Monday, June 14, 2021

Stryker #4: Deadly Alliance

Stryker #4: Deadly Alliance, by William Crawford
July, 1975  Pinnacle Books

The cover of this final volume of Stryker promises a Blaxploitation spin on the series, but as it turns out Deadly Alliance is of a piece with the other volumes, and William Crawford’s work in general: an unlikable prick protagonist blitzes his way through a string of low-life underworld types, mercilessly beating unarmed men and women and occasionally shooting a few of them while thinking to himself how cops “need to be respected,” before ultimately being captured and tortured himself. And by novel’s end someone will shit their pants. 

While the previous volume was a streamlined affair, so far as Crawford’s work goes – following a linear plot from beginning to end with no digressive rundowns of various one-off characters – this one returns to the Crawford norm, wasting pages with egregious backstory and digressions. It’s little wonder Deadly Alliance was the last volume of Stryker. I would imagine readers of the day just couldn’t connect with it, as Crawford’s style makes for a hard read. And Stryker is particularly unlikable this time. I mean a protagonist can be lovably unlikable, like Ryker, or even lovably unhinged, like Magellan, but Stryker’s just a prick here, with no redeeming qualities to make the reader root for him. 

Stryker’s driven nature is due to the murder of Paul Stalking Deer, a guy who was “more than a brother” to Stryker and served with him in the war, worked on the Stryker family ranch, and whatnot. This murder occurs toward the beginning of Deadly Alliance; the actual opening of the novel has Stryker shaving off his moustache (which he grew as a disguise in the first volume) and “hating himself” due to the crazed violence of his life. After this Stryker meets with Boyd Frazier, a journalist who claims he can get Stryker exonerated and all the charges on him dropped. Meanwhile Stryker is content to live on his ranch here in New Mexico; one wonders if he’s in a pinochle club with fellow New Mexico ranch owner Dakota

Oh and believe it or not, but for once we actually have a few lines of dialog from Stryker’s daughter, who as we’ll recall was blinded in the first volume. She’s basically being raised by Stryker’s mother, who has taught the little girl to speak in Gaelic. However this will be it for that subplot; once Stryker hears of Paul Stalking Deer’s murder, in “the largest city in New Mexico,” Stryker heads off on the vengeance trail. Thankfully the “flying fiction” is nonexistent this time, and for the most part Deadly Alliance is a violent revenge thriller that moves in a linear line. It’s just that I personally couldn’t have cared less about the guy seeking the revenge. 

But then that linear plot line only follows Stryker’s material. We also have too-long cutaways to Boyd Frazier and other supporting characters, complete with time-wasting backgrounds on their lives. A hallmark of Crawford’s – let’s recall how the first volume even told us how Stryker’s friggin’ grandparents met – and a sad return to form after the previous volume. At any rate Stryker heads into that New Mexico city and tracks the leads on who murdered his friend. While the cover calls out the “black Mafia,” ultimately the villains of Deadly Alliance are a group of young left-wing radicals, a la SDS and the Weathermen, a group that happens to be made up of various races. However early on Stryker gets word that a black Mafia might’ve been involved, only to hear from another character that the whole thing is a shuck, a cover story for the real group. 

There are a lot of tiebacks to the first volume, with Stryker hitting some of the same informants and visiting the same places in his quest for info. We get our first indication of the type of novel we’ll be reading when Stryker gets an informant in his car and proceeds to beat him unmerciful, even slapping his ear to rupture his eardrum. It’s definitely hardcore and all, but it lacks the similar “revenge at all costs” vibe of superior revenge yarns like Bronson: Blind Rage. This again comes down to Stryker. There’s just something irritating about him; I know the intention is to convey he’s a supreme badass, but at the same time he just comes off like a creep and you root for the bad guys. His occasional sermons are also off-putting. 

And your last name wouldn’t have to be “Freud” to detect just a wee little bit of homoeroticsm in Crawford’s prose. Stryker constantly insults his male prey with putdowns involving the derriere – everyone’s “buttface” or “assface” or “asshole” or even “dumbutt.” Also factor in how Stryker’s threats also usually refer to butts: “burn your ass” and etc. And Crawford still does that mega-strange thing of his where “hard” curse words appear in the narrative but are bowdlerized in the dialog; ie “Motherf– ” and “C–,” whereas both words are clearly stated in the narrative. Coupled with the curious obsession with male asses – and the fact that Stryker goes ladyless this time – this makes everything rather strange to say the least. The fact that Crawford clearly wasn’t even aware of how all this comes off makes it even more humorous. But then, maybe he was; in Deadly Alliance Crawford shows a sudden familiarity with pop culture, referring to movies and TV shows quite often. At one point Stryker watches “the great television series Star Trek,” and later on Crawford even mentions Dennis Hopper. 

Well anyway, Stryker goes around town and beats up various men and women. A lot of it is repetitious from every other Crawford novel I’ve reviewed here. Stryker just bashes heads for info, usually not using his own head. There’s a part where he goes into a bar run by a black guy he beat up in prison, and Styrker realizes too late he’s unarmed and outnumbered. Then someone puts a gun to Stryker’s back, but our hero delivers a merciless beatdown despite the odds. He’ll learn this guy, a young black man, was hired to kill him. Cue another brutal torture sequence as Stryker drives the guy out into the countryside and beats him to pulp to find out who hired him. But Stryker has a soft side, folks; he feels bad for the kid and gives him some money and tells him to get the hell out of New Mexico! 

Given the nature of the villains this time, the novel is filled with sermons against the left, particularly the radical movement – “It wasn’t what the world was coming to, but the kind of people now living in the world.” The left-wing terrorists Stryker faces are a hate-filled lot of drug-using freaks, led by a black man who is stoned out of his gourd most of the time (ie, “He blasted hash for breakfast,” and etc) and who just fumbles through the usual speeches to his mindless but dangerous lackeys. There are of course many parallels to today throughout this sequence, with the caveat that Crawford was writing in a more rational world: the Federal agencies, we know from Stryker’s various asides, are staffed with lawmen just itching to get their hands on these left-wing radicals. 

In addition to the radical movement, the terrorists are also heavily into heroin. Stryker gets wind of this soon enough, following the drug pipeline until it takes him to a pair of girls, one white and one black, who are users. Stryker beats the living shit out of both of them in a sequence that was probably unsettling in ’74, let alone today. The white girl is fat and we get lots of stuff about her being so unattractive to begin with, let alone her heroin addiction and how it makes her willing to do anything. But she has info on the radicals and she’s the one Stryker really sets in on – she’s also the character who shits herself this time, right in Stryker’s car. Luckily this happens off-page, but we’re to understand that, due to her cold turkey heroin withdrawal, the girl barfs and shits all over the interior of Stryker’s car…and just as he’s hosing it down he’s taken captive himself by the very radicals he seeks. 

They call themselves the National Alliance of Liberationists and ostensibly they’re led by Lynlee McGuire, the so-called “Fied Marshall,” but really it’s an American Indian girl named Carolina who runs the show. A “Reservation cousin” of Paul Stalking Deer, she was sent to college thanks to money Stryker’s mom raised for her, but she pays this back with hatred and resentment, having been fed endless propaganda about America’s racism and whatnot. Honestly the whole thing is dispiritedly tiresome in our current era, but at least Crawford pokes holes in their propaganda – Stryker’s comments in particular starting on page 156 are basically an indictment of what is now referred to as “systemic racism,” Stryker arguing that blanket accusations against an entire society make for an easy copout for one’s own individual shortcomings. 

Carolina is especially loathsome and there’s none of the “sexy villainess” stuff I generally demand in my pulp. She’s just a stone cold whackjob and so committed to her radicalism that she’s chomping at the bit to kill Stryker. Oh and it develops that they’ve targeted him because they want Stryker’s mom to sell her ranch so they can use the money for the movement or somesuch. The plan is to abduct Stryker and get his mom to pay for his ransom via selling the ranch. Stryker goes along with it, tied up and slapped around, as usually happens to every Crawford protagonist is in the final pages. But he himself is determined to kill Carolina – and gets his opportunity when he’s condemned to death after a kangaroo trial with the Field Marshall presiding. 

But the crazy thing is, Crawford jumps to the epilogue just as Stryker has his chance to fight back. The struggle with Carolina is tense and brutal, and after which Stryker realizes he’s surrounded by several armed radicals. Crawford for whatever reason blows through all this, serving up an anticlimactic finale of Stryker blasting away with an AR-15 and showing these punks what terror’s all about. That said, there’s a great bit where the Field Marshall trots in, using a nude girl as a human shield, and Stryker shoots her in the thigh to get her out of the way! But after this it’s a quick flash-forward to after the melee, and Stryker’s safe at home back at the ranch. 

While Deadly Alliance was the last volume, Crawford clearly had another installment in mind: the novel ends with Frazier convincing Styrker to head into New York City and bust up some dirty cops. Stryker is definitely interested, but obviously readers weren’t, as there were no further volumes. It seems at this point Crawford’s tenure with Pinnacle came to an end, even though at one point he was so prolific for the publisher that they ran full-page ads for his novels. After this he was back to penning pseudonymous novels for book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel. Moral of the story: If you want a long-running action series, at least make your protagonist somewhat likable.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Adrano For Hire #3: The Swiss Shot

Adrano For Hire #3: The Swiss Shot, by Michael Bradley
April, 1974  Warner Books

The third volume of Adrano For Hire picks up a month after the previous volume; Johnny Adrano is still in the jungles of Mexico, and he’s in a bad way, suffering from dissentery and barely able to move. We learn he’s been staying here at the behest of his local friends, as this might be the one place in the world where the Mafia won’t be able to find him; as we’ll recall, there’s a contract out on Johnny from his actions in the first volume, and a psycho capo named Rizzo in particular wants him dead. 

Where the previous installments have been ensemble pieces along the lines of Mafia: Operation, The Swiss Shot keeps Adrano in center stage a little more than previously. However there are many sequences that cut away to other characters. More importantly though, if I didn’t know “Michael Bradley” was a pseudonym for Gary Blumberg, I’d figure with this volume that it was Adam Diment. There are sections of this novel that could’ve come right out of the Philip McAlpine novels (only in third-person, not first), with that same cynical vibe and all-knowing, all-annoying protagonist. Blumberg even works in a total Diment-ism with Adrano frequently musing over how he’s now “old,” given that the novel opens on his thirtieth birthday. 

The schtick of this series is that Adrano is a lone wolf in the Mafia who uses his gift for disguise and languages to pull cons and capers in the criminal world. At least that seems to be the schtick. But in this one Adrano falls on his face time after time; he spends the majority of the narrative being traded from one captor to another, and is knocked out so many times that you figure the dude’s going to have a permanent concussion. What makes this all the more amusing is that his arrogance remains unchecked. But honestly he is incredibly ineffectual in this one. The “disguise” angle is lost, as is the “caper” angle, and Adrano’s such a chump on the action front that he’s constantly dropping whatever gun he gets his hand on, or having a gun taken from him. That being said, he does kill one guy just by hitting him hard with his fist. 

We get our first indication of our protagonist’s buffoonery when he finally decides to leave the hovel he’s been living in, deep in the jungle, and ventures to Mexico City…where he’s promptly captured by a pair of mobsters who work for Rizzo. This after Blumberg has also given us an indication of the time-wasting he’ll treat us to throughout the novel; Adrano’s just sitting there, as ever mulling over his “old age” (as I say a recurring gimmick that gets real old real quick), and a pretty local chick with perfect English comes over, starts talking to him…then invites herself up to his room so she can change into her bikini and go swimming with him! She leaves to get her bikini and then the mobsters show up, and she’s never mentioned again, nor even the possibility that she was like a honey trap for the two mobsters. 

But at any rate this will be just the first of several times in which Adrano is whisked away by a couple of armed thugs. Meanwhile as mentioned the cutovers to other characters aren’t as excessive this time, but they’re still there. A la previous volumes there’s a lot of treachery afoot in the mob world: so there’s “old fart” Don Gaspar Rinaldi, Rizzo’s boss, but Rizzo wants the old man out of the way, and to this end has cooked up a scheme with Gaspar’s nutcase son, Michael. The belabored plan has it that Gaspar, in Geneva to visit a clinic for various ailments, is kidnapped and held in the clinic, with his doctor being forced to inject Gaspar with rabies if he doesn’t hand over the reigns of his empire to Michael by a certain date. However Michael and Rizzo are also plotting against one another, each of them planning to get that power for themselves. 

The plotting gets more complex; Adrano finds himself with a new pair of abductors, these ones Corsicans. This time he’s knocked out (again) and put on a plane, where he’s knocked out via drugs frequently. When he comes to he finds himself in the presence of Jean Paoli, the heroin kingpin from the first volume who lives in Marseilles and became uneasy allies with Adrano. Paoli explains that Gaspar Rinaldi is crucial for his network to succeed, thus Adrano is ordered to go rescue him from that clinic. After a little arm-pulling Adrano agrees, asking for papers and a gun. But don’t worry, friends, ultimately he won’t even use either of them, as the dude blunders through the novel and makes one mistake after another, to the point that it’s no great shock why there was only one more volume after this one. 

Blumberg does a pretty good job of bringing the Swiss locale to life, but truth be told the book was a little hard-going for me and I had to work to drum up any enthusiasm for it. This time the “sub-Adam Diment” stuff was the problem; there’s a part where Adrano visits an actual psychedelic club in Switzerland, but instead of bringing the place to life Blumberg has Adrano sneering over how it’s “ten years out of date.” This entire sequence could’ve come out of any of the Philip McAlpine novels, particularly when some nameless local girl appears at Adrano’s table and starts coming on to him. Blumberg, a la Diment, doesn’t even bother to tell us what she looks like, let alone exploit her any, and Adrano for his part refers to her as a “female-person,” which is such jaded hipsterism bullshit that I almost wished I could transport myself into the book and punch him. Luckily the sex scene isn’t a fade to black (I mean why do writers fade to black when it comes to what surely must be the most fun scenes to write??), but the girl turns out to be a honey trap, and Adrano, believe it or not, is captured again! 

This time Adrano’s forced to dig his own grave while the two captors watch him with guns; more Diment-isms as Adrano chafes at the affrontery of this and goes bashing with his shovel. Somehow Adrano manages to escape and find Gaspar Rinaldi, which leads to a bit where he’s almost captured yet again. But the rabies injection factors into the climax, being used on an unexpected character in the novel’s most memorable moment. For Blumberg here is not writing an action-centric saga by any means; Adrano, when he even has a gun, only occasionally shoots anyone, and the violence is not exaggerated at all. But his sendoff of a villain here is pretty memorable, given that a bullet to the head is considered mercy in comparison to the rabies injection. 

The finale of The Swiss Shot sees Adrano fifty thousand bucks richer, as reward for successfully completing the job, and last we see of him he’s planning to stay in Jean Paoli’s opulent pad and read the man’s original editions of Machiavelli. In the original Italian. Let’s not forget, Adrano is a genius and all. Not that you’d know it from the way he handles himself in any of these books. As mentioned, there was one more volume of the series to go, and I will assume it will turn out to be as lackluster as the first three.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Girl In The Trunk

The Girl In The Trunk, by Bruce Cassiday
July, 1973  Ace Books

I have this lame tradition I’ve started over the years: each summer I read a grimy ‘70s crime novel – ie, Bronson: Blind RageDeath ListFramed, and etc. And now The Girl In The Trunk, which presents itself as being right up there (or down there) with the rest of them. Ironically I picked this one up several years ago but never read it, and over these past few years when I’ve been searching high and low for some new sleazy ‘70s crime kick, the book’s been sitting there neglected in a box. 

I should’ve known already that the book might have what I wanted: I mean for one thing there’s the striking (and uncredited) cover art, which is enough to raise one’s hackles. Then there’s the back cover copy, which is like Gannon or Stryker in how it tries to warn off potential readers, given the violent nature of its protagonist: “His fellow detectives on the Honolulu force didn’t like Egan. They couldn’t stomach his sick brutality, the unholy glee with which he trapped and roughed-up mugging suspects, and other victims for his sadistic fists.” So yes, we’re certainly in that grimy ‘70s crime paperback sweet spot, only one with an unusual setting: whereas most these types of books take place in New York or somewhere equally grimy, The Girl In The Trunk is set in sunny Honolulu. 

The novel also occurs over the course of a single day, which is another difference from the average crime paperback of the day. Author Bruce Cassiday keeps the momentum moving over the 200+ pages of the narrative, even skillfully working in the mounting tension of a tsunami that’s headed for Hawaii. The book opens with an 8.9 earthquake in Chile, and periodically the narrative cuts over to the officials monitoring the situation and the tsunamis that have arisen in its wake, with one of them bearing directly for Honolulu. And that’s another difference: The Girl In The Trunk, despite being packaged as a lone wolf cop thriller, is actually more of an ensemble piece, focused on a wide range of characters. This makes the book similar to some of the crime bestsellers of the day, a la The Anderson Tapes and The Taking Of Pelham 123

Lt. Jim Egan, a tough cop in his 40s, gets the back cover credit, but really he’s just one character of many: The Girl In The Trunk is more of a police procedural mixed with a disaster story than the gory yarn promised by the cover art and back cover copy. Egan’s story has it that his wife Berenice was murdered by muggers years before, and now Egan, a “freelance” agent for the Criminal Investigations Department, hunts down muggers to even the score. We meet him in this regard, coming out of a bar at 2:55AM on August 7th and being waylaid by a pair of muggers who think he’s a hapless tourist. But then when their knives come out Egan swoops into action, beating them merciless with his fists and feet. His reputation so precedes him that even the muggers are aware who he is, as are the disgusted cops who come by to round up the mauled muggers. Unlike Gannon or Bronson, Egan is still a cop, thus we learn he’s yet to actually kill any of his victims. 

Then there’s Toshi Yonomuro, 51 year-old chief of CID and Egan’s boss; a Hawaiian-born Japanese with an artificial left cheek that was grafted on after some Germans blew the real one off during WWII. Toshi has his share of the narratiev, as do his wife Blossom and their daughter, Lehua, a college-aged “radical” who has big plans for the rally that night, and claims her dad’s warnings of an impending tsunami are just typical “bourgeois fear” to keep the subversives confused. Both of these characters will carry a good bit of the plot, as does another officer, Ki, a 26 year-old who is “the most cerebral” guy on Toshi’s force and ultimately works the titular case with Egan. 

So just to reiterate, the sadistic tale promised by the cover and copy is only partly delivered on; we meet Egan while beating up some muggers, as mentioned, but he kills neither. We learn he’s now beaten 16 muggers since his wife was killed by one, but this backstory isn’t much elaborated on other than to show that Egan is pretty damn nuts. A few times in the story he will start seeing his dead wife’s face and get dizzy and consumed with violent anger. But other than that he’s just a dick, making a lot of racist comments about Hawaiians and “old Hawaii;” Egan came here before WWII, and often goes on how Hawaii was so much better before it became a state – something with which Toshi also agrees. 

For that’s another layer of the busy story: the various tiers of what is and isn’t a Hawaiian. Ie the native Hawaiians, those with Japanese heritage, those with Caucasian heritage, and those that are mixtures of the above. Then there are also lineages of whether one is “native born Japanese-Hawaiian” or whatnot. But as one of the characters muses, none of it really matters. Cassiday clearly was familiar with Hawaii and really brings the locale to life, as well as the festering racial hostilities and resentments. He even graces the narrative with some smatterings of Japanese, most of which reads correctly (fun fact: I studied Japanese in college and spent a semester in Tokyo). But this whole “race” angle is just one of the many subplots: police procedural, impending disaster, escaped convict, and even radical politics. 

The latter element is how Toshi’s daughter plays into the narrative: she’s been dating Danny, the leader of the Young People’s Family, a group of college-age radicals who want to split off from the Mainland and restore the “real” Hawaii. Here we get a peek into the radical movement mindset of the day, as well as the interesting revelation that at this point the hippies now called themselves “Earth people,” or at least so is Toshi’s belief. So Cassiday even works in a generational divide layer to the novel. He also displays how, no matter their age or race, radicals are a despicable lot: Lehua happens to be pregnant, and when she happily reveals this to Danny he responds that he’ll be glad to raise the kid, but he will be a “bastard,” because “the movement demands purity,” thus Danny can only marry a native Hawaiian. Of course this doesn’t go over very well with Lehua. 

As mentioned The Girl In The Trunk takes place over a single day, August 7 (year unstated), so there isn’t any opportunity for seeing how big revelations play out over time. It’s actually curious that Cassiday went for this “single day” setup, as there was plenty of room for him to flesh out the story more, particularly given the many plots. As it is, he injects a mounting tension with frequent cutaways to various one-off characters as they track the impending tsunami and put out the appropriate alerts. Interestingly one of these one-off characters happens to be “the second announcer” at a “hard rock FM station,” but Cassiday buzzkills any opportunity for fun here with the comment that the DJ is “over thirty” and thus “secretly hates hard rock!” 

So the vengeful cop leaving a trail of mauled corpses in his wake is a story that never happens in The Girl In The Trunk. Instead the main storyline has to do with the embezzlement of half a million dollars from a firm called Dill and Fox; the suspected party was a comptroller named Ames, and Egan and Ki will spend the rest of the novel hunting for him. One subplot, gradually minimized due to the impending threat of the tsunami, is that Toshi is concerned Egan’s mugger-maulings will make it into the news, the force of course not needing the bad press, but he still puts Egan on this Dill and Fox case because he’s “a good detective.” 

One questions Toshi’s opinion when Egan – who remember just beat up two muggers a few hours ago – is sent to the home of Ames, where Egan interviews the man’s attractive, middle-aged wife…and gawks over how she’s a ringer for Berenice, his dead wife. Mrs. Ames turns out to be rather poised for someone whose husband apparently just absconded with half a million bucks, and she trades some memorable barbs with Egan. Meanwhile Ki and even Toshi meet with various firm reps, lending the novel much more of a procedural tone than what the reader might’ve been expecting; in fact I wonder if Ace retitled and repackaged Cassiday’s novel to be more in-line with the violent thrillers then populating the bookstore shelves (or spinner racks). 

Indeed, the titular “girl in the trunk” is discovered early on in the novel, by a beach bum who comes upon a Datsun in the Honolulu Air Port parking lot, some stray dog trying to get into the trunk. Inside the bum sees a dead blonde, completely nude, but he rushes off (the dog tagging along), not willing to call in the discovery. Later though it’s found and Toshi and team go out to the airport while the ME examines; Cassiday furthers the procedural tone with a lot of real-world detail on corpse “lividity” and etc. Here we learn that the dead blonde was the mistress of Ames, the runaway comptroller. In the course of their investigation (ie, over the next few hours), the detectives will learn that Ames’s boss at the firm was also involved in an affair…with Mrs. Ames. 

Along the way we also have repercussions from Egan’s opening mugger-mauling; Toshi interrogates the two “victims,” a bit surprised that one of them seems so blasé about his upcoming jail time. Later (ie just a few hours later) the mugger escapes while being transported to jail, lending the novel yet another tangent: the fugitive on the run. This guy runs roughshod through Honolulu, taking advantage of the growing paranoia over the upcoming tsunami – which has now been determined to make landfall by evening. Cassiday throws around all kinds of curveballs here, with the escaping mugger running into various characters from the narrative. He also doles out a surprise reveal that I won’t spoil on who the mugger really is. 

Action is infrequent; other than the opening bit with Egan, we have a tussle or two, and a gory death when the mugger makes his escape during the transport. For a guy presented as so brutal, Egan doesn’t fare very well; there are two parts where his attacker nearly gets the better of him. That said, at one point he gets his hands on a guy and is about to kill him – again flashing on his dead wife’s face – and is only stopped by Ki. But the cops are very skittish about pulling their guns and shooting, even though Egan likes to constantly threaten people he’s about to. Again, it’s all more of a “realistic” procedural than a violent actioner. 

Cassiday loops all the threads in the finale, which of course sees the tsunami making landfall just as our heroes square away the case and apprehend the escaped mugger. Cassiday even works in Lehua’s plight; one of the subplots is her concern over telling her dad she’s pregnant. Our author manages to give this subplot a happy ending, but again we don’t know how much it will pan out, given that the story occurs over a single day. Cassiday’s focus is more on displaying the various dynamics of Honolulu and its people, and in this regard he really brings the locale to life. 

I wouldn’t say The Girl In The Trunk is a sleazy crime yarn along the lines of the others I’ve reviewed here, though you may be fooled into thinking it is by the cover. If anything it proves that Cassiday was a virtual chameleon so far as his writing goes, so prolific that he wrote everything from historical sagas (The Phoenician, which I got years ago but still haven’t read) to the final installments of Mace.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Men’s Adventure Quarterly #1

Mens Adventure Quarterly #1, edited by Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and Paul Bishop
January, 2021  Subtropic Productions

All fans of mens adventure magazines owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham, who have done what I thought no one else would do: brought men’s adventure magazines back into print for the modern day. Mens Adventure Quarterly #1 reprints vintage men’s mag stories and art, with a new theme each issue. Under the “Men’s Adventure Library” Bob and Wyatt Doyle have published several books over the past few years, but Men’s Adventure Quarterly is special because it actually comes off like a vintage men’s mag – only a lot slicker and more professionally put together, and without that strange stink that most old men’s mags have! 

For make no mistake, Men’s Adventure Quarterly #1 is a work of art. The presentation is flawless, with eye-popping reproduction of cover art and a layout more in-tune with today’s readers – no dual columns of blurry typescript copy here. Also, Bob and Bill do something that the old men’s magazine editors apparently never thought to do: they group each issue around a theme. So as you can see, this first issue is devoted to Westerns. I should admit right at the start that I am not and have never been an avid fan of Westerns – I think there was a brief tangent as a preteen in the ‘80s that I was into Spaghetti Westerns and mabye read a Longarm or two – but regardless I really enjoyed all the stories here. 

I’ve collected about 50 or so men’s adventure mags over the years, but the majority of them feature Nazi She-Devils (here’s hoping that will be the theme of an upcoming issue!!) or other WWII stories. I’d never read any Western men’s mag stories, nor gone out of my way to collect any of them. What I found interesting is that they turn out to be of a piece with the other men’s mag stories of the era: most all of them open with the incident depicted on the cover or the story frontispiece, then flash back to show how the characters got to this moment, and then quickly wrap up by returning to that opening incident. Honestly I think there was like a DeVry school for men’s mag writers; practically every single story I’ve ever read follows this same template. 

Another nice thing the editors do here is provide an intro for each story, which I much appreciated; I’m going to assume Bob wrote most of them, as they read very much like his posts over at his blog. In each case we get an overview of the author, the artist, and maybe some background context on the story – even photos of the real-life personalities (for the stories that don’t feature completely fictional characters). As I say, the publication is clearly a labor of love. The three editors (Paul Bishop serves as guest editor this issue) did a good job of selecting the tales; there’s a fair bit of variety, and all of them are memorable. They also selected from a wide range of men’s mags, from higher-quality lines like Male and more sweaty ones like Man’s Life. However none of the stories are very long; there are no “true book bonus”-type novellas here along the lines of the type collected in vintage anthologies like Our Secret War Against Red China or Women With Guns

The first story is “The Old Shell Game,” by John Concannon, and it’s from the February 1953 issue of Male. The editorial intro says that this one’s unique in that it offers a “female empowerment” storyline, what with it’s buckskin-garbed blonde beauty of a gunslinger. But man, as it turns out, “female empowerment” is offered a resounding slap to the face by story’s end. The story is also unique in that it’s narrated by a guy in his sixties, one who even looks upon the buckskin beauty as a daughter or somesuch; what I mean to say is, the story doesn’t burn with that horny fire typical of men’s mag yarns. 

So anyway, the narrator (whose name is Bill, though we don’t learn that until the final few paragraphs) tells us how he was sitting in a saloon one day and this gorgeous blonde gunslinger in buckskin strutted in; she’s referred to throughout as “Buckskin,” and as with Bill it isn’t even until the final paragraphs that we learn her real name. Anyway the intro is memorable; she’s here looking for a certain scumbag, obviously intent to blow him away with her six-gun. But instead she – and the story – gets taken in an entirely different direction as Buckskin is almost suckered in the titular shell game, courtesy a thug named Frenchie. Once all that’s sorted out, narrator Bill implores Buckskin to spend the night in town, where she later informs him she’s searching for the man who killed her husband. Then Bill tells us in a humorously hasty conclusion that he’s able to talk her out of her blood vendetta! 

“Madams Of The Old West” is by Richard Carter and Glen Kittler and from the July 1955 Male. This is one of the stories that’s more nonfiction than fiction; the editors include a very insightful intro with real-world background info as well as photos of some of the madams discussed in the story. And of course they look a whole lot different than the smokin’ hot babes depicted in the story’s illustrations! Here we learn about such infamous Old West brothel owners as Poker Alice and the like, the authors doling out their histories and some of their more notorious affairs. Interesting, but too tame given the subject matter. 

“Trigger-Happy Marshall” is by Dean W. Ballenger and from the November 1956 issue of Stag. A big thanks to the editors for the shoutout they gave my review of Gannon #1! Their discussion of Ballenger was much welcomed, particularly their revelation that he wrote a countless number of men’s mag stories. Years ago I reviewed some of them. In particular I’d love to read the Nazi She-Devil yarn from ’63 that’s briefly excerpted in the intro – again, here’s hoping that will be a forthcoming MAQ theme. The editors state that “Trigger-Happy Marshall” isn’t as extreme as Gannon, but I thought it was a definite indication of the brutal vibe of that later series, given that the titular marshall is a psychopath who enjoys killing. Not to mention the dark humor that runs throughout. 

Sam Krell is that marshall, a short-statured lawman in Colorado who is known for his brutality. We’re told of how he has often killed crooks in cold blood – even gunned down newsmen who published critical stories of him – but the townspeople look away given how he keeps the place safe. But Krell has other goals: when a gang escapes with bank loot, Krell hunts them down, kills their leader…and takes over the gang. Here we’re told of the various sadistic campaigns they unleashed, including even brutal fights against Indians. Krell is a definite bastard; he would hire buddies to join his gang, and as a test of loyalty to be accepted one buddy would have to kill the other. After a few years of success Krell retires to a large cattle ranch, but when it’s destroyed by marauding Indians he returns to the town he started off in…and asks for his job as marshall back! I really enjoyed this one, and it had more action and violence than the typical men’s mag yarn – but not much in the way of sex. Indeed, Krell seems curiously disinterested in women, and his one depicted incident with a hooker is very odd indeed. 

“The Gunman Who Killed The Critics” is by Richard Gehman and from the February 1959 issue of Argosy. This one’s just straight-up reporting and is focused on the TV show Gunsmoke. Which I’ve never watched, thus I must admit I glossed over this story, given my lack of interest in the subject matter. 

“The Cowboy And The Dance Hall Floozy” by Bill Houseman is more along the lines of what I’m interested in; it’s from the April 1959 issue of Untamed. Here we have a strange revenge story: Crazylegs Moosberg, a half-Indian outlaw, is the last survivor of a gang and escapes to a small town in Colorado until the heat wears off. He comes into a saloon, one he finds deserted save for an attractive woman at the card table. She pulls a gun on him, saying she always knew he’d return. Here we have a strange flashback in which Crazylegs abruptly remembers how he got drunk in this very saloon, a year before, and murdered the girl’s husband after a game of cards. Something he’d plumb just forgotten about until this moment! The girl takes her revenge after an overlong but tense game of poker. 

“Say ‘No” To Laurie Lee…And Wish You Were Dead” is by Lou Cameron and from the September 1959 issue of All Man. This was my favorite in the issue; Cameron’s story is like a proto-Spaghetti Western with its tough nature and oddball assortment of characters. It’s also one I wish had been expanded into paperback length. I’d definitely read it! A Texas Ranger named Ben Harvey rides into a ghost town in Utah; he’s been tracking an outlaw, only to find him strung up with several others overtop a dry riverbed. Cameron effectively captures the eerie setting of the hanged corpses, their skin stretched taut by the desert sun. From here the story gets weirder; Harvey encounters an “idiot” girl in a “potato sack” dress that barely hides her shapely figure; she warns him to get out of town. But it’s too late, as Harvey meets the “law” of the town, a crazy old man who has discovered uranium and decided to stay here, the only other occupants being a slim gunfighter named Lee and two disfigured women: one with a hunchback and one with a scarred face. 

The old man, goaded on by Lee, accuses Harvey of stealing a horse and throws him in jail, for a “trial” the following morning. That night in his cell Harvey is visited by a mysterious woman in the darkness who begs, “Want me, cowboy.” After some undescribed all-night shenanigans, the mysterious girl takes off…and later Harvey is visited by another girl looking for love: Zenobia, the “idiot” with the killer bod. (Or as Cameron puts it, “The lovely young creature was obviously a hopeless idiot.”) More off-page fireworks ensue. Harvey manages to get out of the jail before his kangaroo court can commence, and the story climaxes with the memorable image of Harvey squaring off against a female gunfighter – one who is naked save for her pistol holster. Cameron skillfully moves the story along; it only runs a few pages but definitely makes an impression, and I can’t believe I’ve done reviews here for 11 years now and have yet to review a book by Lou Cameron! 

“Terror Of The All Girl Posse” is by Thomas Halloran (possibly a house name, per the intro) and from the January 1960 issue of Man’s Life. I’d seen the cover of this one before, with the cleavage-baring beauties rounding up some guy while another shapely female hangs in the foreground. And as ever the story opens depicting this very scene; a killer named Rivers has been captured by some “lovely executioners,” ie the female posse of the title. They’ve already killed Rivers’s woman, Maria; she’s been strung up, per the artwork, and now it’s Rivers’s turn. And par for the course we flash back to explain how we got to this moment. 

We learn of Sheriff Sally Wilcox, smokin’ hot 23 year-old leader of an all-female posse, how she got the posse together and the various crooks they brought to bear. But when we come back to the opening with Rivers we learn that Sheriff Sally, for all her bravado, isn’t that smart. For Rivers, as his “last request,” asks for a roll in the hay with Sally…and she complies! After the undescribed hay-rollin’, Rivers as expected takes Sally hostage and threatens to kill her, or else. But Sheriff Sally is willing to die for justice, as Rivers will soon learn. A fun story, but definitely could’ve been fleshed out more. But then, Man’s Life stories in general are too quick and underdeveloped. 

“Bloodiest Mass Murderer Of The Old West” is by Grayson Peters and from the October 1962 issue of A-OK For Men; this one returns to the pseudo-nonfictional vibe of “Madams Of The Old West.” This one’s about real-life personality Charles Stanton, who per the editorial intro was a businessman who was plagued with stories of being a sadistic murderer. It sounds like this isn’t known for sure – I’d never heard of the guy before, personally – but the story obviously doesn’t leave it a mystery. It opens with Stanton and gang brutally killing a family, Stanton wiping out the dad and teen sons and then personally seeing to the raping of the preteen girls. We go on to learn of his “gore-spattered career,” from killing prospectors to more raping. This one’s very much in the realm of the sweats, almost coldly documenting the various transgressions with no real verve to the narrative. The finale is memorable enough, with Stanton getting his balls shot off by a Mexican bandit he’s upset! 

“Saga Of Buckskin Frank Leslie: Slick-Shooting Dude From Tombstone” is by Jack Pearl and from the February 1964 issue of Man’s World. Pearl is another author I’m surprised I’ve yet to get around to reviewing; I actually have the two sleaze paperbacks of his the editors mention in their typically-insightful intro. Frank Leslie is another real-life Old West personality, one who made a name for himself – now forgotten by most – in the infamous town of Tombstone. We have appearances from lots of those personalities, like Wyatt Earp, but for the most part this fast-moving story focuses on Leslie, a guy from the mountains who still wears his buckskin proudly and who quickly makes a name for himself in town. This I believe is the longest story in the collection, and comes off more like a character piece, documenting his time in Tombstone. 

“Shoot-Out At Mad Sadie’s Place” is by Donald Honig and from the June 1967 For Men Only. This one has a great editorial intro: when compiling the stories for the book, the editors discovered that Honig was still alive, and also that he was happy to discuss his men’s mag work. He claims that High Plains Drifter was more than likely inspired by this particular tale. That was in fact one of the few Westerns I watched as a kid in the ‘80s during my brief Westerns interest, so I can see what Honig meant, as both this story and that film concern a gunslinger enterting a town hellbent on revenge. But wasn’t it implied that Eastwood’s character was a ghost? Or am I confusing High Plains Drifter with Pale Rider

This is a very entertaining yarn, one that certainly could’ve benefitted from more fleshing out. Indeed, the finale is so rushed as to be humorous. Pod Luken, a gunslinger who often has found himself on the wrong side of the law, has a brother who acts as sheriff in a small town, and the brother’s going to help Pod start a new life on the right side of the law in California. But then Pod gets a letter that his brother is dead – shot down by six gunmen from Texas. Pod heads in to town and scopes the place out; there’s a great part where he decides he doesn’t like anyone in it, given that none of them stood up to help his brother. To prove his point Pod goes around to various places and challenges the owners – ie, “What would you do if I didn’t pay for this beer?” and etc, to which of course the owners reply they’d grab their gun and demand he pay. Yet none of them were willing to do the same to help Pod’s brother. 

Pod sets his sights on the six Texans, taking out one of them in a whorehouse – a great part where Pod gets his own girl, goes upstairs with her, and starts snooping around for the room the Texan is in. But this will be the most elaborately-depicted revenge in the story. For as mentioned it’s way too short for its own good. Evidence of this is the female character, Molly; she’s the one who wrote Pod the letter, and as it turns out she was engaged to Pod’s brother. She’s a pretty young blonde, but the expected fireworks between her and Pod don’t ensue…likely because Honig didn’t have the space. Instead, she shows Pod who the Texans are, and Pod starts thinking over his careful revenge…and then it’s all rushed through as he gets in a running gunfight with them, one that climaxes in the titular bar owned by Mad Sadie. A great, fast-moving story, but one tarnished by an apparent restriction on the word count. 

“The West’s Wildest Hell Raiser” is by Jules Archer and from the January 1957 issue of Stag. The frontispiece for this one is unusual in that it’s a naked dude who is exploited: an otherwise-stunning depiction of the titular hell raiser, riding naked into town. Another novelty is that this incident doesn’t open the story, par for the men’s mag template, but is instead relayed in an off-hand line midway through the yarn. The opening is actually a brutal knife-fight the hell-raiser, Clay Allison, gets in with another guy for the rights to a watering hole in Texas. Clay wins the fight, but is left with a permanent limp. This one’s similar to the Frank Leslie story, documenting the various tussles this hotheaded guy gets into, but I found it pretty tame – even stuff like a blonde and a brunette getting in “a hair-pulling match” over Clay isn’t exploited nearly as much as it should’ve been. 

After this we get some wonderfully-reproduced covers, and I found it interesting that the Western-themed men’s mags usually had men on the cover, whereas of course most men’s mags covers were known for their cleavage-baring women. That said, the editors do include a risque photo shoot in the issue, with an early 1960s lady posing in various states of undress; as I say, they do a wonderful job of recreating an actual vintage men’s mag, only with much higher production values. 

Again, a big thanks to Bob, Bill, and Paul for Mens Adventure Quarterly #1. I really enjoyed it…and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy the second issue, which focuses on ‘60s spy stories, even more!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Baroness #9: Death Is A Copycat (unpublished volume)

The Baroness #9: Death Is A Copycat, by Paul Kenyon
Undated manuscript, circa 1974

Back in 2012 I did a post on the unpublished volumes of The Baroness; as a recap, there were three installments that never made it to print, one by series newcomer Robert Vardeman and two by main series author Donald Moffitt (who passed away in 2014). Well folks, I’ve managed to get copies of both of Moffit’s unpublished manuscripts: Death Is A Copycat and A Black Hole To Die In. In this post I’ll be reviewing the former, with a review of the latter coming soon. 

First of all, I want to confirm that this is not a joke or a hoax or a very late April Fool’s Day prank. These are the legit manuscripts straight from Moffitt’s typewriter, circa 1974 (as dated by internal references in the novel). And as can be seen from the screengrab of the title page above, the print is sometimes a bit faded, making for a difficult read at times. But it goes without saying that I was very thankful to get both these manuscripts; I’ve wondered for years what Moffitt’s two unpublished volumes would be like. And I can say, at least so far as this first of the two goes, that Death Is A Copycat would’ve made for another great installment of the series. It’s certainly better than the volume that would have preceded it, Black Gold

In my 2012 post I noted that Death Is A Copycat had been published in France, under the title Photo-Phobi, as part of the Penny series, which is what The Baroness was titled in France. I included comments from a reader named Hans Henrik who stated that Photo-Phobi concerned “a three-legged villain named Triskelion” whose plot was “to cause chaos by duplicating the world’s currency.” While the plot of Death Is A Copycat does ultimately concern a villain’s plan to duplicate all the currencies of the world, there’s no character named “Triskelion,” let alone anyone with three legs. My only conclusion is that the French translator took great liberties with Moffitt’s manuscript and basically published his own yarn. 

It was a very strange experience reading this 286-page manuscript; often I realized I was one of the very vew people who had even gotten to read it. I would imagine Engel read it (note Engel’s BCI address on the title page; I’ve lined out Moffitt’s phone number), and perhaps the translator in France got a copy. But other than that, this manuscript has sat in storage for the past few decades. As I read it I kept wondering how fans of the day might’ve reacted to such and such a scene, only to remind myself that it had never been published. I also often wondered what sort of cover Hector Garrido would’ve devised for Death Is A Copycat. Ultimately I felt bad for Moffitt, that something as entertaining as this never saw print – it’s proof positive that he had not lost interest in The Baroness, even nine volumes in. 

Given all this my review will be a bit more in-depth than usual. Actually my reviews are always too in-depth, but this time I’ll elaborate a bit more and provide excerpts, given the ultra-scarcity of the book in question. One thing to note, though: again referencing the title page, we can see that “Money to Burn” is given as an alternate title, in paranthesis. My assumption is this was Moffitt’s original title for the book, but “Death Is A Copycat” is given the all-caps treatment because that’s the title Engel gave him. Or maybe it was the other way around? I guess we’ll never know. 

At any rate, Death Is A Copycat features a memorable opening: Penelope “The Baroness” St. John-Orisini barrelling along the country roads in the Loire Valley of France in a red Ferrari, driving barefoot. At her side is the “improbably handsome” Duc de Chataigne, Hughes, “a big loose-jointed man in his thirties, with clear gray eyes and a mocking smile.” Hughes we’ll recall was introduced in the final pages of Black Gold, and Hans Henrik also mentioned this character was in Photo-Phobi, so at least some of the French translation was faithful to Moffitt’s original manuscript. Penelope, we’re told, is here in France to scout locations for a commercial she’d like to film on Hughes’s chatteau; she met him on the beach, only to discover he owned the entire place, as well as a stretch of the countryside. But the idyllic scene is shattered when a vintage Bugatti Type 57 – painted a garish pink – comes out of nowhere and runs them off the road. 

Penny proves her mettle straight away; she gets the Ferrari back on the road and gives chase, ultimately running the Bugatti off the road in revenge. All Penny sees of the occupants is a red-faced man with yellow hair peeking out at them from the oval-shaped window in back of the Bugatti. Later, at a roadside diner, Penny and Huges see the Bugatti drive by – without a scratch or mark on it. But enough of that; from here we get to what the series was known for: hardcore sex. Penny decides that Hughes’s chatteau is too old-fashioned for her; when Hughes mentions that a “nouveau riche” man named Alphonse Pollux has a tawdry chatteau nearby, Penny decides without even seeing it that it will be the place for her commercial. But Hughes refuses to introduce Penny; though he has never met Pollux, Hughes assures Penny that word has it “the man is a boor.” Penny convinces Hughes the best way she can: treating him to an explicity-rendered sexual escapade that goes on for pages. An escapade that caps off with the a rather, uh, memorable usage of the word “splat:” 

Meanwhile in a cutaway we see the development of the threat Penny will face…a threat which of course will coincide with her storyline in France. A government employee with traitorous intentions at the US Embassy in Paris sneaks into the copy room in the middle of the night, his goal to make photocopies of incriminating evidence (CIA shenanigans, etc) and send them to the various papers of the world. We’re told in a bit of foreshadowing that new photocopiers have recently been installed – photocopiers made by the Pollux company. We’ll eventually learn that “The Pollux copier is as big in Europe as Xerox is in America.” Then a mysterious figure in a uniform with “Pollux” on it comes in while the copier is running and murders the would-be traitor – a particularly vile murder at that, jamming the photocopied pages down his throat so that he chokes on his own vomit! 

Hughes, still fuming over how much of a “swine” Pollux is (even if he’s “the richest man in France”) escorts Penny to Pollux’s Chateau Jumeau, “a lacy fantasy of pink marble.” And yes the “pink” is more foreshadowing, for as expected Pollux is the owner of that garish pink roadster that got in the chase with Penny the day before. Indeed Penny and Hughes see it on the grounds, being repaired; here we have confirmation of when the story is set, as the car is now specified as being “a 1934 Bugatti Type 57,” and earlier we were informed it was “forty years old.” The place is patrolled by guards and an electrified barbed wire fence; Penny suspects something and sneaks off to inspect, leading to a brutal combat scene when she’s attacked by sadistic fieldworkers in Pollux’s vineyards who come after her with bladed tools. Penny kills three men, including a memorable bit where she crushes one guy’s throat – something else Hans Henrik says occurred in Photo-Phobi

Henrik mentioned the plot of that French “translation” concerned counterfeit money; here in the opening of Moffitt’s manuscript, Pollux is instead stealing secrets and selling them. In typical series fashion, we see the effect on several one-off characters: the US Secretary of State’s secret plan is outed to the press, a research group has their antibody formula stolen, and a firm loses a major contract. In each case a Pollux copier was involved. We soon learn that Pollux, “the duplicating king” who employs “duplicate chauffeurs” (a matching pair of muscle-bound thugs), has implanted his copiers with devices that store everything that’s copied on them. Moffitt gives the villain a suitably Flemingesque appearance: 

Penny decides to break into the headquarters of the SDECE, France’s version of the CIA, so as to see what they have on Pollux; this is another of those suspenseful sequences Moffitt does so well, with the Baroness using a host of gadgetry. We see the ever-present Spyder in use, Penny using it to walk up the wall of the building, Batman TV series style. Also this time she actually shoots someone with the Spyder; a guard spots her and Penny does “the only thing possible” and fires the Spyder’s grappling hook into the guy’s gaping mouth. A crazy sequence that even features Penny using a “miniaturized winch” to haul the corpse up a few floors so she can hide it. This sequence also sees more of the series’s patented spy-fy gadgetry in effect, with a pair of “sunglasses” Penny sports to help her see in the dark – a “binocular photon multiplier,” at that. 

There’s an almost Russell Smith-esque fascination with corpses this time around; Pollux dispenses of one of his underlings, stabbing out his heart with a machine in his vineyard, and then his twin chaffeurs “stand the corpse up” and hold it there while Pollux laughs uncontrollably. Then later when Penny kills the guard with her Spyder, she goes to elaborate lengths to hide his corpse under a desk in the SDECE building, using a “super-epoxy” to fasten it to the underside; we’re told the hands are especially troublesome, as they keep “flopping down.” After which Penny thinks to herself, “with sudden amusement,” that “the first man tomorrow to tie his shoelace or bend over to pick up a pencil was going to get a surprise.” 

There are in fact a lot of gadgets in this SDECE sequence; Penny also uses a “foot of thick twine” which is actually “woven of optical fibers that could transmit light around a 180-degree bend; the glass was a fish-eye lens, optically perfect despite its small size.” Then there’s “the Nose,” which Penny uses after knocking out a guard, taking off his shoes, and wrinkling her own nose at his smelly feet: 

And by the way, we’re only 62 pages into the manuscript at this point, with over 200 more pages to go. So it seems pretty clear to me that Moffitt was reinvested in the series after the middling Black Gold; this SDECE sequence alone is more entertaining than the entirety of that previous novel. The Nose is memorably employed to track the footprint-scent of the guard, who has just come from the Records room, so that there’s no “blundering about in these dim corridors” for Penny. The sequence climaxes with Penny (with assistance from Joe Skytop, out in a stolen car) knocking out the electrical grid of this area so that she can swoop into the Records room in the pitch darkness and take photos (with a high-tech camera, naturally) of the SDECE’s “Alphonse Pollux” dossier. But guards with “battery-powered lanterns” suddenly arrive: “The lights went on, and she was standing in front of three dozen Frenchmen in her underwear.” 

Of course Penny manages to escape, thanks to yet another new gadget: a mini-rocket fired from the clasp of her black bag which blows a hole in a brick wall so she can plummet down to Skytop, who waits in the stolen car. Soon thereafter Penny assembles her unwieldy team, each of whom are given the usual introduction as they arrive at her suite in Paris. When Sumo and Farnsworth (Penny’s handler, back in New York) review the purloined data of all the European companies that use Pollux copiers, they soon determine that Pollux himself has benefited from the recent swindles – ie the “little French investment firm” that beat the other company on the patent turns out to be owned by Pollux. As are all the other companies that have benefitted from recent industrial upsets. “It’s not our business,” Farnsworth tells Penny. She replies: “Monsieur Pollux scratched my new Ferrari. I’m going to make it my business.” 

Moffitt shows eerie prescience in a somewhat-overlong sequence in which electronics wiz Tom Sumo hacks the CIA’s main database; a protracted scenario that has him enacting a high-tech contraption he set up outside the home of the agency’s director years before. Even though it seems clear that Pollux is also involved in “the other kind of espionage,” ie not just industrial-related, Farnsworth insists this is a CIA affair, one they aren’t even supposed to know about. But the Baroness, who by the way is smoking a joint throughout this scene, insists that they will take the job. This is a different setup from the previous volumes, in which the Baroness and team were activated due to a specific threat that had come through Farnsworth. 

There’s actually a fair bit of breaking into buildings via unusual gadgetry this time; Penny next infiltrates Pollux’s factory “on the outskirts of Paris” while the villain is having a nighttime meeting with his crime world contacts. There’s also a lot guard-killing, including a bit where Penny kills a guard who “farts” as he dies, “as they often do.” In this break-in Penny uses “The Creeper” (later referred to as “The Crawler” in a mistake Moffitt doesn’t catch in his manuscript): a leg-powered vehicle with “Teflon wheels” that allows her to speed three feet above the road, gliding under parked cars. After this she puts on “mittens” and “booties” with a “time-release solvent” that allow her to climb Spider-Man style up the side of the factory building. Here Penny sees that Pollux has built a giant copying machine – which he uses to chop up yet another underling – but the Baroness is almost caught, leading to a running action scene in which she hurls a few tear gas grenades as the goons try to catch her. And she uses another gadget: 

Rivaling the “escape from the orgy turned Mafia massacre” bit in #1: The Ecstasy Connection, this sequence features Penny running “like a deer, stark naked,” through the darkened streets of Pollux’s “25-acre industrial park” – naked because she’s knocked out the man at the guard booth (and also done some nerve damage to his “scrotum”) and then dressed him in her own clothes, to throw off Pollux and the other mobsters. An “unwilling transvestite” who gives Penny the opportunity to run away. And the opportunity to use the Creeper/Crawler again: 

Yet even more gadgets are employed in this escape; the Baroness carries a “utility belt” throughout, her only piece of clothing left. First she uses what looks like “a child’s windup toy, a cute tin ladybug with six legs and floppy pads for feet.” This contraption, another made by NASA, hauls Penny up and over a wall via a “glistening string” that she fashions into a harness. This leads to something right out of the Connery Bond films (that is, if Bond was a woman and the film was rated R), as the Baroness uses a mini-rocket to fly away: 

Meanwhile the Baroness’s team gets a little share of the narrative: Eric (aka the blond language expert) impersonates a new CIA agent at the US Embassy in Paris, Fiona (aka the redhead sexpot) visits the psychiatrist of the would-be traitor at the Embassy (her story being that she can’t “come” – and Moffitt really piles on the kink factor here), Wharton (aka the blueblooded Green Beret) gets in a fight with yakuza thugs, and finally Yvette (aka the black beauty) features in the longest sequence, going to the tiny town near Marseilles in which Pollux was born 48 years ago and trying to find any info on him. What she finds is that anyone who knew Pollux back then has turned up dead – usually run over by a car. This is by far the most focus Yvette has gotten in the series; she’s captured by a Corsican gangster aligned with Pollux named Andre the Shark, his nickname due to his teeth, which have been filed down like a shark’s. 

Hans Henrik also stated that in Photo-Phobi Penny “confines herself to just one lover,” aka Hughes, and that at one point they have “sex in a barrel of vintage wine.” This is also true of Death Is A Copycat, on both counts. Penny and Hughes are invited to dinner on Pollux’s estate, and Penny convinces Hughes to go; Moffitt well captures Hughes’s aristocratic prejudices toward “boor” Pollux. But as a “joke” on the little man they decide to have sex in a barrel of wine Hughes no longer cares for (he has a massive wine cellar, naturally), and then serve that to Pollux at the dinner. Thus they strip and get in the “six hundred gallons of sparkling white wine,” and Penny declares that she can “taste” the wine…through her, uh, nether regions. A sensation that soon extends to both of them: 

At Pollux’s dinner that night Penny and Hughes get the answer to the “mystery” of how Pollux’s vintage pink roadster looked unscathed immediately after Penny ran it off the road: he actually has two of them, both put out in front of his chatteau to show off his wealth to his guests – which turn out to just be Penny and Hughes. Also, Pollux reveals that he’s aware it was Penny who ran him off the road; he has cameras in each of his cars, and as it turns out it is a “game” for him to run cars off the road and keep a running score! Moffitt really attains a Fleming vibe here, only inverted; Pollux goes over the top with dinner in a gauche way, with the Baroness and Hugh secretly amused at his pathetic attempts at seeming aristocratic. The humor is almost too pronounced; Pollux reveals he has two of everything, including chefs, and that they constantly fight, with even a pair of wrestlers to keep them separated. It gets even goofier: 

The “joke” of Pollux drinking the wine Penny and Hughes had sex in doesn’t get exploited very much; Penny and Hughes watch as Pollux makes “quite a production” of swilling it around in his glass, then he sips it and declares it a “fine, unpretentious little wine…perfectly adequate to the occasion.” After dinner Penny is granted a tour of Pollux’s chatteau; when the thug escorting her warns there are areas she must stay out of, Penny of course knocks him out and goes investigating. She finds a massive copier here, bigger than the one at the factory, and it appears to be making copies of various currencies. This leads to another action sequence in which the Baroness kills more guards and unveils yet another gadget: a dress that transforms into “a graceful bat-like sail – a hang-glider.” On the grounds Penny discovers that Pollux has “all the money in the world:” acres and acres of paper currency, baled and stacked. A quick check confirms it all looks as real as the real thing – even the serial numbers are consecutive, and not repetitions as they’d be in the average counterfeit. 

In previous Baroness reviews I’ve complained how Penny was often being saved by her team. It seems that Moffitt himself must’ve realized this, as in Death Is A Copycat it’s as if he goes out of his way to put Penny in dangerous scrapes and have her get out of them via her own devices. As here; she is surrounded by around 500 of Pollux’s men – the army made up of mobsters from around the world – and she takes one of them hostage, an older Mafioso named Papa Ugo. Penny, clad only in a halter top and “black bikini panties,” forms a sort of conga line with her gun to Papa’s head, adding more and more people to the line as she tries to escape. But she’s caught, leading to some brutal hand-to-hand combat: 

It gets more brutal, with Penny ripping off Papa’s prosthetic arm (complete with hooked hand) and slicing and dicing thugs with it. However Penny is ultimately captured by Pollux, leading to a sequence that is the closest The Baroness has ever come to sweat mag territory. Penny, now clad only in the bikini bottom, is trussed up in a frame sort of contraption, her arms and legs chained, suspended facedown a foot above the ground. Pollux, claiming he will soon “own” Penny, pulls off her panties and proceeds to have his first “taste” of her, attempting to prod at her private regions. But Penny thrashes so much to evade him that she breaks the framework and lands on the ground. So Pollux brings out Hughes and has his little finger cut off to convince Penny. Our heroine relents, promising she will not put up a fight while the villain has his way with her. 

Moffitt skillfully plays this sequence out, even finding the opportunity to again compare and contrast Pollux’s “boorish” nature and Hughes’s true aristocracy. The French duke remains silent as his finger is sawed off, and tells Penny not to give in. But this turns out to be Penny’s “price,” something which Pollux assures her everyone has – Penny will indeed have sex with Pollux in exchange for no more damage to Hughes. Just as Pollux is demanding that Penny go down on him, to “prime the pump,” an explosion shatters the courtyard. Initially I thought, “Well, here comes the team to save her, after all,” but instead it’s due to the arrival of the Russians, who had their own spy in Pollux’s ranks and are now here to steal all the counterfeit money – which, by the way, Pollux intends to destroy civilization with. He’s made an exact duplicate of every bill of denomination in every single major currency, and the counterfeit currency will be offloaded by the crime syndicates he’s made deals with in various countries. 

A series motif is Penny being nude for the climax, or most of it, and the same happens here, with her running fully naked around Pollux’s grounds while the Russians and the mob fight one another. Penny’s able to get back to Hughes’s nearby chatteau, to call in her team for reinforcements and to put on some clothes. Moffitt doesn’t dress her in the black catsuit she often wore in the series (and wore on all the covers) – though she does wear the catsuit in the sequence where she breaks in the SDECE building. Here in the finale she wears: 

This leads to an action climax in which Penny and team, in three vehicles, race through the three hundred acres of Pollux’s chatteau and blast away at the Russians and various mobsters. Throughout Penny is armed with a Galil submachine gun. I found this part a little anticlimactic, as it’s just Penny and the others randomly gunning down any enemy soldiers they come upon. Which is to say, there’s no “emotional content” to it (to quote Bruce Lee). It’s just Penny and her team trying to kill everyone before any of them can get hold of the counterfeit currency. The most memorable image here is Joe Skytop on top of a jeep firing a “movie camera,” which is really an automatic cannon. 

Here we also have a surprise appearance from Alexy, the GRU commando Penny got cozy with in #3: Death Is A Ruby Light. He’s part of the Russian army taking on the Syndicate, and talks surrender with Penny after she and her team have blasted everyone apart with their superior firepower and routed the various mobsters: 

Penny allows him to escape with some of the counterfeit Chinese currency; Alexey claims “I know your employers will be pleased at the way we’re going to use it.” And then he’s gone; all told, he appears in the book for a mere page, but it’s a nice shout-out to a previous yarn. Penny’s team fashions an explosive to wipe out the rest of the fake money, however Penny allows Paul and Fiona to sneak off with a couple bales: “What were a few million, more or less?” The Baroness and team watch as the acres of money burn – ie, the “money to burn” of Moffitt’s alternate title. 

But the finale is a bit unfocused; whereas you’d figure this attack on Pollux’s chatteau would be the climax, instead Penny again sends her team off on separate missions – one group to blast one of Pollux’s supertankers, before it can make off with any of the counterfeit currency that had already been taken away, and the other group to go find out what happened to Yvette. So we have in the one sequence Skytop, Wharton, Eric, Inga, and Fiona in a helicopter shooting at the supertanker, then diving into the ocean in scuba gear to plant explosives. 

In the other sequence Sumo and Paul go to save Yvette, who by the way has been tortured and raped this entire time…! This part’s real sweat mag territory, with the poor girl trussed up and beaten so badly that one eye has swollen shut and her breasts have been used as a pin cushion. However she hasn’t talked; the implication is clear that all of the Baroness’s team are as tough as the Baroness herself. And speaking of which, Tom Sumo – aka the nerdy “electronics guy,” here turns out to be a veritable superman, thanks to his knowledge of the martial arts: 

The humor here is pretty dark; Andre the Shark is threatening to cut Yvette’s nose off with a straight razor when Sumo and Paul arrive on the scene. In the melee the two make quick work of the Corsican thugs, using their hands and feet (and in Sumo’s case, a camera). Moffitt tries to gloss over Yvette’s grim condition with a jokey reveal: 

Yvette has discovered what has become increasingly apparent as the novel’s went on. SPOILER here, but I figured I should be as comprehensive as possible given the unpublished nature of the manuscript. I didn’t find Pollux to be the most memorable villain of the series, but Moffitt has skillfully created him and his plot with subtextual layers. Hence, Pollux is the “duplicate king” who has two of everything and who has made his fortune via copying machines. Yet he’s also a “fake” in that he’s from hardscrabble roots and is desperate to come off like the aristocracy which has spurned him. And the fake nature extends to his plan for counterfeit currency. But given how there are two of everything in Pollux’s world, it would of course pan out that there are actually two of Pollux – as Yvette discovers, Alphonse and Felix Pollux were siamese twins born during WWII, surgically separated at age 9, but have continued to secretly act as the same person all these years. 

Penny herself finds this out after she’s already dealt with one of the brothers; a memorable sendoff in which she slams both feet into his chest while riding down the bannister of a double helix spiral staircase in Pollux’s chatteau. This occurs before the big “mob versus Russians” action sequence, throughout which Penny is under the assumption Pollux is dead. But then she gets a glimpse of the man on the battlefield. She wonders if it was her imagination, but when she is investigating his grounds after the battle – once her team has dispersed on their dual missions – Penny is caught unawares by the surviving Pollux, Alphonse. He holds a gun on her and forces her to carry several bales of newly-printed counterfeit currency which he plans to use to start over again. But fittingly he ends up in his own contraption: 

Death Is A Copycat ends soon after, with Penny finding Hughes asleep on one of the beds in Pollux’s chatteau – a bed with a “100,000-franc bedspread that had belonged to Marie Antoinette.” Hughes says he won’t miss his little finger at all: “There are very few things in life that one uses a little finger for.” But Penny has other intentions, as she climbs in bed with him for the final moments of the book:

The “explosion,” by the way, is the giant copier Pollux just died in; Penny set it to blow. Also it’s interesting that Hughes is here in the finale of the book, same as he was in Black Gold. This would make him the most, uh, long-lasting of Penny’s lovers. I’m curious to see if he’ll appear in A Black Hole To Die In as well, but I suspect this will be it for him. Also, there’s no part where Penny explains to Hughes who she really is; her running around Pollux’s grounds and fighting and killing people is just taken at face value, and Hughes never once asks her if she’s like a spy or something. But it would be clear to him at this point that Penny isn’t just a jet-setting cover model. 

As promised, I went into great detail in this “review,” which was really more of a blow-by-blow account of the book. But really that’s what I wanted it to be, given that it’s hard to review something that’s never been published. I don’t know if this was Moffitt’s final draft – as seen in the screengrabs above, it was clearly his second draft at least, given the lined-out corrections – but it would appear to be the only surviving draft. But then Moffitt was a contract writer working to deadline, so I’m assuming he didn’t have the luxury of multiple drafts. Given this, I’m figuring this manuscript was his completed and submitted draft of Death Is A Copycat, and likely was the draft that made its way to France for translation…a translation which sounds like it had elements that were not in Moffitt’s manuscript. 

I’m also assuming the manuscript was written in 1974. I know from Len Levinson that it took “about a year” for his own manuscripts to see print in paperback in the ‘70s, and given that The Baroness was cancelled after Black Gold, which was published in February 1975, I’m assuming Moffitt had to write this a few months earlier than that at least. In other words, he probably got word the series was cancelled in early ’75; maybe Dell let editor Lyle Kenyon Engel know that Black Gold would be the last one (hence that title being more scarce than others in the series – it received a lower print run). What I’m trying to say is, Moffitt wouldn’t have written this manuscript if he knew the series was about to be cancelled, which leads me to conclude that he wrote it sometime in mid to late 1974, going on to write A Black Hole To Die In soon thereafter. 

I really did enjoy this one; it had everything that was great about the series. I also appreciated how Moffitt took a few risks with his template; I liked how this time Penny was the initiator of the assignment, and also I noticed that for once we didn’t get the digressive recap on how she got into the whole “Coin” game. I also appreciated how Moffitt was able to employ Penny’s team a bit more, so they didn’t come off like the cumbersome nuissances of past volumes – if I recall correctly, Moffitt stated in an interview with ppsantos on the Baroness Yahoo Group that the “team” setup was specifically requested by Dell, and that he himself had a hard time with it. 

Again, it’s a shame this volume was never published, as I think it might’ve become a fan favorite. It lacks the globe-trotting nature of previous installments – and the graphic sex is somewhat reduced, with only two fairly-explicit sequences – but it more than makes up for it with a plethora of imaginative gadgets and scenarios. I also like how Pollux’s nature was worked into his fiendish plot; that alone was downright Flemingesque. As I wrote above, Death Is A Copycat makes it clear that Moffitt was still invested in the series and the lackluster Black Gold was just a fluke. 

Usually I take about a year or so between installments of a series, but in this case I’ll be reading and reviewing A Black Hole to Die In soon, probably within the next few weeks. I’m definitely looking forward to that one, especially given how entertaining this one was – and I was very thankful for the chance to read it.