Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Cape

The Cape, by Martin Caidin
No month stated, 1971  Doubleday

The last of the space race novels Martin Caidin published before he hit the big time with Cyborg (which would of course become better known as The Six Million Dollar Man), The Cape takes place in the near-future year of 1972 and is more focused on the ground crew than the astronauts. Also, like Caidin’s earlier No Man’s World, The Cape clearly didn’t resonate with readers of the day, as it only received this original hardcover edition – which, also like No Man’s World, is now grossly overpriced on the used books market. 

I will concur with the contemporary Kirkus review that The Cape was likely influenced by Countdown, only I feel it is a much inferior work to Frank Slaughter’s beach read potboiler. Caidin too attempts to write a sort of melodrama set in the space program, occuring in the titular Cape Kennedy and environs, only he lets his technical familiarity with the program get in the way of telling an entertaining tale. Whereas Slaughter put the characters first, Caidin is more about the nuts and bolts; as with Countdown the tale is more about the preparation for launch rather than the launch itself, with the astronauts minor characters in the narrative. The Cape is all about the technicians and managers behind the scene, and as in No Man’s World Caidin is sure to let you know he’s been there and knows all about it. 

To that end our hero is Ray Curtis, the director of Manned Launch Operations, a brawny and hirsute individual (Caidin often mentions the “thick hair” on the guy’s chest, stomach, and shoulders, giving the impression he’s more ape than man) who currently is overseeing the launch of Apollo 17. In reality this was the last lunar mission, commanded by Gene Cernan and featured in the great mini-documentary The Last Steps. Probably writing in 1971 (the most recent real-world Apollo launch mentioned is Apollo 14, but Caidin refers to it in such a way that I got the impression it hadn’t actually happened yet), Caidin presents a 1972 in which the space program hasn’t been totally gutted, and the US is still actively pursuing “this new ocean.” 

Also another difference here is that the Apollo 17 in Caidin’s novel will be launching the space station Skylab, something that didn’t happen in the real world until 1973 (and had nothing to do with Apollo 17). So again, Caidin was certainly familiar with NASA’s plans, and uses this setup to flesh out the surrounding Cape Kennedy…which turns out to have a somewhat rotten core, again as per Countdown. Actually there’s more to NASA’s plan: for reasons not suitably explained, the agency plans to launch Skylab via Apollo 17, and then secretly launch Apollo 18, a moon shot, immediately after. But Apollo 18 will rendezvous with 17 in Earth orbit, switch commanders, and the commander of Apollo 17 will get in Apollo 18’s command module and continue on the voyage to the moon. I couldn’t understand why the plan was so complicated, other than a vague reference that it might be a way to boost interest in the program again or somesuch. 

At any rate, the major issue with The Cape is that Caidin seems to want to write a beach-read sort of affair at first, but then changes course and turns in a tense thriller that’s undone by too much pedantic info and stalling. While Ray Curtis is the protagonist for the most part, Caidin also introduces a host of other characters, and humorously enough tells us about their past sexploits with girlfriends or mistresses or whatnot in their intros. Again, this just gives the impression that Caidin’s about to attempt a torrid novel about the space race, but ultimately he fails to deliver. Also the underground stuff is as reactionary as Caidin’s later Maryjane Tonight At Angels Twelve, with marijuana and hash literally turning one minor character’s teenaged daughter into a mindless sex-slave. This revelation only occurs at the very end, and as ever isn’t much exploited, though it does have the laugh-out-loud moment where the father, a bigwig in the space program, is taken to a hippie crash pad by the cops, and there is shown his nude daughter, fresh from her latest orgy and lying in a stupor on the floor. When she sees her dad, whom she is too drugged to even recognize, she asks him, “Wanna fuck?” It’s so over the top it could be out of a Jack Chick comic. 

In addition to Ray Curtis we have a score of supporting characters. Most interesting is Danny Stuart, an Apollo astronaut who has already been to the moon, and will now be the first person to walk on the moon twice, given that he’ll be the Apollo 17 commander who switches over to 18 and heads for the moon. His intro also has us expecting the beach read stuff, as it opens with him flying a jet, ruminating on how astronauts like to have a little extra something on the side in Florida while keeping their wives back in Houston, and then has him meeting up with his mistress – only to learn she’s pregnant! But unfortunately Stuart will soon fade away in the text, his plot more focused on the ramifications of a blackmail scheme cooked up against him by another minor character. At any rate, the opening bit on astronaut marital infidelity could almost come out of Tom Wolfe’s later The Right Stuff (or even “Post-Orbital Remorse”): 

But man, Caidin could have delivered on the “space race beach read” novel I’ve been looking for, by just making Danny Stuart the hero and focusing on his extramarital exploits. And speaking of which all these guys have pretty hectic personal lives; even Paul Jaeger, the fussy ex-Nazi Quality Control Inspector, has his own mistress. Caidin is so focused on quickly dispensing with such info that he loses control of any plotting: for example, we learn early on that Ray Curtis’s secretary, Ginny, is so in love (or actually lust) with her boss that she fantasizes all the time about having sex with him. She’s prone to giving him footrubs and other perks that of course would be frowned upon today. So Caidin establishes this, and will have unintentionally hurmorous moments later in the book where Ginny, all aflutter, will stumble away from a confused Curtis. But Caidin lacks follow-through skills; after Ginny’s secret lust has been established, we cut over to Curtis, unaware of his secretary’s love for him, as he drives off to meet his latest girlfriend. But instead of telling us about her, Caidin instead has Curtis flash back to how he met his first wife, what she was like in bed, and etc…and then neither the first wife nor the latest girlfriend appear in the text again! 

I’m learning though that this is part and parcel of Caidin’s writing style. I’m always comparing him to Mark Roberts, but in reality his prose style is most similar to William Crawford. So similar in fact that if I didn’t know better I’d hypothesize that “William Crawford” was a pseudonym of Martin Caidin, but then we know they were two separate people. But their narrative style, dialog, and storytelling peculiarities are almost identical. Neither seems capable of allowing their characters to breathe, and neither seems unable to stop lecturing the reader via the narrative. There is so much info-dumping in The Cape that you quickly lose all interest. It would be great if you were learning about the space program, or how NASA works, or some other interesting period detail, but for the most part it just comes off like arbitrary ranting and digressing…same as in Crawford. 

Another interesting character who initially seems important but ultimately becomes trivial is Gene DeBarry, a dashing reporter (he’s compared to a young Orson Welles) who lives in an entire apartment complex along the beach. Caidin has it that when all the “pink slips” were handed out at NASA after Apollo 11, real estate was cheap given how many fired employees left the Cape. DeBarry purchased an entire building and refitted into his own domain, continnuing to write about the space program here. His intro too makes us expect some kinky stuff, opening as it does with his nude girlfriend commenting on how the naked DeBarry’s balls look when he’s sitting down(!). DeBarry too could’ve made for a fine protagonist in a torrid melodrama about the space program, but he soon fades into the narrative woodwork. I did think his pad sounded super-cool in that late ‘60s way I so enjoy, though:

There are other characters as well, but most of them gradually hinge around Ben Rayburn, a Cape-based crime boss who acts as a liason for people engaged in various underground activities, and usually blackmails them for it. For example, we learn that Danny Stuart’s mistress is pregnant. They both decide on an abortion, and Stuart tells the girl he knows a guy named Ben Rayburn who could help set up something – like what doctor they could use, or where they could go to have it done discreetly. Then we flash over to Houston, where Danny’s wife Dee suspects her husband of being a cheater. She decides to hire a Cape-based private eye to shadow him…and the name she’s given for the job is Ben Rayburn. Thus Rayburn is hired separately by both husband and wife, and ultimately uses this to blackmail Stuart. But even this is only a minor distubrance in the narrative, and even here Caidin fails to deliver on the dramatic potential. Danny Stuart pretty much disappears from the text after his intro! 

Rather, the focus is on a panoply of characters and the fact that the CIA et al suspect the Reds are going to sabotage the Skylab launch. Worse yet, intel has it that one of the top men at NASA is a traitor. This suspense angle becomes the impetus of the plot, which plays out over a week. Curtis doesn’t take the info seriously, claiming that there have been sabotage warnings on every prior launch, but soon gets the vibe that this one might be legit. At one point he comes up with the novel idea to use the recently-hired “Negro” engineers at NASA as undercover monitors to ferret out Reds, figuring they’d be less capable of treason than the Germans who came over to NASA after WWII. 

Speaking of which there’s a whole bunch of stuff here that readers today (and even in 1971) would find unpleasant, like Curtis “jokingly” referring to his black colleague by the dreaded N-word. For that matter, when villain Gene Clayburn later finds out that one of his hookers had sex with one of the black engineers, he goes ballistic: “You balled the jig?!” I know that’s racist and all, but it made me laugh to think how younger readers of today probably wouldn’t understand what the sentence even means. They’d probably think it was some new dance move. That said, Rayburn goes on to beat the woman unmerciful for it. As for the other “inappropriate today” stuff, I did enjoy how the novel took place in a working world in which Human Resources hadn’t yet been invented; as mentioned secretary Ginny enjoys giving her boss rubdowns, and there’s a bunch of smoking and drinking in the office. 

The Cape slowly builds up steam as various government agents come on the scene to help figure out the sabotage plot. I got another postmodern chuckle out of how one of them, a notorious killer, had the last name Clinton. That Cartel’s everywhere, man! But it’s all just so static and listless. The finale is pretty apocalyptic, though, with the massive Vehicle Assembly Building nearly being destroyed in a planned explosion. This part was an almost eerie prediction of 9/11, with thousands of employees in the building losing their life in the destruction. But Curtis pushes on with the Skylab launch, leading to a anticlimactic finale in which the main villain is outed – though this is a nice bit of misdirection from Caidin, who has us suspecting someone else. 

It’s no mystery why The Cape failed to make any traction. Caidin does himself no favors by turning in an un-thrilling thriller. Also I’d say public interest in the space race was at its lowest around this time; Caidin does mention the same thing in his novel, but also has the Russians still in open competition with the US, which at least still lends the launches and whatnot a little public awareness. In reality though the Russians had pretty much thrown in the towel at this point. At any rate, The Cape only received this original 374-page hardcover edition, and as mentioned it’s now pricey like most of Caidin’s other novels are. If you still want to read it, just do what I did and request it via Interlibrary Loan.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Invisibles (Mark Hood #11)

The Invisibles, by James Dark
August, 1969  Signet Books

The penultimate volume of Mark Hood sees our hero in some never-named Caribbean island, here to investigate the possibility that someone has gotten hold of fissionable material. As an agent for Intertrust, Hood’s ongoing assignment is to ensure nuclear power remains in the hands of just a few countries. When we meet him he’s already on location in this “Caribbean stronghold,” trying to figure out who could be behind this scheme. 

There’s a definite vibe of Pre-Code thriller Black Moon to this one, with pounding voodoo drums always in the background and overly-superstitious natives, many of whom have congregated around the mysterious ruler Shango (not to be confused with shanga), who operates out of a remote fortress. There’s no pickup from previous volumes, nor any appearance of Hood’s earlier colleagues, like Tremayne or Murimoto. Instead Hood’s working solo, and as we meet him he’s rolling along in his rental car one night and comes upon a native lying in the middle of the road. The dude whips out a rifle and after a bit of action Hood takes him out with one of his karate moves; as ever, Hood makes most of his kills this time with his hands. This is how I prefer to make my own, btw. 

Hood’s local contact is Sangster, an Intertrust agent who has been on location on this island for the past few years to monitor the situation. He’s not as memorable as former agents Hood worked with; his most memorable qualities are his Land Rover and his limp, which he acquired during some rough field action years before. Oh, and the knockout rum punch he likes to make. Otherwise he’s an affable sort, and there to fill Hood in on the local happenings and whatnot. While Hood’s driving to see Sangster, a “monster” springs up and begins to chase him – tornado winds, a frothing sea, trees ripped out by their roots by an invisible wind, etc. Hood’s car is thrown off a cliff but he manages to survive. 

This is how Hood first begins to understand that his unknown enemies on the island can control the weather. Here he also meets Ecolette, a hostuff half-Creole babe who has been hurt in the melee; she claims “the Invisibles” are after Hood. Soon we’ll learn that she is referring to voodoo spirits. Hood mends her injured arm in a nice sequence in which Dark (the pseudonym is much easier to type than the author’s real name, J.E. MacDonnell) reminds us of Hood’s medical background. But there’s no hanky-panky and Ecolette takes off. Next day Mark learns she’s the daughter of Chardonnier, a conservative Frenchman who is running for president of the island and who is backed by the US, given his “liberal” agenda. He’s running against Shango, who heads up a “left-wing” party that the US does not want to see in power. Some definitions must have clearly changed over the years! 

Dark successfully captures the colonial vibe here, with Hood and Sangster meeting Chardonnier in his sweeping home off the sea as they have drinks, smoke cigarettes, and engage in “man talk.” Dark is also very good at doling out info via dialog; as ever the book is a fast-moving, professionally-produced yarn that comes in at a concise 150-some pages, but has more impact than some books twice its size. This I feel is the true sign of a gifted author, and Dark is certainly that; I’m sorry there’s only one more volume to go. At any rate, here Hood gets the info on Shango’s operation, and it would seem clear he is the villain Hood has been sent here to dispatch. Dark does try to drum up some brief suspense when Hood learns that Chardonnier himself is a physicist, but this suspense is quickly jettinsoned; Chardonnier, it seems, is just too likable and Old World regal to be involved in any nuclear nefariousness. 

We readers know Shango is the bad guy, given the few cutovers to his perspective. With his “lizardlike” eyes and bald head, he comes off as more repitillian than human, and he’s capable of hypnotizing people merely by staring at them. He sends his top henchman over to Hood’s to take him out, leading to another entertaining sequence where our hero again uses his hands and feet instead of a gun. Dark hits all the series bases here, with Hood even engaging in a quick skindiving session to hide the body in some underwater coral. This bit of action perturbs Hood’s boss, Forescue, who talks to Hood via phone from Geneva and comes off as particularly jerkish this time: “The job is too important to have you boys pussyfooting around playing 007’s.” 

Speaking of James Bond, the following voodoo sequence is straight out of Live And Let Die. Hood pressures Ecolette into taking him to that night’s voodoo ceremony in the hills, and they watch from afar as a woman is sacrificed. But they’re spotted, and Hood takes off, making use of Sangster’s Land Rover on the rugged terrain as men with torches and guns chase him; a thrilling sequence that rivals anything by Ian MacAlister. You can almost hear Mandigo’s The Primeval Rhythm Of Life on the soundtrack playing in your imagination. Even here Hood manages to only use his hands in the action scenes, at one point memorably breaking a dude’s hand through the Land Rover’s door window and sticking the torch back in the guy’s face. 

Ecolette meanwhile has been plunged into an erotic sort of stupor from the ceremony – the implication being that she’s been raised with voodoo so under its sway – and Hood has to literally slap her out of it once they’ve gotten to safety. She comes to demanding that Hood take her back to his villa for some all-night boinkery; getting “on all-fours,” she declares, “We will do everything – everything that is possible for two lovers to do to each other.” Dark is a bit more explicit than previous volumes – nothing too crazy, though – with lines like, “[Hood] pounded himself into her.” Indeed we’re told, with no juicy details, that the two engage in various conjugations all the night long, only stopping once they’ve passed out. 

Things get real the following morning, when Hood discovers the true power of voodoo, at least when it comes to its true believers. Here Hood finally decides to take things straight to Shango. First though he has a meeting with Chardonnier, who again doles out info in capably-handled dialog that doesn’t come off like exposition. Chardonnier theorizes that Shango has a “heat-transference” contraption which is capable of drumming up crazy weather and directing it at his prey. So Hood calls up Sangster, grabs his .38, and they head on up into the mountains to infiltrate the villain’s fortress – even going in by the front door! After taking out a thug or two, Hood discovers the power of Shango’s hypnotic eyes. 

Once again Dark capably displays Hood’s medical knowledge with our hero having done minor surgery on himself, planting something within his arm that will allow him to escape Shango’s sway. But while there’s a bit more action here, with Hood taking out a few more thugs, the finale of The Invisibles is a bit anticlimactic, with Hood waiting for Chardonnier to arrive, so the physicist can make use of Shango’s secondary weather-control device and use it on Shango himself, who is departing in a destroyer with a larger weather weapon to lay waste to Miami. Personally I prefer my action pulp novels to end with the hero doing all the heavy lifting, not some one-off supporting character. 

But otherwise there isn’t much to complain about with this one. Once again Dark’s taken the series from its too-stuffy origins into the outer limits of pulp, complete with nuclear-armed “voodooists” and their sacrificial ceremonies. So I can only say again I’m sorry the series will end with the next volume, and also it bums me that one of the Mark Hood novels, 1966’s Spy From The Deep, was inexplicably excluded from the American reprints. Worse yet, like any other vintage paperback published in Australia, it’s not only incredibly scarce but incredibly overpriced when you do manage to find a copy.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Penetrator #39: Cruise Into Chaos

The Penetrator #39: Cruise Into Chaos, by Lionel Derrick
November, 1980  Pinnacle Books

The back cover of this 39th installment of The Penetrator promises a tale in which Mark “The Penetrator” Hardin takes on a Mafia scheme involving a WWII U-Boat that preys on cruise lines and other ships, so it only makes sense that the story itself is more concerned with Mark first posing as a mobster, then getting in an extended survival sequence in the desert. The actual “U-Boat preying on cruise lines” material doesn’t even occur until the final chapters of the book. 

So then it’s more indication that Mark Roberts was bored with the series, but then he’s also clearly lost the bloodlust that drove his earliest installments. Once again “The Penetrator” comes off more like a TV detective or cop than he does the brutal revenger of early in the series. I mean, the bit with Mark impersonating a mobster. Mark corners the guy in Portland early in the book…and merely knocks him out, then gives him a drug dosage that will keep him under for several days. I mean what the hell happened to the Penetrator who would’ve blown the guy’s brains out with nary a concern? This puzzling change to the series – which is also reflected in the volumes written by Chet Cunningham – is to me the most interesting aspect of these later Penetrator novels. Were both authors just drawn to a kinder and gentler protagonist, or was someone at Pinnacle involved in the change? Or it could be the opposite – maybe the early, brutal Penetrator was a Pinnacle mandate, and the requirement waned as the series went on. 

Who knows or cares, as this point it’s very clear that The Penetrator was just a way for Roberts to indulge in his latest interests and get a steady paycheck for it. So this time he must’ve read something about U-Boats, and maybe planned to take a cruise, so decided to integrate both elements into the story. Oh, and maybe he’d also read about desert survival so thought he’d include that, too. But what I mean to say is, his heart doesn’t seem to be in it, but given that he’d written so many volumes at this point you can’t blame the guy. It’s just that these latter volumes make for poor entertainment when compared to the wild volumes of the earlier years. 

Anyway per usual we have the opening of Mark in the Stronghold, going about his usual daily activities and deciding he’ll look into this recent rash of piracy off the coast of Baja California. We’ve already seen the U-Boat in action in the opening, complete with a boarding party of pirates. They are a pretty vicious lot, wiping out some of their prey. Roberts delivers an effective opening in which he takes us into the perspectives of the various victims, among them a young woman taking her first cruise. Back to Mark in the Stronghold, who figures the Mafia is behind the action. An interesting element here is that Professor Haskins, formerly the guy who came up with missions for Mark, has almost been reduced to butler status, like the Penetrator’s version of Alfred. All he does is make drinks for Mark and act as a sounding board. 

Our hero heads off to Portland, where as mentioned he assumes the identity of a Mafia bigwig, one named Boots. Once again Roberts refers to previous volumes; one of the Portland thugs immediately pegs “Boots’ as the Penetrator, given that he stood face-to-face in front of him “a couple years ago” in Nebraska. This would be a reference to the Roberts-penned installment #17: Demented Empire. Mark bluffs his way out of it, but this sets off what will consume the first half of Cruise Into Chaos: Mark Hardin posing as a mobster and his cover constantly in danger of being blown. Speaking of being blown, Mark also spends the majority of the novel turning down a young woman’s pleas for sex: this would be young Massalina, daughter of the Portland don, with her “small, high-poised breasts.” Despite her seductive nature, not to mention her claims of sexual activity since she was 10 years old, Massalina is only 17, and Mark spends the entire novel kicking her out of his bed. 

So anyway “Boots” is like a U-Boat specialist or somesuch, and thus had been called in to Portland to help the Don figure out how to operate this U-Boat piracy thing better, so Mark does some manual-cramming to be able to bluff his way through training other mobsters. Roberts shoehorns in a lot of stuff he’s gleaned about captaining submarines and whatnot, just like he shoehorned in all the similar techincal stuff in #33: Satellite Slaughter. There’s only a bit of action here and there, usually due to various mobsters trying to prove “Boots” is really the Penetrator. For once Mark actually kills a couple people before the last few pages, as has been the common trend of the past several volumes. But despite which his identity is uncovered, leading to a thrilling bit where Mark’s able to escape the mob’s holding pen in Mexico and make his mistake. 

This seemingly-endless sequence is straight out of Gannons Vendetta, with Mark making his way across the unforgiving desert while trying to elude his pursuers. In fact, if I’m not mistaken a similar sequence occurred in a previous Penetrator novel. But it goes on and on, with Mark setting up traps for rabbits, finding some water, trying to turn the tables on his pursuers. At one point he gets hold of their helicopter and makes his escape, able to get back to the Stronghold to plan again. There then follows a random bit where Mark gets hold of a B-25 bomber and makes a bombing run over the mob’s Baja California base, blasting them to pieces but still unable to get the U-Boat itself. The most humorous part here is that Roberts has his hero flying a WWII bomber and blowing away the bad guys, but rushes right on to the next part as if not comprehending how big of a deal this is. Or more likely he just hurries through so more thoughtful readers won’t ask any questions. 

This finally leads to what the back cover promised; Mark becomes a passenger on a cruise through this passage of the sea, hoping it will be attacked by the U-Boat. And in these more lenient days he’s managed to bring along his entire arsenal in a carry-on crate: machine guns, pistols, even an M-79 grenade launcher. His brilliant way to bypass discovery is to tell the porter he’ll carry the crate himself! So Mark just lounges around and takes advantage of the various dinners as he waits for the U-Boat to hit. He figures he’s on the right ship when none other than Massalina shows up, propositioning him once again, even if he’s the Penetrator. And once again Mark turns her down. Why Massalina would be on a cruise ship about to be hit by her dad’s thugs is a question Roberts doesn’t ask, nor answer. But after this latest refusal Massalina tries to take out Mark herself, “accidentally” shooting at him with a shotgun for clay pigeon practice, then later tossing a fire extinguisher at him. 

The finale is cool if not suitably exploited for all its worth, a sort of proto-Die Hard at sea, with a heavily-armed Mark getting the better of the boarding gangsters. But even here the spectacular gore is toned down, and once again it’s a “kinder, gentler” Mark Hardin, who at times merely knocks out his opponents instead of blasting them to gory bits. However it does get fairly bloody when one of the gangsters, escaping on the U-Boat, is blown in half by Mark’s M-79, and his corpse prevents the hull from fully closing, thus making for a fatal dive for those aboard. Given that he’s already had his hero fly a WWII bomber earlier on, Roberts again says to hell with reality and has Mark merely toss his weapons overboard and talk his way out of custody – though he does let the cops know who he is before escaping. 

Another interesting thing about these later installments is the battle between Roberts and Cunningham over who Mark Hardin’s “real love” is. For Cunningham, it’s a character he created: Joanna Tabler, hotstuff Federal agent. For Roberts, it’s a character he created: Angie Dillon, widowed mother of twins. Both women are aware Mark Hardin is the Penetrator, and both are in love with him. Cruise Into Chaos closes with Mark making the random decision to head on over to Utah for some hot lovin’ with Angie. Given that Roberts penned the final volume of the series, I’m going to assume Angie is the woman he ended up with – and unfortunately for our hero, it was a permanent end.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Bigamist

The Bigamist, by William Hegner
October, 1977  Pocket Books

With sales “over 1,000,000,” William Hegner turns out another paperback potboiler, one which memorably features a disco-era lothario on the (uncredited) cover. Another notable element is that Hegner this time actually writes a novel, or at least what passes for one with him; there’s no real beginning, middle, or end, but at least it isn’t just a sequence of sleazy sex scenes, a la The Ski Lodgers or Stars Cast No Shadows

Indeed, the sexual material in The Bigamist is less explicit than Hegner’s previous books. But unfortunately we don’t here have a trashy masterpiece like The Worshipped And The Damned. Instead, this one’s more of a slow-moving character study, with the caveat that the character being studied is your typical self-involved Hegnerian antihero. Barry Solon is aligned with past Hegner protagonists in that he’s a narcissistic egotist involved with the entertainment industry; he’s the creator and writer of the successful soap opera Love And Let Love. However the title of the book is a bit misleading; while Barry does indeed come to have two wives during the course of the novel, the reason why is inexplicably not much dwelt upon, and this aspect of his life is kept hidden from other characters. 

The novel opens with Barry in a rather cushy setup; he lives in a Manhattan apartment Monday through Friday, furiously pounding out a daily quota of pages for the soap. Friday evenings he drives to Cape May on the coast, where he lives with his wife of twelve years, Merry, as well as their two young daughters. The two lives do not meet: his soap opera colleagues suspect “Merry” doesn’t exist and is merely an excuse Barry uses to avoid going to parties on the weekend, and the locals in Cape May suspect that Merry’s husband is just a myth. With this sort of a setup it’s only expected that Barry will stray from time to time, and we see him in action with a busty actress early in the book, an act for which Barry later chastizes himself. 

One thing I’ve learned from Hegner is not to expect to learn much about the world in which the novel is set. So don’t go into The Bigamist thinking you’ll get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of soap opera production in the 1970s. The actual amount of stuff we get in this regard is a few meetings Barry attends with the producer and director, and a half-page appearance by the soap’s lead actress. Otherwise the novel, like most every other Hegner offering, occurs in a vacuum, one solely populated by the protagonist’s ego. It’s as if nothing else can exist outside of Barry and his viewpoints; in this regard he has the vibe of a modern Twitter addict, stranded within his own bubble. We also don’t get an idea of when the novel occurs; it seems to me that most of the Hegner novels I’ve read have been set in eras earlier than the publication date, and that’s possible here, with a brief mention that Love And Let Love got its start in “the earliest days of television.” But then later on hippies are mentioned, so as usual it’s hard to say, and probably just another example of the “vacuum effect” of Hegner’s self-involved characters. 

But it’s too bad we don’t learn more about the soap Barry writes, as it sounds wild as hell, with plots about “voyeurism, exhibitionism, and masturbation,” not to mention a subplot in which the main female character engages in a brief bisexual fling! It’s through one of these subplots that Barry runs afoul of a notoriously bitchy TV critic, who takes umbrage at a storyline involving homosexuality. As Barry’s producer notes, the critic himself is likely gay, thus got offended; the show’s director, Rotterman, gets first-hand indication of this when he’s at a Manhattan bar one night and spots the critic, Matrix (presumably a relative of John Matrix), surrounded by a couple male clingers-on. Rotterman, progressively drunk, finds himself annoyed with the open display of gayness: “If [Rotterman] was a political liberal, then he was a social conservative.” I thought this line was very interesting, as it reminded me of the findings of a recent survey

Rotterman has a drunken run-in with Matrix, who ends up slapping the director, and this leads to Matrix having a long-boil hatred for Love And Let Love as well as anyone involved with it. But folks William Hegner is not one for paying off on plot points; believe it or not, but Barry and Matrix never meet, and for the most part Matrix will come and go in the narrative via his increasingly-bitchy appraisals of any soap opera Barry’s involved with. At any rate, Barry finds his tenure on the show coming to an end due to behind-the-scenes politics; the top sponsor suspects “the well might run dry” and requests that a new writer be brought to keep the show moving while Barry’s on vacation. This will lead to what is really the only running conflict in the novel. 

Oh and Barry doesn’t go on vacation with his wife Merry, either. Surely the most abused character in the novel, Merry is a loving wife who misses her husband and treats him with kid gloves when he’s home. But despite this he treats her like dirt; there’s a part where she has a painting on exhibit and is very excited to go to the gallery opening with Barry, but he’s a total prick – he refuses to talk to anyone, immediately goes to the bar, and promptly leaves when someone has the audacity to approach him. And this happens quite early in the book, meaning that it’s pretty hard for the reader to drum up much enthusiasm for this particular protagonist. But anyway, Barry first goes to Key West, where he engages a pair of hookers; Hegner actually leaves this off-page, which is hard to believe from the guy who wrote The Ski Lodgers. Maybe he was trying for self-restraint this time, sort of like how Clive Barker pointedly reigned in on the description in Cabal after the description-dense Weave World

Barry returns to New York to find the show’s been “augmented” with a new writer, a young grad student named Martin Lombard who has studied melodrama writing and such. He also turns out to be the nephew of the main sponsor. Barry can see the writing on the wall, so takes off for yet another solo vacation, this time to Cape Cod. Here he meets a young local named Eden Summers, who also happens to be a painter like his wife Merry, but is more of a hippie type. The two hit it off quickly, but again Hegner leaves the boinkery details vague. Then, without any warning, Hegner jumps forward six years, and Barry and Eden are now married and have two children, and meanwhile Barry’s still married to Merry, his daughters with her now in their teens. 

What possessed Barry to marry Eden? To have kids with her? Hegner is not interested in answering these questions. Nor is Barry himself; the latest set of kids is just as immaterial to him as the previous set, with the only difference being that Eden often badgers Barry for never being around them. But our cad of a “hero” trades off between wives; he sticks to the usual Monday to Friday work week in New York, then will head to either Cape at whim: Cape Cod for Eden or Cape May for Merry. And when he does go to either home, he usually encloses himself in his study and works on the “GAN,” aka the Great American Novel he has spent years writing. Ultimately even this is little explored; the book is published, at novel’s end, but all we learn about it is that it’s very long “family saga.” 

Also, Barry’s now involved with a new soap opera, this one another of his own creation, but one that runs in a late-night slot so is free to be even more daring than his previous one had been. However Hegner is even more vague about this show than he was about Love And Let Love, and indeed as the novel progresses Hegner basically rewrites the first half of the novel: once again the show’s top sponsor turns out to be the same as the one on the previous soap, and once again Martin Lombard is brought in as a new writer by request of the sponsor! All a carbon copy of the scenario we read in the first half of the book. 

In fact, Hegner’s so disinterested in his own book that he goofs; as mentioned, early in the book Barry takes off from Merry’s art exhibit because some local guy dares to talk to him. Later in the novel, Martin Lombard mentions that he’s happened to meet this guy, Barry’s neighbor at the Cape. Barry, concerned that someone’s about to discover his double life, recalls meeting this neighbor “last winter.” But folks the scene in question occurred six years earlier, not “last winter;” Hegner has apparently forgotten the flash-forward he placed in the middle of the novel. But anyway the supposed threat here is that Martin Lombard, who suddenly is presented as a skirt-chasing drunkard, might be on Barry’s trail, deducing that he has two wives. But the threat really is only “supposed,” because Barry Solon is such a prick that you couldn’t care less if he is uncovered. 

Actually, Hegner is so disinterested in the novel that he gives it one of the most half-assed endings I’ve ever encountered. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens. Okay, so as mentioned Hegner establishes the possibility that Lombard might know Barry’s secret. Barry shuttles around between the Capes, disregarding Lombard’s assertation – gleaned from studying Barry’s scripts – that Barry has a split personality. The last we see of Barry he’s heading back into New York, his thoughts focused on how to get out of this mess. And folks, next chapter opens…and Barry’s dead!! The rest of the novel is told in backstory, with Barry having collapsed on a Manhattan street and dying immediately of a “massive brain hemorrhage.” Hegner leaves all of the juicy stuff off-page…I mean it’s discovered post-mortem about Barry’s dual lives, but there’s no part where the wives meet, or the kids meet, or anything! We just learn that both families are at the funeral, with Merry crushed and Eden disinterested. Oh and meanwhile Barry’s GAN is maligned as “formless and immature,” but turns out to be a huge hit when it’s finally published – with a TV series to be adapted from it and written by Martin Lombard. 

And with this The Bigamist comes to a close. While it was nice to see Hegner write an actual novel for once, the problem I had was that the novel kind of sucked. Even Hegner’s talent for bitchy dialog was mostly absent; too much of the novel was filtered through Barry’s impressions. Anyway Hegner only published one more PBO after this one, The Creator, after which he stopped publishing for twenty years, to return with 1999’s Razzle Dazzle.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Operation Snake (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #51)

Operation Snake, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1969  Award Books

“I’d never been on a mission where so much was going on and so little was happening.” 

So narrator Nick Carter tells us midway through this installment of Nick Carter: Killmaster, courtesy Jon Messmann, and folks sadly that for the most part sums up Operation Snake. This one’s nowhere near the crazed pulp majesty of Messmann’s earlier The Sea Trap, despite having a plot that features crazed cults, spiritual transference, and an actual yeti. For the most part, Operation Snake is a slow-moving travelogue set in Nepal, and I suspect “Nick’s” comment is Messmann’s subtle acknowledgement to the reader that the thrills have been few. 

And yes, we’re in the first-person narrative years now, with Nick himself telling us about his mission. I find this conceit hard to believe; I mean when the hell does super-agent Nick Carter have the time to even write these books? At any rate he’s on the job when we meet him, flying into Nepal on his latest caper. One thing the first-person gimmick robs from us is the usual setup of Nick being called into Hawk’s office, being briefed, etc. As is the case here, Messmann just leaves all that to backstory quickly doled out by Nick as he looks through an airplane window. As usual he’d been called out of bed, on vacation and the usual setup, when he got the urgent call from Hawk to get into DC asap for briefing. 

The plot Nick’s trying to stop this time is especially relevant today: the Red Chinese are taking advantage of the porous Nepalese border and sending Commie saboteurs over as “immigrants.” Couldn’t help but think of our own porous border and the countless unvetted immigrants who are literally being bussed into the country by the current administration, many of them with possible terror ties. (Not to mention the ones who have Covid but are dropped off on Texas city streets regardless.) But of course the big difference here is that the Federal government in Nick Carter’s world wants to stop such plots. So Nick is to wing his way over to Nepal, hook up with a local contact, and try to prevent a power-crazed monk from perpetrating the Red Chinese plan. Oh, and there’s also something about a yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman

Abruptly upon entering Nepal Nick encounters Hilary Cobb, a hotstuff blonde British reporter with massive breastesses; Messmann, Zod bless him, is sure to mention those big boobs every single time Hilary appears. But Nick resents Hilary’s “masculine” attitude in how she’s such a nosy, bossy pest; our hero is particularly reactionary this time, telling us he hates it when pretty women spoil their prettiness by trying to act like men. And Hilary certainly sets him off, despite her massive gazoongas, which Nick can’t help but oggle. Indeed he makes it a point to leer at ‘em, making Hilary bridle with rage; this entertainingly misogynist stuff is similar, I recall, to how Nick treated the hotstuff marine scientist babe in The Sea Trap. And sure enough, it will only serve to (eventually) turn Hilary on good and proper. 

In fact Nick’s treatment of Hilary is downright brutal in our touch-feely modern #metoo era; not knowing she’s dealing with a badass secret agent, Hilary tries to pull a fast one on Nick, sending him a fake summons so he leaves his hotel room and then slipping inside to steal his precious mountain climbing equipment. When Nick figures out what’s happened he quickly puts her to rights: he slaps her, ties her up, strips her, and of course oggles her boobs the whole time. Hilary is reduced to enraged tears. It’s all quite an uncomfortable sequence given that Nick is the friggin’ hero of the story! But we are to remember this all is occuring in a less sophisticated era, yadda yadda, and besides Nick’s just trying to keep the stubborn girl from following him out into the mountains, as he knows things are about to get very dangerous out there. 

Nick heads into the mountains where he meets his contact, who of course turns out to be another hotstuff babe, this one a petite native named Khaleen. “You’re a very beautiful creature,” Nick later tells her in another display of his brutish skill with the ladies – and of course she likes it. Khaleen’s the daughter of a local notable who stands against Ghotak, the power-mad leader of the Snake Cult. So basically Ghotak claims to speak for the snake god but is really an agent of the Red Chinese, and Nick’s intent here is to act as someone who has travelled quite far to speak against Ghotak and get the natives to rise up against him. So in other words the plot too is from a less sophisticated age, the natives suitably superstitious and gullible, and likely would reduce overly-sensitive modern readers to their own enraged tears. 

This is demonstrated posthaste when Ghotak calls a meeting at the temple that night, and per the ceremony a woman in the audience is chosen to “give” herself to the snake god, to be used by one of the men. All while tribal drumming is going on and a feverish pitch of eroticism is being reached by the onlookers, of course, with the expected orgy ensuing. Ghotak, as a challenge to Nick the interloper, calls on Khaleen for the honor, and she proceeds to storm onto the stage and starts dancing up a sensual storm. This bit is kind of overdone, with Nick trying to tamp down his horniness while protecting Khaleen’s virtue; he ends up storming the stage before any of the men can get to her and whisking her off to safety. However that night Khaleen repays Nick in the time-honored men’s adventure fashion: offering herself to him in his room. This leads to a mostly-inexplicit sequence; surprisingly, Messmann is much more conservative in tone here than he was in The Sea Trap

Nick eventually tangles with the yeti in a memorable sequence; after the latest Ghotak challenge he heads into the mountain to fight the monster, which apparently serves Ghotak. Hilary manages to go along with him, and soon enough the two are being chased by the shaggy, hairy creature; Messmann of course has it that Nick doesn’t believe in the yeti even though the natives do. Even sophisticated types like Khaleen and her father, with their fancy British educations, believe the yeti exists. And now here Nick gets first-hand proof, and only manages to fight it off so he and Hilary can escape. 

Stuck in the snowy expanse of the mountains overnight, Nick and Hilary engage in exactly the activities you’d expect. Even here Messmann keeps up the lovably misogynist tone of his hero, again recalling how Nick treated the main female character in The Sea Trap: “Are you going to try to make love to me?” Hillary asks, to which Nick responds: “I’m not going to try. I’m going to do it.” Indeed Nick taunts Hilary that soon enough she’ll be crying out in need for him, and sure enough she soon is. This bout’s a little more explicit than the one with Khaleen, but it soon develops that Messmann’s more concerned with the love triangle itself than he is with hardcore material. For Khaleen has fallen in love with Nick, slightly concerned he’ll soon be sleeping with the big-boobed “pretty” Englishwoman but trusting Nick regardless, and Nick slightly feeling like a heel for betraying her. 

Of course the veteran reader knows where all this is going. First though we have another encounter with the yeti, which turns out to be a human-bear hybrid, the product of a Sherpa woman who “used” a bear, per Ghotak. The mad monk found the creature and raised it, keeping it a bloodthirsty animal for his own ends. A captured Nick is to be chased by the yeti, but for some inexplicable reason Ghotak decides to allow Nick to keep his Luger and stiletto! While the beasts’s hide is too tough for bullets to pierce, Nick soon discovers that the inside of its mouth isn’t resistant to 9mm slugs. But this will be it for the yeti subplot, and I feel Messmann didn’t exploit it as much as he could’ve. 

Much more over the top is the finale, which sees Ghotak raising hell in his temple, complete with a trap door that leads to a room of poisonous snakes. Nick experiences what passes for heartbreak here, as one of the two women gives up her life to save him. Okay, a no-prize to whoever figures out which of the two women it is…the busty British babe who has spent the entire novel fighting Nick before bedding him, or the sultry but innocent native babe who is in love with him? Well anyway, Nick ends up finishing the novel on vacation with the surviving babe, pondering over “the difference between being wanted and being loved…the trick was to keep them apart.” 

This is unexpected depth from a men’s adventure series, but the sort of thing that would become par for the course in Messmann’s work, as demonstrated in The Revenger and Jefferson Boone, Handyman. As it turns out this “relationship” subplot had more of an impact on me than the plot itself, so clearly I need more testosterone in my diet.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The Hunter #1: The Ripper

The Hunter #1: The Ripper, by Mike Newton
No month stated, 1978  Publisher’s Consultants

The first of the two-volume The Hunter series, (not to be confused with the other Hunter series) The Ripper features hero Detective Jon Steel, a Los Angeles cop who is very much a clone of Dirty Harry, only as mentioned he’s in LA instead of San Francisco, and also he carries a .357 instead of a .44. Author Mike Newton turned out the series for low-rent Publisher’s Consultants, but in content and presentation (ie the visual look of the book, with its big print, short page count, and frequent typos) it comes off exactly like something from Belmont Tower or Leisure Books. 

What’s interesting about The Ripper is that it proves Newton was capable of writing a lurid cash-in himself; I only mention this because, years later in How To Write Action-Adventure Novels, Newton sneered at such books, in particular the “Rambosploitation” cover of Firefight. And also let’s not forget how he raked Soldier For Hire #8 and Behind The Door over the coals for their unbridled sleaziness. Well folks, Newton here is sleazier than either of those books, and “Jon Steel” is pure “Dirty Harrysploitation.” Mind you, none of this is a complaint. I love sleazy and lurid and violent cash-ins. In fact, I’d rather read them than the books they’re ripping off. And what’s crazy is, Newton here turns out a book that’s better than any of the official Dirty Harry tie-ins Warner Books was to begin publishing in a few years. At least, better than any of the ones I’ve read. 

Newton also turns in a book that’s of a piece with the Ryker and Keller books; again, The Ripper could’ve easily been a product of either BT or Leisure. It has the same brutal, misogynist, sleazy, and nihilistic tone as any of the “tough cops” books those imprints put out in the ‘70s. Which is to say it was a whole helluva lot of fun to read. In fact I never suspected Michael Newton had a book like this in him! It barrels along over the short course of 158 big-print pages, Newton doling out frequent scenes of excess sleaze, murder, and mayhem, with a “hero” who comes off like such a bastard that even Joe Ryker (or his alter ego Joe Keller) would be taken aback. Again all of which is to say, The Ripper was more fun than I thought it would be. 

Plot-wise the book is also identical to the Ryker or Keller novels: there’s a killer loose, one who preys on hookers, and it’s up to pure bastard cop Jon Steel to arrest him. Or kill him – Steel, we’ll learn, isn’t much bothered with rules and regulations, and would just as soon waste his prey. And speaking of “prey,” presumably “The Hunter” of the series title is Steel himself, but he never really thinks of himself as such. There is a slight connotation that he’s hunting the killer, but it’s not really exploited much and perhaps was just Newton trying to cater in some way to the series title. And speaking of which, per an interview with Newton that Justin Marriott conducted several years ago (but which I don’t believe was ever published?), Newton wrote a scad of novels for this publisher, which ended up publishing them under various titles and pseudonyms. So I’m not sure how much input he even had into the series title. 

Also the Ripper of the title is really two guys…at least at novel’s start. We see them in action as they pull up in their blue van with custom paint job (dueling “vikings” on the side – and I wanna say Newton was inspired by Frank Frazetta’s legedary cover for Conan Of Cimmeria), pick up a hooker on the Sunset Strip, negotiate price, and then take her out to the countryside so they can rape and kill her. Yes folks, it’s one of those books, just grimy and depraved to the core. And Newton doesn’t pull away from any of it, either, with a squirm-inducing opening that’s along the lines of Corporate Hooker, Inc. in the misery the poor hooker goes through. Or “whore,” as Newton constantly refers to her and her fellow streetwalkers throughout. But anyway she’s “opened like a fish from pubis to sternum in a single disembowling stroke,” per our hero’s estimation of the carnage when he views the girl’s corpse the next day. 

This is actually the second such kill; Steel’s already on the case when we meet him and the papers have dubbed the mysterious “whore”-killer “The Ripper.” Steel is only vaguely described, but again you can’t help but see Clint Eastwood: he’s tall and thin and carries a massive revolver. But in his case it’s a .357 Colt Python…which again goes against Newton’s later How-To book, which ridiculed cop thrillers that had its protagonists toting whatever gun they’d like. Again, this isn’t a complaint. I don’t want realism in a violent cop thriller. Newton has done his research on crime scene investigation and police procedure though, or at least seems to have, with Steel investigating this latest corpse and knowing immediately it’s not the work of a copycat. 

This brings us to one of my favorite elements of the tough cop genre: the arbitrary action scene. Steel picks up a call on the radio of an officer down, and heads on over to an all-night grocery store that’s being knocked over. Two radical-types are barricaded within, shooting down the cops with a carbine. Steel, familiar with the place from previous robberies, descends into the place and takes on the two radicals in gory fashion: “The magnum roared again, a solitary word of disgust. The heavy slug passed between Arty’s silently moving lips, clipped his spine with surgical precision at the base of his skull, and then erupted from the back of his head in a frothy shower of blood, brain, and splintered bone.” This mind you occurs right after Steel has blown off the punk’s arm. The other radical is wasted in similar fashion. 

The third would-be Ripper victim happens to be packing a .25 derringer and manages to get the drop on the two killers. She shoots one of them but is knifed savagely in return, leading to corpse three, but she also manages to take out one of the two Rippers. This proves to be the biggest break in the case for Steel, and he soon discovers that the dead punk was the son of a prominent doctor. After grilling the guy and his wife in their mansion, Steel figures out that Ripper number two is also a child of wealth – the twenty-something son of “a professional liberal” city councilman who hates the cops and likes to side with poor minorities in causes, despite being a wealthy white guy and etc. 

But for being a tough cop with 15 years of experience on the force, Steel is kind of dumb, in a plot-convenient sort of way of course. He finds out where the punk lives and breaks into his apartment, where he finds all kinds of incriminating evidence. The killer shows up and Steel gives chase, ultimately beating the shit out of the punk and calling in the arrest. And then hours later Steel is called downtown, where he’s informed, of course, that the kid’s been let go, given that Steel broke into his place and thus destroyed his entire case. But after this we have a humorous sequence in which the city councilman’s hotstuff socialite wife shows up at Steel’s place to offer herself in exchange for her son’s freedom, oblivious to the fact that he’s already been let go, and Steel takes her up on the offer: 

What makes it humorous is that here we are reminded again what a bastard Steel is. When the lady’s all done she asks when she can expect her son to be back on the streets, and Steel only chooses this moment to let her know the kid’s already back on the streets, let go due to a technicality. The lady is of course shocked at the revelation that she just gave herself to Steel for nothing, but our hero counsels her, “Try to think of it as occupational training.” After this we jump forward two months and once again see the Ripper back in action. This is one of the more lurid scenes in the novel, with the freak picking up yet another “whore” and getting her naked, then whipping out the switchblade and beginning to skin her alive. When Steel shows up on the scene it’s nothing more than a skinless lump of meat left behind. 

The finale also takes a page from Dirty Harry and ratchets it up a couple notches. Steel doesn’t just chase down the killer and shoot him…he mauls him, ties him up to a merry-go-round, and guts him. Again there is no concern over realism; it would be clear to any and all that Steel killed the kid, but this is not a concern of the novel. At any rate Steel only featured in one more novel: The Satan Ring, which has the promising setup of Steel versus Satanism. I think I’ll have to check that one out sometime. Both it and The Ripper have been released as eBooks; I have the original paperback of The Ripper but not The Satan Ring, and given that it’s priced too high on the used books market I’ll probably just resort to the digital edition. 

Newton got his start working with Don Pendleton, and there are several Pendletonisms throughout The Ripper, from random “yeah” affirmations in the narrative to describing bullets as “hollow-point minimag slugs.” But as mentioned The Ripper is sleazier than any Executioner novel, and I’d be curious if Newton ran this one by Pendleton for his constructive feedback!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Pleasure Hunters

The Pleasure Hunters, by Irving A. Greenfield
July, 1973  Dell Books

Proving once again that there’s no sleaze like ‘70s sleaze, The Pleasure Hunters is a super-hardcore romp set in Mexico courtesy Irving A. Greenfield, who wrote sleaze novels in the ‘60s and must’ve gotten a chuckle out of writing sleaze for a major imprint in the ‘70s. But while The Pleasure Hunters brands itself as being in the tradition of Acapulco, it really has more in common with the “risque comedy” PBOs Dell was publishing at the time, like Black Magic and Greenfield's own Making U-Hoo, with the caveat that this one’s a lot more hardcore. 

Those books, while promising salacious reads, often turned out to be tiresome, unfunny “comedies” with smutty undertones, and hardly ever were as sleazy as the covers implied. The tone was usually farcical, with goofy characters encountering goofy situations. The same holds true for The Pleasure Hunters, which is a bummer, because I was hoping it would be a slightly more sleazy take on the typical Burt Hirschfeld novel. But then, Greenfield I think was incapable of writing a potboiler like Hirschfeld; Greenfield’s books are usually fast-moving yarns with paper-thin characters and not much in the way of the introspection you’d get in Hirschfeld. What I am trying to say is that Greenfield was a lesser writer, but then he made up for it with much more explicit adult shenanigans than you’d find in Hirschfeld…or really most mainstream authors of the day, save for perhaps Harold Robbins, who usually went to even more extremes than the “in the tradition of”-type authors. 

The Pleasure Hunters actually starts off like a regular steamy ‘70s type of novel, though. We meet young Sergio Martinez, a hunk bellboy in Oaxaca, Mexico, as he goes to an attractive guest’s cottage to “fix her window.” But after some banter it’s clear the young lady, an American tourist, has called Sergio over for something else. The bellboy is quite familiar with such requests and goes about pushing the initially-reluctant young woman into an explicity-detailed sexual escapade. In fact Sergio is so used to such matters that he also expects payment in return for his Latin lovin,’ and is angered when this latest lay doesn’t take the hint that he wants money. So he basically tells her “no more for you” and leaves! This opening gives a good indication of the novel we’re about to read – it’s incredibly raunchy in the exploitation department, and Greenfield pulls no punches. To the extent that I refrrained from excerpting anything for fear of offending any of you! 

But shortly after this a new shipment of tourists arrives at the hotel, and slowly The Pleasure Hunters will transform into one of those “risque comedies” like the other paperbacks mentioned above. One of the guests is a sleazy salesman type named Harry Harris, who has come here as the leader of the group and is a loudmothed type, but he has ulterior motives: a friend who stayed at the hotel months before claims that the bellboy named Sergio has an in-line to an incredibly valuable mural that’s hidden somewhere in Oaxaca. So, per this vague backstory, Harry thinks he can finally strike it rich by taking Sergio into his confidence and finding out where the mural is. Only as it develops Sergio not only doesn’t remember Harry’s friend, but also has no idea of what “mural” Harry is referring to. Comedy, uh, ensues. 

Greenfield at least knows to throw us a bone with frequent explicit shenanigans. He proves this posthaste with a random sex scene between Harry and the beautiful, black-haired Elli, a topless dancer with “voluptuous breasts” that Harry’s brought along. Greenfield tries to establish a former affair between these two, but it broke off due to Harry’s business sleaziness or something, but now against her better instincts Elli’s come along on this latest caper, or some such crap. The point of it all is that they get right down to the sleaze posthaste, a scene featuring Elli’s memorable line: “Just stop talking and put it inside of me!” 

But this rampant sleaze is soon clouded over by those farcical tones that sunk all those other Dell paperbacks, like when Harry insists that Sergio take a busful of guests on a tour of Oaxaca, and it descends into a goofy sequence in which Sergio and a hotel colleague he’s brought along try to b.s. their way through it for the behest of the gringos. Speaking of which there’s also a lot of stuff from Sergio and the other Mexican employees’ points of view, and Greenfield makes them all seem rather dumb but still cagey in their street smarts of how to get more money out of the gullible gringos. Eventually the crux of the plot revolves around Harry trying to convince Sergio that Sergio knows where this mysterious mural is, and, uh, comedy ensues. 

I really don’t feel like writing more about the book because it sucked. So what the hell, I’ll go ahead and randomly excerpt some filth after all. Read at your own discretion!