Dr. Thaddeus C. Harker: The Complete Tales by Edwin Truett “Bud” Long (Altus Press, 2013)
Dr. Thaddeus C. Harker is not often mentioned in the annuals of pulp literature. His entire output consists of three novellettes issued in 1940. He’s a transitional figure who links the costumed heroes of the 1930’s with the cynical noir detectives of the 1950’s. He doesn’ t have superhuman powers, but he does have a team who assists him. He has sharp reasoning abilities. He doesn’t possess a Fortress of Solitude or secret base. But he has one thing no other hero has: his own traveling medicine show.
The introduction, by the intrepid Tom Johnson, gives us much information on the idenity of the creator of Doc Harker, Edwin Truett “Bud” Long. He also tracks down the locations mentioned in the three stories. All of them take place in the South Western USA, home for pulp cowboys instead of urban pulp heroes. There is also a list of titles attributed to Long at the conclusion of this anthology.
Doc Harker does strike quite a figure. We don’t get a lot of information on his background, but we do learn he’s a retired chemist devoted to the science of criminology. Doc Harker has a Colonel Sanders mustache and goatee, wears a Prince Albert waistcoat, carries a cane with him, and sports alligator shoes. He also likes his long cigars and bourbon. His cover for his crime-fighting adventures is a medicine show where he travels the country selling Chickasha Remedies (“a cure for practically every ailment of man and beast”). He’s a complete southern gentleman and fastidious in his appearance.
Doc Harker is aided in his adventures by two people: the bucolic Hercules “Herk” Jones and the beautiful Brenda Sloan, whom he raised from an early age. Herk is 6’2″ and a former professional wrestler. He’s good, loyal, strong, but suffers from one too many pile drivers to the head. Brenda, who has gone to the finest schools in the country usually arrives in advance and does the undercover work . He refers to them both as “my children”, although they’re not related to him.
The fist story in the collection, “Crime Nest”, has Doc Harker called into action to clean-up a vice-ridden town. He rolls in driving a sharp roadster pulling his trailer (which conceals his mobile crime lab). He’s responding to a letter sent to him by an old friend. The entire town government is corrupt from mayor to police. Only Doc Harker can find the necessary evidence to take down the gang who has ruined the idyllic place. To make matters worse, a former gangster is headed in their direction with the location of a hidden pile of stolen money.
The second tale, “Woe to the Vanquished”, is my favorite Doc Harker and company encounter a full-blown fascist revolt in the small town of Dundee. They arrive in time just to watch a masked group of vigilantes terrorize a Jewish man and his family. Doc Harker discovers a whole band of these kukluxers are running around being led by a mysterious figure known only as “John Brown”. They march around striking fear into everyone and carry halberds as weapons. Known as the Valiants, their motto is” Vae Victis!”. Which translates to the novel’s title. In the first few pages, Doc Harker stands down their leader with a derringer, but soon he and Herk find themselves in jail on a murder charge. Doc Harker knows it’s the leader of the Valiants, but can he prove it in time?
The final novelette, “South of the Boarder”, puts Doc and crew witnessing a bullfight in Northern Mexico. While the matador is smitten with Brenda, Doc notices a nervous man trying to escort two women of questionable character. It all leads into the most complicated plot in the series as he finds himself involved with sex trafficking, gangsters, and corrupt investigators.
The stories are tightly written and can be quite funny. Such as this exchange between Doc and Herk:
“I stuck along. He takes hisself a cab, and doubles here and there, and then I know he’s a phony. He even gets out and walks through the bus station, in one door and out another. Then he gets hisself another cab and comes here. I catch the elevator right behind him, play a hunch—you know nine was always my lucky number. I remember once in a crap game with seventeen bucks riding a nine I came out—”
“For the love of God, Hercules, where’d he go? Who—”
My only complaint is you never do see Doc Harker perform his pitch. Other than that, these are excellent stories from a transitional point in pulp literature.
A fun series, mainly for the idea of a scientific detective traveling as a Medicine Show during that period. Bud Long wrote some fairy nice Jim Anthony adventures and, if I’m right a couple pretty good Phantom Detective novels; plus he had some nice short stories in the Spicy titles – though maybe a bit racy. I’ve an idea he had to tone down his Doc Harker stories for the ARGOSY editors, and maybe pretty well edited at that. A shame that Bud Long died so young, the result of war, as he was turning out a lot of fiction back then. Nice review, Tim. Did you let ALTUS PRESS know? I can send Matt a heads up for you. Appreciate the review. BTW, I wrote a Doc Harker story, but had to rewrite it as another character, making numerous changes because Moonstone supposedly has Rights to write new stories featuring the character now.
I did let Altus know. First heard about Doc Harker in ECHOES.
I kept hearing this music while reading the anthology: