Gold—the mineral which fosters war!—threatened to plunge America into a chaos of revolt, misery and death. In Washington, the fortified vaults of the nation’s Treasury lay empty—stripped of wealth. A madman, obscured in mystery, his face concealed by a mask of the precious metal, had allied himself with powerful foreign magnates to deliver the United States into misery and bondage. Robbed of her riches, her plans for military security disrupted, her strategic stores destroyed and her armament factories wrecked, the most powerful nation in the world seemed inevitably doomed. One man, Jimmy Christopher, ace of the Intelligence, had a feasible plan for wresting victory from the cunning clutches of the greedy syndicate… And that man, known to a few as Operator 5, under grave suspicion of treachery, spied upon and hampered by a stubborn superior, must sacrifice his father, his beloved, and his honor to save his native land from a cruel invader’s debauchery and butchery…!
“Hosts of the Flaming Death” is the seventeenth Operator 5 novel, originally published in August 1935.
The political situation for Operator 5 is a carryover from the previous novel. As of the last novel, the secret service reports to the Secretary of State who has intense concerns about a secret service operating in the US. Last issue, he fired half of those employed by the secret service, making it seriously understaffed for the duty required. Despite the death penalty being applied to anyone spying outside the official secret service, Operator 5 forms his own dedicated secret service called the Hidden Hundred. At the beginning of this story, Operator 5’s chief assignment from the Secretary of State is to capture the head of the Hidden Hundred, which again happens to be Operator 5. Like many heroes in the pulps, he has become an illegal vigilante hunted by the law. When operating as the Captain of the Hidden Hundred, Operator 5 wears skull masks and gloves, as do its other members.
Given this assignment, Operator 5 is restrained from working on a bigger threat to the US. The US is running out of vital war materials which it cannot generate internally at the levels needed; these materials include tin, mercury, rubber, silk, and wool. To acquire these goods, the US is required to use its gold reserves. The true threat comes from the concerted destruction of these goods or plants so that the shortfalls are greater, leading to the USA being under pressure to spend more and more of its precious gold. Thus, the threat is to both the USA’s war effort and its economic strength.
(Note: in the real world in 1934, the US government took possession of all gold in the country to assure that its gold reserves were good and not being dissipated by free enterprise. The importance of this gold centralization in the news was likely one contributing factor for Frederick C. Davis’ inspiration for this story.)
Frederick C. Davis seems to attempt to implicate Great Britain once again as the culprit nation because of the apparent involvement of Haigh, its ambassador. (Note: Davis seems obsessed with Great Britain being a potential enemy of the US.) However, as the novel continues, the mythical (in our universe) nation on Urakia (the Ukraine?) becomes involved again; Urakia was the attacker in the tenth Operator 5 novel, “The Red Invader.” Various forces internal in the US government seem also to be complicit with the effort to undermine and overthrow the country’s current leadership. A man in a golden mask acts as the leader of the effort, eventually taking possession of a large part of the US’s gold reserve.
Through the haze of forces that are aligning themselves against the US, Jimmy Christopher uses both of his roles as Operator 5 of the secret service and the Captain of the Hidden Hundred to deftly root out the threat to the nation. The man in the golden mask was once a US citizen, but now hates the country. European industrialists who control entire nations are backing him. By the end of the novel, the man in the golden mask is dead, the pilfered gold has been recovered, and the US is stronger than ever, both economically and militarily.
Could this attack on the US succeed? The answer is “yes” as is true for many of the clandestine attacks on the US abetted by internal politics, but its weakness is that it must evolve in secrecy which seems difficult given its scale. Could Operator 5 defeat the effort to save the country? The answer is again a “yes,” given that the attack on the US requires secrecy. The weakness in Operator 5’s countermeasures is that he seems to be everywhere doing everything… yet he seems to be able to pull off his frenetic pace to save the US in every issue.
Overall, another good outing by Davis as the author of Operator 5 and highly recommended.
As we proceed, it should be noted that the leadership in the US would be total bonkers by now if it was the recipient of the various attacks that we have seen in these seventeen issues. I have sometimes suggested that Operator 5 worked in an alternate universe. For all of these stories to be true, he would have needed to work in several different universes… but if we can dispel our rationality on this point, we can still enjoy each and every Operator 5 romp.