Friday, April 13, 2018

Doc Savage Out West! in MR. CALAMITY by Will Murray

Can you picture Doc Savage wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse?

That’s what you get in Will Murray’s new WILD adventure, Mr. Calamity. Yep, this one is an honest-to-gawd Western, with the sci-fi elements Doc readers have come to expect. The result is a different kind of Doc novel, and a whole lot of fun.

The major players this time around are Doc’s cousin Pat and electrical wizard Long Tom Roberts. That's a good thing. In Mr. Murray’s capable hands, Pat Savage has emerged as the most interesting member of Doc’s entourage, and Long Tom - a confirmed misogynist - is one of the most neglected. Put them together and they provide plenty of sparks.

As she was in her first starring vehicle, Six Scarlet Scorpions (reviewed HERE), Pat is prospecting out West, this time in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. The headquarters for her stay is the newly named Circle Bolt Ranch, newly inherited by Long Tom.

Pat’s having a swell time until she sees a man swimming in frantic circles, high in the sky. Then he begins to sink, and finally plummets to earth, where she finds him with pulverized bones and a look of horror on his face. 

Long Tom, meanwhile, is being lynched by a gang of hood-wearing thugs who suspect him of mule rustling.  And to top it off, they meet a shotgun-happy dude decked out like a movie cowboy on LSD.

These are mighty strange doing, and it ain’t long before Doc himself takes a hand, accompanied by his aides Renny and Johnny. Monk and Ham are busy on another mission in Europe, giving the other guys a chance to shine.

The book is peppered with great lines and western lingo worthy of the original Kenneth Robeson, Lester Dent. (If you haven’t read Dent’s western stories, collected in the 2009 Black Dog volume Hell’s Hoofprints (discussed HERE), you oughta). And the western venue gives the current Mr. Robeson a chance to have fun at Doc’s expense, which I particularly enjoy. When Doc finds himself stranded on a mesa and out of food, we find him wondering what chipmunk tastes like.
I also enjoy hearing what ordinary folk think of Doc's reputation. “City papers call him ‘the bronze man of mystery,’ and they pile on the superlatives like they were stacking flapjacks. The way folks talk, ol’ Doc is a human alloy of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, Pecos Bill and few other fire-eaters of yore.”

Another scene I liked involves a buckle gun. “All I have to do is stick out my stomach and pressure will trigger the release,” says a bad guy. “The gun will snap forward on a pivot and fire automatically.” I had the cap gun version as a kid, and have to wonder if Little Willie Murray did too.

There are also intriguing connections to Lester Dent. Turns out this tale was inspired by handwritten fragments of a story Dent started for a Doc Savage TV pilot. And there are ties to the 1937 pulp adventure Repel, later published by Bantam as The Deadly Dwarf. You certainly don’t have to read that early story to enjoy this one (I haven’t read The Deadly Dwarf in at forty years, and don’t remember a dang thing about it), but it adds further depth to Mr. Calamity, and tempts me to dig that old paperback out of storage.

As if that’s not enough, only the first 384 pages of this massive volume are devoted to Mr. Calamity. There’s a whole ‘nother adventure, called “The Valley of Eternity,” filling out the next 167 pages.  I look forward to reading that one, too, and will have more to say anon. 


Rick Robinson said...

From your description of it, the only appealing thing about this is no Monk and Ham, which is a wonderful thing. Since they're in the Bighorn Mountain region of Wyoming, do they come across Walt Longmire?

Evan Lewis said...

If they had, it would have been as a gleam in his pappy's eye.