After SKULL ISLAND, I wondered how Will Murray could ever possibly top it, what I saw as the best of his modern-day Doc Savage novels. SKULL ISLAND’s follow-up, MIRACLE MENACE, just didn’t grab me and I exited it with disappointment, but the new PHANTOM LAGOON has pleased, though of course, it didn’t top SKULL ISLAND. I’m beginning to think Murray may never reach that level of near-perfection again – but I hope he keeps trying.
PHANTOM LAGOON cements my opinion of Doc Savage novels: the best ones, for me, are the globe-trotting adventures. That said, this open kicks off in the States, specifically NYC, with one of the most exciting Doc openers since the pulp glory days, and from there it settles into a solid action-ride with the usual exotic locales, crazy characters, and Savage tropes. It’s that last that draws me in every time, because if there’s one thing Murray has achieved with this series is floating you that feeling of returning to the warn company of old friends; this IS Doc, and you won’t miss that Lester Dent is not behind the Roberson house name.
One of the other things I really enjoyed in PHANTOM LAGOON is the “reluctance” to name the enemy and his home country, playing with that unique spot the original pulpsters got themselves into before we, the USA, declared official war against the Axis. That time period – heading into World War II – also allows Murray to hint at the more “human” Doc of the later original pulp novels; in PHANTOM LAGOON, we’re treated to, among other things, what amounts to a Doc Savage temper-tantrum, and it’s rich.
Women step up and take a central role in the story, too, and Hornetta Hale is handful, the likes of which stymies not only Doc, but Monk, Ham, and Long Tom, too. She’s a fun female guest-star and, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a nod to a possible spin-off herein…maybe. Speaking of which, that brings us to the other glorious gal in PHANTOM LAGOON: Pat Savage. Yep, Pat fans, she’s here, but, I hate to say it, not used to maximum effect. Pat’s here usual tag-a-long self, but just as she gets revved up, I feel as if Murray sends her off stage too quickly and only mentioned, not seen. To hammer home that bit of disappointment, there’s a great Pat scene near the end that is mostly off-page…you hear about it later, but BOY, do you want to see it in action.
Where will the “Wild Adventures of Doc Savage” go next? With Murray at the helm, into exciting waters, I’m certain. PHANTOM LAGOON is a great addition to the canon, and encourages me to continue with the series and get my Doc fix. And that’s a welcome feeling.