.

Or was it a sea? Certainly, the flat waste which stretched to the horizon had none of the aspects of an ordinary ocean. It looked more like a vast, dead prairie of strange, sapphire hue. Here and there weird, whitish spots lent a mottled appearance.

There were no waves. Instead, the expanse seemed to bend with the swell, not unlike a flexible mirror*.

The Cameronic still moved, for the engines had not been stopped long. In her wake was a short lane of intense indigo. Farther back, this wake was slowly filling with the jaundiced substance which colored the sea in all directions.

This can’t be the real Sargasso Sea, Renny declares, having sailed through it previously. Doc points out this could be the true source of the Sargasso Sea legends: “a great weed bed to which derelict ships are carried, to be entrapped and float through the ages. The actual location of the Sargasso might vary from time to time, as the weed bed is moved by the ocean current.”

Johnny offers to bet it’s the real Sargasso Sea; in case the reader has forgotten, Dent reminds us Johnny only bets on sure things.

Bruze and his men have barricaded themselves in the rear of the ship; negotiations with them proves fruitless. They’ve got a dozen hostages, and if Doc and his men don’t surrender within two hours, the killing will begin.

Up on deck, all is chaos:

The wild confusion among the passengers was increasing instead of abating. White-faced tourists, looking over the rail at the dead, hideous expanse of weed-filled sea, became even more pallid.

Every individual who had the slightest informaiton on the Sargasso Sea was broadcasting it at the top of his** voice. Every book on the subject had already been taken from the library.

Other passengers are trying to escape in lifeboats or insisting this is all part of the shipboard entertainment. Doc gathers everyone for a meeting on the forward sun deck and explains things “in a powerful but unexcited voice.”

Monk and Renny assist Doc in his plan; they’ve created a fake bomb, which turns out to be a ruse furthermore involving fake gas. Bruze and his men agree to release the hostages if they’re given the lifeboats. Post negotiation, they free their captives and head off in the lifeboats, which turn out to work pretty well in the sea due to equipment that the criminals have brought with them. It turns out Bruze has set a fire before leaving, but it’s quenched. Monk reveals he filled the water kegs on the boats with salt water.

Bruze and his men come to a stop, “just out of range of a high-powered rifle” and make themselves comfortable: “They were like birds of carrion, hovering within sight of the helpless hulk of the Cameronic as if waiting for it to die.”

The passengers debate and decide to ask Doc “to serve as dictator for the duration of our present difficulties.” Doc gives various facts “calculated to allay fear” about the state of the ship’s supplies and directs the orchestra to play, since he’s “well aware of the cheering effects of music.”

Time passes, described as “Monotonous days followed.” Doc states they are being carried to the center of the sea. Morale efforts continue, mostly involving that orchestra. A rain shower provides Bruze and his men with water, much to Monk’s disgust.

Doc and Renny construct boats and cutting machinery similar to Bruze’s. They chase Bruze. Bruze retaliates by starting to take long distance rifle shots at night, only to be repelled by the “reasonably efficient muzzle-loading cannon” that Doc and his men cast out of engine parts.

Days drag into weeks and then “one sun-gloried morning,” Doc (who has apparently skipped his exercise routine that day) is awakened by “the hysterical screaming of a woman passenger”. The cause of alarm is a wreck, covered with weed. When they explore it, it turns out to be the Sea Sylph, which has clearly been robbed, its safe blown open. No survivors are aboard.

Soon afterward, they arrive at the center:

Ships were before them. An amazing fleet! they seemed to date from all ages. Some were comparatively spic and span, craft which had been here only a matter of weeks or months. Others were older. Centuries older, if their strange construction was a guide.

Many of the craft floated high in the water. More were half-hull deep. Not a few were water-logged and practically submerged — little more than mounds in the repellent, yellow weed. Some were canted on their sides. Here and there, one had capsized completely.

Monk started counting, but speedily gave it up. The number of the derelicts was bewildering. Their masts were like a naked jungle on the horizon.

The hulks had been brought together by the push of ocean currents from all sides Nor was the strange forest composed of ships alone. There was everything that would float — sticks, planks, hatches, logs, bottles, metal barrels, and wooden barrels! Every conceivable kind of trash!

Bruze and his men disappear into the jungle of wreckage and are not seen again that day. Doc decides to find out where they’ve gone, taking one of the small boats “shortly after darkness fell like a dank, black blanket.” Picking his way slowly through the morass of the “yellowed, dying sea,” he hears someone sending signals upon a “giant Oriental gong.” Following the sound, he finds two ancient barges lashed together and turned into a floating fortress.

Uncharacteristically, Doc trips an alarm and is plainly revealed by “a full dozen searchlights.” Shots are fired, and Doc flees. He lands on a battleship that Bruze and his men apparently fear and will not follow him onto. They depart; Doc investigates the ship, where he is encountered and attacked by someone’s pet monkey and then snared by unknown attackers:

An avalanche of forms struck Doc. Clutching hands gripped at his arms, his neck. They were puny, these hands, compared to the bronze man’s great strength. By striking about, he could no doubt have escaped.

But he made no effort to do so.

These were women! The sharp cry had told him that.

Doc allows himself to be captured by “several pairs of soft feminine hands.” The crowd of women seems to be made of many nationalities. A lantern is lit, revealing the crew of Amazons.

The women were of all ages, races, and varying degrees of beauty. Several of them were pretty enough to be considered entirely entrancing. All were strangely clad, with no two ensembles alike.

The most striking of the lot was their leader — she who spoke so many languages.

She was a redhead. In height, she would have topped Doc’s shoulder a but. Her eyes were a dreamy South Seas blue; her nose was small, with a suspicion of snubness; her lips were an inviting bow. Altogether her features could hardly have been improved upon.

The women appear angry, but that emotion is swiftly quelled by Doc’s charms. The leader identifies herself as Kina la Forge and demands his story. They exchange information; it turns out Bruze has been capturing ships for six years now. Doc asks to be turned loose, but Kina doesn’t want to do it. One of Bruze’s men, it turns out, infiltrated years ago and slew all their men. Kina tells Doc she has lived there all her life and that Bruze, who she calls the Sargasso Ogre, is a recent arrival. The sea had actually hosted a small civilization, which Bruze has done its best to destroy. It’s revealed at this point that the battleship holds six or seven million in treasure. Doc asks to be freed again; Kina says no and has some women start to drag him away. Doc escapes, saving Kina’s life from one of Bruze’s men in the process and starts making his way back to the Cameronic, which he finds in the process of being attacked.

Doc joins the fray, noticing that his righthand men are not there. Bruze rushes him and there is an epic battle between “two leviathans of bone and flesh.” The fight is fierce: “so terrific was their clutch that when their fingers slipped, skin came away as if scalded.” Bruze and his men are repelled; Doc finds his own men have been lured away to a nearby caravel, where there’s supposed to be a treasure chest.

Bruze gets on the boat with the treasure chest and is disappointed to note that his trap has apparently been unsuccessful: the chest is rigged to explode when opened. They leave, Doc appears, and of course immediately begins to open the chest, it being the last sentence of the scene. Fade to mysterious black.

Why did Doc’s men not fall for the trap? They overheard the shots from elsewhere and have gone to investigate and discovered the warship/fortress. If the criminals are watching it, there must be someone they fear on board, Doc’s men decide, and over the protests of the others, Monk moves to board it:

Before there could be more argument, Monk bounded forward. His simian physique was just right for this sort o thing. He simply doubled over, using his hands to help maintain a balance, and hopped from one piece of floating wreckage to another.

He reached the warship — and was temporarily baffled. There was no climbing those sheer steel plates. Monk carried no silken line and grapple, such as Doc had employed.

He wandered along the hull, hoping to find a dangling line. He made a complete circuit of the vessel without looking one.

Then, in a spot where he thought certainly that he had looked on the first trip, he saw an inviting Manila hawser***.

It is, of course, a trap. Monk is nearly captured by the Amazons but after gawping at them a bit, he escapes by jumping back overboard. Ham mocks him for the escapade, but the banter is cut short when more shooting begins, initiated by Bruze’s men. Monk and the others contemplate seeking refuge by going back to the fortress; a well-aimed bullet from Kina dissuades them and moments later, there’s another distraction: the caravel. They realize Doc has set off the trap. Searching for his body, they cannot find it and assume him dead, which would seem to imply less knowledge on their part than the reader, who’s pretty sure he’s not. They set siege to Bruze and his men, only to realize that he’s summoned aid. They begin working their way back to the Cameronic, and en route they are surprised to find Doc, “a mighty bronze statue in the moonlight”.

He explains how he escaped the trap. In the course of the conversation, Renny realizes Doc probably could have taken Bruze and asks what’s up. Doc explains that Bruze is the only person who seems to know the way out of the Sargasso Sea. They go back to the Cameronic, while Doc heads to Bruze’s hideout. There, listening, he realizes Bruze has launched some new trap.

They’ve also destroyed his boat, he discovers when he tries to leave. He’s forced to swim back to the Cameronic. After a long nightmarish trip, he finds the Cameronic, which has been taken by Bruze and his men and is now vacant:

Doc moved from spot to spot, inspecting the scene. Huge and expressionless, he might have been a robot man of tempered metal. Tendrils of seaweed dangled like strings from his form. At intervals, he popped, between thumb and forefinger, one of the tiny bulbs which, air-filled, gave the sargassum buoyancy.****

Searching the boat, he locates an undamaged boat and stocks it with supplies. While he’s going back for a second load of supplies, the lurking Bruze sabotages his boat and machine gun, and lets his gang know that Doc’s boat will break the first time he tries to speed. Doc plunges underwater again and makes his way laboriously through the sargassum. He tries to get back to the Amazons and finally encounters a foe he cannot deql with: Kina.

Doc studied the charming picture she presented. Along with his other training for his perilous career of hunting trouble, he had taken a course in feminine psychology. Sometimes he wondered if he had learned anything after all. The intricacies of the feminine mind were beyond any psychologist.

He boards despite her saying she’ll shoot him. She does not. “Her only objections, it dawned on him, had been feminine contrariness only.” Bruze appears and tells Kina l Forge he’ll kill the three hundred hostages from the Cameronic. Bruze threatens to do it in front of Kina; she tells him to go for it. Bruze departs; Doc stays with the women where he tells “them all the latest news, including the newest in feminine styles. When he saw how pathetically eager they were, he used crayons, which someone produced, and sketched the summer dress models from Paris and New York.”

The women, including Kina, begin mashing on the man of bronze pretty early on:

She did not know it yet, but she would have done well to save her gentle wiles. Doc was woman-proof. In his life, with its constant peril and violence, there was no place for the fairer sex.

Consequently he disregarded them.

Kina resigns herself to Doc’s a-romantic nature and gives him more information about the Sargasso Sea, including the fact that the western side is heavily guarded by Bruze. Doc surmises that the way out must be located somewhere there. Doc decides to go see if he can locate the hostages. Making his way to Bruze’s boat, he witnesses a disturbing sight:

Bruze sat crosslegged on rich cushions. Before him was a case, the lid pried off. Into this, the hawk-faced, over-muscled man dipped his hands. His little eyes were sticking out of his head like glass marbles, and he was so gripped by hysterical delight that he was sweating.

For he was handling Doc’s uncut diamonds. A wealth untold!

About the room was stacked other treasure — gold bullion, gold coin in sacks, trays of jewelry, and cheaper trinkets in mounds on the floor. Loot from the ships named on the scalp belt! Ransom of a score of kings!

And in the midst of it sat Bruze, a gloating fiend, with thews and sinews draping his great body like coiled snakes.

The Sargasso Ogre! At the moment, no other name could have fitted him more aptly.

Doc uses ventriloquism to lure Bruze out, making the sound of a distant motor starting up. He trails Bruze to a freighter where Bruze upbraids the occupants for starting the motors and possibly alerting Doc Savage to their existence. The criminals rightfully insist they haven’t been doing so; Bruze goes in to touch the engines and see if they’re warm. Doc searches the freighter and discovers the hold is steel-plated and he can’t get in.

Bruze calls his men inside, telling them not to mind watching the door. Doc suspects it’s another trick but enters, only to find gunmen. The following fight has the sort of weird poetry that Dent sometimes achieves:

Close to his right ear hung a rust scale as large as a spelling book. There were many others like it. Too, the hull flared in such a fashion as to make it difficult for the men to lean out of the side hatches at bow and stern — they could not sight him. In the murk, his bronze skin blended with the rust somewhat.

One of the men started to shoot, regardless. The other, thus encouraged, did likewise.

Rust scales fell like big snowflakes. Timbers in the raft splintered, split, and jarred as if invisible horses were galloping upon them.

Doc emerges unscathed but finds himself in a tiny room furnished with loophles for people to shoot into it. Doc employs a smoke bomb and disappears, much to the frustration of Bruze. He sends off his men; he plans to make a final effort and finish Doc off once and for all.

There are seventeen pages left to the book at this point and Pasha Bey — or someone very like him, now nicknamed “Big Sheik” — reappears.

Seven evil-looking men now appeared in a group. They were chuckling at the expense of one of their number. This fellow was very fat, judging from the flabby bulges which stuffed his garments. If his appearance was any criterion, he would weigh at least three hundred pounds.

His skin was a brownish color. He wore a flowing burnoose of fine silk, and had curly black hair. He was a half-caste white.

His face was swathed partially in bandages. He carried one arm in a sling.

“Wallah!” he gritted with a strong Arabic accent. “By the beard of my father, I will stick a knife into the next man who makes what he calls the wisecrack!”

The varied group assembles. Bruze tells them he believes Doc is hiding up on the warship with the women, and he wants to get rid of the latter group once and for all, even if it means loosing the treasure the women are guarding. Off they go, but Big Shiek lags behind. In case it’s not apparent, he is Doc Savage in a disguise, which he swiftly doffs once out of eyesight. Making it to the warship before Bruze and his gang, he manages to repel their attack.

Bruze reveals his last-ditch plan: he’s got a tanker full of gasoline, which he plans to dump into the ocean around the women’s ship and set on fire. They begin to put this plan in place, unaware Doc’s already moved everyone on the warship somewhere safer.

Kina and her women appear at the criminals fortress, offering to surrender and saying they’re tired of fighting. The criminals shepherd the ladies into a small enclosed space, where the women release gas that Doc has provided them with, concealed within the masses of their hair, knocking the others out. They free the hostages. Doc reappears, says good job, and takes all of his men except Monk back to the fight. Monk, who’s been told to stay behind and defend the freighter, is indignant until he realizes this means time with Kina.

Bruze’s plan is his undoing; when he and his men shoot at the oncoming Doc and his men, they set off the gasoline all around themselves. In the aftermath, Doc and his men find the seaplanes that Bruze and his men have been using to get in and out of the Sargasso Sea.

The ending is abrupt enough to make you wonder if a chapter got left off: They fell to examining the craft.

Notes and afterthoughts: this book feels initially scattered in a way that some of the others don’t, and I have a strong suspicion Dent started it intending to put it all in Alexandria, and then found he just wasn’t able to sustain that atmosphere. Once we get to the Sargasso Sea, things feel a lot more coherent, but boy that ending is so fast it leaves the reader reeling.

* ‘Not unlike x’ is a construction I find peculiarly charming; look for it to be heavily used in an upcoming work of fiction.
** I like to pretend Dent is deliberately using a gendered pronoun here and making a sly comment on mansplaining. This is undoubtedly not actually the case.
*** Google search informs me this is a thick rope used in shipping.
**** Not unlike a primitive form of bubblewrap.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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