Monday, September 13, 2021

The Invisibles (Mark Hood #11)

The Invisibles, by James Dark
August, 1969  Signet Books

The penultimate volume of Mark Hood sees our hero in some never-named Caribbean island, here to investigate the possibility that someone has gotten hold of fissionable material. As an agent for Intertrust, Hood’s ongoing assignment is to ensure nuclear power remains in the hands of just a few countries. When we meet him he’s already on location in this “Caribbean stronghold,” trying to figure out who could be behind this scheme. 

There’s a definite vibe of Pre-Code thriller Black Moon to this one, with pounding voodoo drums always in the background and overly-superstitious natives, many of whom have congregated around the mysterious ruler Shango (not to be confused with shanga), who operates out of a remote fortress. There’s no pickup from previous volumes, nor any appearance of Hood’s earlier colleagues, like Tremayne or Murimoto. Instead Hood’s working solo, and as we meet him he’s rolling along in his rental car one night and comes upon a native lying in the middle of the road. The dude whips out a rifle and after a bit of action Hood takes him out with one of his karate moves; as ever, Hood makes most of his kills this time with his hands. This is how I prefer to make my own, btw. 

Hood’s local contact is Sangster, an Intertrust agent who has been on location on this island for the past few years to monitor the situation. He’s not as memorable as former agents Hood worked with; his most memorable qualities are his Land Rover and his limp, which he acquired during some rough field action years before. Oh, and the knockout rum punch he likes to make. Otherwise he’s an affable sort, and there to fill Hood in on the local happenings and whatnot. While Hood’s driving to see Sangster, a “monster” springs up and begins to chase him – tornado winds, a frothing sea, trees ripped out by their roots by an invisible wind, etc. Hood’s car is thrown off a cliff but he manages to survive. 

This is how Hood first begins to understand that his unknown enemies on the island can control the weather. Here he also meets Ecolette, a hostuff half-Creole babe who has been hurt in the melee; she claims “the Invisibles” are after Hood. Soon we’ll learn that she is referring to voodoo spirits. Hood mends her injured arm in a nice sequence in which Dark (the pseudonym is much easier to type than the author’s real name, J.E. MacDonnell) reminds us of Hood’s medical background. But there’s no hanky-panky and Ecolette takes off. Next day Mark learns she’s the daughter of Chardonnier, a conservative Frenchman who is running for president of the island and who is backed by the US, given his “liberal” agenda. He’s running against Shango, who heads up a “left-wing” party that the US does not want to see in power. Some definitions must have clearly changed over the years! 

Dark successfully captures the colonial vibe here, with Hood and Sangster meeting Chardonnier in his sweeping home off the sea as they have drinks, smoke cigarettes, and engage in “man talk.” Dark is also very good at doling out info via dialog; as ever the book is a fast-moving, professionally-produced yarn that comes in at a concise 150-some pages, but has more impact than some books twice its size. This I feel is the true sign of a gifted author, and Dark is certainly that; I’m sorry there’s only one more volume to go. At any rate, here Hood gets the info on Shango’s operation, and it would seem clear he is the villain Hood has been sent here to dispatch. Dark does try to drum up some brief suspense when Hood learns that Chardonnier himself is a physicist, but this suspense is quickly jettinsoned; Chardonnier, it seems, is just too likable and Old World regal to be involved in any nuclear nefariousness. 

We readers know Shango is the bad guy, given the few cutovers to his perspective. With his “lizardlike” eyes and bald head, he comes off as more repitillian than human, and he’s capable of hypnotizing people merely by staring at them. He sends his top henchman over to Hood’s to take him out, leading to another entertaining sequence where our hero again uses his hands and feet instead of a gun. Dark hits all the series bases here, with Hood even engaging in a quick skindiving session to hide the body in some underwater coral. This bit of action perturbs Hood’s boss, Forescue, who talks to Hood via phone from Geneva and comes off as particularly jerkish this time: “The job is too important to have you boys pussyfooting around playing 007’s.” 

Speaking of James Bond, the following voodoo sequence is straight out of Live And Let Die. Hood pressures Ecolette into taking him to that night’s voodoo ceremony in the hills, and they watch from afar as a woman is sacrificed. But they’re spotted, and Hood takes off, making use of Sangster’s Land Rover on the rugged terrain as men with torches and guns chase him; a thrilling sequence that rivals anything by Ian MacAlister. You can almost hear Mandigo’s The Primeval Rhythm Of Life on the soundtrack playing in your imagination. Even here Hood manages to only use his hands in the action scenes, at one point memorably breaking a dude’s hand through the Land Rover’s door window and sticking the torch back in the guy’s face. 

Ecolette meanwhile has been plunged into an erotic sort of stupor from the ceremony – the implication being that she’s been raised with voodoo so under its sway – and Hood has to literally slap her out of it once they’ve gotten to safety. She comes to demanding that Hood take her back to his villa for some all-night boinkery; getting “on all-fours,” she declares, “We will do everything – everything that is possible for two lovers to do to each other.” Dark is a bit more explicit than previous volumes – nothing too crazy, though – with lines like, “[Hood] pounded himself into her.” Indeed we’re told, with no juicy details, that the two engage in various conjugations all the night long, only stopping once they’ve passed out. 

Things get real the following morning, when Hood discovers the true power of voodoo, at least when it comes to its true believers. Here Hood finally decides to take things straight to Shango. First though he has a meeting with Chardonnier, who again doles out info in capably-handled dialog that doesn’t come off like exposition. Chardonnier theorizes that Shango has a “heat-transference” contraption which is capable of drumming up crazy weather and directing it at his prey. So Hood calls up Sangster, grabs his .38, and they head on up into the mountains to infiltrate the villain’s fortress – even going in by the front door! After taking out a thug or two, Hood discovers the power of Shango’s hypnotic eyes. 

Once again Dark capably displays Hood’s medical knowledge with our hero having done minor surgery on himself, planting something within his arm that will allow him to escape Shango’s sway. But while there’s a bit more action here, with Hood taking out a few more thugs, the finale of The Invisibles is a bit anticlimactic, with Hood waiting for Chardonnier to arrive, so the physicist can make use of Shango’s secondary weather-control device and use it on Shango himself, who is departing in a destroyer with a larger weather weapon to lay waste to Miami. Personally I prefer my action pulp novels to end with the hero doing all the heavy lifting, not some one-off supporting character. 

But otherwise there isn’t much to complain about with this one. Once again Dark’s taken the series from its too-stuffy origins into the outer limits of pulp, complete with nuclear-armed “voodooists” and their sacrificial ceremonies. So I can only say again I’m sorry the series will end with the next volume, and also it bums me that one of the Mark Hood novels, 1966’s Spy From The Deep, was inexplicably excluded from the American reprints. Worse yet, like any other vintage paperback published in Australia, it’s not only incredibly scarce but incredibly overpriced when you do manage to find a copy.

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