The Perfect Assassin: A Doc Savage Thriller

Image of The Perfect Assassin: A Doc Savage Thriller
Release Date: 
November 15, 2022
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“The perfect start to a pulp fiction series brought into the 21st century.”

Pretend you don’t know who Doc Savage is or was, and you’ve opened The Perfect Assassin for its promise of being a James Patterson thriller. You’re ready for espionage, battle, comparison of weapons, intrigue.

Instead, Pattison, with Brian Sitts, offers a double narrative: The first involves a baby kidnapped 30 years earlier in eastern Russia, confined within a brutal boarding school that removes human affection and demands total attention to mastering skills, both in the classroom and in deadly physical situations like swimming in mid-winter under ice on a lake.

The second begins as a perverse echo of that: A harsh and powerful woman in Chicago kidnaps a wimpy anthropology professor, Dr. Brandt Savage, and cages him in a see-through cube, forcing him daily to complete agonizing physical training, eat only the disgusting nutritional smoothies she issues to him, and be punished with a shock to his bottom whenever he doesn’t do what she tells him.

Just before the story disintegrates into some strange BDM session, the narrative abruptly widens and the connection between the kidnapped baby and the dominating trainer named Meed becomes clear. When “Doc” Savage finally dares to ask why he’s been detached from his own life and is being rapidly remade, the answer makes no sense: He’s there to save the life of—this trainer? No way.

But he’s stopped resisting her demands, and even at strategy he’s more than catching up with Meed, as an intense game of three-dimensional chess reveals:

“’Check,’ I said. . . . ‘Nicely done, Doctor,’ she said. I could see that she was annoyed—but also impressed. Part of her liked that I beat her. I could tell. So I decided to push my luck. . . . I slid out the throwing knife that she had hidden there. Before she could react, I held the knife up and whipped it at the man-shaped target across the room . . . Kill shot. My first. I could tell that Meed liked that even better.”

When the strengths and capacities of Savage’s remade body show up as irrational and, let’s say, far above human capacity, the penny may drop (as they used to say), if you’re a fan of the original Doc Savage from the pulp magazines. Or, of course, if you’ve stopped to look him up.

Like another series Patterson is masterminding featuring “The Shadow,” a long-ago radio show hero battling the forces of darkness, this one takes a notable heroic character from American life in the 1930s and redevelops him for today’s readers. How would you change your body in order to display a six-pack of muscles? What could modern science do to remake your senses of vision and hearing? How much could you learn in your sleep, if forced to?

At its midpoint, The Perfect Assassin switches direction and mood, from this mingling of attraction and torment, into a mission focus. The thriller mode that Patterson’s developed takes over, with attacks, angles, weapons, and more. Brace for deadly peril, of course, and devotion to crimefighting, as well as chase scenes, explosions, and espionage.

But there is also an underlying mission focus to the story, as well as links in the deep past that explain why Doc Savage and his tormentor/savior “Meed” must connect, and then must align themselves with a near-impossible challenge. It’s one that seems likely to require many more books of adventure and thrills—the perfect start to a pulp fiction series brought into the 21st century.