The following morning several sheep are found mutilated. Young Dick Colton goes for a stroll along the rocky cliffs and finds some weather kites torn to shreds, the strong twine cut by a sharp blade. A local visitor has been missing for an entire day. The kites were his tools in an atmospheric experiment. As Dick and two other men explore the terrain they come across the body of Mr. Ely, the weather experimenter. His head is crushed and a strange stab wound in his neck. And the next day yet another victim with similar strange wounds is found on the beach. No human footprints are anywhere near his body but Dick and Professor Ravenden find gigantic claw-like marks in the sand. It appears there is a homicidal maniac at work. But how is he accomplishing his fiendish acts without leaving a trace?
Originally serialized in a magazine in 1905 the story was finally issued in book form by McClure Company in 1908. This is one of those dusty tomes that cannot manage to shake off its old-fashioned origins. The writing is redolent of antique furniture, mustache wax and elderberry wine. The dialogue tends to waver between florid and stilted. Prof. Ravenden calls his daughter Princess and she likes to dub her father Petit Pere. Dick Colton, our fine young hero, is described on the second page in this manner:
...Providence had equipped him with a comely and powerful body, which his own manner of life had kept attuned to strength and vigor, and because Heaven had blessed him with the heart and face of a boy, whereof his own fineness and enthusiasm had kept the one untainted and the other defiant of care and lines...In other words he's the typical hot young dude who regularly works out and takes it easy on the gingerbread, tea cakes, CrackerJacks, whatever the junk food equivalent was in 1905. Prof. Ravenden's daughter Dolly will not overlook his unlined handsome face either. I managed to suffer through most of this stuffiness because the story and the mystery inherent in it was fascinating. There's plenty of legitimate detection including some good examples of early forensic medicine. Plus arcane knowledge imparted on insect life, the use of spears in the Orinoco River of South America, the habits of Portuguese thugs, meteorological phenomena... It's a veritable Pandora's Box of wonders. Stuffy verbose prose is somewhat forgivable in light of all these story bonuses.
Samuel Hopkins Adams is probably best known among vintage detective fiction collectors as the author of Average Jones - one of the notable short story collections cited in Queen's Quorum. The Flying Death is his second novel, preceded by a fantastic adventure he co-wrote with Stewart Edward White called The Mystery. For this second work he once again works some genre blending magic in creating a thriller that is part detective novel, part mysterious adventure novel, and part science fiction horror. Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger would be right at home at Montauk Point for the utterly bizarre finale in which it is revealed that something far from human was responsible for all the damage and death. Great God of Wonders, indeed!