A Disappointed, Disparaging Not-Really-A-Book Review of Doc Savage 1: The Perfect Assassin, by James Patterson & Brian Sitts
By Daniel Dern: Non-spoiler disclaimer: While I subscribe to the practice that, as a rule, reviews and review-like write-ups, if not intended as a piece of critical/criticism, should stick to books the reviewer feels are worth the readers reading, sometimes (I) want to, like Jerry Pournelle’s “We makes these mistakes and do this stuff so you dont have to” techno-wrangling Chaos Manor columns, give a maybe-not-your-cup-of-paint-remover head’s-up.
This is one of those.
Among the many pulpish sci-fi/fantasy/etc books/series I uncritically consumed growing up during the 1960’s were dozens of the Doc Savage books, by “Kenneth Robeson” (Smith & Street’s house name from when they were originally published in the early 1930’s through the late 1940’s) being reprinted at, IIRC, like forty-five cents a pop, turning up in, IIRC, among other places, the (book) spinner racks at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station (which I recall thinking of as the Port Authority Bus Station at the GW Bridge), at 178th Street, where I’d switch between one of the busses to (or from) New Jersey, and heading southwards in Manhattan. (The terminal was also a block or two from a great thin-crust pizza shop.)
My timing was good (also luck); I recall reading the first book (Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze), as my first. (According to one article I read, while this reprinting started with this book, they quickly shifted to
not-in-sequence… not that, give or take the rare character addition (Doc’s cousin Pat; Monk’s and Ham’s pets Habeas Corpus and Chemistry respectively; etc.)
I was, and remain, a Doc Savage fan. If I had to guess, I’ve probably read around half of the 181 by “Kenneth Robeson.” (While conceding, having read/reread/skimmed a few, courtesy of either HooplaDigital or Kindle Unlimited, that the Suck Fairy has done a few barnstorming runs through many of the pages and plots.)
I’ve also enjoyed the various Doc Savage comics I’ve read over the years, from Marvel and DC (though none ofwith the pre-Marvel/DC ones) and some indies/team-ups/cross-overs, like Batman, (Marvel Comic’s) The Thing (Ben Grimm, part of the Fantastic Four, in case you’ve lost track), The Spirit (by DC, in DC’s 2010 “First Wave”, plus the homages like in The Authority.
And I’ve read (and reread) Phil Jose Farmer’s trilogy A Feast Unknown, Lord Of The Trees, and The Mad Goblin), showing a much more humanized version of Doc. (Quick shout-out to Rusty, for his comment in the August 10, 2022 Scroll citing/listing the titles , which turned up during my (re)searches.)
(My research for this post also shows the PJF wrote a Doc Savage origin/prequel, “Escape From Loki,” too $$ive to buy, but, in theory (according to WorldCat), (possibly) available at a dozen or so libraries ranging, geographically (from me) from Worcester to Liverpool.)
I don’t remember whether I saw the Doc S movie starring Ron Ely, but I’d ready for the movie (or TV series) starring The Rock, anytime it finally happens…
So I was intrigued, if not ready to look forward to, the book announcement I saw a month or three ago (and submitted an item, not, I think, yet run), “The Perfect Assassin: A Doc Savage Thriller, Written by James Patterson, Brian Sitts,” followed by reserve-requesting it at my library.
I confess that while I’m familiar with Patterson’s name, and know that he’s written a bazillion books, including with a semidemihemibazillion co-authors, including a “reinvention of The Shadow,” I don’t think I’d previous read anything by Patterson.
Now I have.
The book is set in our present. The protagonist’s name is Doctor Brandt Savage. We encounter him, like we do with Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones in Jones’ first movie, as a college professor lecturing to a class.
Steven Thompson’s November 2022 review of the book at ForcesOfGeek.com, “’The Perfect Assassin: A Doc Savage Thriller’ (review)”, clearly feels the same way as I do about this book (and included a few facts that I may not have separately encountered in web researching). I’ll call out the two obvious ones that had occured to me before I found and read his review:
- Until about halfway through the book — like page 175 — nothing other than the book’s subtitle/cover (“A Doc Savage Thriller”) and the protagonist’s last name, and the (non-medical) Doctor — suggest any connection whatsoever to the original Clarke Savage Jr.
- Plotwise, ditto up to that point, the book could just as easily be the origin/training story for (Marvel’s) Black (and other shades of) Widow (Natasha Romanov, etc).
- The writing is (to me) competent, but less sparkling than a glass of seltzer left out in the sun for a week.
At the halfway-point, the connection to the original Doc Savage becomes explicit and relevant. More than that I won’t say, in case you decide you want to read the book.
If you’re looking for a reasonably-competent action/adventure book, this probably qualifies.
If you’re looking for another satisfying dose of Doc Savage, I don’t think you’ll find it here. Whether that was the goal, I dunno. You’re welcome to enjoy it more than I did. If you dent your wall hurtling the book (not a library copy!) at it, don’t look at me to reimburse you for repairs.
I’m not sure I feel better for having written it, but now I won’t be continuing to write and edit this piece in my head.
In the words of Nero Wolfe, “Pfui.”