VARGO STATTEN – Ultra Spectrum. Scion, UK, paperback, 1952. Also currently available in ebook form.

   The din of the storm was so overwhelming the two men could hardly hear each other’s shouts as they worked with determined energy atop the three-hundred-foot high electric pylon.

   So much for setting. Our protagonist, he’s no hero, is Sidney Cassels, and he and Jim Prescott are on the giant pylon trying to keep the whole thing from collapsing in a terrible storm. Jim is getting a bit nervous too, not about the storm, though.

   There is a strange look in Sid’s eye, and could it possibly have something to do with their rivalry for the girl Mary Carson waiting below with their boss Fred Ashworth?

   â€œYou may not believe me,” Sid said bitterly, drawing himself up so that his face was close enough to Jim Prescott’s for him to hear the words, “but I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for months! We’re up here alone, Jim — undisturbed! An accident would be considered the most natural thing in the world!”

   Jim Prescott felt instinctively for the wrench in his belt. “What the hell are you talking about, man?”

   â€œI’m talking about Mary.”

   And Jim takes the three hundred foot drop as they watch helpless below, unable to see Sid pushed him, the perfect murder until Sid is struck by lightning.

   This novel being Science Fiction in the mode of a Thirties B monster movie this does not take the paperback original Gold Medal thriller path you may be expecting, though what happens next is in its own way as hardboiled as anything from its American cousins.

   Sid wakes up and in pretty good shape, no one suspecting he might have murdered Jim, save for one thing, soon after he starts to glow. He doesn’t just glow, he can produce a pretty good charge, and without heat, cold light, the dream of energy without heat loss.

   Sid is no benefactor to mankind, and while he is trying to figure out what to do with this gift, he makes a few mistakes. The first and biggest is he tells Mary.

   And Mary, who could have sailed out of any Gold Medal novel as the fatal femme with an eye for herself, promptly sells Sid out to his ambitious boss, not that you can really blame her after Sid lights up.

   In surprise he glanced down, and then gave a start. Though the twilight had now deepened to near-night he could see his hands! Not actually as hands, but as dim red outlines, glowing as a slightly heated poker glows in a dark room.

   â€œWhat the devil—!” he ejaculated, jumping up and staring at his fingers. “What’s happened to them?”

   â€œYour face is the same!” Mary cried, horrified. “It’s — it’s awful!”

   A girl, certainly one no better than Mary, has a reason to think of herself. She tells Fred Ashworth Sidney’s manager and his doctor, Billings, tells his big boss, Denham Roberts, the President of the International Power and Light Combine.

   And they would kind of like to know how Sid generates that heat, and not for the betterment of mankind or Sid.

   Sid ends up kidnapped and held prisoner, probed and prodded and measured, and when they have discovered the secret of cold light they send Sid off to be killed and his body dumped deep in a deserted mine shaft.

   Sid’s a tough lad though. He kills the hitman and he keeps himself hidden in a small village while he waits to see what happens.

   Meanwhile Roberts has invested in cold light, International Power and Light now selling cold lamps provided to people’s home and flooding the market.

   The moment is ripe and Sid slips back, but he doesn’t reveal himself. He’s discovered he can infect people with a mild case of what he has, so he sneaks around and quietly does so, just enough that stock in International Power and Light is falling and Scotland Yard in the person of Inspector Hodge is poking around.

   Now Sid shows up with his little extortion plan. Cut him 75% of International Power and Light stock and he’ll clear the cold light lamps of suspicion.

   Roberts doesn’t go for that, and Sid isn’t the forgiving type. He does go back to Mary, but time has passed, she has married, and as she tells him while she may be a the kind of a woman who will cheat on a guy for money she isn’t a murderer. Soon he is on the run and captured by Hodge, who, unable to risk touching Sid, outwits him and drops a rope on him hauling him to jail before they untie him.

   But Sid is still the key to cold light, and if he will cooperate …

   Not our boy Sid, and from there the book rushes to its fairly obvious conclusion.

   As Hodge sums it up, “Let’s get a rope round him. He was due for a rope, anyway.”

   Vargo Statten was British pulp writer John Russell Fearn, best known for his long running Science Fiction superwoman super science Golden Amazon saga. After a parting of the ways with his American pulp magazine publishers over payment in 1943, Fearn took up Crime and Westerns as well as SF in Britain and made a success of it under his own name and numerous pseudonyms (he was already Polton Cross and Thornton Ayre in the States). Vargo Statten was successful enough as a pseudonym it even got its own pulp. Some have suggested it was a shared pseudonym, but all the books as by Statten are Fearn. Volstead Gribdan was a shared pseudonym he, E. C. Tubb, and others used.

   Ultra Spectrum was one of the later Vargo Statten books that had begun to share the interest in crime reflected in his mystery and crime books.

   Frankly, as a science fiction concept cold light doesn’t really support a book this long (most of the Vargo Statten “novels” run roughly 35,000 to 45,000 words), at best its an episode of The Outer Limits or a low budget SF monster movie. There is no real character development, no growth. Everyone is exactly what they are when you meet them and no better or worse when it ends. The writing is good but nothing better, and while it is a compelling read, it is all empty mental calories.

   I enjoyed it enough. Fearn was a gifted storyteller, but for all the moving around and action nothing happens to anyone you care enough about to be involved with. Sid isn’t even so bad you are cheering for him to get what he deserves.

   He was alive, he killed a guy, he got hit by lightning, he glowed in the dark, he got screwed over by a few people, he tried to take revenge but wasn’t as smart as he thought, and he ended badly.

   You could make art out of that. Others have, pretty good art too.

   Fearn doesn’t bother.

   I suspect you probably won’t either.