(Note: The following review is of a POD book that's currently not available from the library's distributors. If you scroll down to the end of the post, you'll find information on where to get it.)
Pulp magazine fans like myself were thrilled when it was announced last year that author Will Murray was negotiating with the copyright holders of the classic pulp hero Doc Savage to write new stories based on the character. Doc Savage had been one of the most popular pulp heroes next to The Shadow and The Spider during his 1933-1949 run, written mostly by his creator Lester Dent (as "Kenneth Robeson", a pseudonym also used by ghostwriters who'd occasionally fill in for Dent on the series).
Doc -actually doctor, inventor, WWI hero and master of all other sciences Clark Savage, Jr. - had been trained from birth to become the most intellectually and physically superior person in the world, using his talents to help others in need. With his fellow WWI Army buddies Ham (the natty, well dressed Harvard lawyer), Monk (the homely ape-like chemist and Ham's nemesis), Renny (the big- fisted engineer), Long Tom (the seemingly weak-looking electrical wizard) and Johnny (the skinny archaeologist with a fondness for big words), plus an array of wild gadgets and an occasional "assist" by headstrong younger cousin Patricia "Pat" Savage, Doc would travel the world battling various criminal masterminds and organizations, mad scientists, spies and (during most of the 40s) Nazis. The colorful villians and situations encountered by Doc and company are not at all unlike the ones found in the later James Bond 007 books and movies (except for the sex; Doc's all business, though he can act like a flustered adolescent around prettty women at times).
When Bantam Books began reprinting the Doc novels in 1964, another generation (including myself; here's my first Doc) was able to discover and enjoy the thrilling, science fiction/action adventure/mystery thriller series. Bantam, with one or two lulls, eventually reprinted all the Doc stories by 1990, after which they comissioned a new "prequel" to the series by Philip Jose Farmer (1991's Escape From Loki) and seven subsequent follow-up original novels by Will Murray (also credited as "Robeson") until the publisher ended the series in 1993. Wisely, Bantam never tried to update the novels, instead keeping their original time period, exotic settings and vernacular intact, preserving the charm of the original stories and concept. In these post-CSI and Internet times, Doc and his friends wouldn't be able to get away with half of what they pulled in the old days.
Murray, who was and still is also the literary agent of Dent's estate, made it a point to use leftover outlines and unfinished drafts by Dent for his Doc novels so that the new installments would be more "Dent-like" in plotting and pacing. He's taken the same tactic here for The Desert Demons, the first new Doc novel in eighteen years,
Set in 1936 Hollywood with side trips to Florida and New York City (Doc's base of operations) our heroes try to figure out the mystery behind blood-red cloud creatures (or "howling red wowsers" as Monk calls them) flying around the film colony devouring people and destroying property. Along the way our heroes meet up with an assortment of bizarre characters while trying to destroy the creatures. But who's controlling the monsters? And why?
The whole cast is back -Pat's also the only female protagonist in this installment!- and while the pacing seems somewhat padded compared to Dent's original stories, it's still an exciting joyride of a thriller. The airship sequence where Doc decoys himself to lure the creatures to their doom is nail-biting suspense at it's best. And Murray gets to drop references to previous adventures and long-running bits like Long Tom's "insect eliminator", which plays a big part in the tale. Plus Monk's pet pig Habeas Corpus and Ham's pet monkey/gorilla/whatever-it-is Chemistry also pop up.
A blast from start to finish, Doc Savage: The Desert Demons (the first novel of what's been billed as "The All-New Wild Adventures of Doc Savage") can be purchased from Altus Press in hardcopy or eBook format by clicking here . (And Anthony Tollin's Sanctum Books has been reprinting the original Doc novels since 2006; click here to find out more.) I can't wait for Murray's announced sequel, Horror In Gold, to come out!