1935-11 Murder Melody

Cover Date: October 1935
Volume 6 # 2
Copyright Date: Friday, September 20, 1935
Author: Lester Dent and Harold A. Davis
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains fifteen folders for this story, f. 311-325.

Murder Melody by Kenneth  Robeson
Jungle Medicine by George Allan Moffett
The Doc Savage Method of Self-Development

Doc Savage Club
 – Speaking Basically
 – Test Pilot
 – Treasure Below
 – Old Coins
 – From Our Members

“Murder Melody” was something different for readers.  This was Laurence Donovan’s first published Doc Savage story, hitting the newsstands in the November 1935 issue.  The Street & Smith Manuscript Tracer Cards show the original title for the story was “Death Music” with a date of May 24, 1935.  Donovan had previously turned in a manuscript for “Cold Death,” but it did not appear in print until September 1936.

“Murder Melody” starts out in Vancouver, British Columbia.  This was a Canadian location he was familiar with, having lived there in 1926 when he wrote for the Vancouver Sun.  Donovan’s work with the paper was brief with his first article appearing in March and the last one in November. 

Donovan incorporated his knowledge of the Vancouver area with a series of name-droppings in the story.  Various locations such as Burrard Inlet, The Narrows, Stanley Park, and the Zoological Gardens appear in the story’s opening chapters.

The story is a lost race novel featuring an advanced civilization living deep within the earth.  These people have special “Universal ships” that easily slice through most of the various strata in the earth’s crust. They also function as submarines and can travel through the air. The inhabitants are visually different from people who live on the surface having white skin.  The people live in a scientifically advanced society.

This story has some significant similarities with “The Land of Always-Night” which was published in March 1935.  That story featured an underground civilization.  The inhabitants are described as white-skinned with exceptionally fine hair and larger than normal eyes that are a very pale color.

  • Both civilizations depend on a scientific method of creating artificial light.
  • Both are scientifically advanced.
  • The inhabitants are unusually strong.
  • Both have larger than normal eyes.
  • Both civilizations have a political system based on a single powerful leader.  Each has a daughter who plays an influential role in the story.
  • Both civilization exile undesirables to a remote location.
  • In both stories, the villains seek to take control of the inner world by using inventions brought from the surface.  In “Land of Always-Night” this would be firearms.  Donovan’s story utilizes explosives are the terror weapon.

Donovan’s story was published in November 1935.  This was only eight months after “Land of Always-Night” appeared in the March 1935 issue.  There are one or two instances in the correspondence where Nanovic killed one of Dent’s plot ideas because it was too similar to a recent story.

Donovan employs “electric ores” as an important part of story.  Harold Davis will seize upon this idea in a future story, “The Living Fire Menace” which appeared in January 1938.

One of the items appearing in “Murder Melody” are gravity belts which had appeared earlier in the Buck Rogers daily comic strip.  These were based on a substance called “inertron” which neutralized gravity.

Similarly, Donovan uses a previously published idea.  The passage of the underground ships though quartz bearing strata causes electrical oscillations leading to earthquakes.  This idea first appeared in “The Man Who Shook the Earth” in February 1934.

The story is written in Donovan’s stilted style.  Much of the dialogue is unnatural and stiff.  Donovan also attributes Doc Savage with prescient-like powers.  It is often explained that Doc knew some fact, but it is never revealed how he knows this thing.