It’s ten hours of Doc Savage goodness as Doc and his aides Monk, Ham, and Long Tom, along with plucky detective Dana O’Fall, try to track down the mysterious White Eyes. Who is this criminal? Why has he unleashed the terrible Blood Death on the inhabitants of Manhattan? And what does this have to do with a fabled Mayan treasure?
Originally published in 1992 and based on a discarded opening by original Doc Savage writer Lester Dent, Will Murray’s White Eyes is a fascinating mix of adventure, mystery, science fiction, and horror. For those saying “Horror? Really?” I say don’t try to tell me eyes turning red, then white, as a person’s bodily fluids boil inside him isn’t horror, because it is. The Blind Death is one of the nastier deaths Dent came up with and Murray uses it to full effect here.
The plot here is more ambitious than Python Isle, Murray’s previous Dent collaboration. While the various narrative threads are all part of one story, it feels like more is happening. The story begins with Doc investigating the Blind Death. Meanwhile, various gangsters are double crossing one another. Dana becomes involved as she tries to track down missing bonds. Long Tom is kidnapped. Alliances are made and broken. It all comes together in a series of spectacular scenes set on a Cuban sugar plantation.
Murray utilizes the 1930s time frame to good effect, without making the story feel dated. He also drops in factoids on things as disparate as the make-up of the human eye and the process of refining sugar.
The characterization is a bit deeper here than in the original Dent novels. Doc shows a dry humor and a more obvious sympathy for those victimized by criminals than he does in the original pulp stories. Monk and Ham are their usual bickering selves and Dana is a fun character. She’s strong-willed and sassy, not impressed by Doc’s reputation.
Richard Epcar takes over from Michael McConnohie as narrator this outing and does a fine job. Epcar’s Doc comes across as a little older than his men. Or maybe it’s just that he sounds like a man who is used to taking charge without fuss or bluster or argument, which is Doc’s character. Epcar also does a superb job of creating individual voices for the characters.
At one point I wasn’t sure that another reader wasn’t involved. The only voice I didn’t care for was Dana’s. Epcar used a slightly higher register for her and, while it wasn’t bad, it was still a man trying to sound like a woman, which didn’t work for me.
One of the things Epcar does especially well is bring out the horror of what’s happened in a scene. He doesn’t go overboard at these moments. If anything, he underplays it, yet the unpleasantness comes through clearly. For instance:
Along the conveyer belt, thin brown sucrose juice foamed in a rushing cataract along the sluice run. It began to run pink, then red, then very, very red.
Here and there in the hideous stew, body parts bobbed.
It’s unpleasant reading it, which I did years ago when the book first came out, but I guarantee after you hear Epcar’s interpretation you won’t be able to forget that scene.
I have to congratulate Epcar on surviving one of Dent’s literary ticks. There is a minor character named Sanchez y. Annuncio de Calabero. That’s a mouthful to begin with. However, every time he is referred to it is as “Sanchez y. Annuncio de Calabero.” Dent rarely uses the shorter “Sanchez” or even a pronoun in referring to him. When read silently, there’s no problem. Hearing it repeated throughout a scene, though, becomes somewhat annoying. I wouldn’t have minded if Producer/Director Roger Rittner had done a bit of judicious editing there. That he didn’t shows how much care went into making this production as faithful as possible.
Rittner also adds a few more old time radio tricks to this volume. Besides the mood enhancing music that begins and ends the chapters, there are also moments when the audio changes. For instance a character really sounds like his voice is coming through the telephone during a phone conversation. Little things like that subtly enhance the listening experience.
Two bonus features are also included. In the first, Murray talks about Lester Dent and his work on Doc Savage. In the second, Murray discusses how he came to write White Eyes and the tact he took in making it as Dent like as possible.
Available as an mp3 download or ten CD set, White Eyes is a highly enjoyable pulp tale of adventure and action, with a touch of the macabre.