Throne of Satan is another book from the Mark Hood Thriller series, written by Australian author J.E. MacDonnell (published in the US under the pen name James Dark) and it is a pretty slight read. Not that the Mark Hood books were ever jam packed with densely intricate plots, but this story is wafer thin. However what makes this book an interesting time capsule for spy fans, and particularly those who enjoy the movie, You Only Live Twice, is that it features a villain housed in a volcanic lair. I know the ‘volcanic lair’ is a hoary old chestnut, used time and time again – only yesterday I looked at Simon Black in Peril, which had a unit of Nazis holed up in a hollowed out volcano situated in the Pacific. So the hollowed out volcano lair is not new, however, once You Only Live Twice hit the cinemas, the volcano lair became a symbol of megalomania, parodied mercilessly in books and films ever since.
From page 41 – where Mark Hood’s colleague and fellow Intertrust agent, Tommy Tremayne, who has been captured, is about to be brought before the megalomaniac, Dominat.
As the plane banked away from the top of the mountain and beamed in again in a wide circle, the Englishman looked down into the dead crater beneath them. A wide steel platform ran across its diameter. The plane was dropping. It passed right over the top of the mountain, then turned again, bearing down on the ribbon of glittering gray metal. They were about to land right there on the mountain, Tremayne realized.
Now that they were practically level with the runway, it looked much longer. The plane was small and maneuverable.
There was a squeal as the wheels gripped the rough steel. Then the aircraft was turning. They stopped and the silence, after the steady hum of the motors, was almost tangible.
“The end of the ride?” Tremayne asked.
“We will wait here,” Borja said. He was not smiling now.
They wait. Then, beneath them, was a distant hum of machinery, and without being aware of any movement, Tremayne saw the inner walls of the crater seemed to be closing in over them. Then he realized that they were being carried down, plane ands all, on top of the platform into the bowels of the mountain.
The interesting co-incidence here, is that Throne of Satan was published in May 1967, yet You Only Live Twice was not released in Australia until December 1967. That is not to suggest any plagiarism – as I mentioned at the top, the ‘volcano lair’ has been used quite a bit in spy fiction.
The story concerns an evil megalomaniac named Dominat who intends to invade Cuba, and then leapfrog over it to invade America. From his vast scientific laboratory, housed in a volcano on the island of Dominica, he has been invented a range of highly sophisticated weapons with which he intends to take over the world.
As the story opens, Dominat’s number one henchman, Borja has kidnapped a nuclear scientist named Battersby and stolen a nuclear reactor core. However the ship he is transporting them on is run aground in a gale and is sinking. Following them however is Intertrust agent Mark Hood, who spirits away the reactor core to a waiting US Navy Destroyer. He tries to return to rescue Battersby but is too late, and some of Borja’s goons arrive in a helicopter and rescue him – taking Battersby with them.
The twist, and it is not a major spoiler as it is written on the back cover, is that Battersby is actually another Intertrust agent, Tommy Tremayne. While Tremayne is taken back to Dominat’s volcano lair, Hood spends the rest of the novel tracking him down – with the bulk of his clues being a type of happy co-incidence (rather than clever investigation).
The book itself is a strange double hander with agent Tommy Tremayne, who has been captured, working from the inside, while Hood works from the outside. And while a two pronged spy story still works, providing all the high points you would expect in a pulp adventure like this, it also has the problem of rendering the primary hero, Hood, slightly impotent. It is Tremayne who shares the interaction with the villain, Dominat, and is explained the mad scheme for world domination. Hood only arrives at the end, like the cavalry to rescue Tremayne, and his showdown with Dominat, because the characters do not have a relationship, is rather cold and perfunctory. Sure, Dominat is a villain and over the course of the story his villainy is played out enough, that his demise does bring a certain catharsis, but at the same time, possibly the story would have been more satisfying if Tremayne had landed the final blow rather than in the contrived manner that it takes place. But then I guess it would have been a Tommy Tremayne novel and not a ‘Mark Hood Thriller’.
The Mark Hood books are not great literature. They are what they are, which is fast paced, and incredibly slight spy adventures. You can read them in a day. If you read them with that in mind, simply wanting to be blasted away for an hour or two, then they are perfectly acceptable. However, Throne of Satan, due to what I perceive to be a slightly more experimental writing style (the dual story thread), is one of the weaker Hood thrillers, and if it wasn’t for the nicely contrived, and timely, volcano lair plot device, would be little more than a passing footnote in the history of spy fiction.
Throne of Satan may be the 7th book in the Mark Hood Thriller series – originally published as Black Napoleon in Australia. I have not found a copy of Black Napoleon to check the information on that, and as the story Throne of Satan doesn’t specifically mention that the villain, Dominat is a man of colour (that is assuming that he is the ‘Black Napoleon’ of the title in the Australian version). Of course, any overt racism could have been edited from the US version. And I must admit, that the cover of Black Napoleon, with the volcano in the background, would suggest they are one and the same story.