Monday, February 17, 2020

The Executioner #12: Boston Blitz

The Executioner #12: Boston Blitz, by Don Pendleton
July, 1972  Pinnacle Books

In his interview in A Study Of Action-Adventure FictionDon Pendleton stated that Boston Blitz was his personal favorite Executioner novel, and it would appear clear from the outset, given that he dedicates the book to faithful readers of the series. To cue the old cliché, “this time it’s personal” for Mack “The Executioner” Bolan, as the Mafia has kidnapped Bolan’s little brother Johnny and Bolan’s girlfriend Val.

Now I kept asking myself “Val who?,” but of course we are talking about the young lady Bolan became intimate with way back in the first volume. We’ve not heard much about her since – and Bolan’s enjoyed the company of a few other young ladies in the meantime, all of whom I found more interesting as characters – but we’re told that she’s gone into a sort of witness protection program along with Bolan’s “adolescent” brother Johnny. Leo Turrin, Bolan’s informant for both cop stuff and Mafia stuff, beings that he’s a Boston-based undercover cop ingrained into the families, informed our hero at the end of the previous volume that Val and Johnny had been snatched somewhere in Boston.

This installment opens about twelve hours later; Bolan’s arrival in Boston goes down with as much action as most novels finish with. In the first chapter alone he blows away a series of mobsters, leaving one survivor at each stop to spread the word of his arrival in town. Oh and I forgot to mention, but before this we again get that “Uniform Crime Network” faux-bulletin for a prologue which gives Bolan’s background, again reminding us that he’s 30 and a ‘Nam vet. This time Korea’s not mentioned…but then in the second chapter Bolan’s reflecting on how Johnny was just a kid when Bolan went off to the Korean war! Anyway here we get Bolan’s thoughts on Johnny, how he’s the “last Bolan,” and also lots of stuff on how Val is the love of his life and whatnot, which again is comical because she’s hardly been mentioned since that first volume.

Bolan’s gamble is to keep running roughshod over the Boston Mafia until someone comes forward with info on where Johnny and Val are, and whether they’re even still alive. He meets up with Leo Turrin, who provides intel from the ground, and also apologizes for the mysterious slip-up which even allowed the two to be snatched. Turrin believes a couple patsies took the two, as a pair of hoods were just found dead in a car with a marksman medal sitting between their corpses. In other words someone killed the kidnappers and tried to pin the kill on Bolan, however all this happened while the real Bolan was tearing up the San Francisco mob in the previous volume.

There are so many action scenes that the unfortunate effect is too many of them are rendered via summary. This especially holds true toward the end, but here in the opening we’re treated to a nice running sequence in which Bolan hits a mob convoy with a mortar and then mops up the survivors with a submachine gun. Here he takes along one of the few survivors, a Mafia lawyer named Books Figarone. Bolan only allows him to live in exchange for figuring out who took Val and Johnny. It’s a little unintentionally goofy then that Books finds the snatcher with only a single telephone call! It’s a minor hood named Harold “the Skipper” Sicilia, and for some inexplicable reason Pendleton keeps him off-page for the entire novel…and even more inexplicably delivers his comeuppance off-page as well.

Pendleton skillfully weaves the concern over Val and Johnny becoming “turkeys” thanks to those Mafia sadists…turkeys being mutilated torture victims who are only capable of squawking unintelligibly, as our author helpfully reminds us. We readers learn that Val and Johnny haven’t been harmed yet thanks to a brief scene from Valerie’s point of view; per Gene Cohen’s cover she and Johnny are bound back to back, but they’re lying on the floor of some dank holding area. We get some lurid stuff with one of the captors feeling Val up and considering hopping on her for a free ride, only to be reprimanded by the other captor that “the Skipper” has warned against any such stuff.

But the most inexplicable thing about Boston Blitz is we never learn what motivates Skipper Sicilia…Books calls him, finding the kidnapper of Bolan’s loved ones on his first call, and Sicilia grudgingly admits that he did indeed kidnap the two and that he might’ve made a mistake. Presumably Sicilia thought he could bring the Executioner to heel, but at this point Bolan’s mystique has approached Butcher levels of bad-assery, capable of making hardbitten Mafia goons shit their pants in fear. Books is thus able to talk Sicilia into getting rid of the two – not killing them, just letting them go so the Executioner will call off his war of atrocity on the Boston families.

This leads to one of the more memorable scenes in the book, as Bolan and Books make a late night run upstate to where Sicilia keeps his boat, which he claims is near where Val and Johnny are being held. Only here Pendleton delivers on the “turkey” promise with a car driving by long enough to deposit a bundled pacakge. Wrapped inside are the fresh corpses of a woman and an adolescent boy, their heads seared off via blowtorch. Pendleton gets even more lurid with details on how the woman’s breasts and nether regions have also been blowtorched, with a sickened and enraged Bolan further imagining how the sadistic torture-murder was carried out.

Now Bolan becomes a vengeance-driven force of nature, shutting off all emotions and living only to kill in cold blood. But sadly the method of his vengeance-sating is nowhere as satisfactory as that in, say, Bronson: Blind Rage. He chases down the car that deposited the corpses, causing it to crash and catch on fire. He merely shoots the heavyset freak who did the actual turkey-doctoring, then sends off the driver with a mercy shot, Bolan despite his rage still unable to let someone die by burning to death. I was expecting something a little more prolonged and painful. But this is just a precursor to the unsatisfying vengeage-meting Pendleton delivers throughout.

Because folks at this point The Executioner has lost that mean drive that fueled the first couple volumes; it’s become more streamlined, more refined in a way, at least when compared to truly brutal revenge yarns like Bronson: Blind Rage or even the first couple Vigilante novels. I wanted to read a determined Mack Bolan bashing brains and ripping out guts in his unquenchable thirst for revenge, but really there isn’t much here out of step with any other Executioner novel. I guess we’re to understand that Bolan is even more driven than usual, but as the novel progresses his blitzing is so frequent that it’s rendered in summary, diluting the impact. For example, late in the game we learn, in a single paragraph, that Bolan kills fifty-two mobsters in one hit alone.

Anyway Bolan goes on a nighttime massacre mission (the novel occurs over just a day or two), slaughtering sundry mobsters in his hunt for Sicilia. And again, inexplicably, we never get to see him confront Sicilia! Instead, we get this eleventh hour subplot about an “Al 88,” a mysterious figure who is now running the Boston mob, despite being known as an upstanding citizen in his public identity. Yes, the exact same subplot we saw in previous volumes – “Mr. King” last time in California Hit and “Sir Edward” before that in #10: Caribbean Kill. I guess Pendleton was fascinated by the idea of a well-known public figure secretly being a criminal kingpin, because this is the third time in a row he’s given us the storyline.

And what’s worse, the Al 88 stuff takes precedence over the revenge on Sicilia stuff. Even the revelation that those tortured corpses weren’t actually Val and Johnny is muddled; Leo Turrin somehow finds out and informs Bolan, who takes a while to even inquire who the corpses were. (Leo says the woman was a local hooker and the boy was a local “retarded” kid who’d been reported missing…and after this the matter is dropped.) During a break in the blitz Bolan starts to figure out who Al 88 really is, leading to a memorable discussion with the man’s wife in their large, otherwise typical home. Al 88 we’re to understand is so big in his public persona that he’s got connections in Washington, which seems to be laying seeds for future isntallments. But anyway Bolan, again using Books Figarone, decides to set it up so that Al 88 uses his own resources to track down Sicilia, again leading to a climax where Bolan is to meet his enemy on neutral ground for the handoff of his captured loved ones.

And once again it’s a trap, but as ever Bolan’s several steps ahead of his enemy. But what could’ve been a cool finale is also diluted via too quick of a denoument; Bolan takes out some thugs who have been planted in the darkness, then almost perfunctorily destroys the sanitation truck filled with armed thugs that comes after him. I mean this image alone could’ve been greatly expanded upon – the area’s been closed off, it’s the middle of the night, and a friggin’ garbage truck comes roaring out of the darkness with a bunch of machine gun-wielding mobsters riding on it. But Pendleton’s over and done with it in just a paragraph or two, Bolan destroying the truck with a couple grenades. And what really sucks is we learn, as Bolan briefly views the carnage, that Sicilia himself was on the truck – thus he’s been killed virtually off-page, Pendleton denying us the personal confrontation the plot demanded. 

But at least Val and Johnny are free, however Pendleton isn’t one to spend too much time on this, either; Bolan and Johnny trade a few terse lines in the epilogue, and then Bolan and Valerie have an emotional conversation that occurs entirely off-page. More print is actually spent on Leo Turrin’s comment that Federal agent Hal Brognola wants to talk to Bolan about something; Brognola’s eventually the guy who set Bolan up with the whole post-Pendleton “Stony Man” scenario of Gold Eagle Books, so I’m assuming we’re going to get a precursor of that, but I guess we’ll find out for sure next time.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Vice Town

Vice Town, by Ennis Willie
No month stated, 1962  Vega Books

Published while he was writing the Sand series, Vice Town is another slice of hardboiled pulp featuring a bad-ass protagonist courtesy gifted author Ennis Willie. According to an interview Willie did with Stephen Mertz, Vice Town was rejected by his usual publisher (Merit Books) because the protagonist was crippled, so Willie just took the manuscript to Vega Books. The novel is copyright Willie, so I’m not certain why it’s never been reprinted, even in digital format.

I don’t know anything about Vega Books but I’ll assume it was a sleaze purveyor along the lines of Merit. But mind you this is early ‘60s sleaze, meaning we get frequent mentions of “pert breasts” but the actual sex is off-page. In other words pretty much like the Sand novels. And protagonist Gator is along the lines of Sand as well, save for the fact that he’s missing his left leg from below the knee thanks to a wound in “the war.” No fears on him losing any badass points, though; Gator is constantly bashing out brains and teeth with his crutches, which have been reinforced so he can wield them like weapons. They also have additional surprises stored in them.

Gator when we meet him has just returned to Labanion, “the Friendliest Little Town in the South,” to get some bloody revenge. Willie skillfully draws out Gator’s backstory with enough suspense to keep the reader’s interest, but we learn straight away that Gator was actually lynched by the good folks of Labanion, ten years ago. Thanks to a girlfriend named Trudy who slipped him a knife, he was able to cut his noose and escape. Now he’s back, minus one leg but carrying the scars of multiple battles, and he’s come to find out who recently murdered another of his old girlfriends, a beauty named Castine.

But Gator’s backstory is even more colorful, if even borderline surreal: we’re informed that several years ago he just appeared in Labanion one day, a long-haired boy who entered the town via the supposedly-uncrossable swamp that bordered the town. Even stranger, Gator had no memory of who he was or where he came from. A kind-hearted old lady named Mother Bannister took him in – Castine being another orphan she’d taken in to raise as her own – but the people of Labanion never trusted Gator. In fact his name was given by them, mocking how he crossed over Bama Swamp, something only gators could do. Then one day Mother Bannister fell to her death in a well – Gator and Castine were with her but neither of them saw how she fell – and he was blamed for killing her. The townsfolk tried to hang the 19 year-old Gator, and now upon his return he’s openly stared at and receives handwritten threats that he should leave town.

Labanion in the past ten years has turned into a den of iniquity, and it’s all about as Sin City as you can get. Gator comes back to find a sleazy city of strip clubs and gambling joints. He’s returned due to the recent murder of Castine, who he never saw again after his escape, but who he has thought of often over the past ten years. Now he’s read that her corpse was fished out of the swamp, her face gory mush thanks to a point-blank shotgun blast, and he’s returned to Labanion to get some answers and avenge her murder. The question of who murdered Castine and why is the central mystery of Vice Town. The secondary mystery is what happened to the man who turned Labanion into a sleazepit; he too was murdered, the town now run by his second-in-command, a thug named Charlie Docker.

But this isn’t a mystery novel; it’s a violent yarn in the Spillane mold, though unlike Spillane it’s written in a much-preferable third-person. Immediately upon returning to Labanion our hero is wasting perps; he spots some guys trying to rape a young woman outside a bar and he beats one of them unmerciful with his weaponized crutch and strangles the other. The girl is named Alice, and she’s a 21 year-old writer who immediately wants to write a story on Gator – and lose her virginity to him. My suspicion that Vega was a sleaze outfit would seem confirmed by the amount of women with “pert breasts” who throw themselves at Gator; despite his “go away, little girl” admonishments Gator does eventually give Alice some of that off-page good lovin.’

Another of Gator’s conquests is Ursula, a sexy broad his age who is now married to the guy who owns the hotel Gator’s staying in. This subplot clearly exists so that Gator can have more sex action, with Ursula letting herself into Gator’s room whenever she feels the urge and telling him how much she wants him. Ursula also provides intel on the third of Gator’s old flames – in addition to herself and Castine there was Trudy, who was almost a twin of Castine and always by her side. She would certainly know who might’ve killed Castine, but unfortunately Trudy left town a year ago, marrying some sailor.

So Gator goes about “investigating” in a manner Mike Hammer would appreciate; he sidles into establishments owned by Docker and starts busting heads open with his crutches. Gator’s sure Docker had something to do with Castine’s death, and first he’s led to a Docker torpedo named Church. Here we have a brutal fight scene that’s a precursor to the gory splendor of Gannon. But folks Gator’s not too bright, often walking into clear setups. For example, he leaves Church alive after this beating, then that night at dinner Gator receives a call. It’s a woman claiming to be Trudy, asking Gator to meet her at some location on a rougher side of town. Gator runs right over, only to be knocked out and taken on his last ride by Church and a couple other hoods. Otherwise this is a taut sequence, one that features the memorable revelation that one of Gator’s crutches has a springblade housed in its base.

In fact, Gator’s often walking into traps and getting knocked out. In one part he’s even shotgunned, but basically walks it off; this occurs during a confrontation with Docker himself. After holding a gun to the mob boss’s head and warding off his henchmen, Gator confidently walks out of Docker’s establishment – and then is shot right before getting into his car. Luckily Alice happens to have been following Gator and takes him to a safe place in the woods for some nursing and off-page sex. Humorously the shotgun injury doesn’t much seem to bother Gator anymore. He also appears to be unfazed by the multiple concussions he endures.

Gator is such a bad-ass though, doling out memorable bad-ass lines, that this stuff isn’t that big a deal. But for some reason Willie often cuts away to minor characters, like a heroin-addicted whore named Victory Lane. The book’s only 139 pages, with fairly big print, so you’d think these detours would be unecessary. Even stranger is a late development that Mother Bannister willed Gator her newspaper. So now it’s like “Mickey Spillane does Citizen Kane” as Gator uses the town rag to wage a war in print on Charlie Docker, running exposes on how corrput he is, how he probably murdered Castine, etc. I have to say, though, this is the first violent revenge thriller I’ve read where the hero suddenly finds himself becoming a newspaper editor.

Victory Lane plays into another trap Gator willingly walks into; in the paper he offers a reward for anyone who can give him info on Castine’s murder, and Victory calls in on it. But Gator finds her corpse waiting for him, victim of a hot fix. Only she’s been dead a while and it’s a trap. This takes us into the climax, though, with a captured Gator again escorted into Docker’s headquarters, the goal to kill him here in this soundproofed room. Indeed, to have him killed by someone Docker calls on the phone; now it’s just a matter of time until this mysterious assassin arrives. It’s the weaponized crutches to the rescue again, though…but unfortunately here Vice Town derails a bit, tossing aside all the tension and suspense it has been building toward, with the climax played out mostly via expositary dialog. For somehow Gator has realized who the “real” mastermind of Labanion is, the person who killed Mother Bannister, masterminded the corruption of Labanion, and then ultimately turned it all over to Docker.

SPOILER WARNING, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know…but given the scarcity of the book I figure it’s okay to discuss it. Anyway, Gator has figured out that Castine herself is behind Labanion’s corruption, Mother Bannister’s muder, and the murder of the previous town boss; and further that it was Trudy who was shotgunned in the face, Castine using her virtual “twin” to fake her own death. All this is relayed by a gutshot Gator, who sits dying on Docker’s office chair; Castine has entered the room, of course the mysterious assassin summoned by Docker on the phone. She’s been behind all the failed hits on Gator, and when she finally speaks she reveals she is a treacherous chameleon, able to take on any role to survive. Thus for Gator she was an innocent soul. The cover illustrates this climactic scene, with Gator’s energy failing and Castine slowly taking a gun from her purse. However we’ve been teased that Gator’s other crutch has a weapon he’s never used – and yes, spectacularly, it’s capable of firing a bullet from its base, and thus in pure Spillane mold we have the female villain’s face blown apart in full-on graphic detail. It’s unstated whether Gator himself lives; we leave him sitting on the chair, having bled buckets, and uncertain whether he’s up to the effort of leaving and finding help.

Overall Vice Town runs at a steady clip, filled with violent fights and shootouts. Gator makes for an interesting protagonist; his crutches actually make him more dangerous, and it was fun reading him bashing out brains with the fast-moving sticks. The sleaze element was also nicely handled, with frequent descriptions of the ample charms of the various babes, but nothing outright explicit. The dialog was also great, with many memorable lines from Gator. But then it’s the dialog-heavy ending that kind of left me dissatisfied, with Gator coming to too many conclusions without the reader being aware of them, to the point that the finale almost seemed like Willie hitting his word count and hurriedly wrapping up all loose ends via exposition.

This it seems was it for Gator; Willie continued with the Sand novels for a few years before retiring from the writing business. But as mentioned the book’s copyright him, so it would be cool if he republished it so that a new generation of fans could enjoy it.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 (aka Best Biker Fiction 3)

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1
No month stated, 1984  Star Books
(originally published in the US as Best Biker Fiction 3, Dell Books, 1983)

Over the years Zwolf has mentioned the short stories that ran in vintage issues of Easyriders, and that three anthologies had been published of these stories in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I decided to pick up at least one of them, only to find that all three were ridiculously overpriced on the used books market. Then I came across this ’84 British paperback and assumed it must’ve been a retitled reprint of Best Biker Fiction 1 (Dell, 1977) for the UK market. Imagine my surprise when I read this on the copyright page: “Originally published in the United States as Best Biker Fiction 3!” 

Yes my friends, as confusing as can be, Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 is actually Best Biker Fiction 3. I was bummed about this – I’d read online that Best Biker Fiction 1 had a lot of cool stories in it – but whatever; all three anthologies are pretty scarce, and this UK reprint itself wasn’t cheap or too easy to find. It runs to a little over 160 pages of smallish print, and Star Books has just used the original typeset, as no words have been “British-ized” and we get double quotation marks for dialog. I think that Star has actually split the original Dell edition in two; Best Biker Fiction 3 boasts “39 Great Tales!” on the cover, but this Star book only features 20 tales. My assumption is that Star’s Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 2 features the remaining 19 stories from Best Biker Fiction 3. Also worth noting is that, despite a different by-line for each of these stories, the majority of them seem to have been written by the same person, a skilled writer with a very dark sense of humor.

In my research I discovered that an author named JJ Solari was pretty much synonymous with the fiction published in Easyriders; in particular he penned a darkly comic tale titled “No Class Chick” which has become legendary in its own way. This is the story I most wanted to read, however it was compiled in Best Biker Fiction 1. You can actually read it at the link above, but do not look at the image at the top of the blog. You have been warned! Reading “No Class Chick” after Best Biker Fiction 3 has me convinced that JJ Solari is indeed the skilled author who wrote the majority of the tales in Best Biker Fiction 3, as the writing style is similar – as is the darkly comic vibe. I’d say Joe Lansdale was a fan of Solari’s…I’d also say it’s possible Lansdale himself might’ve written some of the stories collected in this book.

Another thing I found interesting is that, for the most part, biker world stuff isn’t that central to these stories, by which I mean there isn’t a lot of detail about various types of choppers and etc. The motorcycles are basically a representation of the outlaw lifestyles these characters live, and for the most part we just get the random mentions of choppers and knuckleheads or the occasional Harley. Actually, “scooter” is the word most often used for the bikes. Otherwise it’s the dark comedy and wacky situations which take most focus, as well as the weird turns of phrase. Also all the stories are definitely R-rated, at least so far as the language goes, and we also get a few somewhat-explicit sex scenes.

“Night Rider” by Grumpy Joe (any relation to Sleepy?) opens the collection; like the others to follow, it’s fairly short, amounting to a handful of pages, and borderline horror mixed with dark comedy. We meet bikers Crabs and Turks while they’re drinking at a bar (95% of the stories take place in dingy bars, by the way, with the other 5% taking place in jails), then they split up and each head their separate ways home. But Crabs suddenly finds the highway he’s riding on to be empty, and it’s pitch dark to boot; another bike comes out of nowhere and closes in on him. The mysterious rider has a gory, ruined face and Crabs flashes back to that day two years ago when he stole some dude’s bike and the dude accidentally blew his own face off with a shotgun. Well now the corpse has come back for revenge; Crabs crashes and dies.

“Down The Road” by Billy Shore follows suit: a biker named Kirk wakes up one afternoon and hops on his knucklehead, content with the aimless life of a biker. As he’s choppering along “down the road” he crests a hill, only to see a jacknifed trailer in the road. He closes his eyes, sure he’s a goner, but when he opens them later he’s still choppering along and the trailer is behind him. Somehow he missed it. He comes across a sexy blonde hitchhiker (“her ass was a buttman’s wet dream come true”) and picks her up. She just keeps telling him to drive “down the road,” and on and on they go, the gas tank never emptying and the girl’s destination never showing up. Eventually Kirk realizes that he is of course dead, wiped out by that trailer, and now he’s driving into eternity with this strange woman at his back.

“Southern Hospitality” is by Tink and is more of a “slice of sleazy biker life” sort of tale, told in first-person. A group of bikers, Porky, Jerry, and Animal among them, have a party with copious drugs and babes, but it all turns sour when someone rips off Animal’s chopper. They give chase, only to come across the crashed bike; some woman at the party who wanted a ride ripped it off and suffered the consequences.

“T’anks A Lot, Muthatrucker!” is by Weird Willie and is along the same lines, and also in first-person; two bikers run into a trucker at some greasy dive and the trio get in an argument with a random motorist. Later they get back on the road and the motorist tries to exact revenge on the bikers, attempting to run them down, only for the trucker to come to the rescue with his semi.

“The Silent Treatment” is by Dan Irons and is another first-person yarn. The narrator claims to be a folk singing biker, but inexplicably this tidbit isn’t much elaborated on. He’s choppering through Virginia when the tale begins, and comes across a mega-babe hitchhiker. He gives her a lift but starts to go batty when the girl won’t say a word – even when they’re having some off-page sex. He initiates a series of “pranks” to get her to talk, like putting a snake in her sleeping bag and even ultimately beating her up. Finally he drops her off in some town, screaming that he can’t take it anymore – to which she responds, “You’re cute,” the first words she’s ever spoken to him. So he punches her in the face, and a cop sees it. Now he’s in jail hoping to plead self-defense.

“Whatta Surprise” by Johnny Ray Cole is a definite highlight of the collection and no doubt another JJ Solaris piece. The narrator, Frank, choppers through downtown Dallas, checking out the latest new town. Frank ends up in a bar and starts checking out this hotstuff redhead. The redhead invites Frank back to her place and lights a joint, then turns off the lights when the sex begins happening. The redhead asks Frank to “cornhole” her, but Frank begins feeling her up anyway – and discovers the redhead is a man. At this point Frank reveals that “he” is a “bull-dyke!”

“The Tale Of Grumble Rumble” is by Arco Mole and concerns a big scary biker named Grumble Rumble whose name is derived from how he “rumbles” his chopper up beside another biker and then “grumbles” something unintelligible under the racket. Usually the other bikers shit their pants in fear, but along comes Notorious Norton, who is fond of tossing his boogers in the faces of the bikers he races. He and GR get in a race, one that Grumble Rumble doesn’t survive.

“Through The Years With A Hog” is by Timothy Kost and is probably the only “serious” piece in the collection. It’s also the first that might possibly be by a different author. This one concerns a guy who bought his first Harley in 1920 and drove a succession of them around America as the twentieth century went on. But now it’s 1980, the guy is 78, Harley-Davidson’s gone out of business and Japanese crap clutters the street. The guy dies and enters some sort of biker valhalla.

“Ladies Love Outlaws” is by La Bete and tells us of Fish Hook, a scar-faced enforcer for the Mad Dogs M.C. This one’s almost a novella compared to the other shorts. The narrator is best buds with Fish Hook, and tells us how he falls in love with an innocent young woman named Mary. This newfound love causes Fish Hook to lose some of his murderous tendencies, to the point that he merely pulverizes a rival biker named Frog instead of outright wasting him. Then one night Frog breaks in on the narrator, forces him at gunpoint to call Fish Hook, and plots to blow him and Mary away. Only Mary’s got a derringer hidden in her blouse.

“Gonna Have A Party” is by Ed Rules and definitely seems to be courtesy a different author; at points I got a Michael Newton vibe from the narrative style. More importantly, this story seems to have gone through an editorial wringer, as it starts out about one thing and changes course midway through. Anyway, it’s another novella-length piece, but this one’s in third person and features Jason Black, a ‘Nam vet turned freelance author who recently gave up the straight life and bought a chopper. We meet him as he enters a bar and runs afoul of a big biker there; Black smashes his face with a bottle and impresses the biker boss, Big Red. The boss announces a feast that night and invites Black, but first they need to steal a pig to roast. Here the editorial trickery occurs, as Black disappears from the narrative and we get this overlong sequence of Big Red and others enduring hell to steal the pig. Then it’s to the party, where the bikers run a gang on some young girl who shows up. Finally Jason Black returns long enough to have sex with some babe who was giving him the eye earlier, and that’s that – he choppers off to another adventure.

“Sympathy For The Devil” is by M. Skuorov and returns to the dark horror vibe of the first two stories. A biker named Crazy Chester runs into a big biker dressed all in black one night along a dark road; the biker announces that he’s Satan and will give Chester three wishes in return for his soul. Chester’s three wishes are for new lights for his bike, to become a superstud – and to have sex with Mrs. Satan. After ranting and raving a bit on that last wish, the devil gives in, but unfortunately the story ends here, with Chester happily driving back into civilization. We never even get to meet the devil’s wife.

“Kept Promises” is by Dink Ferrell and is a short piece about the narrator, a biker who is now ending his one-year “experiment” in living the straight life. He says so long to the crying girl he was living with, saying he’s back to the biker world and the “strange pussy” he’ll encounter on the road. And that’s that.

“The Mouse” is by John Watson and concerns a little joker named Mouse who acts as the prankster for his club. He decides to gain a little more respect by robbing a bank. This he does, only to get his brains blown out by the cops. The runtime of this one though is more concerned with Mouse’s previous pranks.

“The Payback” is by Alonzo Reed and it’s a belabored story that also seems to have had some editorial changes. A biker named Travis drives through Texas, stops at a bar for several beers and some ‘ludes, and ends up crashing his bike. He wakes in jail to find his bunkmate a fellow biker, this one named Snake, who not only has a coke spoon but also some coke. The spoon is crafted to look like a cobra, and Snake says it was a present from his now-dead girlfriend. He tells the story of how she was killed by another biker, and Snake’s sworn to get revenge. Travis wakes up next day to find Snake gone, and I thought this was going to be another supernatural thing, but instead Travis gets out of jail and passes by a club where Snake’s standing outside, surrounded by cops. Turns out Snake was let out before Travis woke up, went to a bar, found the man who killed his girl, and wasted him. The end.

“A Mama In A Million” is by JJ Solari, here posing under his own name. It takes the misogyny of “The Silent Treatment” and basically turns the dial to 11. The narrator has put an ad in the paper looking for a new mama, otherwise he’s going to be kicked out of his club. A young girl named Jessica shows up, pleading for the job – she shows up outside his door while it’s pouring out, saying that she’s been in the rain for hours to walk here and is at the end of her rope, financially and emotionally. The narrator leaves her outside, eating a large meal with his dog, and then finally talks to her. The “humor” of this one is all around how the narrator confuses Jessica’s dying of pneumonia with laziness. He mistreats her relentlessly while she passes out on the floor, then takes her to a party and chains her to his bike. The punchline finale has it that the bike was stolen anyway – along with the foot it was chained to. So the narrator sends her off, telling her it’s not going to work out, and he buys a monkey to be his new mama.

“A Good Woman” is by Wayne C. Ulsh and it’s about a biker named Lou Hubbard who gets in a roadside brawl with some motorists and two other bikers. Hubbard’s the only one caught and is sent to jail. Five months later he’s able to break free, and heads for the home of his old girlfriend, Molly. After they get friendly a bit they find that cops have surrounded the place. Molly offers to pose as Hubbard’s hostage, but a sadistic cop won’t play along, and Hubbard goes out saving Molly from a shotgun death.

“Dead-End Alley” is by Pockets and is a humorous yarn in which a small biker named Rodent heads to a chopshop in a litter-strewn alley, stops to take a piss, and nearly pisses on a hulking biker named Gronk who is hiding in the trash. Gronk’s staking the place out; he claims that the chopshop owner, Snake, stole his bike. He forces Rodent to assist him, and when they see that Snake does indeed have Gronk’s chopper, the huge biker jumps to action, bashing out brains and killing Snake and his colleagues.

“Rangatang’s Rule Book” is by Rangatang and is a humorous short piece in first-person in which Rangatang advises one of the rules from his book – if the cops ever get you, make ‘em wish they didn’t. He puts this rule to work when he finds himself in jail; first he pisses on a guard, then he shits up his meal and tosses it at the guards(!), then he manages to blow up a toilet, and finally he melts a candy bar, strips down, and licks it off the floor so that the disgusted cops think he’s eating his own shit. Finally the sheriff decides to let him go!

“Death Run” is by Tex Campbell and it’s novella length, probably the longest story in the book. A biker named Rick stops at a dive in Arizona and is hassled by a cop, who gives Rick “directions” which turn out to be bullshit. Rick finds himself deep in the desert, lost, and then his bike breaks down. He patches it up in the heat and then discovers an abandoned house nearby. Planning to sleep there for the night, he goes in the house and finds a pair of murdered corpses. The killers show up, a pair of hoodlums named George and Rooster. They hold Rick at gunpoint and take his money and his coke; he goes off in pursuit and crashes them with a cinder block. This one features the most WTF? downer ending ever: Rick gets his money back from the crashed car and is bitten by a poisonous snake! His bike dies again, the car is destroyed, and Rick dies.

“One On The Way” is by Ron Grate and is the shortest piece in the collection; it’s a biker version of a heartwarming tale, as the narrator befriends a twelve year-old hellion who comes by while the narrator is fixing up his bike. They discuss women and the world over a couple beers, and the narrator promises to let the kid ride his bike one day.

And that’s it for Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 aka Best Biker Fiction 3. The stories were for the most part entertaining, filled with dark comedy and unique turns of phrase, but so far as biker pulp goes I still much preferred The Blood Circus.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Lorna’s Lust For Men (aka Ladies In Heat)

Lornas Lust For Men, by Dee Laye
No month stated, 1981  Beeline Books
(Original publication 1972)

Originally published in 1972 as Ladies In Heat, Lorna’s Lust For Men is by none other than Gil Brewer, here posing as “Lee Daye;” the original ‘72 publication was credited to “Luke Morgann.” Apparently the book went through several permutations, reprinted under a variety of titles and author names, but these days all of the editions appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth; I luckily came across this latter retitled reprinting at a nice price and, uh, snatched it up.

Now this is a sleaze novel pure and simple – it isn’t just an otherwise-standard hardboiled mystery yarn with an added “risque” element, like some of those earlier so-called sleaze novels were. This one’s all screwing, all the time, with at least one explicity-rendered banging per chapter. I’m supposed to enter the standard caveat that it’s “a shame a writer of Brewer’s caliber had to stoop to porn” and whatnot, but to tell the truth I went into Lorna’s Lust For Men eager to see how Brewer would handle sleaze, and sure enough he does manage to deliver a somewhat-entertaining plot amid the graphic sexual situations.

One thing to note – this retitling makes no sense so far as the actual plot goes; titular “Lorna” only appears in the first chapter. It’s my assumption someone at Beeline just lazily checked this first chapter when coming up with the latest title for this old Brewer novel. Another thing to note is that I only assumed the novel took place in Brewer’s typical location of Florida; we’re informed the town is named Howesville, but Brewer doesn’t do much to bring it to life or tell us anything about it – other than the incredible amount of swap parties that take place there. As one orgiast later notes (while having sex, in fact): “The whole town’s gone batty.”

It’s really hard to review a book like this; the majority of it is comprised of hardcore smut, and while I was tempted I decided not to quote any of it lest anyone get truly offended – for it is pretty sleazy. It’s always crazy to see what these hardbitten drunk old hardboiled novelists are capable of, and Brewer doesn’t let us down. The novel’s as profane as can be, with practically everything, from the narrative to the dialog, having to do with unbridled sex. There’s also some stuff that wouldn’t be publishable today; most notably, while Lorna gets the titular spot in this later edition, the girl our hero spends the most time boffing is named Emily…and she happens to be fifteen years old. And her young age is only seen as an enticement for more boffing.

Anyway our hero is Booth Landers, a professional painter who I assume must be in his early 20s, and this because we learn that “two years ago” he graduated from college. We don’t get much info on his job but he seems to be a painter for commercial accounts; early on a “soda ad” is mentioned. But otherwise the painting aspect has nothing to do with anything, other than the steady stream of willing models Booth gets to screw over the course of a few days. In fact, we meet him as the lovely redheaded Lorna is imploring him for sex – she’s been lusting after him the past few days, particularly after catching a glimpse of him and his eight-inch “pecker” in the shower here in his studio.

Straight out of the gate we see what we’re in for, as Booth and Lorna energetically screw over seemingly endless pages in full-on graphic splendor. We’re to understand that this is a first for Booth; he’s never had sex with any of his models, happily married to a “big blonde” named Verna. And folks guess who just happens to walk into the studio as Booth and Lorna are having round two? That’s right: Verna, who freaks out at the sight of Lorna sitting atop her husband and “slobbering over his dick.” She takes off, and Booth regretfully ends his time with Lorna, who drops from the narrative and never shows up again, so it’s clear the good people at Beeline didn’t put too much thought into the title of this edition.

Booth goes home but is unable to talk Verna out of dumping him, so he takes his stuff and goes back to his studio – just in time to have sex with another model, this one named Cherry. It’s revealed that all of his models have been lusting for him, and now that Lorna broke the dam they’re all bound and determined to have their way with him. So there ensues yet another hardcore a-doings, with yet another intruder coming upon Booth mid-boink: Dr. Lester Doyle, a local sleazebag who lost his license over an abortion years ago. He’s been keeping himself occupied by blackmailing Booth and has come for his latest payment.

Brewer displays his hardboiled background with this subplot: Booth, according to Doyle, raped a young woman two years ago, and now he’s got to pay every week to keep her from going to the cops. The belabored story has it that the girl was actually gang-raped, with Booth being the one who held her down while his buddies took their turns after him. This was after their graduation party, and all the other guys have returned to their homes; since Booth stayed here in Howesville, he’s the only one who can be successfully blackmailed by Doyle – the girl came to him for treatment after the rape and confided in him. Eventually we’ll learn though that she wasn’t raped: it was more of an orgy sort of affair, with the gal getting off on pretending to be taken advantage of by a bunch of guys in the woods. Whatever, we’ll roll with it.

Even here Brewer manages to cater to the sleazy whims of his editorial demands: Coyle plays pocket pool as he watches the half-nude Cherry waltzing around the studio. In a typical hardboiled story, Booth would no doubt be planning how he could kill Coyle – the only people who even know about the supposed rape and the blackmailing are Coyle and the “victim” – but instead Booth has been paying to keep the doctor’s mouth shut. Now though with Verna leaving him he’s not as worried about his wife being told of the incident (one of Coyle’s threats), however he’s still frantic he’ll go to prison if Doyle tells the cops (another of Coyle’s threats). Instead he sends the doctor off, telling him he’ll pay later.

The novel is like Blue Dreams taken to absurd hardcore proportions. For within days of becoming separated from his wife, Booth’s had sex with sundry hotstuff women, only of course this being a sleaze novel the sex is much more explicit than in that earlier, superior novel. And also once again the sex is taken to such extreme levels that it reaches gross-out proportions; Booth is forever “washing off his dick in the sink” and rushing to his next XXX engagement. Throughout Brewer tries to incorporate actual “novel stuff:” Booth’s studio is trashed while he’s out screwing some latest babe, and there’s a running mystery of who did it, and also he has a few confrontations with Verna, determined to reunite with her. As I say Brewer seems to be having fun, like when Booth gets angry at the suspicion that Verna’s already having sex with some new guy…and then realizes that he himself has been with five women in the past day.

Oh yeah and befitting the early ‘70s publication date (of the original edition at least), swap parties are all the rage: Booth goes to about five of them over the course of the novel, each time escorted by his latest model girlfriend. Chief among these is Emily, the aforementioned teenager; of all the female characters in the novel, she has the most sex scenes with Booth and takes him to a couple swap parties. Another running thread is that Booth keeps hearing that Verna is going to be appearing at these orgies, yet he never finds her at one. Oh and one of these orgies features one of the greatest lines of dialog I’ve ever read (not to mention another indication of Brewer having fun): “Put your whang in me, Alivin.”

Booth does finally come across Verna at a swap party, late in the novel, giving an energetic bj to some dude, something Booth learns she’s done for several other guys just before him. “This is my wife!” A naked Booth shouts to the assembled swappers. “She’s been sucking everyone off! Now I’m gonna fuck the shit out of her!” (Actual quotes from the book, mind you.) Thus Booth forces himself upon his wife as everyone watches, and it only occurred to me much later that cagey Brewer had worked rape into the resolution of this subplot – Booth’s troubles with Dr. Coyle being based on a supposed rape, and Booth’s repairing of his relationship with his wife via an actual rape. Not that Verna much minds it, given that she’s all worked up anyway. After this Booth even forces her to give him one of those super bjs, after which the two delcare their reborn love for one another and leave the orgy(!).

But as if we haven’t had enough orgy action, we get another one immediately after this; Booth and Verna have some dialog back home, accepting one another’s infidelities and deciding to have an open, swinger-friendly relationship. Also, Verna admits to having wrecked Booth’s studio, but offers to pay for repair. All that settled, they head to another orgy straightaway – there seems to be several of them going on at any given time here in Howesville – and here the climax plays out, so to speak, when Booth spots none other than Dr. Coyle engaging in the hardcore activities. Not only him, but also the young woman who accused Booth of raping her, two years ago. Booth again shouts to the assembled throngs, informing them of the good doctor’s blackmail attempts and the girl who lied that he raped her. He then proceeds to beat up Coyle, and he and Verna go off happily together.

And that’s it for Lorna’s Lust For Men, aka Ladies In Heat, etc. Hopefully this overlong summary will save others the trouble of actually reading the book. I mean not that it’s bad – as a purefire sleaze novel with explicit sex it’s certainly a success – it’s just that anyone hoping for a glimpse of what Brewer’s truly capable of will come away dissatisfied.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Adventure In Paradise

Adventure In Paradise, by Emile Schurmacher
November, 1958  Zenith Books

I love these vintage men’s adventure magazine anthologies. This is another one courtesy prolific men’s mag writer Emile Schurmacher, comprising five novella-length yarns from the Diamond Line. We’re not informed of the actual issues the stories came from, just provided a note at the start of the book of which magazine each originally appeared in. Also we don’t get an introduction from Schurmacher, as with Our Secret War Against Red China. In fact Schurmacher’s name isn’t even mentioned anywhere on the book, and on the title page we’re told the book is “as told to” Schurmacher.

Which means, somewhat unfortunately, that all five stories are narrated in first-person. I’m really not into first-person narrative in my escapist fiction, but it’s no big deal, and in a way it works for the stories assembled here. Each are heavy on the nature fiction tip, like men’s mag takes on Jack London or James Fenimore Cooper. Schurmacher as ever captures a rugged feel in his books, with great descriptions of the flora and fauna of uncharted regions of the earth. However, one thing I should also mention – as is typical with most every other men’s mag story ever written, the cover slugline has nothing at all to do with the actual contents of the story. There are no “savage women” anywhere here, and the cover painting, likely taken from a men’s mag as well, does not illustrate any scene in the book. For the most part, each of the stories is more focused on survival in the wilds, with the precious few women reduced to supporting status. Save that is for one or two stories – but even here the women in question are in no way “savage.” This isn’t a complaint, though; the stories are all entertaining and Schurmacher delivers gripping prose and memorable characters.

First up is “The Girl At Fat Wong’s Place,” which is credited to “Bill Harvey” and comes from Stag. This one, like all the others assembled here, follows the men’s adventure magazine template: it opens on some dramatic moment, then flashes back weeks or months earlier to tell us how the protagonist got here, before finally in the last pages returning to the opening incident for a harried finale. I almost think there was some men’s adventure mag school course somewhere that all these writers took, like the pulp magazine equivalent of DeVry or something. This story, more than any other in the book, spends most of its running time on the flashback portion.

Anyway Harvey is “free, white, and almost 28” (curiously a phrase you don’t hear very often these days!), and when we meet him his small schooner has just crashed on an atoll in Tahiti, stranding him with a sleazy Frenchman named Blois and a “pulse-stirring beauty” named Jeanne Lu who is Chinese-Tahitian. We flash back to months before and see how Harvey got in this predicament. His backstory is pure escapist fiction: he sees an ad in the paper for a shark hunting boat business for sale in Tahiti and decides to go for it. He flies over to Papeete, excited to get the schooner, only to be swindled by a Frenchman into buying a junker. As for the shark business, it too was a lie.

Eventually Harvey works at Fat Wong’s club, which is a dancing parlor with whorehouse upstairs – you can dance with the lovely native gals, and for a few dollars more take them upstairs. Harvey has his eyes on the gorgeous young Jeanne Lu, meeting her when he beats up the drunk who tries to take advantage of her. She takes Harvey up to her room for some off-page lovin’, and by the way all the sex is firmly off-page in this book, befitting the age of publication. Wong pays for the retrofitting of Harvey’s schooner and employs him on the copra trade, and after more adventures, including a few more bar fights, Harvey ends up on the schooner with his mate Blackie, Jeanne Lu, and Blois.

Finally we return to the opening sequence, which offers a half-baked suspense angle in which the increasingly deranged Blois lusts after Jeanne. Oh at this point Jeanne feels that Harvey doesn’t care for her, thus plans to return to her island or something. They live on the beach in what is an otherwise idyllic paradise, Jeanne using her childhood knowledge of survival on remote islands. Then one night Blois tries to kill Harvey and goes to rape Jeanne, who scratches him up like a wildcat. Harvey kills Blois, Jeanne buries him(!), and now the two live together happily until they are finally rescued. This one features an interesting finale in that Harvey and Jeanne get married; this is a trend that continues through the collection, and it’s different than other men’s mag yarns I’ve read, where the studly American protagonists usually go back home and leave their exotic foreign babes behind.

“I Found The Last Blonde Of Assam” is credited to Barry Ralston and is from Male. Despite having a misleading title, this one’s a better yarn than the previous, if only because it doesn’t spend the majority of its time on backstory. Ralston is a British “white hunter” who works for a London-based outfit and is responsible for big game hunting in India. When we meet him he’s just endured a massive earthquake (the date given as August 15, 1950) in which his native guides are wiped out. Now he must venture alone into the dangerous region of the Naga Indians, headhunters who put their brutal skills to work for the government in World War II. Harvey’s been asked to find Sandra Keith, a “snooty blonde bitch-on-wheels” director who has come here to India to make a documentary on the Naga, danger be damned.

As mentioned the title is very misleading: Sandra is the “blonde” of the title, not some exotic native beauty. Schurmacher as ever excels in the nature fiction vibe and really brings to life the rigorous terrain of Assam. Harvey encounters all sorts of setbacks and threats from the flora and fauna, and also Schurmacher adds an eerie layer of destruction thanks to the massive earthquake which just rocked the area. But when Harvey finds Sandra in the Naga village, run by a chief named Gtimi, the pulp vibe comes on full force: the Naga consider Sandra a “she-devil” and have locked her up. She was filming them with her movie camera when the earthquake hit, killing hordes of Naga, and thus the Indians believe that the woman and her mysterious device caused all this death.

Harvey’s able to talk some sense into the Indians, but ends up getting bashed on the head and knocked out (a recurring theme in the book). When he wakes up Sandra’s in the village temple, where she is to be sacrificed to the Snake God. Humorously, only one Indian’s even around, Gtimi and the others presumably out hunting or something. Harvey takes out the guard and finds Sandra about to become the meal of a massive snake. He chops it in half and the two make their escape. It’s back to the nature fiction vibe as the two fend through Assam – having some hot off-page lovin’ along the way – all the while hoping to evade their pursuers. Curiously, there’s no confrontation with the Naga; Harvey and Sandra escape to safety and leave “paradise” behind.

“My Six Years With The Amazon Women” is credited to George Ravenal and comes from Stag. This one also has a misleading title, but it’s a great story with the feel of an epic, like the James Fenimore Cooper of men’s mags, or even Dances With Wolves. This is one of those yarns where I wonder why the author didn’t develop it into a full-blown novel. There’s certainly the makings of one here, as Schurmacher packs a novel’s worth of events into a 40-page short story. Like the other protagonists in the collection, Ravenal is a rugged individualist who seems happiest far away from civilization. But Ravenal takes it to greater lengths than any of them, as here he spends six years living in the wilds, and only returns home because a shaman pushes him to it. An anthropologist, he tells us what brought him to the High Andes of Ecuador was “to find places no white man had ever seen before.”

This story is total nature fiction, all about surviving in the rain forests of South America and encountering a variety of flora and fauna. Snakes are a particular threat throughout the book but in this story in particular. Ravenal also has an encounter with vampire bats. As mentioned the story packs the details of a novel, just in rushed form: early on Ravenal’s informed that many Southerners fled to Ecuador after the Civil War, and now their descendants live deep in the Andes(!). Further, he’s told that one of them, who lives alone in the jungle, might be able to point him in some good directions to explore. Ravenal does meet this guy and spends like a month with him, but it’s mostly told via summary; there was a lot of potential here to flesh this out, particularly the bonkers “Civil War descendant” bit. Instead it’s back to the nature fiction, with Ravenal spending months venturing into the rain forest, at one point caught in a torrential downpour which pushes his raft into an unknown direction.

He ends up in the land of the Piji, the very same dangerous Indians the Civil War guy warned him about. As an anthropologist Ravenal is able to communicate with them using the base Indian language of this area, but still he’s attacked promptly by them, coming across an adult male and a twelve year-old boy. Ravenal somehow manages to kill the male, after which the boy proclaims that Harvey has become his new bodyguard, given that he just killed the old one! The two go to the Piji village, which is run by the boy’s father, Chief Tacla. While there are a few Indian babes here, going around in the expected skimpy clothing, it’s worth noting that these “Amazon Women” hardly even factor into the narrative. Indeed, Ravenal’s set up with his “own woman” upon entering the village – of course, the widow of the brave he just killed – but he turns down her blunt offer of sex. This was a “hmmm” moment, particularly given the fact that the dude by this point had spent around a year in the jungle by himself, but later he hooks up with Tacla’s lovely daughter, even marrying her.

While the women are supporting characters (if that), the men take the focus, especially the village shaman. Schurmacher is very good with foreshadowing, or introducing something early in the narrative which pays off satisfactorily toward the climax. This story features the best instance of this in the collection: Ravenal shows the shaman some of his belongings from civilization, and ends up giving the shaman his wristwatch as a gift. Ravenal has realized he himself no longer even tracks time: “Somewhere along the line I had become a white savage.” He lives with the Piji for years, as I say a sort of Dances With Wolves thing, until the day that Tacla’s son runs afoul of a rival tribe and the Piji go to war. Ravenal takes part in the raiding parties, only to return one day to find their own village destroyed – Ravenal’s wife and newborn son among the massacred. He becomes a one-man army of vengeance, but sadly – and again a reminder of how this story would’ve benefitted from a longer length – all this is rendered in a few sentences.

But the ending packs an unexpected emotional wallop: after his latest vengeance raid, Ravenal passes out in exhaustion and wakes to find the shaman trying to purge “the demons” from him. After this the shaman escorts Ravenal out of the village, to the trail that will take him home, and presents him with a parting gift. Later Ravenal opens it – to find the watch he gave the shaman years before. A reminder from the medicine man of the civilized world he knew Ravenal would one day have to return to. This one’s definitely the strongest story in the collection, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, at least so far as the pulp element goes. The only thing pulpy about “My Six Years With The Amazon Women” is the title.

“We Crashed Into An Unknown World” is by Roger Oakes and is from Male. This is another one that features a misleading title, as it’s more of a survival mini-epic. Protagonist Oakes is a World War Two vet who now acts as a foreign correspondent in Mexico. He tells us of that “terrible day last June” when the small plane he was in crashed over Copper Canyon, which we’re informed is an uncharted no man’s land about the size of the Grand Canyon. Also onboard is sexy Mexican actress Maria Vegas, along with her simpering heavyset assistant. Only these two and Ravenal survive the crash, after which it’s all about survival in the jungle, as they’re in the sort of underworld of the Canyon and Oakes tells them there’s no chance any planes will come looking for them, given the dangers of downdraft and whatnot.

So, they have to hike over hundreds of miles of jungle terrain, with the usual dangers both flora and fauna. Once again snakes are the top threat, one of them causing the untimely demise of Maria’s assistant. After this it’s just Oakes and Maria, living together in the jungle; when they find a nice spot by a lake, they build a sort of campsite and live together for weeks, eventually having the expected off-page sex. This one’s really more of a hunting and fishing in the wild sort of yarn, with Oakes snaring fish or bagging game and Maria cooking up nice meals. When some jungle cats show up the two realize with regret that they’ll need to leave, and eventually they hook up with a pair of Indians who lead them to safety. This one too features the unusual ending of the protagonist marrying the exotic foreign babe, but Schurmacher doesn’t follow up on movie star Maria Vegas’s miraculous return to civilization and the public which assumed her to be dead.

“I Was A Slave Of the White Savage Queen” rounds out the anthology; it’s credited to Jerry Gibson and is from Hunting Adventure. Well finally folks in this one we have a pulpy jungle tale that lives up to its title, and for that reason it’s my favorite in the book. We meet Gibson just as his two Indian guides are killed by an anaconda, and now he’s venturing all by his lonesome into a deep, uncharted area of Paraguay. A botanist in the employ of a Chicago pharmaceutical company, Gibson is here to find some plants to be used to make new medicines. This gives his character an interesting element which Schurmacher well factors into the plot, particularly given that it trades on a mysterious native drug that can control a man’s mind and turn him into an obident slave. Throughout the tale Gibson puts to use his knowledge of the various drugs in the area, making him like the men’s mag version of Terence McKenna.

In a brief flashback we see how Gibson came here to Paraguay, hired a few native guides, and bullied them into taking him down a river into a particularly dangerous region of the jungle. This is because, the previous day, Gibson came across a mysterious plant which one of his guides warned him to stay away from – the yala plant, which the Indian claims will rob a man’s mind. He says it’s used by the “Blonde Witch” of the jungle, then buttons up about it, clearly having said more than he intended to. Gibson pesters both Indians for info on this Blonde Witch but gets no answers. But anyway now they’re both dead and he’s alone on the river. He hears screams for help one day and goes onto shore to help, only to realize too late he’s been trapped. The scream was a diversion and mean-looking Indians with red-painted faces close in on him, strapping him to a pole like a “bagged tiger” and carrying him into their village.

This is the domain of the Blonde Witch, a hotstuff blonde babe in a revealing robe: “no ordinary pretty-faced blue-eyed blonde.” Early in the story, when gaining permission from the local government to venture into this part of the country, Gibson was told of other South American explorers who came down here and disappeared, one of them a female anthropologist from Argentina. Gibson quickly deduces that the “Blonde Witch” is none other than that missing scientist, Luisa Monte. But now she’s crafted herself into the merciless ruler of thse Indians; it’s a matriarchal society, Luisa later reveals to Gibson, noted for the usage of the yala plant: the women use it to turn their men into mindless slaves.

Luisa is truly sadistic; her intro features her sending a drug-controlled man to his death, bitten by a poisonous snake. This turns out to have been her previous lover – and she’s decided that Gibson will be her new one. The scene where she seduces him is a highlight of the book, inviting him to the house she’s had the natives build for her and casually reclining on animal skins while Gibson tries to throttle her. Instead her uber sexiness wins out and they have some of that off-page good stuff; Gibson serves as Luisa’s latest stud for a few days, but Luisa either finds him a subpar lay or just tires of his constant criticisms of her sadism, as she sends her henchman Felipe to round him up and force him to take the yala drug.

Schurmacher does a swell job of conveying the ensuing days from the viewpoint of a man under mind control. Gibson finds it easy to not have to think for himself and goes around doing slave jobs for Luisa, who presumably has no further use of him in the sack. But here’s where those botanist skills pay off; yala is addictive, Gibson finds, hence why these natives stay hooked on it. When it’s time for his next dose he finds some plants that cause vomiting and pukes it all out. That night he exacts his vengeance on Felipe but stops short of killing Luisa in cold blood. Instead we find out that eight months later, once he’s returned to Chicao, Gibson learns of a“skeleton of a white woman” which has been discovered in a remote Indian village; his supposition is that, with Felipe gone, Luisa was no longer able to keep her subservient Indians in check and they ran roughshod on her.

Overall I really enjoyed Adventure In Paradise. Schurmacher’s writing is skilled and evocative and he really brings to life these green hells of the world. Granted, the pulpy exploitative stuff isn’t as strong, but again that’s more so a case of the publisher’s misleading sluglines. I think the biggest indicator of the strength of some of these stories is that I would’ve enjoyed reading more of them – “My Six Years With The Amazon Women” in particular would’ve made for a great novel. However, Shcurmacher did eventually publish a story that totally lived up to the “savage women in the wild” tag – “Captured By Assam’s Amazon She Devils,” which came out several years later.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Hard Rock

Hard Rock, by Jay Lawrence
May, 1968  Dominion Publishing

I picked this one up several years ago in the hope that, despite being published by a sleaze imprint, it might still be a decent rock novel. Like a fool I figured maybe I could read the novel for the characters, the story, and a peek inside the late ‘60s hard rock scene. But of course the book turns out to be nothing but endless screwing, with the “rock stuff” only used as a framework to deliver more endless screwing. It was interesting though to see that a book published so early in ’68 already seemed to understand the difference between basic rock and hard rock, though unfortunately the author is unwilling – or unable due to publisher demands – to much elaborate on it.

No idea who Jay Lawrence was, but I’m assuming it was a house name. There’s nothing fancy in the writing department about Hard Rock and this isn’t one of those sleaze novels that’s actually a good read, ie one written by a slumming author who tried to turn out an entertaining yarn despite the demand for copious adult situations. There’s no story, the characters are ciphers with unbridled libidos, and the writing style is meat and potatoes blunt. (Actually I should employ a more “adult” term than “meat and potatos,” but you get my drift.) The book’s just a little over 150 pages with big print, every chapter detailing a sex scene with some new insatiable babe the “hero” encounters, and every once in a while we’ll get some minor rock stuff, like that he’s recording a new album or somesuch.

I put hero in quotes above because Hard Rock appears to be the sleaze version of a morality tale; “Sex made him an idol and ruined him,” proclaims the cover, and that basically summarizes the entire plot. We meet protagonist Bobby Linger as he’s playing guitar and singing somewhere in the south, flashing back to a moment two years before when he was picked up by a pair of swingers. This is straight out of the gate and lets us know what we’re in for – pure sleaze with no chaser. Bobby’s eyed by the stacked wife of some drunk southerner, and soon enough he’s back in their motel room vigorously screwing the wife while the husband clutches his “small stiffness” and watches. It gets even more outrageous from there. Curiously though hardly any profanity is used in the book; about the most we get is “breasts” for the female anatomy, otherwise Lawrence sticks to metaphorical or descriptive phrases.

Well that was two years ago and now Bobby, 21, is singing and playing and hoping for stardom. We’re told he’s tall with longish blond hair, and supposedly looks like a rock star mixed with an all-American youth or somesuch, given his athletic build. More importantly so far as the novel goes, he’s massively endowed. And also he’s driven by such unhinged lust that even the typical Harold Robbins protagonist would consider him a little too horny. But it’s hard not to get lucky over and over again when every single woman introduced into the text wants to have sex with you, and the sooner the better. As ever I got more of a creepy vibe from the book than anything else; everytime a female character is introduced we get at least a page describing her ample anatomy, down to the view provided by her hiked up mini-skirt. Sex is the end-all, be-all of existence, the only thing that makes anyone tick, like Freud taken to preposterous lengths – okay I’m reaching here because the novel’s too dumb for this sort of analysis.

So Bobby wants to be a star and here he is plying his trade in the South. The songs Bobby plays, how he learned to play guitar, his history, where he came from – absolutely none of it is elaborated upon. But boy do we learn about his countless conquests. The sole exception to the “bang ‘em immediately after meeting ‘em” rule is Toni, a mega-hot blonde babe Bobby spots on the beach one day. Only, there’s something familiar about her. She’s a former singer herself, one who was on the cusp of fame before she mysteriously dropped out of the spotlight. We get a few mentions that she had an “accident” and now her voice has a slightly hoarse quality, and again like a fool I figured this would eventually be explained in the text. But nope. The bigger focus is that Toni is now a lesbian, and manages acts with her partner, equally sexy redhead Marie. So anyway Toni’s been watching Bobby here on the beach, is familiar with him from his few concerts, and offers to manage him. The only catch of course is that he will never, but ever, have sex with her. Or with Marie.

The two women quickly determine that Bobby excels at “hard driving rock,” but again absolutely no description of the style is given. Then they hook him up with an all-girl backing band, figuring the novelty factor will appeal to male fans and the sight of Bobby surrounded by three sexy girls will appeal to female fans. Or something. Because folks believe it or not, the female band members aren’t even named and the author inexplicably never delivers a scene where Bobby gets friendly with any of them, let alone all three at once. This was such a bizarre miss that I figured the author was afraid that if he did name the female group members, it would mean he’d have to write more “rock stuff,” thus he kept them nameless and off-page.

Not that Bobby has to go celibate, as he does more than well for himself. From a Eurasian hooker with acrobatic skills to the never-ending sprawl of women he meets after each show – Bobby turning Toni into his pimp as revenge for not letting him have sex with her – Bobby gets lucky again and again and again. And as ever there’s absolutely nothing erotic about any of it, just pages of enthusiastic banging with no emotional or dramatic or even plot-based thrust. But back in those pre-internet porn days guys had to take what they could get, so I doubt too many readers cared.

Now we’ve got the makings of a sort of plot: Bobby has fallen in love with Toni, but “bitch” Marie runs roughshod over him, making him practice and stay focused before shows. There’s a part where he performs some, uh, oral explorations upon Toni, who immediately thereafter runs away and begs Bobby not to tell Marie. Then it’s like the author said “to hell with this” because we have an out of nowhere part where Marie comes to Bobby one night…and has sex with him! And now she’s basically like his secret girlfriend, the two keeping it a secret…until Toni finds out about it…after which the author once again denies reader expectation by not delivering an immediate three-way. Instead the expected orgy is perennially put off for one reason or another…the girls are tired from a long day “handling business,” or Bobby’s worn out from recording his latest album…or whatever. 

And yes, Bobby records albums, meaning in the plural, but we don’t get one word about any of them. We do however get a little info on at least the business end of the rock world: Toni and Marie set up an arrangement with a bigtime showbiz promoter named Carson, who is geared to put Bobby on the fast-track to superstardom. We’re already informed of the “Bobby Linder craze” and whatnot, people apparently going crazy for his “hard-driving rock” style. But immediately after this we get back to the main focus of the book: unerotic, sleazy sex. Bobby hooks up with an old flame with swinging inclinations and he brings Marie along to a party she’s throwing. Soon enough Bobby’s doing some broad and Marie’s going down on another, eventually finding herself the centerpiece of an orgy. Next morning, looking at her haggard, worn features, Bobby wonders if he’s maybe gone a little too far with Marie.

Meanwhile there are bigger issues – earlier in the book Bobby scored with a couple gals who were into whipping and the like. Well, they secretly filmed it, and now Bobby’s being blackmailed, with the threat of releasing the kinky hardcore footage. The main threat here is that the two babes in question look slightly like Toni and Marie, so the blackmailers want the world to think Bobby Linger’s in a twisted relationship with his two female managers. Today he’d score a reality TV series, but in 1968 this was bad news, so Toni, Marie, and Carson go through the process of “carving up” Bobby’s contract to pay the million bucks the blackmailers want for the footage.

Because at this point Marie and Toni are disgusted with Bobby and hate him. I mean they’ve known from the very beginning of the book that he’s a sex-mad freak, but I guess Marie’s orgy tribulations and watching that bondage video really opened their eyes. But no fear, because they show him their true feelings in a manner suitable for a sleaze paperback: they double-team him in explicit detail. Both drugged out of their minds, they wake Bobby that night and proceed to thrust themselves upon him. Over and over, until he’s passed out from exhaustion and misery. Next morning he finds this note, which made me chuckle:

“Dear Pig,” [Bobby] read. “We’re through. You’ve had us in every way possible now, and there’s just nothing more to be had. We’ll probably see you in hell, but until then here’s hoping you go on making your own without involving us in it.”

Because as mentioned this is a sleaze morality tale, and Bobby’s the villain now due his comeuppance. He discovers that the two girls are gone, never to return, and Carson’s his new manager. And a demanding manager at that. From here Lawrence skips through months (and years?) in mere sentences – we’re told Bobby releases a few more albums, but all of them tank, and he’s already being chalked off as a fad. By novel’s end Carson’s forcing him to please some old rich lady who might be willing to finance more albums, but instead Bobby ends up taking the virginity of Carson’s hotstuff daughter! The finale is incredibly bizarre and comes off like the author stabbing from hell’s heart at his perverted readers: Bobby is reduced to becoming the latest plaything of the old rich lady, being led around on a leash and whipped like a dog!

And that’s all she wrote, folks. This isn’t a “rock novel” in the least, so if you ever come across it and are hoping you’ve found another Death Rock, be forewarned. Its interest mostly lies in how it can make sex seem so sleazy, depraved, and grotesque, but this seems to be the forte of most sleaze paperbacks, a la Flowers And Flesh.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Book Of Justice #2: Zaitech Sting

Book Of Justice #2: Zaitech Sting, by Jack Arnett
February, 1990  Bantam Books

Luckily the second volume of Book Of Justice is better than the first. Interestingly this one’s copyright “Justice Enterprises,” whereas the first one was copyright Mike McQuay. I assume though he also wrote this one, as well as the ensuing two volumes: the “about the author” bio at the end of the book presesnts a fictional history for fictional “Jack Arnett,” implying that Arnett was once involved with global intrigue but now lives the life of a beachcomber. His age is given as 42, which I believe would correlate with McQuay’s age – McQuay died just a few years later, of a heart attack, at the young age of 45. (I say “young” because Im 45 and I sure don’t feel old!...At least most of the time.)

We meet William Justice and his trusty team as they’re plying the waters outside Haven, the island republic Justice heads up. There’s some business about a near-revolution in nearby Cuba and Justice has some background with the man behind the failed revolution, Marto Chavez. Currently Chavez’s people are escaping Cuba on a boat that’s just entered Haven waters. Jusitce, on a yacht that’s secretly loaded with heat-seeker missiles and various other weapons, communicates with the captain piloting the Hind helicopter that’s chasing the refugees. Sardi, Justice’s turban-wearing right-hand man, implores Justice to seek peace. Meanwhile Bob Jenks, the brawny former Federal agent, insists Justice “blow the fuckers out of the sky.”

Instead Justice does what no men’s adventure protagonist should ever do – he bides his time, indecesive. He reaches what he thinks is a détente with the Cuban captain…who only pretends to fly away, but then turns back and opens fire on the ship of refugees. Finally Justice orders the Hind destroyed via those heat-seekers, after which he and his comrades board the refugee boat and gun down the surviving Cuban soldiers in cold blood. Meanwhile the refugees have almost all been massacred; lots of grim stuff here, with mentions of dead kids and even Jenks moved to tears by the sight. A bit too dour, I think, for this particular genre. Oh and throughout Kim, the hotstuff Eurasian babe who acts as the Smurfette of Justice’s main crew, goes around in a hot pink string bikini with a Wild West-style .45 strapped to her shapely thigh, blowing out the brains of surrendering Cuban soldiers with her AR-15.

Meanwhile Chika Stark, a half-Japanese lady who has also come to Haven to seek refuge, has troubles of her own: a pair of sadistic CIA goons corner her in her apartment, kill the teen girl Chika has befriended, and then tell Chika they’ll murder more innocents if Chika doesn’t come quietly with them. Apparently she created something the CIA now wants for American security, and they’re royally pissed that she “sold out” to the Japanese, apparently offering them the device. This brings Justice into the plot; while deep-diving to look at the refugee corpses – more dour stuff that seems like overkill at this point, though presumably it exists to show us how Justice gets “emotionally involved” with the people he tries to save – Justice witnesses the two goons trying to kill Chika when she jumps off their boat in an escape attemtp. Justice breaks the neck of one agent and watches as the other kills himself; we’re only like 40 pages into the book and there’s already been more action than last time.

But then, McQuay clearly wants to shoot higher than “just another men’s adventure series” with Book Of Justice; there are various subplots about politics on Haven (some local rabble-rouser named Caido Lienard wants to run against Justice as boss of the island republic), investment banking, and a muckracking Haven reporter named Stromberg who wants to get the goods on Justice. Unfortunately, rather than coming off like a big suspense series, I just found it all tedious and tiresome. Justice already has a large enough entourage, we don’t need extra stuff about yet more characters. Again, this is why ‘70s men’s adventure novels were so much better – they were just more primal, sticking to their sole lone wolf protagonists. Of course there were exceptions to the rule, but for the most part ‘70s men’s adventure was more streamlined. Zaitech Sting almost needs a Cast Of Characters page for the reader to keep up.

McQuay was a veteran of Gold Eagle and brings that imprint’s distrust of the CIA to this series; after digging up the corpses of the agents he killed (seriously, the first quarter of this novel is almost ghoulish, with several scenes of Justice either looking at or searching through dead bodies), Justice determines they were working for the US government. So he heads to the White House and, amid much televised hulabaloo, reveals the charred, mutilated bodies of the CIA agents to the TV cameras – which happen to be broadcasting the event live. Oh and I forgot to mention, but either McQuay bet on the wrong horse or just decided to set this series in an alternate reality, as it’s revealed that Dan Quayle is President! But then Haven’s already been presented as an island nation with UA status, so technically this series is alternate reality. Oh and to bring it all home – none other than Donald Trump is mentioned on page 53! And to bring it even further home – CNN gets mentioned in a negative light, pushing the fake news that “William Lambert” (aka the name the rest of the world knows William Justice by) is a terrorist, con artist, and general bad guy.

Eventually we meet this novel’s main villain, a Japanese dude named Shirishata who heads up a family-owned business and employs sadistic means to achieve his goals. He wants the “organic computer” Chika has designed, a computer that mixes technology with nature and runs off biochips. He sends his sword-wielding goons after Chika on Haven, resulting in some heroic sacrifice courtesy Chavez. Oh and meanwhile Kim gets friendly with Lienard, the Haven rabble rouser who challenges Justice to become “CEO” of the island republic; they even have a sex scene that’s so off-page we only learn anything even happened via casual dialog. However McQuay will occasionally try to exploit Kim’s ample charms, with her traipsing around Justice’s fortress HQ in skimpy, nipple-revealing clothing, but honestly it comes off like half-assed catering to genre demands, with little of the impression of sleazebaggery I demand in my pulp writers.

The saddest thing about Zaitech Sting is that it has the potential for pulp greatness, but squanders it for a good 170 or so pages (the book runs to a too-long 200 pages)…and then, in the final several pages, we have Justice, Kim, and Jenks fighting actual honest to Zod ninjas in Japan. And it’s straight out of MIA Hunter #4, too: all you’ve gotta do is point your machine gun, depress the trigger, and veritable hordes of the sword-wielding crazies will just fall dead at your feet. Anyway all this happens after Justice has gone through the trouble of finding out who Chika is – this courtesy Kim, who hacks the CIA database (Haven hacking!!) and learns that Chika was working on an “organic computer” via a molecule that could render “biochips” a thing of reality and thus throw the current geo-political-corporate landscape into riot. Now she’s been taken by Shirsihata, who lives in a castle surrounded by armed men and tons of ninjas. The plot finally kicks in gear as Justice and comrades fly over there and HALO jump into Shirishata’s domain.

Even here though McQuay can’t be content to dole out “just another action series;” while the bullets start flying in Japan, we have these interminable cutovers to Haven as the election goes down, “William Lambert” versus Caido Lienard, with Sardi handling it all given Justice’s disinterest in the whole matter. After a passionate speech about the good “Lambert” has done for Haven, Sardi succeeds in winning the election for his boss. Occasionally we’ll cut back over to the good stuff, with Justice running around in “black camous” and wielding an M-16/shotgun combo, blowing away ninjas left and right. McQuay slightly gets into the gore, with descriptions of “brainpains blowing out” and the like. But even here, while they’re getting shot at, Justice and Kim find the opportunity to discuss “all this killing,” and for Justice to allay Kim’s concern that perhaps Lienard might be a better leader for Haven, given his promise of peace. Justice quashes this, though, saying that Haven needs brutal warriors like Kim and Jenks and Justice and the others – the world is out to get Haven, and it needs defenders.

So concerned is McQuay with all this stuff that, when Justice finally confronts main villain Shirishata, who is holding a sword to captive Kim’s throat, McQuay barrels through the denoument in a single, unsatisfying paragraph: Justice goads Shirihata into attacking him, stops the blade in midair with his bare hands, and breaks the bastard’s neck with a single kick. Lame!! From there it’s back to Haven, where a defeated Lienard comes across Justice as he’s breakfasting by the sea and pulls a gun on him – a gun which Justice learned about when Lienard came to the island years ago, and which Justice secretly had broken. (Guns are forbidden on Haven, by the way – except of course for soldiers like Justice and his crew, which is about as New World Order as you can get…) Anyway Justice in his omniscience knows that Lienard was sent here as a mole by the French, his purpose to wrest control of Haven from Justice and turn it over to his evil French masters. Instead Justice offers Lienard a new mission: to become a triple agent, an inside man with the wily French government.

And here mercifully Zaitech Sting ends; impossibly, the next two volumes are even longer, with the final novel in particular appearing to be a veritable doorstop of a book. I think my greatest issue with Book Of Justice is that none of it’s very interesting…the characters are not likable, and Justice still seems more like “Mr. Malibu” than the cold-hearted killer he’s constantly proclaiming himself to be. I mean folks he even gives his followers the occasional pep talk with a hug. Also, given that it’s now the ‘90s, computers have entered the fray, so we get a lot of stuff about Kim hacking the CIA database and delivering all sorts of exposition about it. All of which is to say that Book Of Justice has more in common with the “suspense thrillers” that eventually cluttered bookstore shelves, and less in common with the men’s adventure yarns of the ‘70s and ‘80s, though given the ninjas it’s clear McQuay was trying to merge the two genres.