March 21, 2004

From the June 1940 issue of DOUBLE DETECTIVE, the Green Lama tackles a particularly vile racket. BABIES FOR SALE is handled in a low-key, unemotional style that works much better for me than a more openly melodramatic telling would. There is certainly a criminal scheme here that causes more grief and suffering than the typical grand larceny or even murders would. The style by Kendell Foster Crossen (writing as Richard Foster) downplays the weeping and gnashing of teeth, telling the story in an understated way that is still effective.

Near Hollywood is the Sanctuary Home for Foundlings, a foster home which supplies babies to deserving (that is, wealthy) would-be parents who for whatever reason cannot have offspring of their own. Fine, nothing wrong with that. Well, there is a problem in the Sanctuary’s methods, as they obtain their babies either through actual kidnapping or by taking in unwed mothers, helping them deliver, and then telling them their infants died at birth.

How low can you sink? Frankly, I would love to see the Spider investigate this racket with his usual tactics of blowing big holes in the crooks’ heads. They sure deserve a visit from Richard Wentworth, but as it happens, fate has sent the Green Lama to straighten things out. Jethro Dumont investigates, gets captured and tied up and escapes (he seems to have a clause in his contract that he goes through some bondage in each story), and goes about getting enough evidence to guarantee putting these guys behind bars.

Jethro has never seemed more like a genuine Buddhist than he does in this story. The bland little slogans he throws out are as unenlightening and uninspired as ever, though. If these are authentic Buddhist sayings, something seems to have been lost in the translation; I’ve seen greeting cards with more depth and wisdom. On the other hand, the Green Lama does show some perception, when he tells one crook that he’s not as evil as the others (“Your air of the bravado was to ape their hardness”).

The enigmatic Magga pops up again, this time disguised as a warped ol’ hag. At one point, she is put under truth serum by the villains and answers their questions with two interesting replies. She says that her name is Magga (I would have sworn this was her code name) and that she does not know who the Green Lama really is (oh, come on. She follows the guy all over the country and seems to be in on all his secrets; that truth serum must have passed its expiration date, or something).

There are a couple of amusing touches, as when a film producer thinks about making a Green Lama movie using bits stolen from the Lone Ranger or the Shadow (“Always in the picture, the Green Lama will say, ‘The Green Lama knows’ in a hoarse whisper. . .”). Seeing our noble hero at the airport in his Dr Pali guise (the green clerical suit and Asian makeup), a thug hurriedly reports to his boss: “He didn’t have on his nightgown, if that’s what you mean.”

Aside from that, our boy is his usual self. He spends half a page here and there meditating and chanting in front of a Buddha shrine. I notice he seems to go out of his apartment and hotel rooms a lot while leaving those darn butter candles burning unattended (kids, don’t do this at home). He is also still getting ready to face bloodthirsty gunmen by drinking a solution of radioactive salt which charges his body up enough that his touch gives an electric shock. I don’t know why this never caught on with regular law enforcement officers; possibly it is not really good for you.

Inevitably, people are beginning to wonder if Jethro Dumont might be the Green Lama. Frankly there were not that many ordained Buddhist lamas active in the US back in 1940, particularly ones who showed up wherever rackets were being busted. Dumont would never deny being a lama, of course, and he wouldn’t think of fighting crime except in his ceremonial robes; going out after crooks as the Raging Raven or Butt Buster or something wouldn’t seem ethical to him. This is where the third identity of Dr Charles Pali is actually such a good idea. Pali is a dead end that has no connection to Jethro; suspicious folks investigating the Green Lama will get sidetracked trying to find out about the nonexistent Pali, leaving Jethro free to study his ancient holy texts and sip his tea in peace.