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JOHN VEDDERS

operator_5_bk_1935_08 operator_5_bk_1937_02 operator_5_bk_1937_05_06 operator_5_bk_1936_01 operator_5_bk_1935_04 operator_5_bk_1936_06_07 operator_5_bk_1936_08_09 operator_5_bk_1935_10 operator_5_bk_1936_03 operator_5_bk_1935_12 operator_5_bk_1936_02
 
Full Name: John Vedders
Nationality: American
Organization: Military Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: Frank Gruber
Time Span: 1935 - 1937

ABOUT THE SERIES

John Vedders is an agent with American Military Intelligence.

I use that nebulous term instead of something more definitive because the recorded missions that we have of him to follow leaves a bit of confusion in their telling. When we first watch Vedders in action, he comments that he worked for the U.S. Intelligence Corps. Another person adds that "the army intelligence needs you" so if this Intelligence Corps is an actual department, it is certainly connected to the War Department (later changed to Department of Defense). This seems to be confirmed when in the second adventure, Vedders calls it Army Intelligence which is a lot less misleading. Unfortunately, the third assignment we watch, he is said to work for the American Intelligence Service. Following that for the remainder of the tales, it is just identified as Miliary Intelligence, in which he holds the rank of Captain. It all sounds a tad haphazard but then again, given the government's love of changing things that did not need changing, it like is all the same.

We watch during our initial meeting with him as he looks in the mirror and sees a face that was accurately described as giving "a distinctly sinister appearance" but as we read further, we find it is all part of a terrific disguise Vedders has created for an undercover mission he is about to start; said look being the result of a particularly impressive skill at makeup. This talent will be something he will make use of more than once in the recorded adventures we have with him and he will be called a master of disguise by one of his opponents.

Quite telling about the life that Vedders leads and the work that he does as a field operative is the fact that the man he is making himself look like is on his last hours alive having been shot by Vedders just before we encounter him. "I hated to do it", he tells a colleague, "but I shot to kill. A single life - a half dozen lives - what do they mean when an international catastrophe can be averted? Who knows? I may be next."

The business that Vedders is in is a very violent one as we find out immediately. In the first pages of the first adventure, we learn he has just shot a man soon to die from that wound, he abducts and waterboards an American general and war hero who has turned traitor, and he injects adrenaline into an enemy guard bringing about his demise. Then he starts to get busy.

Vedders has been in the spy game for quite a few years, based on the fact that he runs into a notorious German former spy with whom he had crossed swords 16 years previously. This puts his entry just after the end of the Great War and places his age as likely in his late 30s. We learn nothing of his home life so it is not unreasonable to believe he in essence has none - the man is married to his job.

Which does not mean that Vedders does not have an eye for the opposite sex because he clearly does. In addition to a pretty girl here or there to catch his eye, Vedders has several interesting go-rounds with one of the most deadly operatives to come out of Central America, freelance spy Leone Mendez, described as the most gorgeous woman he had ever known: "dark, exotic looking but ravishingly beautiful". "Whenever she left a country there was scandal." That is the given word on this woman who seemed able to enchant and seduce any man at any time. She occupies his mind for a tad, leaves the scene for a long time, and then makes a wonderful return to show she is just as deadly, and enticing, as ever.

Good Lines:
- After slapping handcuffs on the seductive Leone Mendez, Vedders apologizes, "Pardon my roughness, Leone, but a man in love with a woman - or his own life - can't stand on ceremony".

NOVELLAS AND SHORT STORIES

Number of Stories:11
First Appearance:1935
Last Appearance:1937

1 Death in Disguise Death in Disguise
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1935

Published in Operator #5 #13, April 1935
"Captain John Vedders played a dangerous game in that brilliant mansion - against the most beautiful and wicked woman spy in the world — in an effort to leash the brutal Dogs of War." His mission is to get back a vital and deadly formula for a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas than can kill millions.
Note: This tale includes the earliest instance of waterboarding I have ever read.

2 A Toast to Death A Toast to Death
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1935

Published in Operator #5 #17, August 1935
"Captain John Vedders of the Intelligence learned from Leone Mendez that sometimes a toast to death can be a toast to - Love!" This mission pits Vedders again against Mendez, and operatives from other countries, to get their hands on the formula for a new, powerful explosive whose inventor wants to sell to the highest bidder.

3 The Coffin That Went to Sea The Coffin That Went to Sea
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1935

Published in Operator #5 #19, October 1935. Later printed in Action Adventure Stories #91, February 2001.
"There was only one way for Captain John Vedders of the Army Intelligence to keep the plans of the Pacific maneuvers from being delivered to the enemy, and that was to go to sea in a dead Chinaman's coffin!"

4 Dust of Doom Dust of Doom
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1935

Published in Operator #5 #21, December 1935
"Captain John Vedders of the Military Intelligence had strict orders: "Destroy that powder I" They sent him on a wild chase after a mad inventor, a ruthless Polish spy-master - and a lovely girl who carried death in her hands!" The inventor was Walter Armitage  and he claimed that one whiff of a very fine, white powder would make "a man insane, instantly" He would turn on anyone near him and kill them only to die himself within minutes.

5 Empire at Auction Empire at Auction
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1936

Published in Operator #5 #22, January 1936
"Captain John Vedders was playing for big stakes... And before he got through, he discovered he was bucking a crooked game with short cash and a poor hand!" Vedders goes undercover as a strikebreaker dealing with a group of communist agitators while trying to get information on an inventor of a deadly new weapon.

6 Formula for Death Formula for Death
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1936

Published in Operator #5 #23, February 1936
"No one recognized that hillbilly private, but his insubordination merited the attention of Captain John Vedders, Military Intelligence!" Vedders goes undercover as a private and a very disrespectful one at that in order to get thrown into the brig to get close to the person who stole the plans for a new rifle grenade.

7 Valley of Blind Men Valley of Blind Men
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1936

Published in Operator #5 #24, March 1936
"Captain John Vedders follows the trail of three whispered words on a dead man's lips to a smashing, death-in-the-air finale!" "The whole set-up caught Captain John Vedders, Military Intelligence, flatfooted: his murdered comrade, the blindness plague, a pretty girl, and three whispered words on a dead man’s lips... But Vedders hadn’t made his reputation by quitting against odds, and he mixed all those clues with a battery of field guns to make a smashing death-in-the-air finale!"

8 Red Dust of Death Red Dust of Death
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1936

Published in Operator #5 #26, June/July 1936
"Captain John Vedders, Military Intelligence, felt sorry for pretty Katie Druhar. But Kogo, the Killer, master spy of the Orient, was crippling the great iron mines, and a broken heart is a cheap price to pay for a nation’s freedom!"

9 Traitor's Legacy Traitor's Legacy
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1936

Published in Operator #5 #27, August/September 1936
"Captain John Vedder has to call on all his courage and cunning when a valuable military secret falls into the hands of his country’s worst enemy." "Stripped of his masquerade, Captain John Vedders, Military Intelligence ace, finds himself in a house of death – caught between the cross-fire of a pretty girl’s loyalty to her father and a spy’s sly cunning..."

10 Doubling in Death Doubling in Death
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1937

Published in Operator #5 #31, February 1937
"Captain Vedders, veteran of Military Intelligence, was a novice at fighting women, but with the fate of America in the slim hands of beautiful Leone Mendez, he had no choice." "A beautiful woman, smiling sweetly in the face of death, held the fate of America in her pale white hands... Captain Vedders was no woman fighter, but with the lives of thousands at stake —"

11 The Arrow of Doom The Arrow of Doom
short story
Written by Frank Gruber
Copyright: 1937

Published in Operator #5 #33, May/June 1937
"Castanets in El Cid Cafe clicked a death tune for half the world." "In the dust on the floor of the makeshift prison, the girl had traced an arrow and a fleur de lis. The signal for death on Fifth Avenue - death that would reach clutching hands over two hemispheres."

MY COMMENTS

It would be easy to assume that any short story added to a magazine devoted to a popular central character would be likely one that the author just phoned in - or the pulp typewriter equivalent of that same. The star of the magazine was definitely Operator 5 and the other stories added to pad out the publication to make it worth a dime (this was 1935, remember) mostly just had to have words and make sense.

Frank Gruber, who would make more of a name for himself in the Western genre (at least that is where I first met his work and grew to appreciate how good an author he was), did not do that. He crafted darn good stories that are still fun to read 90 years later. He was a storyteller!

GRADE

My Grade: B

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