Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Doctor Orient (Doctor Orient #1)

Author: Frank Lauria
First Published: 1970
Pages: 224

Doctor Orient is the first in a series of Occult Adventure books by Frank Lauria. Published in 1970, the books are imbued with a strong sense of the late sixties and seventies, groovy cars, clothes made of exuberant materials, flamboyant characters that use words such as " jive", disco queens, rock chicks and pop idols.

The titular hero, Dr Owen Orient has been practising magic to defend against the dark arts for many years. But his youthful exterior belies the hidden depths to his former 'selves'. Along with his assistant, Sordi, he lives a relatively quiet life in New York below the radar of the paparazzi and the suits in government.

The opening novel centres around a favour requested by one of Orient's friends and former psychic students, Hap Prentice a former baseball player. Hap contacts Orient and requests that the Doctor conducts a telepathic investigation into the condition of his current girlfriend, Malta. Malta has been locked in a state of demonic possession for some time and Hap cannot revive her, physically or mentally. Orient agrees to help and they transport her to his house for further examination.


Hap and Malta have been travelling as part of a Circus, with Malta acting as a fortune-teller, and Hap using his unskilled abilities to enhance their act. But things have gone wrong, and there is more to Malta than meets the eye.

Lauria bolsters the cast of characters by having Orient contact an eclectic crew, Argyle Simpson a black actor, Claude Levi dentist and Bishop Redson who provides knowledge of the mainstream religions and alternative shelter when required. Lauria cleverly Interweaves many disparate faiths and sciences such as I Ching, astrology, black magic, Buddhism, telepathy, hypnotism, Catholicism and Christianity to name just a few. His style of writing in this, his first novel, is relatively sparse, but when Dr Orient delves into his inner self or attempts a psychic connection we get some fantastically stranger (links to Dr Strange cannot be ignored here) prose such as the following:

He went back to his first breath... The itch of being, light. He went back further, back to the cluster of primary genes that seeded his reality. Then the first gene - the gene code that carries the implication of the future and of the past. There he swam long and warm until he became water.

You can see how modern film would turn this into a CGI-fuelled sequence can't you? The novel is peppered with examples of this fabulous nonsense, but I loved them and thoroughly enjoyed this book for its strange world and it's setting. There is just enough of the period references to draw you into the 70s and just enough bizarre occult plot to keep everything balanced. The plot does not waver, there is no part that drags and Lauria introduces some back story that keeps your attention without losing too much time in the main story.

During some simple browsing I found an interesting interview with the author at Rothcopress.com expounding some way the style of the Dr Orient series.

During the 60s when the hippies and all of that started to go over ground, I realized that everybody was getting it wrong. They were concentrating on the long hair, free sex, all of that, but what they didn’t figure was that this was a spiritual movement. This is why so many people are into yoga today. This is why people are watching what they eat. This is when macrobiotic diets came in and people started realizing that they were being herded. 
I underwent a spiritual change during that time. I wanted to write about that and plus I’ve always believed that telepathy is possible if we could get rid of the screens between us. You can’t lie in the process of telepathy, which makes it very difficult for human beings. Lying…it’s kind of the thread that keeps the social fabric together. 
And I wanted to create a nonviolent hero. The guy doesn’t solve his problems by shooting people. This is why I started the Dr. Orient series. I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I mean it was my first novel.
There were seven books in the series, published during the seventies and the last being published in the nineties. However, Lauria returned to the characters recently and a couple of new novels have appeared via Rothcopress.

I was genuinely surprised that I enjoyed Doctor Orient as much as I did, occult not being a natural genre I would reach for. This was fun and stupid and groovy and thoughtful all at the same time. It looks like the books get better as the sequence increases so expect to see more reviews.

I purchased the eBook via Amazon UK for £5.62. I believe all of the others in the series are also available.