I haven’t bothered to look up a lot of other people’s reviews of Doc Savage novels. However, I have liked the ones I’ve seen over at Brian Lindsey’s Groovy Age of Horror, so I’ll link to them. Be warned, though. All those scans of Italian fumetti earn the adult content warning for the site.
These aren’t my reviews of Doc Savage novels, just impressions. Plenty of spoilers are ahead.
Cold Death was not a good return to Doc after eight years. The superscience weapon of VAR, the villain, was not really explained even by pulp standards. Some combo of a mysterious element and a ray. Or so I remember and I couldn’t be bothered to check that memory.
And we never leave New York City. I was relieved that this was authored by Lawrence Donovan. If a Dent-penned Savage novel was so disappointing, I would have been worried. Great James Bama cover.
Fear Cay is a classic Doc Savage novel. A treasure-hunt, the Fountain of Youth (making this a key text in the Philip Jose Farmer re-working of Doc Savage’s story), and one of the most memorable series’ characters in Dan Thunden, a 131 year old sailor who causes a lot of trouble for Doc and his men even if he’s not the main villain.
Also Doc’s gorgeous cousin Pat is along. She seems a lot more interesting than when I met her as a boy.
The most interesting thing about Land of Long Juju is the title and its African setting. From 1937, it reminded me of Mussolini’s adventures in Ethiopia. Another unimpressive book from Lawrence Donovan.
The black-and-white DC Doc Savage magazine from the 1970s had some non-fiction articles about the original pulp writers of the series, so I knew they weren’t all penned by Lester Dent. I only remembered the name of Ryerson Johnson, author of one of my favorite Doc novels, Fantastic Island. This is another winner from him. Ok, the mysterious means of death turns out to be an unconvincing gimmick. But Land of Always-Night does have a lost race living underground in the Arctic.
While it was nice to see one of Doc’s scientific buddies go bad and try to set up home base on Mount Shasta in preparation for establishing a worldwide technocracy, the giant men were silly. The local, hostile population seemed off too like they were transplanted Appalachian hillbillies. He Could Stop the World is mostly forgettable. Why am I not surprised it was another Lawrence Donovan effort?
The Freckled Shark is another fast-moving treasure hunt, this time with a nasty Latin American dictator, Senor Steel. The most interesting characters are merc Tex Haven and his brainy daughter Rhoda. They go from foils for Doc to eventual allies. Doc does a whole lot of up close, extended acting in disguise. Successfully. Of course.
All I remember, after reading The Lost Oasis about two months ago, is that it has death by vampire bats and a diamond mine manned by slaves. There’s also the beautiful Englishwoman Lady Nelia looking for her brother. Dirigibles too. And carnivorous plants. Ok. This was a fun one.
Memorable opening. A July blizzard in New York City and people ending up as shadows on panes of glass. That’s the Murder Mirage. I’m always up for horror and suspense in the cold. It has Pat Savage again too. The last two thirds of the novel … don’t remember a thing about them.
Arcana 44 was handing out copies of Doc Savage #2: “Resurrection Day” and “Repel” at the door.
I’d known about the Nostalgia Venture reprints of Doc Savage novels, with original pulp illustrations, for years. However, why have a pulp cover when you can have a James Bama cover? And they seemed pricey if you already have the one of the novels.
I was pleasantly surprised that there is a lot of value added in these editions. Doc Savage expert Will Murray, executor of Lester Dent’s literary estate, and author of new Doc Savage adventures, provides lots of information on the creation of the included stories and the lives of the authors and historical context. And the crude line drawings from the original Doc Savage Magazine are interesting. Series editor Anthony Tollin does the occasional article for the reprints too.
And this book had two very good Doc stories.
Resurrection Day has Doc inventing (in very limited quantity) a serum to resurrect the dead. He launches a campaign for suggestions on whom to resurrect. And this is one of those stories where the serum is not a McGuffin. It gets used. And there’s a lost Egyptian city. Doc aide Johnny’s in his element.
Repel is the only Doc Savage reprint to be retitled by Bantam Books. They called it The Deadly Dwarf. There’s globe hopping action from the South Seas to Dent’s home state of Missouri. And anti-gravity and a perfectly proportioned, pint-size villain in Cadwiller Olden.
Still, if I would have been paying for this reprint, I would have chosen the Bama variant cover edition which is from the Bantam Book edition of Resurrection Day.
The Red Skull is one of those Doc adventures where the miscreants are interested in economic gain. Here they want to control the source of a valuable new metal that will soon be covered by a dam. Doc aide Renny actually practices engineering on-stage in this one. Interesting description of the worker’s camp around the project, but, otherwise, nothing special.
The Secret in the Sky is how a guy, with 1935 airplane technology, gets from San Francisco to New York city in three hours. The true identity of the master villain is surprising — if not entirely credible. As usual, Dent waits until the last moment to do it.
Ok, the Groovy Age of Horror review reminds me that the Camphor Wraith’s weapon is kind of cool. Well, I liked it.
The Talking Devil hits Doc where he lives. The public is beginning to question his “college” and his association with cured (well, they used to be) criminals. This is the first Doc adventure I’ve read that was set in World War Two, so the casual mention of wartime measures is interesting.
The Ten Ton Snakes is just bizarre, a “what the … ? ” Doc Savage adventure. Doc questions his adventurous vocation, goes all emo, and there seems a concerted effort to have the combat action sequences off-stage. He even trips when walking about the jungle. Monk has gone from having his own penthouse to having money problems. I thought sure this one couldn’t be Lester Dent’s work. But I checked, and it was. Was he bored by the character? Responding to a new editorial direction? I guess I’ll have to wait until I read Will Murray’s take on it.
At least the answer to the superheavy snake skins is interesting.
When Bantam Books reprinted the Doc Savages novels, they didn’t follow the original publication order, but they did make the obvious choice to start with the first Doc Savage novel, The Man of Bronze.
Nostalgia Ventures’ reprints also don’t follow the original publication order preferring, it seems, to group stories with some sort of thematic or creative link. Thus Doc Savage #1 is not centered on Doc Savage, but his greatest adversary, the only man to fight Doc twice, John Sunlight. (The only time Doc Savage Magazine came close to doing a serial adventure.)
With his affinity for monochrome outfits and terrifying, mysterious power over men’s minds, Sunlight (his origins never totally explained), is a great villain. I had read The Devil Genghis before. The beginning is strong but the end, in the steppes of Asia, kind of ventures into god-impersonation territory that (perhaps without cause) reminds me of H. Rider Haggard. The Groovy Age of Horror review is here.
Doc may be, for him, distraught in The Ten Ton Snakes, but he’s down right worried (he even mutters to himself) when John Sunlight finds his way to Doc’s inner sanctum (and gets his hands on a lot of lethal superscience), the Fortress of Solitude. That novel ends strong too. The Groovy Age of Horror review of the novel is here.
Note, in the James Bama cover, even Doc bundles up.
Malfeasance with metals is the linking chain in the two Doc novels in Doc Savage #3. The criminal gang in Death in Silver blows up a lot of buildings in New York City to corner the silver market. Doc gets to drag out his submarine, the Helldiver too.
Like The Talking Devil, written much later, The Golden Peril has an attack directly on Doc’s operation. Specifically, a maniac with a Napoleon complex launches an attack on Hidalgo and the secret Mayan community that supplies Doc’s gold.
Dent had a thing for Mayans — this was back when they were peaceful astronomer kings in the imagination and not the lovable, human sacrificing, penis cutting Mayans we know today. He was admitted to the Explorers Club based on some work he did with Mayan artifacts found in the Caribbean.
I’d read The Squeaking Goblin years ago. It’s a typical case of Doc seeming to confront a supernatural being that is really a fraud. I remembered the Squeaking Goblin’s, supposedly the ghost of an old Appalachian mountain man, trick bullets which disappear. And I remembered enough to guess his identity. Mostly interesting for the hardcore hillbilly feud of the Raymonds and Snows — with another treasure at stake.
The Evil Gnome is Dent setting most of the story near his Missouri hometown. The villain’s trick, in seemingly committing impossible murders in very public ways, was pretty obvious. Written after the start of World War Two, Dent gets in a few licks at Europeans and their wars and how we shouldn’t get involved.
The Groovy Age of Horror review of The Evil Gnome is here
That is not entirely the end of my postings on Doc Savage.
A future posting will look at the World War One connections of The Devil Genghis.