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Review: Doctor Orient by Frank Lauria August 24, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
Tags: , ,

Another Netgalley review.

Supernatural pulp fun from the 1970s.

If you’re a comic book fan, this description will seem familiar: a man with an alliterative name, a former doctor with injured hands who learned the mystic arts from an aged mystic in the Himalayas. He now lives in New York City dealing with supernatural threats. He has black hair with a streak of white. His name is Stephen Strange, also known as Marvel Comics character Doctor Strange.

Or maybe it’s Owen Orient, Frank Lauria’s character in a series of novels. Several were published in the 1970s, another in 1991, and the latest just last year.

The similarities are certainly there, but there are some significant differences as well. Strange fits into the Marvel universe; he’s almost a superhero. Strange also tends to draw upon entirely fictional sources of power and magic — the Vishanti, for example. Lauria, on the other hand, drops references to pretty much anything you might have found in a new age/witchcraft bookshop in 1970. Satanism, Christian exorcism, the I Ching, reincarnation, telepathy, yoga, it’s all in here somewhere.

The Strange approach works a bit better for me because there’s only one impossible system to accept. Lauria dances around the issue of how all of these systems can be true and effective when they come from incompatible belief systems. But it’s only a novel, after all.

And as a novel, it’s fun. Orient has a group of supporting characters who put me in mind of the support teams old pulp characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage had. There’s a villainous Satanist for an enemy, people fighting possession and temptation, a swinging nightclub that’s a front for more evil goings-on.

More than a Doctor Strange knockoff, it’s a revival of the psychic detective tale for the age of The Exorcist. I read most of the books back in the 1980s (and two installments of a backup comic strip in the short-lived Scorpio Rose comic) but figured I should revisit the beginning before reading the latest book in the series. One thing missing that I remember being more of a part of the later books is the adult content.

Anyway, if you’ve never read any of these but you used to like Doctor Strange or 1960s and ’70s supernatural horror movies, give it a try. It’s dated, it’s a bit flaky, and this first novel isn’t as well-paced as I remember some of the other books being (there’s a lot of scenes of characters sitting around talking), but it’s entertaining in a style that was shooting for hip and now is pure retro. Someone should try to do Orient as a comic again. Or a low-budget movie.



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