1935-08 Spook Hole

Cover Date: August 1935
Volume 5 # 6
Copyright Date: Friday, July 19, 1935
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f.295-302
Recurring Characters. Renny is in Asia on a railroad project.  Pat Savage appears and joins the adventure.

Spook Hole by Kenneth Robeson
Talking Ice by Laurence Donovan
The Flaming Desert by Jean Francis Webb
The Doc Savage Method of Self-Development
Stowaway by Steve Fisher

Doc Savage Club
For the Family
Sailors are Made
Pharoah’s City
Animal Trading
Dredging for Gold
From Our Members

This tale is all about perfume and sperm whales.  In particular, the treasure in this adventure is the secret formula used in a process that stimulates ambergris production in whales.  Hezekiah Law has it.  Captain Wapp, Braski, and Ropes want to steal it.

Long Tom goes undercover as one of Captain Wapp’s hired killers.  Readers should note Long Tom’s nickname of “Sass.”  The name comes from his habit of chewing sassafras bark.  Dent is tossing another log on the fire here.  Sassafras is also used in the perfume industry.  There are certain essential oils obtained from steaming the root or fruit.  Sassafras tea was a popular drink in the past.  It has been discovered that certain compounds in it causes liver damage and is now banned by the FDA.

Captain Wapp is obviously head of a whaling ship, the Harpoon.  Whale hunting was still a going concern before World War II. 

The Crime College: A new wrinkle is revealed in this adventure.  Doc sends an injured criminal to a doctor with a note entitling him to ten thousand dollars.  The criminal will get the money but only after graduating from Doc’s Crime College.  Apparently, treatments were still being modified. The ten grand graduation gift was a new part of the treatments.

Dent obviously grabbed the name of our whale herder from the Bible.

Hezekiah was a ruler of the Kingdom of Judah around 700 BC.  Mention of Hezekiah can be found in the Book of Chronicles, (2 Chronicles 32).  King Hezekiah put up a fight against the Assyrians.  Hezekiah Law puts up a fight against Wapp and his gang of pirates.

Captain Wapp’s name may be a bit of onomatopoeia.  He is described as an extremely short and stout man.  Perhaps he looks something like a whale himself.  The sound made when a whale slaps its tail against the water could be described as a “wapp.”

Hezekiah Law is allied with the Patagonian natives.  Dent is reaching out and pulling in some legends about the Patagonian giants.   The first European travelers reported seeing natives who were anywhere from nine to fifteen feet tall.  Dent brings their height down to a more believable seven feet.

Doc travels to Patagonia by way of Miami Florida and Colon, Panama.

Blanca Garde could be a play on blanca garda which means white guard in Spanish.

Rex Stout’s character Nero Wolfe delivers a little speech in “The League of Frightened Men” (August 1935) where he tips his hat to some other detectives.  Wolfe is arguing about payment for his services. “I understand that there are individuals who will undertake to apprehend wrongdoers, especially murderers, without being paid for it.  They do it, I presume, for amusement, which is not astonishing when you consider what odd diversions have been sought by various members of our race.”

In March 1934, the folks around Bolinas Beach in California experienced treasure fever in the form of ambergris.  Beach goers were picking up chunks of material that appeared to be the valuable commodity.  One article quotes the price at $26 per ounce.  Adjusted for inflation, the 1934 price of $26 is equivalent to something around $400.  Hundreds of pounds of the material were being found.  It created a huge sensation and was published in many newspapers including The New York Times.  Time Magazine published an article in the March 19, 1934 (“Animals: Ambergris”) covering the Bolinas discover.  Another big article on the pungent material appeared near the end of the year in the December 17, 1934, issue (“Animals: Again Ambergris”).

Ambergris is reputed to be a foul-smelling material.  The Bolinas Beach material matched that description.  Unfortunately, after chemical analysis, the substance turned out to be “hardened chemicals” that were used to clean the San Francisco sewers!  One can only imagine the chemical composition of such materials.  Yes indeed, we can certainly imagine what the secret ingredients were from the San Francisco sewers.