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Craig McDonald often writes slam bang genre work that looks at the writing life. His Hector Lassiter series followed the life of a crime fiction writer known to "write what he lives, and live what he writes," had a fraught friendship with Hemingway, and often got involved in a shadow history of misadventures involving other artists or ideas of creativity. With The Adventures Of Zana O'Savin #1, The Blood Ogre, he creates a spinoff involving a recurring character in the Lassiter series, poet and journalist Bud Fiske, and takes him into a much different story with similar themes.

It's the early sixties and Bud is at the house of the deceased Lester Dent. Dent was better known as Kenneth Robeson, who knocked out close to two hundred novellas in the thirties and forties featuring the athletic genius adventurer Doc Savage, who trotted around the globe with his band of brilliant friends and occasionally beautiful and equally brilliant cousin, Pat, thwarting evil and making discoveries. Recently, Bantam Books re-popularized the tales through paperback reprints and Story magazine has hired Bud for an article to interview Dent's widow about the house he built with Savage-style advancements.

It becomes clear that Bud travelled here for more than a paycheck from Story. The house has trapped something below and when he pushes the widow Dent further, she shuts down and asks him to leave. There is also a shadowy figure with a hawk nose and gun, following him.

I'll try not to give too much away as I go further. Let’s just say Bud's imagination may have brought something into the world the way Dent did. In making the connections, he becomes involved in his own pulp adventure, encountering versions of his depression era heroes, mainly in Zana, a form of Pat Savage.

Like those pulp masters, McDonald mixes horror, sci-fi, mystery, and adventure, but aims for deeper themes in looking at the dynamics of writer, reader, and, fictional character. McDonald sees a dependence each have on one another. The story argues that each give relevance to one another, where creator and creation seek immortality and danger is involved.

He skillfully mixes the different styles and tones with these themes. A passage where Dent takes on the title monster reminded me of eighties era Stephen King. He uses the seemingly innocuous settings of the middle west to build suspense on the empty land. When he reveals the main story, he swings into pulp action with the bravado of those storytellers. All this is done while hanging onto a human poignancy of his characters, even those who are superhuman.

With The Adventures Of Zana O'Savin: #1 The Blood Ogre, Craig McDonald delivers a meta novel more interested in connecting with the readers that winking to them. He obviously loves his subject matter and uses his love to look at aging heroes and their writers. He takes the idea of an author’s work living past him and presents it as a bittersweet notion. There is a promise of further adventures. I'm curious to see where Zana takes us.


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