Thursday 6 December 2012

Doc Savage: Horror In Gold

Bronzed Gold

Doc Savage: Horror In Gold
by Will Murray writing as Kenneth Robeson
Altus Press ISBN: 1618270230

Earlier in the year I reviewed the first in a new series of Will Murray’s second stint of following in the footsteps of the late, great Lester Dent (Kenneth Robeson). The first of these new Doc Savage novels was reviewed by me here and I also went into a little detail about just what the character had come to mean to me over the years and why Murray’s return to the series is such a special treat. I also had some misgivings about the pacing on that one but didn’t let it spoil things for me too much... and all in all I gave that novel a pretty good review.

All I can say about this follow up novel, Doc Savage: Horror In Gold is.. wow!

Well, no. Okay. That’d be a bit silly of me to write this review if all I could say is wow. That’d be pretty limiting to my vocabulary, don’t you think?

But the spirit of my review is definitely one of impressed stupefication, because this one is absolutely tremendous and doesn’t suffer from the same, slightly pendulous pacing which I raised objections to in the first. This novel, once again, shows that Murray is a real artist at work and, I’d have to say, if this was just packaged up like an old 60s or 70s Bantam reprint edition of one of the good Clark Savage Jr’s adventures and I didn’t know that this was Murray’s work, I would be none the wiser that it wasn’t an original “Robeson” I suspect.

Even before I got to the table of contents on this one, I was hooked by something I saw which, rather cheekily, was presented as a dedication but which tells you a whole lot more. Plus it included an “old timey” photo of the guy the dedication is made to. It reads as follows...

“For John L. Nanovic, who rejected this premise back in 1935, so that it could become a reality in the 21st century!”

How cool is that?

Dent had obviously, back in 1935, submitted a proposal for this novel and the powers that be in Conde Naste (presumably?) decided against it. I don’t know why it was rejected exactly but, if the nature of the mysterious deaths was already sketched out, I suspect it might have been felt that this was a little more stronger meat than the regular Doc Savage readers were used too. Or at least, would have become used to as the series progressed.

It’s pretty dark stuff too... with peoples heads suddenly half blowing off or exploding for no apparent reason and severed fingers suddenly turning up. There’s even a sequences where, due to the mysterious and highly scientificified* (hey, it’s Doc Savage after all) source of the mysterious death, Doc and his crew are attacked with unwilling human targets who explode against their will and leave a shower of red and gunky innards in their wake. Now while some people today may find this kind of excruciatingly gory death a little bit too much for a Doc Savage adventure, I’d like to point out that there were far more gruesome things appearing from time to time within the pages of the original Doc Savage pulp magazines than this. I remember one particularly dark torture scene once involving the application of splinters of wood set alight that fair made my hair stand on end when I was a lot younger than I am now.

So, frankly, any criticism of the way in which people in this novel meet their gruesome end is something that I think you can throw safely out the window. Horror In Gold is a very respectful romp through a typical Doc Savage adventure and the pacing on this one is beyond blistering and keeps the right tone all the way through. The amazing elements of the adventure are done in an intelligent and knowing manner and I never once lose faith in any of the characters... in fact, Murray had me trusting him on this one so much that when he has fan favourite Monk Mayfair do something which is very (well, fairly) uncharacteristic to Ham, it doesn’t grate or stand out. I just accepted it that this is what that character would do when subjected to this particular kind of stress. 

What’s more important, though, is that the novel is completely entertaining and, dare I say it in this day and age, thrilling. Also, it’s shot through with a great sense of humour which is in no way disrespectful to any of the characters and even has them identifying and joining in the fun. There’s a great running gag throughout the course of the story, for example, where all of the vehicles Doc and his crew use - land, air or sea - are systematically either stolen by the bad guys or completely destroyed by them... often leaving our heroes stranded before they can give chase. It’s a very welcome little gimmick which doesn’t outstay that welcome and Murray has done the right thing here and totally melded his own writing style with the “Dent/Robeson” style and, well, it really pays off.

If you’re already a Doc Savage fan then you need look no further than this fantastic homage to Doc and his crew. A brilliant and welcome edition to the original novels and the additions by both Philip Jose Farmer and Murray himself, over the years. If you’re not a regular reader of the character then, believe me, you could do a lot worse than use this one as a jumping on point... if you can’t get ahold of any of the original pulps or novels to devour first. A great read and well done to Will Murray. Looking forward to reading the next two in the series, which are both on my Christmas list!

*No, that's fine, it's my blog. I can make up words like that if I want to. You know what I mean anyway.

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