Wednesday 30 November 2016

Doc Savage - Glare of the Gorgon

Stone With The Wind

Doc Savage - Glare of the Gorgon
by Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray)
ISBN: 978-1618272386

When a man goes to the 86th Floor of Doc Savage’s skyscraper to enlist the help of the man of bronze, he suddenly shows signs of distress and collapses dead. His brain has been turned to stone and an icon of the Gorgon is found, burned onto the corridor’s wall in green.

So begins another of Will Murray’s more-hit-than-miss adventures of Doc Savage, writing under the old Street and Smith house name Kenneth Robeson, once more. This one, it has to be said, is absolutely dynamite but I may be reacting to this particular humdinger of a tale in this way because it’s dealing with my favourite period of Lester Dent’s* writing of the character. Specifically, his early career. It’s set not long after the events of the December 1934 tale The Annihilist and it reminded me a lot of those very early Doc Savage novels I read whenever I could find them. Thus adding fuel to my flame that, as I’ve stated in past reviews of Murray’s work with this character, the author changes his writing style subtly to make it fit in with how the original writer might have written it at that point in his career.

Doc was a lot more of a simpler character then, of course, but even at this point of his career, specifically in the aforementioned tale The Annihilist (if I’m remembering correctly), certain moral issues of his special Crime Clinic, the secret place where Doc cures his enemies of their evil nature by performing brain surgery to take away their memories before rehabilitating them and sending them back into the world as honest citizens, were already being called into question. Murray picks up on this an reiterates it in certain parts of this cracking adventure yarn, even bringing back a policeman who is ‘in the know’ from that earlier Dent novel, here.

It’s interesting the way he uses the dialogue in this story to place it this early in Doc’s career. Such as his utterance “Come brothers, let us explore”... the term ‘brothers’ not being a turn of phrase I remember the character keeping for long in the originals. The characterisations of various characters in this book are very rich too... perhaps more fitting to the longer novels of Docs early career as opposed to the shorter novellas, due to page cuts in the original pulp magazines, after a certain point in the character’s life. Like he has time to imbue everyone with their own small personality sketch rather than just hit the action without consequence. For example, a couple of crooked henchmen in the early stages of the novel called Blackie and Blue are almost a 1930s equivalent of Ian Fleming’s Wint and Kidd hit men from his novel Diamonds Are Forever and Murray’s command of the prose used to describe these two was so strong that I assumed they would be around for the whole book when, in fact, their criminal career as far as Doc Savage and his aides are concerned, is finished very quickly.

Those early 30s novels could also be quite brutal and dark when they wanted to be and, even though Doc himself didn’t believe in killing, this didn’t exclude the addition of a very dark thread that could be pulled when things got rough and Murray has some of this darkness injected into this novel at various points... most pointedly when a regular character actually commits suicide over certain facts of the case and then the real criminals use this death to muddy the waters and point the finger of suspicion elsewhere. I can genuinely say i didn’t expect something that happens to one of the characters in this and so, as far as I’m concerned, if you can catch me off guard then you’re doing something right.

One again, the current Savage chronicler is having a lot of fun with the characters and, I think I mentioned in an earlier review of his books that he has now become extremely poetic when finding new ways to describe the unconscious trilling sound that Doc makes when he’s figured something out or found something to be genuinely puzzling. In this one Murray describes it thusly: “A searching wind slipping serpentine over shifting sand dunes could conceivably produce such a susurration.” This is getting nicely surreal now but certainly entertaining, it has to be said.

My one real question about the novel is in the fact that two of Doc’s aids, Renny the engineer and Johnny the archaeologist, are absent from the shenanigans here. Now I know Dent used to regularly strip down the crew in the novels, presumably because there were too many people to have to try and include in the dynamics of the story, but I didn’t think Dent started doing this until much later in the day in terms of the decades he was writing these things. However, I could be wrong and, even if I’m not, it doesn’t really matter. A cracking yarn is a cracking yarn and not much else matters as long as it all makes sense and the continuity is good.

Murray even manages to get in an element to the story that I had forgotten was sometimes an ingredient of some of those very early days of the character. Namely, being hounded by the police who mistakenly believe that either him or one of his aides are to blame for whatever villainy is afoot. In this one, Doc Savage is being hunted for the last quarter or so of the book by the Chicago police, who believe he might have something to do with the death of the various gangland characters who are having their brains turned to stone by the mysterious gorgon of the title. I don’t seem to remember any of Murray’s earlier Doc Savage novels including this kind of ‘police VS Doc’ element so I’m really pleased he resurrected it for this novel, taking place at a time in the bronze adventurer’s career of ‘righting wrongs’ when it would still be a credible incident.

And there you have it. A short review for Glare Of The Gorgon, another near perfect Doc Savage adventure from the creative mind that is the new Kenneth Robeson, Will Murray. I know he’s started writing new Tarzan books now but he does such a good job with Lester Dent’s creation that I hope he still finds his way to writing more Doc adventures. In the meantime, he’s written the first stand alone (in a novel format, at least) adventure of Doc’s cousin, Pat Savage. So, yeah, you can expect a review forthcoming on that one sometime in the New Year, for sure.

*Who wrote the majority of the 181 original Doc Savage novels under the Kenneth Robeson byline.

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