Monday, July 27, 2015
Scorpio, by Steve Lawson
July, 1975 Pyramid Books
Scorpio is society’s speedballing revenge on an age of outrages, a lethal era when our world, rigid with fear, is engorged with blood. He is the first shot in an assassination of the unspeakable…
-- from the hyperbolic back cover
Yet another obscure crime fiction paperback copyright book producer Lyle Kenyon Engel, Scorpio was the first and only appearance of its titiluar protagonist, Lt. Edd Scorpio, a Los Angeles-based homicide/narcotics cop very much in the Bullitt mode. According to Hawk’s Authors’ Psuedonyms, “Steve Lawson” was in reality Robert H. Turner.
This is one of those instances in which Engel clearly had a different story in mind than what his author delivered. The cover art and back cover copy make Scorpio sound like a blitzkrieg of violence and cop thrills, but Turner instead turns in a sloooow-moving tale that becomes almost an endurance test to read. The book’s only 190 pages, with the typical small print of almost all Engel productions, but it reads like it’s around 300 pages due to the glacier pace. Not to mention Turner’s fussy, convoluted writing style.
Turner was the last editor on the Spider magazine and reportedly rewrote the vast majority of longtime writer Norvell Page’s final manuscripts; in his 1970 autobiography Some Of My Best Friends Are Writers But I Wouldn’t Want My Daughter To Marry One, Turner supposedly dismisses Page’s writing as “typical pulp stuff” without merit. (I’m sure I read this in Robert Sampson’s Spider, but having recently gotten Turner’s autobio via InterLibrary Loan, I couldn’t find the quote anywhere in the book...the dude didn’t even include an index!) The irony here is that Page’s writing, judging from the Spider novels I’ve read, is leaps and bounds above Turner’s. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Hawk’s Pseudonyms I would’ve sworn Scorpio was written by William Crawford. It reads almost exactly like his work, with the forward momentum constantly stalled by pointless digressions and diversions.
Anyway, Scorpio is in his early 40s and now works almost in a freelance fashion, a specialist who helps out the LAPD on tough cases. He drives a ’68 Jag that has a phone in it and even has his own secretary, a black lady who talks in ‘50s slang. He carries a Cobra .38 revolver and has curly black hair, and you might as well just go ahead and envision ‘70s-era Elliott Gould in the movie that plays in your mind. In backstory that isn’t delivered until midway through, we learn that Scorpio was an orphan, left as a baby outside of a oprhanage with the name “Edd” (sp) on a note on his blankets. A government employee, heavy into astrology, calcuated that the baby must’ve been born under the sign of Scorpio, so that became Edd’s last name.
Scorpio has an ex-wife and two teenaged kids. He has a casual sex thing going with a half-Japanese gal his age named Mugsie; in one of the novel’s many, many backstories we learn that Mugsie is a widow, her husband killed in a freak train wreck. Scorpio’s got friends all over the place, in particular a retired pro football player turned private eye named Al Poularis. This guy is working on a case for wealthy socialite Madeline Stewart-Brooke, whose suicide opens the novel; ravaged by her heroin addiction, the lady has blown her brains out, leaving a note that she hopes her seventeen year-old daughter won’t fall pray to the same troubles.
Only, we quickly learn that the daughter is also dead, of a heroin OD. This turns out to be the real cause of Madeline Stewart-Brooke’s death; the gunshot to the head was delivered by her heroin contact, who showed up to discover the famous woman dead and panicked, hoping to distract the cops into thinking she’d shot herself. Later the heroin contact too will be rubbed out, with more and more underworld lowlifes meeting violent ends. And all of them knew Stewart-Brooke or her daughter, and all of them are dying before they can talk to Edd Scorpio, who is now actively working the case.
Here’s the thing about Scorpio: it reads a lot like a private eye novel. You almost wonder why Al Poularis wasn’t the main protagonist. As for Scorpio himself, what with his car phone and his black secretary and the way he works solo, it’s almost like you’re reading a Mannix novelization. There’s no cop stuff like you’d expect, with random shootouts or car chases; rather, Scorpio just gets on the Stewart-Brooke case and chases leads, leads which ultimately lead him to a blackmailing scheme – again, all of it just like something you’d read in a private eye novel.
Something you do have to admire about these ‘70s crime novels is how lurid they can be, with incidental details that just drip with sleaze. Like the heroin supplier who likes to have sex with heavyset women who have mannish features, or the motel owner who jerks off over the nude corpse of a young woman…! Turner co-wrote three of the Mafia: Operation books for Lyle Kenyon Engel, each of them brimming with sleaze; he brings a bit of that here, but having read Scorpio I’d have to guess Turner’s cowriter on those books, Allan Nixon, was the one who must’ve been responsible for the good stuff.
Because honestly, Scorpio just sort of drags on and on. And like the Narc or Headhunters books, Scorpio is yet another cop protagonist who comes off like a minor character in his own novel; most of the text is given over to the sundry lowlifes who peddle heroin in LA, in particular the leader of the pack, a black-Hispanic named Jesus Martinez. A muscle-bound lothario with yellow eyes, Martinez is as cold-blooded as you can get. It gradually develops that he boffed both Madeline Stewart-Brooke and her teenaged daughter, having it all secretly photographed so he could later blackmail them.
Martinez did this for a big cash payoff, which he intends to use to buy in on the Mafia’s heroin business, promoting himself as like a district supervisor or somesuch. Meanwhile Scorpio just goes round and round, asking questions, reflecting on past cases. He doesn’t even pull his gun until the climax of the book, and even then he doesn’t kill anyone. Turner delivers a few sex scenes here and there, to make up I guess for the paucity of action, but even these lack the outrageous lurid quotient of his Mafia: Operation work. In truth, the whole thing’s just sort of listless.
As mentioned, the actual “A plot” only comes and goes, with Turner constantly stalling the momentum with digressions and detours. Anytime a character is introduced, no matter how minor he or she might be, we’ll get a few pages of background history about them. Again, exactly like you’d read in one of William Crawford’s books. But periodically Turner will return to the main plot, like when Scorpio’s footballer-turned-P.I. buddy Poularis is almost beaten to death, and later when Scorpio, right after having a face-to-face meeting with Martinez, loses his Jag to a carbomb, which instead blows up the mechanic who was trying to fix the car for him.
Like a later listless cop novel, Hellfire, Scorpio emerges from its doldrums in the final stretch with a Hollywood-escque climax. Martinez, on the run, tracks down Inez, a gorgeous young woman who sings at his nightclub, and abducts her, the lovely lady having offered to blab about her boss’s nefarious doings. But Inez is staying with Mugsie, Scorpio’s gal. This makes the reader expect something bad is going to happen to Mugsie, but Martinez just knocks her out and runs away – strange, given how ruthless the guy’s been presented to us, killing off scads of people and even, in another backstory, a female narc, raping her and then murdering her before she climaxes.
Martinez absconds to the Lower East Side home in which he was born and there rapes Inez, discovering after the fact that the lady was a virgin. But then Martinez goes nuts; due to a childhood injury he got while skateboarding(?!), he periodically suffers migraines and blackouts, usually coming out of them in an altered mental state. So in the final pages he goes into this childlike mentality and is about to paint up Inez’s face, when Scorpio shows up; cue a bareknuckle brawl between the two, with Scorpio quickly losing his gun and having to resort to his fists and feet to bring the bigger man down.
And Scorpio’s a by-the-rules cop; instead of blowing the scumbag away, like the reader would want, he instead cuffs him and calls in the precinct. (Luckily Martinez does us the favor of doing away with himself.) The case successfully closed, Scorpio is presented with a replacement ’68 Jag, bought for him by Mugsie, Inez, Poularis, and even his eternally pissed-off chief, who just got back from vacation.
This gives the impression that our hero is being set up for more adventures in another installment, but this was not to be, and whether by accident or design this was the one and only apparance of Lt. Edd Scorpio. So I guess he must’ve successfully assassinated the unspeakable.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
The Assassin #1: Manhattan Massacre, by Peter McCurtin
November, 1973 Dell Books
Here it is, the veritable ur-text of the Marksman series. Peter McCurtin wrote the three-volume Assassin series for Dell Books while he was writing (and editing) the Marksman series for Belmont Tower. The protagonists of these two series, despite their different names, were actually one and the same.
As I mentioned in my review of The Marksman #6, Marksman hero Philip Magellan is the same person as Assassin hero Robert Briganti. There are even installments of The Marksman that play out on elements introduced in this first volume of The Assassin, for example #7: Slaughterhouse, another McCurtin novel, which has Magellan working with the son of carnival owner Wild Bill Brady – a character mentioned in Manhattan Massacre as the man who taught young Briganti how to shoot.
But one thing missing in all those Marksman installments is Magellan’s origin story. That’s because it’s here, in the first volume of The Assassin. Interestingly, Manahattan Massacre was published after several of those Marksman novels, which would appear to confirm my theory that Belmont Tower got their product out a hell of a lot faster than the more “respectable” publishers. At any rate McCurtin pulled the same thing Nelson DeMille did with his Ryker series, where he changed his character’s name to Keller and moved over to Manor Books. (The irony here being that DeMille likely did this because he got pissed at McCurtin, his editor, who used DeMille’s name for Ryker #3, which was really by Len Levinson.)
Anyway, Manhattan Massacre opens with the transcript of a senate committee hearing in which various government reps, including members of the FBI and CIA, discuss the recent events of September, 1972. Robert Briganti is the focus of their discussion; born in 1935, growing up in New Orleans, Briganti became a master sharpshooter in the Wild Bill Brady carnival, going on to become a salesman of military surplus, particularly in South America. In this capacity he did odd jobs for the CIA. Then ten years ago Briganti quit this life, moved to Connecticut, and opened a sporting goods store there.
Then one night Crazy Joe Coraldi, a good-looking and well-known Mafioso (who was jailed as a teen on “two convictions of sodomy,” by the way), showed up in Briganti’s store and demanded that Briganti get him some heavy-duty weaponry. Briganti told him to go to hell. Then when Briganti’s wife of ten years, Nancy, picked him up after work, their 9 year-old son Michael along for the ride, a car with New York tags sped by and opened fire on them. Nancy and Michael died on the scene. Briganti recuperated in the hospital and slipped out from under his police guard. Then he declared war on Coraldi.
I was under the incorrect assumption that The Assassin books were written in first-person. This is only true for the opening chapter, in which the senate committee plays one of the reel-to-reel tapes Briganti has sent them. In an interesting angle McCurtin didn’t keep when he changed Briganti to Magellan, Briganti records his thoughts onto audio tape and mails the tapes off to the FBI and to ABC. While this schtick didn’t make the transition to the Marksman books, it does at least explain why Magellan is so well-known to the general public, as Briganti’s tapes make for a media sensation.
McCurtin’s writing here is also different than in the Marksman books, and also another indication of the difference in quality between a Belmont Tower book and a Dell book. Honestly, some of McCurtin’s Marksman novels are awful, like Slaughterhouse. But he takes his time here, turning in a book as well-written as his first installment for the similar (and also McCurtin-created and edited) Sharpshooter series, The Killing Machine. Actually, McCurtin’s style here seems very influenced by the Parker books, with terse, no-fat description and dialog.
Another line of demarcation between Belmont Tower and Dell is page length. Manhattan Massacre is much too long for its own good, coming in at 192 pages of small print; much longer than McCurtin’s Marksman novels. This has the unfortunate effect that, while being better written, the Assassin novels come off as more slow moving than the Marksman books, with McCurtin quite clearly struggling to meet his unwieldy word count. This is mostly accomplished through Briganti’s cynical ruminations.
Briganti is also like Parker in how he’s so cold and methodical. Rather than grieving and raging over the loss of his family, Briganti instead finds himself in this subzero sort of calm. He can’t even get worked up about it, and fakes wild anger only when trying to psych out various mobsters. But he’s more vicious than Parker ever would be, killing people even when he promises them he won’t. He figures he’ll even kill a cop if one gets in his way, and when he sneaks back into his old military surplus company to steal various weapons, he could give a shit that his actions will have dire repercussions for his old work buddies.
McCurtin as always delivers good action scenes. They aren’t very bloody – McCurtin doesn’t much play up the gore in any of his books I’ve read – but they’re very tense. Briganti’s first real score is Fallaci, Coraldi’s top guard who runs a porno theater in Brooklyn. Briganti ends up beating him nearly to death with his bare hands, the one and only time he lets his anger break his otherwise placid surface. He finishes the guy off with a few kicks to the temple, which is pretty brutal. Next he takes out the guys who made the hit on his family, Al and Rio, twin brothers who supposedly look like Frank “The Riddler” Gorshin!!
McCurtin delivers a bit of sex as well, with Briganti realizing he needs an outlet other than violence. The lucky lady turns out to be a bar whore, and Briganti goes back to her place for a little vaguely-described shenanigans. This leads to another action scene, where some hitmen try to get the drop on Briganti. But they’re just “punks,” hired goons who are no match for our merciless hero. And Brigani is smart, too; realizing that no matter how many fleabag hotels he hides in the cops or Mafia will eventually find him, he rents a furnished office in a ratty building on 907 Broadway. He knows no one would ever think to look for him in a business office.
Coraldi’s in hiding somewhere in New York, due to his war with rival mob boss Carlo Gambelli. Briganti gets in touch with the latter, who sends Briganti in the direction of a Harlem preacher named Joshua Moon, who now goes by the name Brother Mwalimu. Figuring to hell with coincidence, McCurtin has it that Briganti and Moon know each other, as Moon was also in the Wild Bill Brady carnival and indeed Briganti saved his ass from being lynched, back in 1948. But now Moon preaches to the Black Power movement, and McCurtin again page-fills with a looong sermon courtesy “Brother Mwalimu,” who tells us that Columbus was black, Abe Lincoln was a Jew who hated blacks, and John Wilkes Booth was not only a hero, but black, too!
Despite the coincedental nature of it all, the Briganti/Moon relationship is interesting and well handled, with Moon now a coke fiend who wonders why Briganti saved him all those years ago. Moon informs Briganti that Joe Coraldi is hiding in a closed police precinct in Harlem, but Briganti discovers later that it’s a trap – Carlo Gambelli’s plan is for Briganti to kill Coraldi, and then for Moon’s Black Power comrades to take out Briganti. Now, armed with a grenade launcher, a Stoner 63 machine gun, and an Uzi, Briganti ventures into Harlem to even the score.
The climactic firefight is very similar to what one would read in The Marksman, with Briganti dishing out most of the death via grenade and then mopping up what few survivors remain with his machine guns. Even Coraldi’s demise is perfunctory, but this goes well with Briganti’s now-robotic persona; he realizes he’s just going through the motions, and has now become a veritable human Terminator. Actually this also jibes well with the whole “Briganti = Magellan” deal, as Briganti thinks to himself a few times that “Robert Briganti” died with his family.
McCurtin only wrote two more Assassin novels, though obviously the Marksman books went on for much longer. I’m curious what caused the move over to Belmont Tower. Either Dell took too long to publish McCurtin’s manuscripts or maybe he just got a better deal at BT, though I doubt it; they were apparently notorious for never paying their authors. Or maybe Dell just gave McCurtin his walking papers, as that publisher really didn’t get too involved with the men’s adventure genre, and indeed The Assassin is the only men’s adventure series from Dell that I can think of at the moment.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Manhattan Massacre, even though it was a bit too sluggish at times. But McCurtin’s polished-but-pulpish prose was almost masterful in how it captured the right vibe, and like I said the book came off as more entertaining and memorable than any the McCurtin Marksman novels I’ve read yet.
Monday, July 20, 2015
The Murder Business, by Peter C. Herring
No month stated, 1976 Major Books
I read about this one in Bill Pronzini’s Son Of Gun In Cheek, where it was featured as an “Alternative Classic” or something. Pronzini was a bit merciless on it, as I recall, but in the expectedly humorous way; nevertheless, it sounded so unusual that I intended to read it someday.
Pronizini’s comments on the book’s clunky writing are on point, but the plot of The Murder Business is actually pretty interesting: basically, “What if James Bond worked for SPECTRE?” While this isn’t a spy thriller by any means, it is sort of similar in that our “hero” is an assassin who works for a shadowy consortium with designs on global domination. However instead of a bald dude with a cat it’s a group of ten men who have secretly been pulling international strings since WWII.
As for our “hero,” he’s a total psychopath: Michael, a good looking young British dude who began killing as a kid and quickly learned that he enjoyed it. And I mean “enjoy” in the sexual sense, as Michael my friends actually orgasms when he murders! His favored instrument is just as kinky, a six-inch blade which he mails to himself overnight before he goes on missions, thus bypassing aiport security. (Why the dude couldn’t just buy a new knife wherever he goes is never explained.)
Michael is the chief assassin of The Board, ie those aforementioned ten men. He’s worked in this capacity for a few years, and is very good at what he does. However as we meet him Michael is in a bit of a pickle: he might be falling in love with a British girl named Jenny. They met a few months ago and have been seriously dating; Michael even rushes to her after the novel’s opening murder, leading into one of the novel’s few (and not very explicit) sex scenes.
Our depraved hero is sent from London to Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas, all within a few days, on his next assignment. Here he knifes another powerful man, one who apparently works for a sort of anti-Board. In a sadly-underdeveloped plot we are informed that the Board, despite its power, has an equally-powerful enemy. But Michael is too far down the totem pole to care, and instead gets off royally on this latest hit, in which he discovers that his target is having sex with a hooker. Michael’s never killed someone while they were doing it, and he has a major orgasm as he knifes them.
So as you can see, The Murder Business definitely has a sleazy vibe going for it. But here’s the major problem with it, at least so far as I’m concerned. It’s just too damn overwritten. Practically every single thing Michael does is described. The dude can’t open a window without like two sentences detailing the act; no matter how menial the event or the action, the author overdescribes it. It becomes very ponderous and makes the book, which is only 176 pages (of pretty small print, though), take seemingly forever to read.
I have no idea who Peter C. Herring is/was, but judging from the Catalog Of Copyright Entries this was really the author’s name; in other words, “Herring” apparently wasn’t a house name or pseudonym. I’d gather Pronzini’s statements on Major Books is correct in this case – Pronzini in the two Gun In Cheek books particularly takes Major to task for publishing manuscripts that were rejected everywhere else. The hell of it is The Murder Business has the potential to be good, but it’s undermined by the overwriting and the mid-novel plot switch.
Sadly, Herring jettisons the entire “sick assassin” angle and goes for more of a “hunted man” storyline. That mysterious “anti-Board” has targeted everyone, and while on vacation in the south of France with Jenny Michael is ambushed. He manages to kill his attacker, and Jenny witnesses it – cue a rivalry that will go on until the end of the book, with Jenny now hating Michael, whom she screams is a murderer. Strangely though, the dude was just saving his own life, not to mention Jenny’s, so her vehement reaction is puzzling. But her hatred of Michael comes and goes, and besides the two are now on the run together.
Anyway from here Michael spends the rest of the novel rushing from one place to another, all while various assassins come after him. We see no more of The Board and only find out major plot details through phone calls, like when Michael calls his contact at one point and is casually informed that all ten members of The Board have been killed! It’s so anticlimactic as to be hilarious. I mean, you want to read this “evil James Bond” story but instead you read endless patches of description of the English countryside as Michael, Jenny, and a fellow Board employee named Henri hide in the rural home of Jenny’s aunt.
Herring delivers action scenes here and there, but as the novel progresses the sick and sadistic vibe is replaced by more of a standard action vibe. Michael in fact goes on to using pistols, his kinky murder-orgasm penchant completely forgotten. Speaking of which the violence isn’t too graphic, though some of the pictures Herring paints are particularly gruesome. But there’s just this blasé air that permeates everything, neutering any impact the book might otherwise make. Another big problem is that neither Michael nor Jenny are very likable characters.
There’s a bit more interest at the very end, where Jenny, driven to a total loathing of Michael now – guess what happens to poor old “auntie” after she and Michael try to hide in her home? – plans to sell out our sick bastard of a hero. But this development too goes nowhere. In fact Herring does his best to tear everything down, and not just the whole “Board” angle: Michael too is disfigured, his face ripped to shreds by a shotgun-blasted windshield. And Herring seems unwilling or unable to end the tale, with the final fifteen or so pages comprised of a half-dead Michael just sort of wandering around the streets of London.
It’s been a few years since I read Son Of Gun In Cheek, so I can’t remember what all Pronzini had to say about The Murder Business. I’ll have to check out the book again to see. I have to say though that the book isn’t terrible. I mean it’s not the worst book I’ve reviewed on this blog. But there’s just something ponderous and sort of detached about it, and the mid-narrative detour from the opening sadism is unfortunate.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Overload #2: The Wrath, by Bob Ham
July, 1989 Bantam Books
You have to give Bantam Books credit: they tried to give the men’s adventure genre a shot in the arm as it was dying, releasing a few new series in the late ‘80s. Overload was one of them, and went on to run for a surprising twelve volumes. The concept of this series was aptly summed up by Zwolf: “gun-totin’ truckers.”
Seriously, if Overload was a movie it would probably feature Meatloaf in a role. But author Bob Ham – a real name, not a pseudonym – is very serious here. And Bantam is fully committed as well; the back of the book even features an ad for Overdrive Magaine, “the Professional Journal for Successful Trucking.” But the author and publisher must’ve tapped a nerve, as this series went on a lot longer than you’d expect.
I’m missing the first volume, Personal War, but ironically enough someone emailed me just before I started reading this second volume, telling me that the first book was “the most homoerotic thing ever.” Well friends, that vibe is also apparent in The Wrath, which features long scenes of our heroes, Marc Lee and Carl Browne, driving around in a truck and discussing their feelings. Oh, and they apparently live together.
Lee and Browne are often referred to as “the Delta Warriors” by Ham, given that they’re both in Delta Force – the toughest bastards in the outfit, of course. Lee’s the son of a Dallas truck company owner and Browne’s the muscular black guy. The first volume apparently detailed the battle between the Lee family company Leeco and the mafia warriors of a New York capo named Segalini. In the climax of it Marc Lee’s father ended up in a coma (he’s now in a hospital in Dallas, under heavy security) and the Segalinis ended up dead.
But as The Wrath opens, we are informed that Segalini’s son survived. This is Bruno Segalini, who is now confined to a wheelchair, his achilles tendons having been severed by Lee and Browne in the first book! Apparently the “Delta Warriors” thought they killed Bruno in the climax of that book, but he escaped; now, assisted by his muscular henchman Ceps (as in “Biceps”), Segalini plots the utter destruction of Leeco. To do this he has retained the services of B.D., aka “Bad Dude,” a ‘Nam psychopath biker who leads a sadistic gang of bikers called Lobo.
It’s all very B-movie, but Ham peppers the book with acronyms and brandnames, proving to us that he’s done his research. If paramedics show up on a scene, for example, we’ll get long detail on what exactly it is they’ll do to save a life. If there’s a bomb to be disarmed, he’ll tell us how it’s done, step by step. He also wants to tell us all about then-current communications technology, as well as technical details of the various firearms employed. And yet this is a book that contains lines of dialog like, “I have to make a choice to either be in the trucking business or stay in Delta Force.”
Ham also goes for a cinematic feel, with constant cutting to and fro. We’ll have Lee and Browne in Dallas, trying to deal with a sudden fire at the Leeco headquarters, and then we’ll jump over to B.D., who cuts a swathe of sadism through the Smoky Mountains. Then we’ll cut over to Bruno Segalini, who sits in a house in Myrtle Beach and trades inane “my vengeance will be sweet” banter with Ceps. Then later we’ll cut over to Jill, Marc Lee’s girlfriend, who sits in the hospital with Marc’s comatose father and tells him about her dreams(!?).
But despite this attempt to goose the narrative with a cinematic feel, The Wrath instead comes off as rather sluggish. It’s not helped by Ham’s tendency to overdescribe. For example the opening conflagration at the Leeco HQ goes on way too long, with some mystery fire starting on the premises before the bomb squad shows up. He also has too many characters in play, and has to keep going back to them lest we forget about them: Segalini and Ceps are about as immaterial to the plot as you can get, thus the constant cutovers to them are a bit trying.
Oh, and meanwhile Lee and Browne are being ordered back on duty; turns out there’s some action down in Central America and their squad has been ordered to move in. But Lee and Browne ignore the summons, thus officially going AWOL. Strangely, their Delta Force commander is aware of their vigilante activities in the first book, however he draws the line when they don’t report for duty! This ultimately builds up a storyline which will continue in the next volume, as Lee and Browne manage to get themselves in the sights of the federal government thanks to their private warfaring.
The stuff with B.D. and his gang is probably the highlight of the book. In fact he provides the brunt of the novel’s action, and is also the titular “Wrath,” a name he acquired back in ‘Nam. B.D. personally wants to kill Lee and Browne, as their activities in the first book resulted in the death of the man who provided B.D. with his cocaine. Now he and his Lobos run amok in the Smoky Mountains, getting in occasional fights with truckers. There’s a goofy, endless subplot where they kill one trucker in revenge for the death of a fallen Lobo and then later get in a running fight with more truckers.
While the violence in The Wrath isn’t excessive (and nor is the sex), there is a sadistic vibe. The novel opens with the capture of a Leeco trucker, who is strung up in the Lobo camp and slowly tortured. At one point parts of his flesh are sliced off and eaten. But he does get laid at least – this courtesy Rapture, the dirty blonde mama of the bikers. Rapture mostly drives the van that follows the Lobo’s Harleys and as the novel progresses she becomes more and more disenfranchised with B.D. due to his penchant for cruelty.
Lee and Browne really don’t get active until well over halfway through, when they decide to take the war to Segalini. Ham is one of those authors who doesn’t mind shoehorning stuff in to meet his word count or to add a little action, like for example a totally irrelevant part where some woman drives into a lake as Lee and Browne are passing by, and the two men dive in to save her. This whole section is such a waste of the reader’s time as to be hilarious, but it does meet the likely goal of adding about twenty pages to the book.
After a couple failed hits in various diners, Lee and Browne survive unscathed and get word from their cop contact back in Dallas that B.D. is somewhere in the Smoky Mountains. Despite pages and pages of buildup, Ham delivers a bit of an anticlimax. The Lobos have M-60s and LAW rocket launchers, but our two heroes manage to get the lockdown on them, barrelling through camp and firing machine guns out of their big rig. Then B.D. and Lee get in a knockdown, dragout fight – but neither of them dies.
Then Segalini and Ceps show up and are basically killed in a paragraph, even though Ham has spent so much time making the reader savor the moment that they’ll die. Instead, they’re merely shot and then their car is blown up. When will these men’s adventure writers learn that we readers want to see the main villains sliced, diced, and gutted?? B.D.’s fate is a little better, if unbelievable; we’re to believe that one of his gang is actually an undercover FBI agent and has been going along with his barbarism all this time so as to gather evidence. But now it’s payback time!
As mentioned, Lee and Browne come under attack by the Feds by novel’s end, and it looks like it will be off to the slammer for them – transporting highly-illegal weapons across state lines, engaging in open warfare, and going AWOL from the army. My suspicion though is that in the next novel they’ll instead get hired to work for the government as, well…gun-totin’ truckers.
I’ve got a few more volumes of Overload, so eventually I’ll find out.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Like the previous Male Annual I read, Male Annual 14 (1972) is chock full of stories, most of them retitled reprints of earlier Male, Stag, and For Men Only stories and articles. This particular issue is interesting because most of the material in it is from 1970, when the art/photography in men’s mags had become slightly more risque, but nowhere as exploitative as it would become in just a few short years.
“A Bullet For The Enforcer” by W.J. Saber is the reason I tracked down this issue. The magazine’s misleading cover blurb had me expecting a Godfather ripoff, or at least a lurid Mafia novella; instead, the story turns out to be a retitled reprint of “Hit Man For the Aiport Heist Mob,” which appeared in the September 1970 issue of Stag. Earl Norem’s awesome splash page is retained for this Male Annual reprint, with only the title being changed. Here’s a screengrab of the original version:
With opening dialog of “Come on, spike me harder. Nail me to the mattress,” you know a different era has dawned in the world of men’s adventure mags, and the ensuing sex scene is fairly explicit (though again not as explicit as such tales would be within a year or two). But this is how “A Bullet For The Enforcer” begins, and it follows the same template as every single other men’s adventure mag story I’ve read: we open on a sex or action scene (or both), before cutting back “three months ago” for the looong buildup, before meeting back up with the opening section and then hurrying through the rest of the tale for a rushed finish.
Faber is a new men’s mag writer for me, but his prose is of a piece with everything else I’ve read in this particular genre, with that polished, professional feel. I have to say though the dude isn’t much for scene changes, or maybe that’s just lame editorial work afoot; seriously, we’ll change scenes, locations, and even times without a line space or anything. It gets to be a little confusing at first, but otherwise Faber has that firm command you’d expect of a men’s mag writer, doling out a tale about an antihero who is very much in the Parker mold.
Only this guy, Carl Strand, is a lot meaner than Parker ever was. As noted Strand’s getting busy as the tale begins, boffing a buxom blonde stewardess in a hotel room. But he hears hit men sneaking in, and knows the “stew” has set him up. So the dude punches her out just before she climaxes, gets the jump on the hit men, shoots them point blank in the head…and then shoots the stewardess point blank in the head! This is how our “hero” is introduced to us, and it isn’t for several pages that we learn the girl set him up, and thus “deserved to die.”
Strand is a former ‘Nam Special Forces badass with a penchant for judo. He’s recently been imprisoned for beating to death some dude he loaned money to. Strand’s knack is for heisting the heisters; originally just a regular crook, he moved on to robbing criminals. A team of government officials in some unstated city need a certain specialist; airport cargo in their city is being looted and heisted, and they have no leads. It appears to be an independent syndicate at work. What they need is a professional criminal who can infiltrate the syndicate. They settle upon Strand and offer him the job. But first he has to break out of prison in a belabored sequence.
Strand’s contact is “The Controller,” who answers Strand’s calls from a payphone and hooks him up with cash, clothes, a gun (Strand’s choice of weaponry is a snub nosed .32 revolver), and whatever else he needs. Strand follows leads and ends up in a “swinger’s apartment” that’s filled with, you guessed it, horny stews. That’s just how it goes in the world of men’s mags and I for one am not complaining. Strand gets laid asap by a petite-but-busty brunette named Janice who does him, I’m not kidding, like five seconds after they meet. She just shows up at his door, asks for a drink, and offers herself while she’s reclining on a barstool. Once again, the ensuing sex scene isn’t as vague as it would be in the earlier decades of this particular genre.
Janice is a stewardess and Strand uses her to test out his own heisting scheme, coming away with a bunch of gems. When he tries to make off with them on his own, the Controller gives him a call – eyes are watching Strand from everywhere. So instead he uses the gems to broker a deal with Dryden, a fence who apparently works for the mysterious air cargo heisters. These guys, in the form of a boss named Robinson, eventually make contact with Strand. But when he rubs some of the higher-ups the wrong way, they send some hit men after him – cue the opening sequence, in which Strand’s getting lucky with another stewardess, this one a blonde who is one of the heisters, unlike Janice.
Both the hit men as well as the blonde stew dead, Strand moves in for the big score. He talks Robinson into hitting the airport bank. Meanwhile the Controller will be sending in cops in gas masks, to compensate for the knockout gas Strand will be using on the bank. All of this, as you can see, as shown in Earl Norem’s splash page, which actually turns out to illustrate the final few paragraphs of the story. And true to the men’s mag template, the finale is rushed, with the crooks hitting the bank and the cops hitting the crooks, and Strand himself gets blown away by Robinson, living only long enough to tell the Controller that it’s better this way – he doesn’t want to go back to prison.
“Traitors Die Slow” by Grant Freeling is not only another “smash book bonus,” but it’s also another retitled reprint. It was originally published as “They Crippled Hitler’s D-Day Defenses” and appeared in the September 1970 For Men Only, and I reviewed it here.
The longest story in the book is “My Blood Duel with the Texas Cycle Brutes,” which is “as told to Mark Petersen,” aka the guy who wrote it. Labelled as a “true extralength,” it really is a novella, and follows the same template as “Bullet For The Enforcer;” opening en media res, to a long flashback, to a hurried-off finale. The story is officially credited to Quint Lake, who relays the story in first person, however the majority of the story is courtesy another character: Virginia Carley, a smokin’-hot blonde who shows up nude on Quint’s Arizona ranch one afternoon, having driven there on a stolen Harley chopper.
After recuperating for a few days, Virginia is well enough to tell Quint her story, which makes up for most of the narrative. She’s in her early 20s and was born and raised in some nowhere section of Texas. Bored with life, she was happy one day when the Devil’s Disciples showed up, “the most vicious cycle gang ever to roar down the highways of the Southwest.” Led by Killer Joe, an “All-American type” who wears a WWI German helmet with a spike and leads a group of leather-clad psychopaths, the gang offers Virginia a chance to escape her humdrum life.
Becoming Killer Joe’s woman, she aids and abetts them in their theivery; they like to steal wallets from motorists and knock over gas stations. But in some town in Arizona Killer Joe finds a place that fixes up and sells hot cars, and he decides to knock it off. So they send in Virginia as the honeytrap; she goes home with the owner and Killer Joe busts in just before the naughtiness begins, threatening the dude for the twenty thousand Joe knows he has. But the owner swears the money’s gone and says Virginia stole it. So the Devil’s Disciples string her up and begin beating her, Killer Joe using a belt and another dude stabbing out cigarettes on her skin.
This is where we came in, as Virginia manages to escape, beaten and fully nude. She slices the tires of all the bikes save for Killer Joe’s and takes off on it, eventually ending up in the home of our hero, a young ‘Nam vet with a fondness for guns who has, would you believe it, managed to fall in love with Virginia over these few days he’s tended to her. Cue a super-vague sex scene that is very much like those in earlier men’s mag stories, just immediately cutting to black. Dammit! But anyway our narrator is a dolt. Virginia has begged him to tell no one of her presence. So what does he do after she’s been with him for a month? He decides to surprise her by fixing up that wrecked chopper of hers…you know, the one she stole from Killer Joe.
Sure enough, our dumbass hero is out smoking his “last cigarette of the day” one evening when he’s knocked out by a biker. He wakes up to find himself tied up and Virginia, once again, nude and being tortured. Killer Joe and pals are back and they want that twenty thousand. Our hero manages to free his bonds through sheer strength and takes out Killer Joe and a few henchmen in the strangest way possible: putting bullets in small holes in his wooden firing range and slamming rocks into them, which causes the cartridges to explode and hit the bikers!
The strangest thing about “Blood Duel” is that Virginia’s role in the theft of the twenty thousand is never explained. After killing off Killer Joe et al and rounding up the other bikers, Quint discovers that the blonde is gone, running away without even bothering to see if he’s okay. A month or so later he receives a letter from her, saying that she misses him, loves him, and if he wants her she’s waiting for him at some hotel – she knows she has a lot of explaining to do. And Quint figures to himself, well, if she does actually have that twenty thousand bucks, then he’ll suggest she invest it in some steers for an old rancher he knows…! The end!
“My Body For The Taking” by Michael Sarris is labelled as “Daring Fiction” but it’s about as tepid as you can get – it’s a short tale about a dude on a bus ride to Connecticut who meets up with some hot chick who offers him a job at her uncle’s amusement park. He fixes a few lights and whatnot and then one night she’s waiting for him on one of the rides – cue a vague sex scene. The end.
“Captured by Assam’s Amazon She Devils” harkens back to the glory days of men’s adventure mag pulps, most likely because it’s by an old master of the craft: Emile Schurmacher. This tale isn’t as long as those in editor Noah Sarlat’s days of the early ‘60s, but it packs an entertaining adventure tale in its otherwise brief length. Even though it sports a not-fooling-anyone “as told to” credit, the tale is straight-up fiction, written in third person. Schurmacher has a sure hand of the genre and indeed makes you realize how the older men’s mags stories were generally better, particularly in the Diamond line of publications.
Anyway, it’s 1970 and ruggedly virile anthropologist Bill Kudner is on the Assam-Burma border, searching for the wreckage of a DC-3 that crashed in this area back in 1949. There were nine “white women” on board, nurses all, and no one knows if anyone survived the crash. However tales have leaked out of savage-looking white women running around in the jungle; in other words amazons. So Kudner’s looking for them, only for his sherpa guide to get killed by his cowardly followers, none of whom want to go into the supposedly-haunted valley in which the amazons, referred to by the natives as “Miguri,” apparently reside.
Kudner is captured posthaste by a group of white jungle women, all of them of course smoking hot, in particular a “lithe blonde” named Nadja. Their leader is a bit older and thus evil, per the reasoning of men’s mag logic; her name is Temeh, and she orders Kudner put in a cage. But Nadja has the hots for Kudner and comes to his cage that night, after giving him a meal for his virility. Cue an off-page sex scene which apparently goes on all night. Nadja has limited English and informs Kudner that she is the daughter of one of the nurses on that crashed plane, the wreckage of which sits nearby. Her mother and the other nurses are dead, as are the men of the village, all of them killed in a war with a rival tribe.
The usual stuff happens; Kudner is left alone during the day, only to receive nightly conjugal visits courtesy Nadja. But his presence sows dissent in the tribe and Nadja and another hot amazon named Pantho get in mortal combat over him. Temeh breaks up the fun and orders the two women to kill Kudner; with him out of the picture harmony can return to the camp. But Nadja breaks Kudner out and the two make their escape into Burma, where we are informed they eventually get married in a Buddhist temple. This was a fun story, filled with that adventure-fiction vibe of the old pulps, with very good writing. I have a few Schurmacher books and look forward to reading them.
Speaking of the later years of the men’s mags, this August 1976 issue of For Men Only is a sterling example. The sleaze runs rampant, with full-color, full-frontal shots of a variety of ‘70s chicks with feathered hair. The letters to the editor and various features are all about sex and foreplay and how to pick up chicks and etc. The stories are greatly reduced, with none of the “true extralength” yarns you would get in the earlier days, and even those few stories which are here are more so presented as actual articles like you’d read in Playboy.
“Sex Lives of Female Private Eyes” by Sam Phillips is one of those “factual” articles which, instead of being a narrative, is instead quick interviews with a few ladies who are willing to go all the way for a case. There’s hardly any explicit detail at all, and it’s basically just a bunch of dialog from (fictional?) women. However, the artwork this baby is graced with is phenomenal. Someone should’ve colored it and put it on the cover of some paperback novel about a female private eye; it would’ve been perfect for Hatchett, Fernanda, or better yet one of the Jana Blake books:
“Mercenaries – Soldiers of Fortune or Hired Killers?” by Robert Joe Stout also goes for the pseudo-factual approach, coming off as a sort of interview with Gregory Lyday, an Irish mercenary who recounts his tale of going from the army to working as a soldier of fortune in Greece and Tel Aviv. But our fictional mercenary is more focused on sex, telling us about the awesome blowjobs he’d get from a whore in Tel Aviv. Again, nothing overly graphic, but the focus on sex is an indication of the changing times in the genre. As for the action material, it’s threadbare, with “Lyday” more intent on telling us about how he’d blow up stuff.
“The Man with the 10-Inch Magic Wand” purports to be an interview with Dave Gregory, a well-endowed commercial artist in New York; the “interview” is credited to T.J. Roberts. Mr. Gregory tells us about his various sexual exploits, from appearing in a porno “for the fun of it” to taking bets to heat up notoriously-frosty women.
“Death Wish Patrol That Nailed A Rapist” is the reason I sought this mag out; it’s written by Roland Empey, which is a pseudonym for well-regarded veteran men’s mag writer Walter Kaylin. Tapping into the Death Wish craze, this one’s summed up entirely in its title. A dude named George Wheeler, who lives an idyllic life with his family in Pleasant Valley, goes to some unnamed “big city” once a month for work. There he stays in a sleazy hotel, gets drunk, and then goes out and savagely rapes a woman. He’s raped seven women in just as many months, and the locals have had enough of this shit.
Kaylin doesn’t go for the exploitation, really, with the assaults obviously focusing more on the horrors perpetrated on the unfortunate women. One thing that holds “Death Wish” back is its too-short length. It’s several pages long but could stand to be fleshed out more, as the street toughs who band together to take down the mystery rapist are a bit vague to the reader. I’ve often wondered why guys like Kaylin didn’t expand their stories into novel length; the ‘70s were the time for paperback fiction, the more lurid the better, and something like “Death Wish Patrol” could’ve made for easy paperback fodder.
The locals use their smarts to figure out that these rapes are happening once a month, and decide an out-of-towner is behind them. The cops meanwhile have more pressing concerns, given that the rapes are occurring in a sleazy part of “the big city.” So it’s up to the local toughs, who band together and eventually get the lockdown on Wheeler. There’s no action, really, no Charles Bronson-style fighting or violence; the patrol just finds Wheeler after his latest assault and chases him down, capturing him on a rooftop and beating him, then tying him up and briefly lowering him over the building as a sign to all potential rapists. After which Wheeler is arrested and hauled away.
Here’s Bruce Minney’s art for the story, which illustrates the final scene:
Thursday, July 9, 2015
Chopper Cop #1: Valley Of Death, by Paul Ross
No month stated, 1972 Popular Library
Yet another men’s adventure series produced by Lyle Kenyon Engel and his BCI outfit, Chopper Cop attempted to meld the vibe of Easy Rider with the tough cop genre. It ran for three volumes and, at least judging from this first volume, wasn’t very successful in its attempt.
According to Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms, Chopper Cop was the work of three writers: Dan Streib, who wrote the first two volumes, Valley Of Death and The Hitchhike Killer, and the writing team of Bill Amidon and Nat Freedland, who collaborated on the third volume, the awesomely-titled Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert.*
The series protagonist is Terry Bunker, 26 years old and described as “craggy, but handsome.” Formerly a lieutenant (the youngest police lieutenant in the country, we’re informed), he was spotted by California’s “colorful” governor, who retained Terry to be his own personal go-to guy. Now Terry is an agent for the State Department of Criminal Investigation, and gets his missions directly from the governor, though he reports to Chief Haggard of the Sacramento police. Terry has “longish” hair and drives a chopper – a “Rickman frame with a 659 Triumph engine” – and gets a lot of grief for his appearance.
But anyone expecting “Hell’s Angel turned cop” will be disappointed. Terry Bunker is just a regular action series-type cop and there’s nothing to differentiate him from the genre norm. Other that is than his chopper, which really doesn’t factor into this particular story much, anyway. Rather, we’re informed that most cops just don’t get along with Terry because of his long hair and his casual threads, like jeans and a “turtlenecked sweater.” What a rebel! If anything I’d say this is another indication where the book’s producer wanted something much different than what the author delivered.
Because here’s the thing about Terry Bunker – he’s kind of a wimp. Throughout the novel he’s constantly afraid; there are innumerable scenes of him taking deep breaths to steady himself and to remember his “training.” He’s also kind of womanly, as just as often as he’s afraid he’s lonely…! There are many parts where he’ll wish someone else was with him, as he feels so alone. I mean what the hell kind of a shit-kicking men’s adventure protagonist is this? And when he does get in fights he’s usually just ducking and shooting and hoping he doesn’t kill anyone. For that matter even his weapon of choice is blasé; it’s just a standard police-issue revolver.
In a 1981 interview with Will Murray, which was published in Paperback Parade #2 (1986), Lyle Kenyon Engel had this to say about Streib:
Dan Streib, oh God, Dan Streib I see is with Chet Cunningham. I knew Dan, I used him on another series, and then I stopped using him because he wasn’t any good.
Engel mentions Streib being “with” Cunningham because the two authors collaborated on a volume of Nick Carter: Killmaster titled Night Of The Avenger. Engel’s reference to “another series” he used Streib for must be Chopper Cop, because after this Streib was on his own, publishing under various house names for different publishers, like the Death Squad and Kill Squad books. And while Engel’s off-hand criticism might sound harsh, I can’t say I disagree with him.
What’s interesting though is that Valley Of Death presents Streib as filtered through the editing/producing of Engel. The writing here is a little more polished than that in the Kill Squad or Death Squad books, ie the ones Streib did without Engel. But it seems pretty clear that Engel envisioned Chopper Cop as being more about the concept he’d come up with, whereas Streib turned in a rather standard mystery novel, one graced with a lackluster protagonist at that.
In fact, parts of Valley Of Death are like a Gothic novel, except instead of a virginal heroine we have a “craggy, but handsome” long-haired cop for a protagonist. And at 207 pages of big print, the book at least moves at a snappy pace. This caper has Terry investigating a “hippie sex cult” that operates out of Death Valley; three beautiful young Californian women, each of them members of wealthy families who became members of the cult, have committed suicide in unusual ways. But now, a few weeks later, their parents are receiving ghostly phone calls from their deceased daughters, asking for half a million dollars so they can be “resurrected.”
The Gothic stuff mostly plays out in the palatial home of Annette Caldwell’s parents; one of the three suicides, Annette apparently jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, her suicidal act witnessed by a random motorist. But the beautiful young girl’s ghost seems to haunt the home; during his brief stay there Terry sees a ghostly female form rushing from various scenes, hears her playing an organ in the house, and he even kisses her in a strange sequence. Meanwhile Terry’s being constantly propositioned by Penny, Annette’s equally-pretty but virginal 19 year-old sister, who is a fellow biking enthusiast.
There isn’t much action to be found. After a few ghostly visits Terry heads over to San Clemente, where another of the “dead” girls has returned. This leads to a scene where Terry goes out into a desert cemetery in the middle of the night for the money drop off, but it leads to an assassination attempt, culminating in a quick motorcycle chase. But really Terry’s chopper knack isn’t much highlighted by Streib. You get the impression that Engel came up with this cool idea and handed it off to a dude who didn’t know what to do with it.
The cover proclaims a “hippie cult of sex and death” but it must’ve sat out on the actual book, as the cult here is lead by a dude named Arnold Van Doren who appears maybe a page or two and doesn’t offer much. The “sex and death” angle is woefully underplayed, the farthest it gets being a sort of orgy ceremony Terry and Penny walk in on in the middle of the desert, but Terry flashes his badge and the hippies disperse. But the whole cult deal is really just a snow-job, as Valley Of Death is more about a typical blackmailing scheme.
The climax returns to the Gothic tones, playing out in an old mansion somewhere in Death Valley. Here Terry, once again alone (and afraid), sneaks up on the big house in the middle of the night, only to be frightened by an organ that plays in the otherwise-deserted place. (Turns out to be a player piano.) Streib has used female villains in his other books I’ve read, and he does so here too, though you’ll see her “surprise reveal” coming a mile away. But she’s not a bloodthirsty villainess, and the finale, tying in to the womanly feel mentioned above, features the poor girl crying on her father’s shoulder!
Valley Of Death is not an auspicious beginning for the Chopper Cop series; action is minimal and sex and violence are nonexistent. Let’s hope that Streib’s next one is better. Failing that there’s always the third volume, which should be better if for no other reason than it’s not by Streib.
*Lyle Kenyon Engel also produced another book credited to “Paul Ross” which was not associated with the Chopper Cop series. It was titled The Assassin (1974, Manor Books) and was one of those standalone BCI crime paperbacks; it was written by William Crawford.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Airline Investigator: Ryan's Flight, by Howard Harris
No month stated, 1975 Manor Books
First Airport Cop, now Airline Investigator: someone at Manor Books must’ve really had a flying fetish. Unlike the Charles Miron series, Airline Investigator only lasted for one volume, even though it seems pretty clear that it was designed to be an ongoing action series.
Also unlike the Miron series, this one’s about a private eye. His name is Ed Ryan and he’s a tall, redheaded, former Air Force pilot turned commercial airline co-pilot. He served in this capacity for two years until being laid off; we’re informed this is a standard situation, with senior pilots getting to stay on while newer pilots are the first to go anytime there’s an economic hiccup. Ryan got sick of it and became a private investigator – in quickly-dispensed background material, we’re told that he’d already been making ventures into this arena, having studied with an old P.I. who was about to retire.
Now Ryan operates out of Queens and as the novel begins he’s looking to capitalize on his own flying background to hire out his P.I. services to airliners. The back cover tells us that “Howard Harris” is a pseudonym of a real commercial pilot who has used his insider info to give us an action-packed, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of airliners. I assume this is a lie and that the author was just someone under contract to Manor, but at any rate Howard Harris isn’t listed in Hawk’s Author’s Pseudonyms, nor is there any information in the Catalog Of Copyright Entries about the book.
But the author very well might’ve been a first-timer, as there’s an amateurish or at least rough quality to the writing, with characters for example who are “literally fuming” in anger. The author also has a strange tendency to refer to his female characters by their last names, even if they’re super-hot stewardesses. It’s like he doesn’t realize the last-name-only thing only applies to villains and tough-guy protagonists. The author also delivers some awkward sentences that in many cases can be easily misconstrued, such as this humdinger:
Flyod Kortum had died a month ago, and Ryan was just finishing the change-over to make the detective agency exclusively his. He had been the junior partner in the business three months before Kortum was involved in the four car collision on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. Eight days on the critical list, then surgery, then complications, then death followed shortly for the 63 year old private detective who was rammed from the rear.
Anyway, Ryan drives a Pontiac Grand Am and carries a .357 Magnum, and is almost immediately hired by an old Air Force commander, Leonard Manning, who now acts as Vice President of Trans-Continental Airlines, which operates out of LaGuardia Airport. A lurid murder opens Ryan’s Flight, with an annoying Trans-Continental co-pilot and his stewardess girlfriend being killed off by “Mr. B” and his cronies. The co-pilot was acting as a mule for Mr. B and was skimming the profits. For his treachery he and the stewardess are stripped and suffocated.
Now, a few weeks later, Leonard Manning is worried there might be more drug or whatever smuggling going on in his airline. Rather than bring in the cops he hires Ryan. Our hero instantly gets in a lust/hate thing with Manning’s “plain but attractive” secretary, Linda Volstead – referred to as “Volstead” throughout the narrative, instead of the more-sensible “Linda.” Ryan takes umbrage that the lady is initially frosty to him, but then she starts coming on strong, to the point where she’s propositioning him; cue an off-page sex scene.
To tell the truth, Ryan does pretty well for himself in a 190 page book with big print, banging just a few pages later another lady, this one a hot-to-trot stewardess named Karen Webber (referred to as, you guessed it, “Webber”). This bit is a little more explicit than the previous one, but nothing too major. In fact Ryan’s Flight is PG-13 at most, with even Ryan’s few kills being practically bloodless – which is a tough feat to pull off when you’re shooting someone with a .357 Magnum.
As for his P.I. skills, Ryan’s method basically amounts to asking a few questions and jotting down notes in his notepad. He quickly deduces that someone is running drugs and whatnot through the airline, and determines that stewardess Karen and a heavyset captain named Zello are behind it, but that they report to someone higher in the chain. This turns out to be Captain Jack Davenport, sort of the villain of the piece; there are several scenes of Davenport standing in his office in the terminal and watching Ryan run around down on the tarmac, trying to put pieces together.
Ryan gets in a few dangerous situations, such as a laughable bit where he’s almost killed – by a runaway baggage cart! His accomplices fare much worse, and Ryan doesn’t prove himself very sharp when Karen is clearly and obviously set up for a hit, once it’s learned that she’s blabbed to Ryan, but our hero tells her “don’t worry” and basically escorts her off to her own assassination. This plays out in a long car chase on the streets of Queens, with Ryan unleathering his .357 and shooting a few dudes.
The author does pepper the book with a lot of background detail about commercial airliners and airport life; Ryan is able to figure out how Davenport et al are smuggling stuff due to his own experience as a commercial pilot. The finale also plays up on this, with Davenport, Zello, and Mr. B meeting on a DC-9, the three of them the only people on board – save for Ryan, who has hidden in a lavatory. And when your hero is a former airline pilot himself, there’s no cause for concern when he blows away the dude flying the DC-9; all Ryan has to do is get behind the controls and bring the big plane in for a nice and easy landing!
There really wasn’t much notable about Airline Investigator: Ryan’s Flight, and it would appear either Manor or its readers felt the same, as this was it for Ed Ryan. The fact that the book was given a subtitle implies that it was in fact planned as the start of a series, but it wasn’t to be – Ryan’s first flight was his last.