Baron Orgaz by Frank Lauria (Open Road Media, 2015)
Baron Orgaz is one of several Doctor Orient novels by Frank Lauria. I first heard of Dr. Orient from writer Derrick Ferguson who referred to the Dr. Orient character as an “Occult Doc Savage”. Of course, I had to sample this series as I’d never encountered it before. Since all the Dr.Orient novels are available as e-books, it is easier to find them than it used to be. They were part of the seventies paperback explosion which I view as the second coming of pulp literature in America. We’re in the midst of the third Great Pulp Awakening, due to the electronic book reader.
Dr. Owen Orient is a medical doctor who uses his occult knowledge to fight the forces of evil. He operates out of a town house in Manhattan and travels in circles of the rich and powerful. He’s a man of great learning who had a vast library of mystical lore at his disposal. He understands the evil that lurks in the hearts of men and knows how to fight it. But he is also a humble man who is full of inner doubt. He shares his life with a s woman by the name of Lady Lilith Sativa. There are eight Dr. Orient adventures in all and the author published his latest one, Demon Pope, last year.
The book oozes The 70’s Planet. It’s filled with references to the occult concerns which were so popular in that decade which unleashed Star Wars and Pet Rocks. Central to the book is The Crystal Skull, which was in the news until discovered to be a fake. There’s also a Boys From Brazil plot involving The Supersonic Nazi Hell Creatures . And you have to love the title, I’m not the only one who finds it a giggle, it fits nicely with the Flavius Nastius school of Villain’s names.
The plot runs all over the place, but it concerns an attempt by gay Nazi’s to take over the world by occult means. If anyone knows their history about Shickel Grover and his minions, they will understand the National Socialist German Workers’ Party held a fascination for ancient artifacts, lost relics, Hollow Earth Theory and Frost Giants. The SA was organized as a Nazi paramilitary militia led by Eric Rhom and his boyfriends until Hitler brought the end to that party during the Night of the Long Knives. So I give the author credit for wrapping a strange bit of pre-World War 2 history into this novel.
The novel begins with a scene a seventies leather bar in New York City. The hero returns to it as part of his investigation later on. The detail of the bar is graphic, adding a bit of realism to the book:
“….The Panther’s Lair was crowded with men dressed almost identically in black leather jackets, motorcycle caps, tight jeans, and engineer boots. Most of them had the polished beaks of their caps pulled low over their eyes, giving them a menacing air. As he elbowed his way to the bar, it struck Orient that he hadn’t seen a single motorcycle among the Caddies and Lincolns parked outside.
The music was loud and conversation muted in the smoky room. Unlike the determined hilarity of the other gay bars listed in Arnold’s book, everyone seemed intently grim. As if they were killing time between buses. In fact, it occurred to Orient that the proprietors were intentionally trying to imitate the dreariness of an all-night terminal.”
The scene begins with a bored office worker named Arnold at the above mentioned gay leather bar. Picked up by some leather bikers who take him home, he is stripped down, branded and sacrificed in front of a crystal skull which appears to be based on the famous crystal skull found at a Mayan archeology site (actually bought at an auction). When the young man turns up missing, his mother contacts Dr. Orient, who is in the process of producing his own documentary film on psychic phenomena. His relationship with his live-in lover, Lady Sativa, is going nowhere and she ends up leaving him for a mysterious German noble. Along the way we learn about her interest in tantra and lunar rites.
As Dr.Orient investigates the mysterious disappearance of the young man, strange spectral phenomena takes place: glass breaks, he is the victim of a psychic attack. The vanished young man turns up dead, plunging Dr. Orient into the velvet underground of leathersex and bondage. Faster than you can say “shiny, shiny boots of leather”, Dr.Orient is busy trying to exhume bodies and perform exorcism rituals. He’s assisted by his loyal aide Sordi, an older man who acts as sidekick to this psychic Operator Five.
One of the more interesting characters in the book is an old gay secret agent who drops in and out of the narrative at various times in the book. You’re never quite sure whose side he is on until the end of the novel. The man shoots fire in every scene he’s used. I can’t figure out if he’s supposed to be satire or based on some real person. It was one of the trademarks of seventies pulp fiction where stereotypes dissolved and reformed over and over again.
Here is his introduction:
“Oliver Fish was standing with Sordi at the Moviola, a goblet of crushed strawberries and champagne in one hand, and holding an ivory swagger stick in the other. He was about fifty-five, wore a carefully waxed Kiplingesque moustache, and carried his tall, portly frame with the concerned stoop of the school-tie soldier. From there, however, his appearance soared to the baroque. Like some colonial officer who’d tuned in, and turned to divine elegance, his long, snowy hair was swept back to reveal a single earring, while his rounded torso was adorned with a purple velvet tunic upon which dangled a variety of necklaces, pendants, and amulets.”
If you desire a fun trip through the pyramid obsession and pop occultism of the seventies in one book, this is the one to read.