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How I Spent My Summer (un)Vacation

Posted by on October 11, 2015

I didn’t really have a vacation this summer but I did enjoy a few summer type activities…watching movies and reading books…some of which I’ve been meaning to review for months.

Movies first:

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron was slightly less impressive than the first entry but I loved it nonetheless.  Intelligently written, with a fascinating cast of characters and of course mind-blowingly spectacular special effects combined to make this THE epic movie of the summer.

ANTMAN

 

Ant-Man was right up there with Age of Ultron …smaller in scope (pun unintended), but a very enjoyable, engaging film. A witty script, great special effects combined with very likeable characters made this movie another home-run hit in Marvel/Disney’s winning streak. Michael Douglas made a surprisingly believable Hank Pym (the first Ant-Man, in case you don’t know).

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Mad Max: Fury Road was a major disappointment…it came off as a bloated redneck male power fantasy blended with the worst (or best) elements of Wacky Races.

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I found it very inferior story-wise compared to Road Warrior and Beyond the Thunderdome.  Why the director recast Max with the robotic Tom Hardy remains a mystery…Mel Gibson reprising the role that made him a superstar might not have saved this movie but he certainly couldn’t have made Fury Road any more ridiculous.

Now onto the printed page (so to speak).

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Will Murray’s latest entry in his Wild Adventures of Doc Savage novel series is one of those “event” type books—in The Sinister Shadow, Doc Savage meets for the first time his rival in pulp crime-busting: The Shadow!

Doc/Shadow crossovers have been done in the comics versions of both characters, when DC and Dark Horse respectively held the rights but this is the first time the two characters have actually met in their original milieu—good old fashioned prose. And if the paper is no longer pulp, it definitely reads like it.

Using discarded chapters and scenes from a 1930s Shadow manuscript penned by Lester Dent (the original Doc Savage writer) as the foundation, Will Murray constructs a complex mini-epic. The Shadow, Doc and their respective aides find themselves in a dark criminal conspiracy overseen by a mysterious super-villain calling himself The Funeral Director. He has his own network of aides called Undertakers.

The story takes place fairly early in the careers of both Doc Savage and The Shadow and like later takes on the Superman/Batman dynamic, there’s a great of deal of mistrust for the other on the part of both heroes.

Doc doesn’t like The Shadow’s penchant for direct, violent action or his single-minded ruthlessness. The Shadow is impatient with Doc’s more reasoned, cooperative approach.

Upon learning they both share the same goal, they work together.

What makes The Sinister Shadow even more enjoyable is that Will Murray shifts the style between the Shadow and Doc sections of the book, effortlessly echoing the “voices” of Water Gibson (the primary author of The Shadow pulp stories) and that of Lester Dent.

You receive the distinct impression that the two writers actually collaborated on the book.

The Sinister Shadow is a long novel, but The Shadow and Doc Savage have never teamed-up before, so the length is justified—not to mention, there are bits of legends and lore about both characters scattered throughout which should make fans very happy.

This is a pivotal book in the long histories of Doc Savage and The Shadow but The Sinister Shadow more than stands on its own as a fast-paced, action-adventure classic.

 

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Over the last six months I’ve been re-reading—and some cases reading for the first time—the entirety of Leslie Charteris’ THE SAINT adventures through Thomas & Mercer’s ebook editions. Reading the 17 novels, 44 novelettes and at least two dozen short stories on my Kindle has become something of a bed-time ritual. I enjoy the humorous forewords contributed by various writers, actors and other professionals, including those penned by Saint expert extraordinaire, Ian Dickerson.

Although the character first appeared in the late 1920s, like most people my age I was introduced to Simon Templar through the six seasons of the TV series starring a young and dashing Sir Roger Moore.

 

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As dated as some of the episodes seem to be now, Templar as portrayed by Moore was a very unusual character for series television—witty, urbane, dangerous, sometimes ruthless, with no real background or apparent means of support, The Saint was an amoral moralist.

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(This is the cover of first Saint book I ever read—which is actually the third one in the series…I still have it)

As others have pointed out, unlike the vast majority of British thriller heroes, Simon Templar was an outsider. He could move easily among the moneyed circles of society, charm the landed gentry and play their elitist games, but he wasn’t part of their world—nor did he care to be.

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Although this trait  wasn’t always emphasized on the TV series, the literary Simon Templar definitely didn’t play by English public school rules. He was often just as ruthless as Mack Bolan. He had no qualms about killing his enemies with knives, guns or simply giving them a nudge off rooftops.

Also, unlike most series characters, Simon Templar was not trapped in one specific setting—he could be dropped into any kind of plot…from a farcical crime caper, to battling a criminal mastermind intent on world conquest with a Doomsday Weapon to solving a locked room mystery at a manor house.

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Regardless of the plot, big or otherwise in scope, he still remained The Saint. That quality is ultimately the genius of Leslie Charteris.

The summer before last, I reread most of the James Bond books and I have to say now that Leslie Charteris was a superior writer to Ian Fleming in almost every way—as a wordsmith, as a plotter, a dramatist and a master of engaging dialogue.

With a few exceptions, Mr. Charteris’ villains didn’t have the ambitions of James Bond’s adversaries but by the same token, there are some very memorable evil bastards in The Saint’s Rogues Gallery—vicious, sadistic and even monstrous…particularly Rayt Marius who Simon faced on numerous occasions and who might be considered his version of Blofeld. Bond never went up against giant mutant ants or the Loch Ness monster, either. Some of the human grotesqueries made appearances in the Saint newspaper strip.

The Saint sample

For at least three decades, The Saint was a pop culture icon due to a series of nine movies throughout the late 30s and 40s, a long-running radio program and a comic book series.

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Partly because of those many years of exposure, Simon Templar has been taken granted. Over the last few years, The Saint has been dismissed as an old-fashioned and lightweight gentleman adventurer, rather than as the template for James Bond and his ilk. Simon even carried around his own little gadgets, like exploding cigarettes in his silver case. This was long before such items became commonplace among secret-agent heroes.

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend The Saint saga, lovingly repackaged by Thomas and Mercer—hard copies or digital. You can get them here:

THE SAINT

Also, if you’ve never seen the Roger Moore TV series, I highly recommend it, as well. Sir Roger plays Simon Templar to complete perfection. Leslie Charteris apparently took issue with some of the episodes, but he never criticized Sir Roger’s portrayal of his character.

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And by the way, since I’ve been asked about it on a nearly daily basis for the last couple of months…yes, after 18 years of consecutive publication, my OUTLANDERS series comes to an end with the book out in November. I’ve updated and tweaked the page on my site devoted to the series to provide a more concise overview of the entire thing. Check it out here:

OUTLANDERS

All for now…but like Simon Templar, I will return. Watch for my sign.

The SAINT.