Book Review: Skull Island, by Will Murray

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skull islaandThis is going to be a first for me- I’m going to review a book BEFORE I finish it.

Hold on! You might be thinking. How can I pass judgement on a book without finishing it? Well, I don’t have to eat a steak in its entirety to know if I like it. Nor do I have to sit through an entire movie to know whether or not it was worth my time. Why should a book be any different?

And before you think, uh-oh, it must be terrible, let me stop you. It is not terrible. It’s great!

Now, normally, I can get a book done in about a week. But apparently that’s because when I switched to ebooks a few years back, I could lay in bed and read with my various readers providing their own light. My review copy of Skull Island is made from dead trees. I need a lamp to read it. So reading in bed was out. Nor could I read in my trusty dadcave- I keep it dim for optimal movie watching.

Sadly, I just haven’t had the time to read as much of Skull Island as I would have liked. Which totally sucks, as if the world would just go away and leave me alone for a day or two, I could read this book, nonstop, until I finished it.

First off, let me summarize the plot: Doc Savage, the pulp hero of the 1930s, meets King Kong, the legendary film monster of the 1930s. This is a fantastic crossover/match up that was way overdue. But there’s more than just a simple meeting. This isn’t Doc reliving the events of the King Kong movie. It’s Will Murray, the author, working King Kong into the Doc mythos.

What? You don’t know who Doc Savage is? For Shame! No, seriously, shame on you. Go stand in the corner and count to 1933….

Done? Okay, quick version… Doc Savage is a character from a series of pulp novels created by Lester Dent way back in the 1930s. Doc is the son of an Indiana Jones-type explorer who was raised by scientists and sent around the world to study with yogis, chemists, doctors, etc. etc. He’s basically learned everything he could possibly need to know to be a great adventurer and he’s the peak physical specimen of human. He can swing through trees like Tarzan, he can out wrestle Davy Crocket, he’s a super genius scientist, doctor, engineer, etc. etc. Oh, and his family has this weird congenital condition that makes their skin bronze-hued and their eyes golden flake colored.

Doc solved mysteries and defeated bad guys using a combination of his mental prowess and herculean strength and endurance. He was aided by his Fabulous Five- old war buddies who often provided the comic relief in the stories or who got captured so Doc could rescue them.

Doc Savage novels weren’t the best examples of literature, but they are a blast to read and contain many elements you will recognize from other science fiction tales- but Doc was first and Lester Dent is clearly an unacknowledged visionary that I put up there with Jules Verne. Don’t laugh- I’m serious.

Kong? He’s a giant gorilla. Surely you knew that…

The novel opens with Doc returning home to his offices at the Empire State Building right after Kong has been blown away by the Army Air Corps. Doc and his team are asked to handle the disposal of the big guy, a massive engineering feat I had never really considered. Most shocking though, is Doc’s admission to his friends that he knows Kong! He met him long ago! Doc then sits back and relates the tale of his journey to Skull Island with his father early in his career, before he became the world-renowned adventurer/philanthropist of his own book series.

And that’s where it gets good.

I hate to say this, because I’ve always been a fan of author Will Murray’s since his ghost writing The Destroyer days, but the carcass-removing part of the book is dreadfully slow. He gives us excruciatingly slow, hyper-detailed descriptions of King Korpse being hauled away. We read darn near every creak and groan of block and tackle as the mega monkey is moved. No explosions, no fighting. No action.

It was hard to read.

Then came Doc almost bragging about the Savage family’s past exploits. What the hell? Doc is normally very introverted and withdrawn. He simply does not talk about himself. This was very out of character.

Thankfully, it all went away, when Doc settled back to tell the tale of how he met Kong…

The first incarnation of Doc Savage from1933 (interestingly the same year King Kong hit the screen.)
The first incarnation of Doc Savage from1933 (interestingly the same year King Kong hit the screen.)

One of the best book series I ever read was the saga of Horatio Hornblower, by C.S. Forester. No science fiction, no kung fu, just sailing ships, black powder and a lot of action. A lot of astonishingly detailed action. You were there, on the deck with Horatio. Engrossing novels I couldn’t put down, despite them lacking robots, barbarians or zombies. I loved them.

Will Murray has totally captured that feeling. We read as Doc meets up with his father and goes sailing away in search of his missing grandfather, Stormalong Savage. (Google Stormalong if you aren’t familiar with the name). They work the decks, furl the sails, etc. etc. It was totally like reading Horatio Hornblower all over again with creaking decks, jib sails and what not.

And we get to see a young, cocky Doc, who thought war was thrilling and is just aching to go out and bust heads again. Not the reserved, wise Doc who avoids violence whenever possible and is shrewd and cunning. No, no, the pre-Kong Doc is a bold adventurer who’s a little on the reckless side.

All this combines to make for a great read. Doc Savage’s adventures have always been great fun, but by spinning a tale of a young Doc, without his friends, Murray has given us something new and more exciting than before. I’m about two thirds through this wonderful novel, wishing I had more time to finish it or a digital copy so I could read in the dark.

Skull Island is a great start to what looks to be a whole series of new Doc Adventures from Will Murray and the fine folks at Altus Press!

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