Out of the blue it struck—that dread, mysterious force, dealing death, destruction and misery to millions. America found herself stripped of her strongest defenses as battleships, huge guns, skyscrapers, factories and transportation systems crumbled to dust before the voracious flame. No one could tell where it came from; where it would next strike; no one was safe from its hot, devouring maw. An entire nation stood crippled, paralyzed by panic as Operator 5, alone, fought to save America from the red ruin loosed upon it.
“The Melting Death” is the fourth Operator 5 novel was originally published in July 1934.
The story begins with a collapse of a mighty bridge across the Mississippi River falling on its dedication day. Operator 5 has knowledge that spy Peter Janover of the Purple Shirts has organized a spy ring in the US and is likely behind the collapse, but this proves to be a false lead.
The mechanism turns out to be a corrosive weapon that can “melt” steel. Soon, military installations are being affects as well as skyscrapers, train tracks, and nearly anything of value with metal in it. Operator 5 quickly sees the possibility that some is attempting to weaken the US militarily perhaps as prelude to invasion. The corrosive liquid can also “melt” people, thereby giving this story its name. Indeed, it is a near-universal solvent having the ability to dissolve nearly everything that is metal or organic, but it does not work on glass, porcelain, some other carbon-based materials, or some other non-metallic elements.
While it turns out, Janover is not involved with the use of this corrosive weapon, his spy network has uncovered clues as to those responsible. When Operator 5’s investigation hits a wall, he uses Janover to determine who is really responsible along with other leads. Basically the plot centers on generating additional steel demand for a particular company. Note: The relationship of the Purple Shirts to the Purple Invasion is not identified in this story.
A generally good tale. It is not an invasion like the first three, and has a lot more spy shenanigans occurring. This tale could probably be exchanged for a Secret Agent X story without too many changes. Yet, plenty of action and plot turns to keep one interested in the story.
As an aside, in one of the best Spider novels, “The City Destroyer” published in January 1935, the super weapon is one that used a chemical that could dissolve steel and was used primarily against civilian targets to enable looting. Obviously though there is a relationship between this novel and that Spider tale… and the Operator 5 novel came first.