Secretly, behind closed doors and guarded portals the mysterious Black Power of Zaava spread its hidden terror throughout America. What evil force was behind the destruction of churches; the wholesale disappearance of entire congregations? What sinister spell had fallen upon American men and women to make them hurl themselves into white-hot flaming furnaces. A trap worse than death is laid for Operator 5 when, in a final effort to combat this monstrous hidden power, he makes his way alone into the Cavern of the Damned!
“Cavern of the Damned” is the fifth Operator 5 novel and was first issued in August, 1934.
The story begins with Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5, vacationing following the back-to-back struggles in “The Yellow Scourge” and “The Melting Death.” His holiday is interrupted when secret agents around the country start dying under mysterious circumstances, generally indicating some relationship with the orient.
In his persona as Carlton Victor the famous photographer, he is invited to a strange ceremony where Prince Horga Tal, supposedly from Tibet, is presiding. There a young woman is whipped shredding her clothing and cutting up her skins. The watching crowd seems drugged becoming unthinking celebrants in the ceremony, chanting “Zaava exalts.” Even Operator 5 can hardly move, being engulfed in a dream-like state… finally, he does break through, though, and ends up being taken captive as he attempts to thwart the ceremony.
Soon, the new threat to America becomes evident. A new religion based on eastern mysticism is attempting to quietly enslave the American public with drugs and worship of Zaava. Turbaned, black-dressed men are doing the dirty work for Zaava keeping those already indoctrinated in line and taking out the opposition by kidnapping even entire congregations and burning their churches. The religion and thugs appear to be mostly consistent with northern India and perhaps based in part on the Kala sect, although these exact points are not made in the novel.
Can this “invasion” succeed? Possibly since it does not depend on bring military equipment and troops, but rather dopes the American people so that they will do what their master tells them. Even Z-7, Operator 5’s boss, believes that fighting against Zaavanism is hopeless and basically orders Operator 5 to cease fighting it so that he might be preserved for other future invasions. Later, under mind-controlling drugs, Z-7 goes further ordering Operator 5 off the case, but he refuses; so, Z-7 calls Operator 5 a traitor and orders his arrest.
Despite the odds, Operator 5 finds the main temple for this new religion; it is called “Cavern of the Damned” from which comes the name of the story. He destroys the temple and with it the main leadership of the Zaavanist sect. While there are still other active temples in America, the severance of its head in the main temple is seen as sufficient reason to declare victory… a reasonable conclusion to this terror.
A ring with a silver skull is introduced to Tim Donovan in Chapter 9 indicating that he is an agent of Operator 5.
A generally good and pleasing novel!