In 1990, after completing its decades-long project of bringing all the Doc Savage novels back into print, Bantam Books commissioned Will Murray to write new Doc Savage tales based on fragments and outlines left by primary Doc Savage writer Lester Dent.
Released in 1991, Python Isle was the first Dent-Murray collaboration. It’s a classic tale of adventure and mystery propelled along by plenty of two-fisted action. It is now available as an audio book, published by Radio Archives.
When a long-missing flier reappears in a plane patched with gold, and in the company of a beautiful woman who speaks an ancient tongue, his arrival captures the attention of vicious diamond smugglers as well as Doc Savage and his crew. The action ranges from South Africa to New York to the Atlantic to a hidden isle as Doc clashes with smugglers, usurpers, magicians, and deadly serpents–all while discovering a secret with ties to King Solomon.
Murray perfectly captured the Dent tone in Python Isle. The 1930s milieu, the gadgets, and the constant squabbling between Ham and Monk, two of Doc’s aides, are all there. Doc is just as Dent originally presented him–calm, cool, and collected. Even when events get away from him, he doesn’t panic. He just soldiers on, trying to save every life he can.
The bad guys are deliciously evil and even a bit grotesque, as pulp villains should be. I particularly enjoyed the thug Bull Pizano with his deadly fists and love for cats and canaries.
The pace of the story never falters. Doc and company plunge from one narrow escape to another–always saved by their courage, ingenuity, and pseudo-scientific accessories. One of my favorite scenes involves a tense chase in a zeppelin high above the Atlantic. Murray creates a suspenseful scene with an economy of carefully chosen and flavored words.
The skillful use of language and vocabulary is one of the delights of the story, and narrator Michael McConnohie’s smooth, rich voice is more than up to the task of bringing it to life for the listener. Without overdoing it, McConnohie brings out the humor in lines that could easily be glided over, and he creates tension simply by the way he reads a passage. He controls the listener’s perception of events, whether they’re frightening or comical, and stays on faithfully on text.
McConnohie also does an excellent job of giving the cast distinctive voices in keeping with their characters. His Doc, which seems pitched slightly lower than his own voice, comes across as mature and levelheaded. In contrast, his Monk is a hothead, while his Ham is very much of the Eastern upper crust. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read a Doc Savage book again without hearing McConnohie’s interpretation in my head.
Available as both an mp3 download and an eight-CD set, this Radio Archives edition is a superb product. Except for some slight distortion on the final disc, I haven’t any nits to pick with it. Chapters open and close with radio style/movie serial music cues that subtly enhance the audio experience.
The two bonus features, “Creating Doc Savage” and “The Lost Adventure,” while reiterating information known to most of the hero’s fans, serves as a brief introduction to the character for those unfamiliar with him. The CD packaging is attractive and sturdy. The box my set arrived in was damaged during transit, but the case and CDs were in perfect condition.
If you’re looking for a fun action-adventure story, or if you want to try some of the original pulp fiction, you need to give Doc Savage: Python Isle audiobook a try.