There is a Pat Savage novel. Catherine Lavallée-Welch lets us know how it turned out…
A review of Six Scarlet Scorpions by Catherine Lavallée-Welch.
Appearing in 39 adventures of Doc Savage, Patricia Savage is Doc’s younger cousin, and arguably his sixth, unofficial, aide. She made her first appearance in Brand of the Werewolf, the eleventh story published in pulp format. Since that first taste of adventure, she relentlessly tried to convince Doc to let her tag along, much to his dismay and continuous rebuff. Doc may have thought his lifestyle to be too dangerous for a woman, yet Pat always proved herself up to the task.
So it was about time for Pat Savage to star in her own adventure¹. This is thanks to Will Murray, whose 21st novel set in the Doc Savage universe is Six Scarlet Scorpions. In Bronze Gazette #77, Murray said that spinning Pat Savage into her own series was never on his radar screen, but one day a fan’s Facebook comment suggesting the idea had him ask “Why not?” Murray said the time was right, readers wanted it, and he was open to it.
That’s why there’s a Pat Savage novel, but how did it turn out?
The story, taking place in the summer of 1938, starts with a plane crash in Oklahoma. Pat Savage, accompanied by Monk Mayfair, is racing a known speculator for an oil field lease. While she’s making a good living with her New York City beauty establishment, Pat is looking to make a small fortune for herself. Monk told her about the opportunities in oil, and she became interested after trying her luck looking for sunken treasure and harvesting alligator hides in Venezuela. While in Tulsa to process paperwork, Pat and Monk come upon a very anemic man, who looks like he’s been completely drained of blood and is asking for their help. How could the young woman resist the adventure?
The novel of course doesn’t lack in action and perilous situations, with the requisite amount of captures, escapes, false accusations, disguises, and a heinous, mysterious, sometimes lethal weapon that tattoos a person’s face. The whole state of Oklahoma is covered from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to Osage country and the Ozark Mountains. The villain is one Standing Scorpion, who appears to be Native American.
The style is very pulpish, of course. The dialogue is perfectly clipped while using a lot of ‘30s expressions and idioms. There is a lot of details about the oil industry, oil speculation, the telegraph service, and local wildlife. (You’ll even learn what to do if charged by a buffalo.)
Native Americans are indeed a big part of the story and are major protagonists. The vocabulary used to name and describe them refers to derogatory or dismissive descriptors used in the pulp era. This made me a bit uneasy and I kept wondering about the appropriateness of the vocabulary used. Are modern pulp writings, or specifically this author’s, meant to be ‘30s-’40s pulp novels as they were then and there, or are they simply written in the style? As a history major and librarian, I certainly understand the concepts of historical context and primary documents. I also know that Murray worked from a Dent outline. However, how do you balance the authenticity of the pulp era fiction written in a contemporary work for what is, I hope, a more progressive society?
As usual with Will Murray’s novels, as they are longer that the original pulp stories, the author can permit himself a bit more of character development. We learn about Pat starting out in New York City, how her limited opportunities as a young woman lead to her decision to open a beauty salon, her boat named “Patricia”, etc. We mostly learn though about her beloved gun, her grandfather’s triggerless Frontier Single Action Army six-shooter.
Bizarrely, we learn more about Monk’s youth in Oklahoma, his rig work as an oil field roustabout all across the state, his old school rival, a childhood nickname, and how he financed his university studies back East. We even get an interesting tidbit about lawyer and Doc aide Ham Brooks’ courtroom style in his brief appearance in the story.
We do have a fuller view of Pat’s temperament and character: she’s competent, smart, brave, creative, and wants to take charge; she’s a “modern cowgirl of the Calamity Jane variety.” She certainly doesn’t want to have her cousin barging in on her mystery. However, it would have been interesting to learn more about her motivations and the difficulties she faces as a young woman in the time period.
In some aspects, Pat functions very differently from Doc Savage. Pat and Monk communicate a lot and discuss their next moves in the adventure. The lead is often taken by Pat, but other times by Monk. Contrast this with Doc who typically plans on his own, directs his aides’ actions, and generally has a deaf ear to questions.
Nobody gets the deaf ear by Doc more than each story’s damsel in distress. Again, contrary to her cousin, Pat talks to the featured young woman, and takes her situation, if not her safety, into consideration when making decisions.
A quick word about the art cover by Joe DeVito, action-filled and showcasing Pat brandishing her beloved six-shooter: she’s wearing an outfit similar to the regular Doc iconography (khaki shirt and jodhpurs), although in the book, she mostly wear dresses and skirts. Compared to some recent comic book covers, DeVito’s art shows you don’t need to show cleavage, or tops shred to pieces, to illustrate a heroine. To do anything else reduces the female character to an object and undermines said character.
Six Scarlet Scorpions is a very enjoyable read and it’s a treat to have Pat Savage as a heroine. One hopes for another novel, or better yet a series, putting the spotlight on Pat.
¹ Not counting the infamous 90s adult fanfic story of dubious taste that used “bronze globes” far too many times.
(This review originally appeared in the Bronze Gazette.)