dochermes (dochermes) wrote,
dochermes
dochermes

A weekend with the Avenger in the HOUSE OF DEATH



MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
The really significant one is in the footnote....*


From March 1941, this is one of the lesser entries in the Avenger series. The Justice Inc crew investigate the inexplicable shenanigans of a group of Haygars, survivors of a once wealthy international family, who seem intent on killing each other off for possession of some strange gold medallions. There is a startlingly high death toll in more noticeable because it occurs not in a single explosion or shipwreck but as a series of brutal murders. The victims are almost all shady, suspicious characters who are plotting to kill the other Haygars if they get a chance, so the reader doesn't have much compassion for them. Even the mandatory mouthwatering debutante isn't really a sympathetic character. Despite asking for protection, she refuses to cooperate or shed any light on the mystery ("Nellie could have choked her.")

Despite the fact that his stated agenda is to fight crime and, well, avenge the victims of crime, Benson is at his best when he is protecting innocent people who have nowhere else to turn. My favorite stories are the ones where The Avenger and his team hurry to prevent the general public from being slaughtered by some outre menace (THE FROSTED DEATH and THE SKY WALKER come to mind). Still, although there is no Mad Science gadget or hooded mastermind (there is the vile hulking Goram Haygar, a sort of Haygar the Horrible.. sorry) HOUSE OF DEATH is an enjoyable example of classic pulp heroics.There is a genuine mystery, with enigmatic clues and numerous suspects, all neatly explained.

The house of the title is a wild creation. A ruined, nearly abandoned castle on an island, it's guarded by huge ferocious mastiffs and even bigger and more ferocious boars. Then there's all those elaborate death traps, not to mention the trenches all over which are filled with human bones, let alone the preserved corpse of the former
owner in a glass topped casket in the cellar, as well as the fact that our heroes are trapped on the island when a storm explodes, surrounded by half a dozen killers from all over the world.

Whoa. Not enough? Well, there IS the sighting of a ghost.....

Josh and Rosabel Newton are hardly heard from on this case, and Cole Wilson is absent on an engineering project (fine with me, as I never liked the guy.) Mac and Smitty carry most of the action in their usual way. But it's Nellie Gray who gets a chance to shine, this time out. Not only does she swim six miles out to the scene of the mayhem
("...she reached the island, scarcely breathing hard"), she has to cope with an attacking mastiff that's literally bigger than she is and deal with the floor in the castle dropping out from under her. And despite the fact that she disobeyed orders not to follow, her teammates have good reason to be glad she came anyway.

I tell you, if Doc Savage wasn't so stubborn about not having a woman on his team, I think he would have hired Nellie away from Benson (and I would like to see how Monk and Ham would have reacted to her.) Anytime someone remarks how all the women and all the black people in the pulps were shameful stereotypes, hand them a few books from the
Avenger series.

As for Richard Henry Benson himself, he turns in his usual high standard of heroics. There are enough references to how expressionless and deadpan his face remains after violent or horrifying events, that it hints this book was one of the manuscipts bumped to make room for MURDER ON WHEELS, where he was normalized. This story features one of the few instances where Benson is wanted for murder (as opposed to his bronzecolleague who seemed to be up on charges much of the time, or The Shadow or the Spider, both of whom were full time outlaw vigilantes) and I enjoyed the way he handled it.

_____________________
*The biggest surprise that this is the only occasion where the Avenger doesn't maneuver his opponents in wiping themselves out. I imagine hewas planning on how to arrange his usual nemesis game when events overtook him.
Tags: paul ernst, pulps, the avenger
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