Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Cybernarc #6: End Game


Cybernarc #6: End Game, by Robert Cain
April, 1993  Harper Books

The Cybernarc series wraps up with a sixth installment that was clearly written as the series finale; William “Robert Cain” Keith doesn’t leave readers hanging with an unresolved cliffhanger, the title being a firm indication that we are truly reading the “end” of the series. And I’m happy to report that the bantering, action movie-esque spirit of the earliest volumes has sort of returned – if greatly minimized from, say, the first volume – though still we have to endure a lot of military acronyms and coke-industry info-dumping. 

Indeed, I get the suspicion Keith was pretty worn out at this point. End Game runs to an unwieldy 230 pages of small, dense print, and I suspect our author was struggling to fill the pages. Thus we get a lot of arbitrary detail on one-off cocaine industry characters, stuff on how cocaine is manufactured, all sorts of otherwise-mundane stuff that is greatly expanded upon for no other seeming reason than to hit the word count. The writing’s as good as ever, but you can’t help but feel that the novel would be greatly improved if it was a little leaner. Another change this time is that the plot is slightly more developed; the previous couple volumes have just been protracted action scenes, some of them taking up a full third of the narrative or more. This template is shaken up a little this time, but unfortunately the potential of the new direction isn’t fully exploited. 

I’m not sure how long it is after the previous volume; seems to be a few months. But we know at least that it’s been a little over one year since the first installment. Now Rod, the titular Cybernarc (apparently a name only used by his druglord enemies – and they all say “cybernarco” because they speak Spanish), has gone full HAL 2000 and has gained what appears to be a fully formed consciousness, with emotions and whatnot. What most troubles his government creators is his new tendency to ignore orders and make on-the-spot decisions based off his own conclusions. We see this in effect straight away, as End Game opens with Rod solo in a Peruvian jungle, tracking some drug-dealing forces. This is his first time out without his human counterpart, Chris Drake, and his mission is solely reconaissance. But Rod figures that he would do more good by destroying this pipeline, and thus goes into action, blowing stuff apart and running amok in the jungle in his Combat Mod body. 

An interesting thing about this series is that Keith writes so much of it from Rod’s point of view that you can’t help but think of him as human. But Keith’s strength is that he’ll have Rod do crazy, inhuman things, like operating on himself when he’s damaged, or accessing internal data banks. Even here though Keith relays it all in humanistic perspectives. In fact, Rod is really the main star of the book, with Drake relegated to mostly supporting status; I still like the publisher’s original request for the series, of a “crazy ‘Nam vet” building a robot to take on the drug barons, but I have to say Keith did a great job of taking the series in a more mature direction. I mean honestly that’s still the gist of the series – it’s about a friggin’ android that has been created by the US government, at the cost of millions of dollars, to combat the drug menance – yet Keith somehow has elevated it above its pulpy and goofy premise to something almost believable. 

Anyway, Rod dwells on his motive in life – to kill drug barons – and concludes, “I am Death.” Back on the mobile HQ, project boss Weston gives Rod the go-ahead for this Peruvian attack, but really it’s just so the robot won’t go nuts. Per resident hotstuff scientist babe Heather McDaniels, Rod could have some sort of mental breakdown, thus he must be treated a little delicately. Oh and meanwhile Drake and Heather are now fully an item, and indeed Drake drops the tidbit late in the novel that he intends to marry Heather and retire from the drugfighting game; yet more proof that this one was written as the series finale. As for the Drake-Heather relationship, it’s pretty much entirely happened off-page. Curious too that, while Drake himself has moved on from the murder of his wife and daughter, which happened in the first volume, Rod himself hasn’t; due to the PARET mind-symbiosis deal the two shared in that first book, shortly after Drake’s family was killed, Rod was imbued with Drake’s anger and desire for revenge. And it has now become a self-fulfilling thing, as Rod realizes that he not only was programmed to kill drugger scum, but that he now basically “lives” for it. 

Keith also resolves a longstanding series subplot with the apperance of Roberto Sandoval, drugger baron who appeared in the first book and who is one of the few survivors to have seen Cybernarc. Sandoval is about to meet with all the other major coke dealers of South America; he’s aware, due to his inside contacts, of Operation Takedown, a last-ditch CIA plan to wipe out the druggers at this meeting. Rod and Drake find this out when the two go to Bogota to round up a minor drug-world figure named Cardona. But as ever Rod shows independent thinking, and ends up blowing Cardona’s face off. This leads to an unexpected plot development: having learned of the big drug meeting, Rod and Drake will crash it…only Rod’s face will be changed to that of Cardona’s, and he will impersonate the man, with Drake acting as his American bodyguard. A further unexpected development ensues as the two arrive in the desolate Colombian jungle location of the meet – and Rod as Cardona runs into Maria, sexy fiance of Cardona. 

Neither of them were even aware of Maria, thus Rod must again fumble through the interraction. We learn here that Rod, in his Civilian Mod form, has the exact body of a human male, but the naughty parts aren’t, uh, operable, thus when Maria starts squeezing on his junk she doesn’t get the reaction she expects. Luckily a fully-clothed Rod is able to explain it away as being keyed up about the meeting – but this is that missed opportunity stuff I mentioned earlier. There was a lot of room here for some fun, with Maria trying to figure out what’s happened to her Latin lover, but she disappears for the majority of the narrative, and instead we have an overlong sequence where Rod sits in with the meeting of drug lords and they talk and talk. And we get inordinate backgrounds on many of them, and how their businesses run. Again, stuff that’s clearly there so as to fill pages. 

A quickly dashed-off subplot has it that Maria was secretly planning with Cardona to kill her own father, another drug baron who happens to be at this meeting. Rod, once he’s deduced the girl’s plot, goes about it in an odd way – he approaches Maria’s dad and tells him that his daughter plans to kill her! Something the kingpin already knows, and now he realizes that “Cardona” is someone he can trust. Again, not that anything comes out of this subplot: instead, we get into an extended action scene, as Rod, indulging in the “aggressively macho” temper of your average Latin drug lord, starts up a fight at the big meeting that culminates in a massive shootout. Here characters who were just introduced – at much page count – are casually blown away. And also Rod’s robot nature is revealed, as he takes several bullets despite his inhuman jumping around and accurate shooting; one of the shots shears off the skin of his face, so that the black metal beneath can be seen. But the robot’s CPU is knocked offline so that he appears “dead,” and Sandoval – who already suspected “Cardona” of being an imposter – assumes that it was really just a man after all, and not the cybernarc. 

Drake meanwhile is cut off from Rod and must figure out what to do. An interesting thing about Cybernarc is that Drake, who as a badass SEAL with a score to settle with the drugger scum, would be the main protagonist of any other men’s adventure series, but here he’s so out of Rod’s league that he comes off as a hapless sidekick at times. Eventually the two meet up, where Drake has to do high-tech surgery on Rod; more superb writing from Keith, as he again reminds us that Rod is not human, despite looking, acting, and thinking like one – he directs Drake on the surgery while it’s happening, even when Rod’s head is excised from his Civilian Mod body to be grafted onto his Combat Mod one. This leads us to the finale, capably depicted on the cover, with the two again bucking orders and taking the fight directly to the druggers. As Rod argues, there’s no better time than now to wipe them all out, given that they’ve so conveniently gathered here. 

Keith also excels at action scenes, but at times they tend to go on a bit. A neat quirk this time is that Rod wields an XM-214, a minigun which he uses to blast countless drug soldiers into bloody pieces. The gore is slightly toned down from earliest volumes, however, save for a crazy part where Rod, still in his Civilian body, spins like a top and uses his razor-sharp fingers to slice and dice a group of soldiers. Maria witnesses this and runs away, certain that “Cardona” is not human; she takes the info to Sandoval and another major baron, and the two realize that Cybernarc is here. This leads to a “hunted chasing the hunter” scenario where they arm themselves with LAW rocket launchers, determined to wipe out the robot that is coming for them. 

It’s here in this major action piece that Drake informs Rod he’s “too old” for this sort of thing, and plans to retire and marry Heather. Rod seems to take the info well, but as mentioned there is an air of finality to the entire book. It’s clear that Rod has gone too far rogue from his programming and, were he to return to Weston and his controllers, he would be deprogrammed or have some major changes to his CPU. The finale plays out in a well-done sequence in which Rod, alone, goes after Sandoval and the rest, blitzing them to pieces. The final confrontation is suitably apocalyptic, with Rod calling in an air strike on his exact location and strangling Sandoval as the bombs come down. In the aftermath it seems that the robot has “died” with the baron; Drake is told nothing at all is left of Rod in the destruction. 

But the book isn’t over yet; we’re treated to an almost humorously-rushed conclusion, in which it’s a few months later and Drake and Heather have just returned from their honeymoon. And of course they’re talking about Rod. Drake still wonders if he survived, but Heather’s like, “It’s time to move on.” But there are all those mysterious drug-world deaths Drake has read about in the papers…then the doorbell rings, and Drake answers it, and it’s none other than Rod at the door! This is the end of the book as well as the series. As stated it seems clear Keith knew this would be the final volume, but of course the setup exists for future installments, with a fully-rogue and independent Rod taking on the drug barons on his own. Actually now that I think of it, the series ends with the setup Keith was supposedly originally given: Drake’s not a “’Nam vet,” but he does now have his own drug-fighting robot, and plus he’s married to the scientist who created the damn thing. 

Well anyway, I enjoyed Cybernarc, and I’m always happy when a final volume of a series gives a fitting conclusion, which End Game certainly does. Overall this was a fun series, with the caveat that the first couple installments were better, while the last couple got more into humorless “military fiction” and somewhat lost the action movie-esque banter between Drake and Rod. But Keith did a great job with the series, investing it with a lot more thought and care than you’d expect.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rape Squad


Rape Squad, by Simon Wolf 
No month stated, 1975  Manor Books 

First of all, this obscure Manor paperback original is not a novelization of the 1974 grindhouse film of the same title. It’s a slim police procedural about a three-person team of police officers trying to prevent rape in a small city, and it isn’t nearly as exploitative as the title, cover, or publishing house would have you suspect. In fact, there is a conservative tone to the narrative, almost approaching a Gothic at times. This would make sense, as if I’m correct “Simon Wolf” was the pseudonym of an author who had previously published a Gothic novel. 

A curious thing about Rape Squad is that it unwittingly prefigures and mirrors the despicable exploits of Joseph DeAngelo, a recently-convicted serial killer and rapist who operated in California in the ‘70s and ‘80s under a host of monikers: the Cordova Cat, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Nightstalker. We learn within the first few pages of Rape Squad that the villain of the piece, a rapist who has been attacking single young women throughout the city of Mayfield, is himself a cop – just as Joseph DeAngelo was at the time. However this is one of those sad cases where reality is much worse than fiction; the rapist villain of this novel is almost Mr. Rogers when compared to DeAngelo, who perpetrated some of the most nightmarish and violent attacks on innocents I’ve ever read about. I’m really not a fan of DNA databases and etc – personally I think it’s incredibly foolish to willingly send some company a sample of your DNA – but in this case I’d say the Big Brother methods police used to finally identify and apprehend DeAngelo were justified. 

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the novel at hand. It’s the usual 190-page length of the average Manor paperback, and again is copyright the publisher, implying that “Simon Wolf” is either a pseudonym or a house name. I suspect the author was really Morris Hershman, who as “Evelyn Bond” wrote the gothic novel Bride Of Terror, published as a Lancer/Magnum paperback in 1968 (and supposedly reprinted by none other than Manor in 1975, though I can find no evidence of this printing). I suspect “Wolf” was Morris Hershman because, for no reason whatsoever, Bride Of Terror is actually mentioned in Rape Squad; the wife of one of the main characters happens to be reading the book. It’s a literary in-joke if ever there was one, about on the level of Manning Lee Stokes's subtle references to himself and his past work in his pseudonymous novels. 

Whoever the author is, he has a hard time figuring out who the main protagonist is. We start off under the impression it will be Detective Sherwin Millard, a young police officer newly assigned to the fledgling “rape squad,” which currently is only composed of one member: tough as nails old cop Lt. Hatton (misspelled “Hatten” on the back cover). Also, I should mention here that we are never informed where “Mayfield” is. Millard when we meet him is transferred to the rape squad..then we flash forward some time and he’s practically a veteran, already out handling cases and the like. One call takes him to the hospital to speak with young rape victim Evelyn Dempster (the “Evelyn” being another possible clue to the author’s identity, ie his previous pseudonym “Evelyn Bond”). The author well captures the shell-shocked nature of a victim here, with Eveyln taking multiple showers in the hospital because she feels so dirty now that she’s been violated. Here we learn the rapists’s m.o.; he always approaches his victims from behind, slams his hand over their mouth, and rapes them from behind. 

The next day a young policewoman who looks a little familiar storms into the rape squad office and announces she’s joining the team, per her own request. At length Millard realizes she looks very much like Eveyln Dempster. This is how he meets Joan Dempster, sister of the young rape victim; Joan is a cop, and is frustrated that nothing’s being done about the rash of rapes occurring in the city. There’s a fair bit of police world detail here, with Joan complaining that the squad doesn’t even own an identikit, and Hatton saying they’re useless in rape cases. There’s also a fair bit of the oldschool attitudes, with Hatton sort of uncertain about a woman being on the squad, but not entirely against it. One cop who does show the old misogyny is Hector Ritman, a surly detective Joan runs into when canvassing the school in which her sister works. 

Ritman instantly runs afoul of Joan, with the two arguing; Ritman too is here investigating the rape, presumably. There’s also some red-herring stuff as Joan has a lot of conversations with the young man who is engaged to her sister, himself a teacher at the school, and one of Joan’s early suspects. But the reader soon learns who the Mayfield rapist is: Ritman himself. As mentioned, he’s a cop, and the author does a good job of getting into his psychosis. This is displayed in an eerie sequence. Joan requests to pose as rape bait that night, trouncing around a nightspot in revealing clothes. Ritman, coming out of a bar, sees her…and thinks he should go over and tell this young lady that she shouldn’t be waltzing around like that in the city, as it’s dangerous. He walks over to her, and, “as if in despite of himself” he raises his hand to her turned back…as if to grab her from behind. In other words Ritman’s sick compulsions run so deep he isn’t even consciously aware of them. One wonders if similar compulsions drove super-twisted individuals like DeAngelo. 

Joan spins around and catches Ritman about to grab her; he plays it off that he was in fact preventing a carhop from grabbing her, even roughing the poor innocent carhop up a little. But from here Joan is pretty certain Ritman is a suspicious character. However, Lt. Hatton can’t hear of it – the man’s a cop! Again, one wonders how the cops of the day would’ve reacted to learn that the East Area Rapist was a fellow officer…but then DeAngelo was never even on a suspect list. Hatton for his part slowly warms to Joan’s suspicions, eventually giving her clearance to prove Ritman is the rapist. This is compounded when Ritman, apropos of nothing, runs for mayor – a random plot detour if ever there was one. It does get a bit comical though, and not in a good way, as Ritman often tries to attack Joan, and she fends him off (in one memorable moment wielding a bayonet), but he’s always able to play it off as a prank and escape any kind of repercussions. Hard to see such a thing happening in today’s #metoo era, where all a woman has to do is merely accuse a man, and it’s guilty until proven innocent (depending upon political affiliation, of course). 

Speaking of oldschool values, there’s a humorous-in-hindsight bit where Joan preaches the ‘70s version of diversity and inclusion. She and Millard are called to another case, in which a pair of “dykes” have been raped. Millard for his part has seen so much that he’s unfazed by the fact that these two women live together, something which rattles the “bull” of the couple – interesting to see that, even then, some types clearly got off on being branded as “different.” The bull keeps pushing Millard, and Joan cools off the situation by saying the following to the lesbians; it probably seemed “liberal” in 1975 but in today’s progressivised society practically comes off as cromagnon: 

“Let’s agree that one of you two is a bull dyke and the other is a femme. Let’s agree that the words are ugly. Let’s agree that homosexuals feel that they can’t help themselves and that the so-called straight world distrusts them and detests them and is afraid of them. Let’s agree, too, that homosexuals are poor people, emotionally, and that their problems are rooted in childhood. And let’s change the subject.”

These two of course are yet more victims of Ritman’s, but a midnovel plot detour introduces another rapist, a hapless loser who when we meet him is presented as a victim. This curious subplot has the dude, Manton, being harrassed by a local couple, who believe he raped their 14 year-old daughter. Manton was able to free himself of the charge in court, mostly because the girl was a notorious loudmouth and no one believed her – again, pre-#metoo stuff here for sure. But this wasn’t good enough for the girl’s parents, who are certain Manton raped their daughter, even though we readers know he didn’t. So Manton is called at work and home, where a mysterious voice demands he leave town, calling him “rape artist” and the like; the capoff comes when he’s actually shot while walking on the street, and the person who shot him was the girl’s father. 

So after recovering Manton goes to confront the young girl, gets her to relent on her story…and then he rapes her?! It happens off-page (as all the rapes do – and there are no regular sex scenes, either…as mentioned the book is very tame), and it leaves the reader flummoxed. I mean I thought Manton was innocent? He’s arrested, but let go…and then as soon as he’s out we discover he raped the couple’s other daughter, who is only six years old! Good grief! This time he’s taken away for good. Otherwise this part has nothing to do with the rest of the novel, and Millard and Joan only appear infrequently in these sections. There’s also never the suspicion that Manton might be the main rapist in town; Joan is certain it’s Ritman. 

As stated Ritman makes a strange run for Mayor, leading to a goofy sequence that had me chuckling. So Ritman has a rally with a record player doling out “military music,” and one of his volunteers cuts himself on the “phonograph needle” – I’m talking a “deep gash” on three fingers that requires stitches! Folks if I ever ran my finger over my stylus, I’d be more concerned I’d break the damn thing. And plus, just imagine the damage such a sharp needle would do to the vinyl. Anyway, I found this part humorous. But hell for all I know, maybe in 1975 you could buy ultra-cheap stylii that could cut skin so deeply that you’d need stictches. As Ritman’s getting the volunteer into the ambulance, Joan happens by, and once again Ritman tries to attack her, and once again Joan fends him off – at this point the whole thing taking on the vibe of a Road Runner cartoon or something, with Ritman constantly trying and failing to get his prey. I almost expected him to receive a package from Acme. 

There’s yet more out-of-nowhere narrative detours with a subplot about the cops going on strike, and some of them plot to kill the current Mayor. Speaking of modern-day connotations, this part reminded me of our recent “summer of love,” in which “peaceful protesters” looted and burned cities across the United States to their heart’s content, brushing off their criminal acts by saying that “insurance” would cover the looted stores. Folks, the exact same thing happens here…without the cops, riots break out and looting ensues. (Funny how that happens, isn’t it? But yeah, let’s defund the police!) And when Joan encounters the owner of one looted store, she informs him that his insurance should cover the loss. To which the dude basically responds, “Uh…no, it won’t.” Exactly as in the real world, where the actual losses of this past summer are only finally coming to light. 

The rioting does at least play into the finale, in which Ritman is serving on riot duty, but still takes the opportunity to rape some poor woman on the street. Joan and Millard hear her screaming, and Joan rushes to help, only to be attacked yet again by Ritman. This time he almost seems to get her, but Joan fights himself off yet again. The author denies us a fitting conclusion, though. As Joan and Ritman confront one another, Ritman sees a sniper about to take out the Mayor – and pushes Joan aside so he can block the bullet with his own body! Thus Ritman dies a hero, and Joan argues at novel’s end that the truth should be let out so that the public knows Ritman was really a serial rapist scumbag. Hatton tells her the real world doesn’t work that way, or something, and the novel plods to a close. 

All told, Rape Squad wasn’t very interesting, nor was it very entertaining. Speaking of Manning Lee Stokes, he still wrote the best sleazy ‘70s rapesploitation crime novel I’ve yet read: Killer At Large. I’d advise you to seek that one out instead of this. 

In closing, I wrote the above before doing another search of the Catalog Of Copyright Entries, where I got confirmation that Morris Hershman did indeed write Rape Squad, serving as “Simon Wolf.” However the entry misspells his name as “Morris Harshman.”  

Monday, November 16, 2020

Trashing


Trashing, by Ann Fettaman 
No month stated, 1972  Belmont-Tower 

First published in hardcover in 1970 by Rolling Stone Magazine’s short-lived imprint, Straight Arrow Books, Trashing is the veiled autobiography of Ann Fettamen, aka Anita Hoffman (aka Abbie’s wife) writing under a pseudonym. I'm not sure if it was well-known that Hoffman was the author; the blurbs on the hardcover dust jacket make it clear that “Fettamen” is a cover name for a “well-known troublemaker;” one of these blurbs is even provided by Abbie himself. I've read somewhere that Abbie and Anita went on a cross-country booksigning tour, as Abbie’s Steal This Book was released at the same time, so both husband and wife had a book to promote – meaning Anita was making it clear she had written Trashing. So if Hoffman really being Fettamen was a well-known secret, then why even bother with the pseudonym ruse? Anyway, I digress. 

Readers of Abbie’s afore-mentioned Steal This Book will remember Anita from the photos of her therein. A tall and slender brunette with a fondness for stealing groceries and smashing apart the machinery of the Man, she poses throughout the book in the latest insurrectionist fashions. 

Besides being a primer on what Anita must’ve hoped would become the new model of American citizenry, Trashing is also pretty much the love story of her and Abbie. Only here Anita becomes “Ann” and Abbie becomes “Danny,” with the only change being Abbie’s trademark afro turning into shaggy blond locks. Other than that it’s the Abbie Hoffman you remember from your History Channel specials, spouting off about anything and everything and causing trouble for the establishment. Ann, who narrates the novel, meets Danny on the first page, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the novel’s some Harlequin Romance for the counterculture set; Anita writes about him in the most rhapsodic prose this side of Danielle Steele. They meet, Danny spouts some rhetoric, Ann swoons. They’re married a few pages later. 

Trashing comes off as a manifesto of the Yippie movement. Published in 1970, it belies none of the cynicism which later set into the counterculture/revolutionary movement. Instead, the characters (and our narrator) talk blithely and at length about the coming war against The Man, how life will be so splendid once the Man has been destroyed. Stealing is fine, as long as it’s from those in power – which, according to the novel, even includes the youthful rich, as one disgusting scene features Ann stealing as many purses as she can at a socialite party, only to be congratulated by Danny. Hoffman writes the scene in heroic fashion – yet another blow against the empire! – but really it shows the backstabbing treachery which eventually killed the hippie movement. 

Anita’s writing is pedestrian at times (lots of turgid dialog, pointless scenes), at others fantastic. One nightmarish setpiece involves her walking home from a friend’s place, through a dark alley, only to be kidnapped by three neo-Nazi thugs. A graphic, minutely-detailed, several-pages-long rape scene ensues, Hoffman writing with the precision and clarity of an objective observer. I’m unfamiliar with Anita’s life story, so I can only hope this portion of Trashing is pure fiction; no one deserves what her character goes through during these horrifying pages. But then a strange thing happens. The setpiece ends with a switch-up that makes me suspect the whole situation is a literary trick. Because, a few days after the incident, Ann feels well enough to be with Danny again. He’s distant, surly, obsessed with finding the now-disappeared neo-Nazis. Ann seduces him, and the words and descriptions Hoffman employs for this scene are mostly the same as those she used for the rape sequence. It’s fantastic how she thus toys with the reader. Is it a spot of literary innovation, light years away from the writing Hoffman otherwise displays in the novel? Or – more likely – is it just peacenik Hoffman’s way of bookending a scene of brutal sex with an act of actual lovemaking? 

Things proceed in an episodic fashion. Ann and Danny go about a number of “happenings,” most of them Danny’s idea. These include impromptu plays in the park, throwing red dye in the city’s fountains on President’s Day, and in the longest “let's freak the straights” sequence, mailing a joint to 3,000 random people. This scene involves Danny and Ann requesting financial backing from a wealthy rock group manager. This scene is nearly laughable, all these decades later. Danny and Ann berating the rocker for not backing the “true” revolution (that is, fighting against the man in the streets), the rocker claiming that his revolution is “in the consciousness.” 

From here we proceed to a Valentine’s Day orgy (now theres an idea for Hallmark), exuberantly attended by Danny and Ann. Again, Hoffman’s detail here is as graphic as your average trash fiction. It’s like she wrote portions of the book with Penthouse Letters in mind. Was she just trying to spice up the manuscript? Did Rolling Stone demand the book be filled with as much sex as possible? I think maybe the idea is we’re to witness how Ann “grows” from a straightlaced conformist to a wanton, uninhibited rabble-rouser whose unafraid of anyone or anything. 

The book culminates in Ann gaining revenge upon those neo-Nazi rapists, beating them to a pulp with Danny and a fellow revolutionary at her side. This is another tautly-written scene, with chain whippings and stabbings and boots to the face. After this things are rosy, until a friend of the couples’ posts a complete list of local narcs in an underground newspaper, with names and addresses (ie proto-doxing)...and everyone’s shocked when the cops arrest him and proceed to beat him to near death. Ann and Danny try to raise cash for his too-high bail, but when it proves unfeasible they instead plan to bomb the local precinct as a warning. This leads to some intrigue and suspense as they discover a co-plotter is really an undercover Fed. The novel ends with Ann and Danny escaping to Canada, leaving their fellow revolutionaries detailed plans on how to destroy the US economy (a plan which hinges upon corrupting the computer that runs the ticker machine on Wall Street). 

It seems that Trashing was very much a product of its time, a forgotten period early in the radical movement when optimism still held sway. I have a feeling it was already dated the moment it was published. Hoffman wrote no other novels, and her only other publication was a collection of Abbie’s letters in the mid-seventies. She divorced him shortly after. It's a sad end to their tale; one can tell these two were truly in love, but with Abbie off in hiding and Annie raising their child “america” all by herself, it's not a surprising end. 

Abbie died in 1989 (by suicide, though this is debated by those who knew him), and Anita died in 1998 (of breast cancer), but the world she depicts in this novel had died long before.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sabat #2: The Blood Merchants


Sabat #2: The Blood Merchants, by Guy N. Smith 
May, 1982  New English Library 

So I pretty much forgot all about the Sabat series; it was over a decade ago that I read the first volume. Literally all I could remember about it was the part where the titular “hero” ran over some random pedestrian and chalked it up to the whims of fate. Oh, and I also seemed to recall a lot of self-pleasuring courtesy said hero. And pipe smoking. Other than that the first one was a blur, so I had to refer to my review to familiarize myself with this series, which ran for four volumes and attempted to meld men’s adventure with horror. 

There’s no indication how long after the first volume this one occurs, but Sabat does make passing mention to its events. Also, unless I’m mistaken, we have no indication where exactly this series occurs. Just somewhere in England is all I know. We do have a recurring character in Sgt. Clive McKay, a cop who was also in SAS with Sabat back in the day and who comes to him with any sort of “supernatural” situation the police have encountered. Such is the case this time; the book opens in true horror novel fashion with a sequence of one-off characters meeting their gory fates at the hands of skinhead punks – skinhead punks who seem to be vampires! But we do get a lot of stuff from the perspectives of these characters, most of them poor young women who are attacked out of the darkness by “sallow-faced punks” with “corpse-like appearances.” 

Meanwhile Sabat’s busy playing with himself. No joke, this is exactly what he’s doing when he gets the call from Sgt. McKay. Smith injects a bunch of “subtle” foreshadowing here, with Sabat thinking about the hot babe who got him kicked out of the SAS three years ago – Catronia, wife of Sabat’s commanding officer at the time. Catronia was into whips and chains and the like, and Sabat we’re reminded really gets off on that, and when his affair with the blonde torture artist was uncovered he was drummed right out of the SAS. All this backstory was relayed in the first volume, but here it’s really brought to the fore, to the point that even a first-time novel reader can see where it’s going. 

Sabat grudgingly postpones his self-pleasuring and ventures with McKay to the morgue, where he checks out a few apparent vampire victims. They’ve got drained blood, two dots on their throats, and everything. Sabat does what any other gung-ho men’s adventure hero would do: he calls up an old acquaintance, a “brothel keeper” in her early 50s named Ilona, and asks her to pose as pseudo-vampire bait. Ilona we are told is still pretty hot, and plus she too is into whips and chains and the like (indeed she even reminds Sabat of Catronia), and she and Sabat were an item at one time – not that anything comes of it in this particular installment. Instead Ilona waltzes around in the darkness of whatever the hell city this series takes place in, and Sabat scores on his first night out – one of the pseudo vampires swoops out of the darkness for Ilona, and Sabat just barely fights him off in time. 

Here we see that these aren’t real vampires; the punks all wield “syringe-guns.” They jam the sharp end into a victim’s throat and depress a plunger and the thing sucks out a few liters of blood. Sabat takes the captured punk back to Ilona’s S&M basement and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. Sabat we’ll recall has a definite dark side and gets off on the thought of killing his enemies. He at least gets the info that the punk and his brothers are all worshippers of Lilith, which freaks Sabat right out – Lilith being one of the darker entities, one with a fondness for human sacrifice. But this is pretty much all the punk will say, so Sabat gleefully kills him, using the bastard’s own syringe-gun on him. But this will be the extent of “action” in the novel, save for a part later where three more punks attack Sabat in his home, and he uses his fancy SAS combat training to wipe them out; he particularly likes this “uppercut from a crouched position” move. 

We soon learn that Sabat wasn’t exagerrating: the Disciples of Lilith are pretty evil. This is demonstrated in a horrific sequence in which a young woman finds her newborn baby is missing – and the Disciples of Lilith, assembled around Lilith herself, drink its blood! In addition the Disciples have taken over a fascist movement, and further they are led by a “New Fuhrer” who is in league with Lilith, the demoness here on Earth. Sabat gets the scoop on all this during an astral voyage (he makes several voyages to the astral plane this time), where he’s informed by various spirits that Lilith has possessed a human woman – perhaps a woman Sabat might even know. But our self-pleasuring hero isn’t very sharp, for despite being told this he doesn’t put two and two together…not even after he’s astrally transported to a house somewhere and looks inside and sees a hot blonde in stockings in there, and it’s none other than Catronia! 

But no, Sabat wakes up and, “for some reason” feels the urge to call Catronia up for the first time in three years. He does so, and she’s eager to see him, and it’s all Sabat can do to contain himself for the rest of the day. But at no point does he think back to that message he was conveyed in the astral realm and think to himself, “hmmm, maybe those spirits were trying to tell me something about Catronia!” Instead, he heads over to her place in blissful ignorance and engages her in one of those sex scenes where something seems to be happening but the prose isn’t very clear about what. And of course Sabat ends up in one of Catronia’s torture devices, where he is “shocked” to discover that – brace yourselves for this – Catronia is really Lilith! I mean who could’ve guessed it?? 

It gets worse, though, as Catronia is able to hypnotize Sabat, same as she has all her punk followers, and now he too is a Disciple of Lilith. It makes for a strange read when the hero of a “horror-action” novel is possessed…Sabat just sort of walks through the next few chapters in a daze, fully part of the left-hand path but otherwise still normal (comparitavely speaking). It makes for a weird narrative vibe as Sabat himself doesn’t see anything wrong…he still goes home, talks to McKay, and etc, but his soul belongs to Lilith. Even here he visits the astral realm in his sleep, and there’s a creepy part where he encounters the spirit of a murdered friend. Instead of offering solace Sabat spurns this person, pretty much saying this is what you get for fighting Lilith. Speaking of which, the goddess herself appears in this sequence, saving Sabat from some spirits that attack him for being a spawn of Lilith. 

After this Sabat is doubly indebted to Lilith, and reports willfully to Catronia and the New Fuhrer (who of course turns out to be Catronia’s husband, aka Sabat’s former SAS officer). Even as the Disciples begin to raise bloody hell around the globe, our hero does nothing. True to form, he only becomes heroic when his own ass is on the line. This happens in an otherwise goofy bit where some punk tries to assassinate Sabat – a punk who was sent out earlier in the book to kill Sabat, and hasn’t gotten the memo that Sabat’s now one of Lilith’s followers. It all just seems like a Monty Python skit as this punk tries to kill Sabat, screaming that Lilith has ordered him to do so, and Sabat keeps screaming that those orders have been countermanded. Of course Sabat finally manages to save his hide, in the process coming free of Lilith’s mind control. Now finally Sabat as we know him is back. 

But really the series is more horror than’s men’s adventure; the final battle takes place almost entirely on the astral realm, or at least outside the physical realm, with Sabat launching off a series of spells that bind Catronia and her husband. Further, he summons a trio of angels who are dedicated to hunting down Lilith and disposing of her, and these three show up as police officers to round up Catronia at novel’s end. Sabat at least doles out a little physical punishment to Catronia’s husband, who we learn will ultimately spend the rest of his days in an insane asylum – crazy now that Lilith has left him. The punk Disciples all return to their former punk selves, save for the fact that they have no idea what these syringe guns are they’re holding. As for Catronia, we see her comeuppance in yet another trip to the astral realm, where Sabat sees that Lilith aka Catronia is to be chained and whipped for eternity. Indeed Sabat is asked to whip her himself as the novel concludes. 

Overall The Blood Merchants is a fairly fast-moving novel, filled with a lot of italicized narrative and one-off characters meeting their grisly fates. It also has that clinical tone you know and love from British pulp. I can’t say I enjoyed it more than the previous volume, mostly because I can’t remember the previous volume. But I’ll try to get to the next one a whole bunch sooner.

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Endless Orgy (Roi Kunzer #2)


The Endless Orgy, by Richard E. Geis 
No month stated, 1968 Brandon House Books 

I picked up this old sleaze paperback over a decade ago and forgot all about it until I found my three-year old reading it the other day. Just kidding; it was in a box with a bunch of other books I forgot I had. (Turns out I also have a copy of the Gutenberg Bible!) Anyway, all “kidding” aside, The Endless Orgy was the second and final paperback to feature Roi Kunzer, advanced “Lover” from the year 2069 who finds himself transported back in time to 1970, where he tangles with a bunch of evil spies and lots of eager women (plus, ahem, an eager dude in one unforgettable part). 

Judging from this volume, the series seems to be of a piece (so to speak) with the spoofy spy satires of the day, a la The Man From Orgy, The Man From Tomcat, and etc, only “slightly” more serious. Actually, this book is sort of The Mind Brothers meets The Man From Planet X meets After The Good War. The Mind Brothers due to the whole “future man fighting spies in the present” setup, and The Man From Planet X because hero Roi Kunzer is not only a humorless superstud but can also control the size of his “member” (he keeps it “at a normal four” when flaccid, usually “at a six” when pleasuring the average woman, and can go way bigger when needed; “a ten” isn’t even max!). And finally After The Good War due to the first-person narration, in which Roi drops a host of lingo and phrases from his future, sex-focused era. 

Richard E. Geis seems like an interesting dude. Supposedly the author of over a hundred sleaze novels, it appears he was even jailed in the early ‘60s for publishing filth. He was also a sci-fi geek and published various fanzines or somesuch. The Roi Kunzer books seem to have been his attempt to meld his two main topics: sleaze and sci-fi. The Endless Orgy clearly sets up a sequel in the end, but so far as I know one was never published. Geis passed away in 2012 and I belive I might have some other books by him. Judging from this book his writing is pretty good, pretty much the same caliber as book producer Lyle Kenyon Engel’s stable. Heck, it’s possible the Roi Kunzer books even inspired The Man From Planet X; we know for example that Engel came up with the Operation Hang Ten books after being inspired by a surfing-meets-sleaze papberback George Snyder wrote. 

I don’t have the first volume, The Sex Machine, which Brandon published the year before this one. Presumably in that one Roi was transported back to the late 1960s and stirred up lots of controversy with his “Pleasure First Principle,” which was at odds with the “Puritan” mindset of the 20th Century. Now he lives in a large house in Tahiti, pleasuring his four main wives – there’s Suzy Cum-Cum (seventeen but looking “even younger”), Kinky Kinkaid, Honi Brest, and Shirley Likit. Surprisingly none of them take a big role in this particular novel; we meet Roi as he’s boffing Suzy, but after this the wives are mostly there just to get kidnapped and, uh, forced to “try out” a pseudo-Roi the villains attempt to create. Roi of course saves them from captivity, but otherwise there’s no main female companion for him; in true stroke book fashion, he instead sleeps with about a gazillion other chicks instead of just sticking to one, the poor bastard. 

The previous book featured not only Roi journeying back in time, but also another woman from his era: Sharyn, who now goes as Dr. Mai Be, evil ruler of SNARF, an organization bent on world domination. We learn in brief backstory here that Mai Be became who she now is because she was “perverted” by the 20th Century; she was actually sent back to 1940, and thus has been here a few decades, long enough for the mindset of our “Puritan” era to subvert her free-lovin’ 21st Century mind. Oh and last time Roi shot her tits off. This bizarre and horrific act is so casually relayed to us by Roi that it must be some in-jokery on Geis’s part. But apparently she had some mini-atomic bomb or something “buried under her massive breasts” and Roi shot ‘em off to save the day. However Mai Be seems to have survived this, still ruling SNARF, however she doesn’t appear in this book. 

The curious thing about Roi Kunzer is that he’s pretty lame as a superhero. We’re to understand he has a perfect physique and all, but he’s so na├»ve to the violence of the 20th Century that he comes off as buffoonish. At least the Man From Planet X was able to use his alien superstrength to make up for his buffoonery. For example, Roi is fooled in the first few pages of the book; a TV crew comes to interview him, but they turn out to be SNARF in disguise and Roi’s drugged. When he wakes up, he’s on a yacht somewhere in the Pacific and a pair of sadistic doctors are making molds of his body. It gets real weird real quick when they get to the expected “plaster caster” mold; Roi’s asked to extend to his max, and one of the doctors keeps looking at the massive whang with lustful eyes. Roi gets out of this predicament in the expected fashion: offering to have sex with the gay doctor. When the guy lets Roi loose, expecting some hot action, Roi doesn’t punch him and run away. No, he gave this man “his word” that he’d screw him, and screw him he does! 

One wonders if Geis had a “include something gay” mandate from the publisher, so as to cover all the possible readership bases. But probably not, as otherwise the book is marketed as a straight sleaze paperback. Also, the act is kept for the most part off page – we’re informed Roi finds it “unpleasant,” and also he tells us that though he sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, given his 21st Cenutry mindset, he personally has not been “trained” for it. I forgot to mention. So like in Roi’s future, special young men are chosen after puberty to become “Lovers,” trained in the arts of sex – and also given the ability to control their dicks. This is due to like a regulator valve implanted in the little toe of their left foot, which allows them to control blood flow…not to mention the weird quirk that, given this augmentation, Roi can’t lift said toe. As a Lover, Roi is tuned in to the frequency of a woman’s sexual needs; if she’s horny, he is “obligated” to give her the sex she needs. But if he goes more than three days without sex, “hormone sickness” will plague him – to the point of actual death, if he doesn’t have sex in a week. 

So that’s the hero of the series. Well anyway he gets away -- after being true to his word with the doctor – and jumps off the yacht. But he’s only just learned to swim! Honestly you kind of get the idea Geis is spoofing the typical spy hero type. The bad guys shoot at him but Roi goes under, swims away, and is found by a native fishing boat. Sure enough a hot teen girl’s on it, one Roi’s “seen around” the islands, and the two engage in some shenanigans. But while there’s a lot of screwing in The Endless Orgy, it’s not very explicit, nor exploitative of the women’s bodies, due to the “tech talk” Roi employs throughout: “…her body was of the B-28-rz4 type,” and etc. 

Back home, Roi learns that his wives have been taken, and his secretary seems to have been part of the plot. His neighbor happens to be a plastic surgeon, and the dude offers to give Roi a new face and phsyique which will last for one month; a “special technique” he’s devised. Oh and this guy’s brother, Redd, just happens to have committed suicide recently, though no one but the surgeon knows this (something about a criminal background Redd was trying to escape)…and hey, Redd was about the same height and build as Roi, if only a little heavier. So Roi will become “Redd,” with a new face and excess fat on him, so he can track down his wives incognito. There is of course the last test to ensure he really passes as Redd – the real Redd’s wife comes in, thinks Roi is her husband, and instantly takes off her clothes. This sex scene is for some reason played off like something out of an X-rated Jerry Lewis film, with the two screwing on the hospital gurney, which becomes a “sexmobile” (per the flabbergasted plastic surgeon), rolling out of the surgery room and out into the yard, powered by their energetic coupling. 

It’s clear though that it’s not to be taken seriously. Roi traces the duplicitous secretary to LA, where of course they have sex – a recurring bit is Roi determining the capacity of his women, always starting at a “basic five” before expanding up, per the girl’s wishes. Curiously none of these women seem taken aback that this guy “Redd” can willingingly expand his dick…even more humorous because Roi’s supposed to be “dead,” and by doing this he’s giving away who “Redd” really is. As a further testament to the goofy nature of the book, the lady wants Redd to prove he’s really a criminal, and to do so he robs a bank. And it happens like in one chapter, with Roi pulling the job through guille and quick planning. 

This taken care of, “Redd” is now a part of SNARF. Off they go to a remote island, where he’s given the job of security detail. This part goes on a while and is annoying. Also here Redd suffers from serious hormone sickness, near death from lack of tail…he stumbles to the nearest whorehouse and replenishes himself. Good grief! Eventually Roi’s wives are brought in, as well as a dude with his face in bandages, and gradually the plot emerges that a pseudo-Roi Kunzer is being developed by SNARF. There’s also lots of internal rivalry among the bad guys, like a revolt against the leader, a “95% pure lesbian” named Liz (yes…Liz the Lez, though to his credit Geis doesn’t actually write this). 

There’s no attempt at suspense of anything; at one point Roi is uncovered by the newly-arrived boss, an Amazonian blonde named Venus Du Mont. Having tasked “Redd” with killing off Roi’s wives, Venus secretly had an underling follow Roi and the women into the jungle…and watch as he let them go. So Venus pulls out a gun and shoots Roi, point blank. And he dies! But as he’s dying a blue light envelopes him…it is the Great Mother Computer, the tech deity of his future world, coming to save him – and to send him several minutes back in time, so he can do all this over and not get killed! I mean talk about deus ex machina

Roi does things right this time, pretending to strangle his wives while whispering to them that they’re being watched. For this “successful” job, Redd is rewarded – oh and meanwhile SNARF has learned that Redd, ie the real one, was wanted for a bunch of rape-murders. This curious plot development goes nowhere, but it does sit well with the SNARF bosses, who prefer to have deviants in their employ! But really the novel is filled with too much of Roi standing around, wondering what the plot is against him…as mentoined it turns out to have the fake Roi venture to a new African kingdom, one ruled by a “hotpants” queen who is notorious for her sexual escapades. The fake Roi is to win her over with his superior screwing, so SNARF can take control of the precious mineral which is unique to this African country. 

Unfortunately for the fake Roi, he’s been given disinfo: a humorous bit has Roi’s wives ordered by Eve Du Mont to teach the fake Roi how the real Roi screws…and the girls give him all kinds of wrong tips, like saying that women enjoy their nipples being chewed on and whatnot. But really it just kind of goes on and on, and by the time we’re in the final quarter of the novel we’re ready for it to end. It culminates with the two Rois engaging in a gladiator match, with the real Roi of course triumphant, though curiously he never returns to his normal form by novel’s end. Throughout the book he’s rather portly, we’re to understand, which makes it kind of humorous that women are still flocking to him chapter after chapter – oh, and that’s a “sleaze novel rule” Geis doesn’t ignore. There’s a sex scene every chapter. 

Geis clearly had another adventure in store – the book ends with Roi picking up the paper and reading about an anti-sex movement spearheaded by a young woman, and figures it is inevitable the two will meet. However no further novel was forthcoming, so one can only conclude that readers in 1968 felt the same way about The Endless Orgy as I did.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Liquidator #1


The Liquidator #1, by R.L. Brent
 
No Month Stated, 1974 Award Books 

I’ve been meaning to get to this series for a while, but I have to admit I’m a little bummed that it isn’t about a dude who helps retail stores “liquidate” their unsold merchandise. Instead, The Liquidator mines the same territory as The Lone Wolf and Stryker, only without the surreal edge of the former or the arbitrary backstory-dumping of the latter: it’s about a tough cop who is framed for getting too close to the mob, and ultimately takes the law into his own hands to dish out a little bloody justice. Writing-wise it’s superior to either of those series, “R.L. Brent” going for a terse, almost hardboiled tone that comes off like “Fawcett Gold Medal for the ‘70s.” 

This then makes who “Brent” really was pretty surprising: according to James Reasoner, it was Larry Powell, who also for Award wrote the Donovan’s Devils series. I remember absolutely nothing about the first volume of that series, other than that it was boring and padded to the extreme. Such is not the case of The Liquidator #1, so either the same writer did not in fact write both series – for what it’s worth, Hawk’s Authors Pseudonyms credits Robert Turner for Donavan’s Devils – or Powell’s heart was just more into The Liquidator, and the writing displayed that. (Let’s just assume that sentence made sense.) I went into this one not expecting much, and found myself greatly entertained; it was a fast-moving tale with little fat, a good plot, and strong characters. Another thing I dug was tht Powell (or whoever) clearly wrote it as the start of a series, with several subplots still dangling by novel’s end. 

Another interesting gimmick is that The Liquidator appears to take place in the “future” of 1978 – which, curiously, is the year the fifth and final volume was published, a few years after the previous four had been. Granted, this gimmick isn’t even mentioned and is only inferred from the narrative: when hero Jake Brand, the tough Miami cop who stars in the series, is arrested midway through the novel, we’re informed that it’s the biggest thing to happen in Miami “since the Dolphins won the Super Bowl.” This would place the action in 1973, which according to usually-reliable Wikipedia is the first time the Dolphins won the Super Bowl. This would also coincide with the time Powell was likely writing the manuscript, as it’s my understanding it took these books about a year to get into print from the time of manuscript submission to the publisher. Well anyway, Brand spends five years in prison…meaning it’s 1978 when he’s released, if we’re to take that Super Bowl reference literally. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brand when we meet him is a former football player who now works as a cop in Miami; he has a grudge to bear on the Mob, particularly local creep Leo Hester. Brand’s dad was a beat cop, and was killed by a junkie when Brand was a teenager. Brand’s older brother went to law school as a result of that, imploring Brand to pursue the football career their dad wanted for him. But then Brand’s brother was killed, too – while trying to bring down Hester’s racket. Upon this Brand dropped out of football and joined the force, and now in his late 20s he’s been successful in derailing Hester’s pipeline. Powell doesn’t waste our time with a lot of “realistic cop stuff;” within the first few pages Brand’s blowing away a pair of drug dealers, with little concern over rules and regulations. 

Brand isn’t so sharp, though; his contact is a stripper at one of Hester’s dives, and early in the book one of Hester’s stooges catches Brand and the girl meeting. Brand tries to rough up the stooge, claiming he has the hots for the stripper and all, but it’s clear he’s been made…not that our hero realizes this. Instead he goes back to bang his hot girlfriend, Diana, whom we’re often reminded is way out of Brand’s league; he constantly wonders what she sees in him. I mean Brand as presented is six-plus feet of pure musclebound stud, but at the same time he’s a cop with a cop’s pay, and Diana is high-class stuff. Again, this too should set off Brand’s sixth sense. Also it would help if he, like us readers, could consult the back cover, as the copy there completely blows the surprise that Diana will sell him out. 

This happens in a memorable moment about a quarter of the way through the book. Brand’s already taken down so much of Hester’s setup that the Mob executive board, run by Mr. Orsini in New York, plots to take him out of the picture. Rather than just kill him, which Orsini thinks is the better option, Orsini’s “slick” lawyer Cordetti devises a “cute” scheme to frame Brand: a lookalike (who remains off-page the entire narrative) is hired to blow away a minor cog in Hester’s pipeline, making it look that Brand has finally taken the law into his own hands. This, uh, “brands” him as a dirty cop in the eyes of his fellow cops – especially when Diana lies that Brand was not with her all night. Indeed, she further fibs that Brand admitted to killing this guy, asking her to keep quiet about it and cover for him. All this is relayed to the cops in her bedroom, the cops coming to arrest Brand at three in the morning; meanwhile in reality, Brand has been in bed with her all night. 

Quick sleaze quotient note: Powell is not one to much exploit the sexual tomfoolery, with nothing here approaching say Harold Robbins levels. But on the other hand, you definitely know some hanky-panky is underway, with occasional mentions of “deep thrusts” and the like. As for the violence, that too isn’t much played up, with no copious descriptions of exploding faces or fountains of gore. And in fact, Brand kills relatively few opponents, at least when compared to his men’s adventure comrades. He blows away a couple guys, usually using pistols, and Powell never dwells on the carnage. Even a hardcore bit where Brand fixes a guy’s shotgun – jamming up the barrels with shards of soap – is handled conservatively, with the ensuing face-blowing-offery of the jammed shotgun happening off-page. 

Brand’s time in prison is compactly conveyed over a few chapters; this is by no means a “prison novel.” After a few attempts are made on his life due to his ex-cop nature making him a top target, a black acquaintance outside sets up a group of “brothers” to serve as his guardians – a subplot that could’ve been more elaborated upon. Even behind bars Brand proves his heroism, first foiling an attempted prison break and later saving a doctor from a raging psycopath. This final act results in the warden making a call to the governor and getting Brand’s sentence commuted. All told, Brand “only” spends five years in prison, and when he gets out he immediately sets upon his plan to dish out a little payback to Leo Hester and the mob. In particular he has a score to settle, given that he’s found out his stripper informant was gang-raped and murdered by Hester’s thugs, courtesy an icepick to the spine. 

Brand understands that he can never be a cop again; even though he’s innocent, he is forever tainted as a dirty cop. But this is no big deal; it’s the ‘70s, and practically everyone is taking the law into their own hands to fight the Mob (at least according to the proliferation of similarly-plotted men’s adventure novels on the racks). He even comes up with the “Liquidator” title at the very end of the book, though otherwise he doesn’t have any fancy gimmicks or calling cards. And so far as guns and stuff go, he just uses a revolver and whatever else he picks up along the way, like a silencer-equipped .45. Initially he doles out revenge in fitting methods, like icepicking the thug who icepicked the stripper informant. There also follows the memorable bit where Brand sabotages another thug’s shotgun. 

But still, the vibe, at least to me, is like something from Gold Medal in the ‘50s. Like when Brand starts staking out Hester’s beach house, and spies his hotbod brunette mistress sunning on the beach – topless, of course. She catches him and rushes over to confront him, catching Brand off-guard. Turns out she’s been instructed by Hester to tell Brand that the mobster wants to talk, and also that she, the mistress, is Brand’s for the taking – she looks forward to it, having never been with a guy who has been celibate for five years. Surprisingly Brand doesn’t take the bait, and instead has her call Hester to set up a meet. The girl is named Gwen, and Powell gives her a memorable personality; she certainly doesn’t consider herself some cheap whore, and promises Brand that she’s super-skilled in the sack. At length our hero of course relents, but as mentioned Powell isn’t one for the sleazy details: “She gasped when he made the deep stroke” and the like being the extent of it. And it must be some deep stroke, as Gwen isn’t eager to let Brand go afterwards, insisting that their time together “meant something” to her. 

The meet with Hester is also pretty cool; the portly mobster swears it was the higher-ups who framed Brand, and further offers Brand enough info to get started on his mob-busting. Hester’s no fan of Brand’s, but figures he can kill the proverbial two birds: take out some competition in the mob, and along the way Brand might get himself killed. Hester tells Brand about the frame, who was behind it, and also where Diana has disappeared to. Curiously though at this point the book takes a slight detour; Brand’s also been informed of a new mob computer setup in Virginia, and goes about a lengthy plan to bring it down. But even here there’s more characterization than you’d expect, from the proto-computer geek who turns out to really be the boss of the operation to the shrewish lady who ends up helping Brand. Here Brand gets more info on the mob, and more importantly does more damage to them, but at the same time it detracts from the revenge scenario. 

The finale also takes an unexpected direction; Diana is in the suburbs of Maryland, where she’s married to a wealthy plastic surgeon who runs a fortified clinic. Brand basically just walks in the place and asks for Diana! This turns out to be his entire plan. He’s drugged, surrounded, and wakes up on a hospital bed; he was hit so hard the doctor actually gave him stitches. Diana returns to the narrative here, and again the plot goes in an unexpected direction, with Brand getting lucky and suffering a loss in quick succession. In the ensuing gunfight Brand also winds up taking out the guy who killed his brother, without even realizing it (though he’s informed so later). Powell pulls an interesting trick here with Brand being saved by women twice in the finale; first Diana gives him a gun no one knows she has, then after the climactic firefight (in which Hester is almost casually dispensed with), Gwen shows up and escorts Brand to safety. 

Gwen is actually still with Brand at novel’s end, but I doubt we’ll see her next volume. These ‘70s mob-busters were pretty much swingers. Anyway, I enjoyed The Liquidator #1 more than I thought I would, and I’m glad I picked up the rest of the series several years ago. FYI the last one, The Exchange, which as mentioned came out a few years after the others, appears to be the hardest one to track down. It was also published by Charter, which might be one reason it came out in ’78 while the others were in ’74; maybe publication was delayed when Charter took over Award’s books.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Devil’s Night (Universal Monsters Trilogy #3)


The Devil’s Night, by David Jacobs
 
February, 2001 Berkley Boulevard 

I’ve meant to read this concluding volume of the Universal Monsters trilogy for a few years now; I read the second volume for Halloween in 2016, and meant to get to this one sooner. But I haven’t really been on a horror kick in a while, so I just never got around to it. Anyway I kind of wish I’d gotten to The Devil’s Night sooner, as David Jacobs picks up events immediately after the conclusion of the previous book; despite the title, for the most part The Devil’s Night takes place the day after The Devil’s Brood, and someone new to the trilogy would have a hard time figuring out what’s going on. 

But while everything takes place immediately after the events of the previous volume, there have been some curious changes to both the personalities of the characters as well as to the narrative style itself. While for the most part we have new characters this time, the returning ones seem to have completely changed, like for example Dorian, the medium/witch who served black magician Uncle Basil in The Devil’s Brood. Dorian started a relationship with Mafia bigwig Steve Soto in that book, but in this volume she’s pretty much a cold fish, bitter and angry. She says she hated Basil, also drops the implication that he’d been molesting her since he took her on as his assistant (when she was 12!), and further says she has absolutely no feelings for Soto – who’s dead, anyway. But folks mark your calendars, because I was actually wrong last time; I figured Soto wouldn’t return to the series, but “zombie Soto” is indeed in this book…bearing none of the personality of his previous self. While he can think, talk, fight, and even make lame one-liners, he lacks any emotion or personality. 

Stranger still is the curious change to the narrative style itself. While The Devil’s Brood did an admirable job of capturing the vibe of classic horror movies with a bit of a Fangoria overlay, for the most part playing things straight, this time there’s a sardonic tone to Jacobs’s narrative. Characters often make lame jokes or comments about the nightmarish situations they’re in, which jibes with the otherwise-horrific vibe Jacobs tries to create. Even worse is that the narrative itself pokes fun at things – at one point Visaria, the fictional Eastern European fiefdom which is ruled by Dracula’s daughter, Countess Marya Zaleka, is referred to as “a Monaco for monsters,” given how so many of them congregate there. And whereas last time Jacobs correctly referred to Frankenstein’s monster as “the Monster,” this time for some unfathomable reason he keeps incorrectly referring to him as “Frankenstein.” You would think that an editor would’ve at least caught that. I mean that’s just basic Universal Monster knowledge – the creator was named Frankenstein, not the monster. It’s fine for the characters to make this mistake, but not the author. 

Otherwise Jacobs loses that “Aurora model” vibe from the previous book, with its glow-in-the-dark Dracula Blob and assorted zombies, and goes for more of an action-horror hybrid; the novel is for the most part padded out with overlong action scenes that ultimately go nowhere or overlong sequences of new characters trying to find the monsters. At the very least I’m happy that, unlike Jeff Rovin’s overly fan-fictionish Return Of The Wolf Man, all the characters here are aware that monsters exist and etc; I mean there’s no point where some dim-witted disbeliever has to learn the hard way that Dracula, the Monster, werewolves, and other assorted creatures actually exist. The “heroes” for the most part are all members of Marya’s Satanic coven, which is run out of Visaria, and they’ve come to Isla Morgana – the fictional Caribbean island from White Zombie which has featured in the trilogy from the beginning – to collect Dracula and the Monster and take them back to Visaria. 

Now Jacobs was a contract author, and as we know he had his hand in some men’s adventure series, like Tracker and Psycho Squad. Given this he was able to meet a deadline quickly for the publisher – and also given this it means he would often result to inordinate padding to fill up the word quota and meet the deadline. While The Devil’s Brood seemed like a well-thought-out novel, The Devil’s Night seems downright rushed. I mean consider this: the previous book ended with Marya capturing Winfred Glendon the Third, the grandson of the original Werewolf of London, whose ghost Marya conjured in a Satanic ritual. The ghost told Marya the secret of the Moon-Ray technology, a clever creation of Jacobs’s which tied together The Werewolf of London and The Bride Of Frankenstein; the ghost of Glendon the First revealed that it was the Moon-Ray which Frankenstein and Dr. Petronius used to bring the Bride to life, which is why all other succeeding attempts to revive her have failed. Now with the secret in her posession, Marya was poised to awaken the Bride from her century-long slumber and use her in some unspecified means of “propagating a new race” or somesuch. 

So that’s how The Devil’s Brood ended. Promises some cool shit, doesn’t it? Well get this. Jacobs ignores all of it until page 229 of this book…which only runs 252 pages! The vast majority of The Devil’s Night is composed of padded-out action scenes or lame “sarcastic” exchanges among the cult members as they try to collect the various creatures and take them back to Visaria. Even more damning is that the Bride is finally woken at the end of this book…but Jacobs blows the opportunity in a major way. In fact, and not to spoil things too soon, he pretty much rewrites the finale of The Bride of Frankenstein, with a lovestruck Monster chasing the Bride around a dungeon and the Bride shrieking at him. I mean Jacobs could’ve done something with the Bride, actually brought her to life (not just reviving her), as Elizabeth Hand did in her own Universal-approved sequel. But it’s as if Jacobs is only good at assembling all his various pieces and doesn’t know what exactly to do with them once they’re together. 

At any rate, Marya is the force that brings all this together, and Jacobs should’ve spent more narrative time with her. The majority of this book takes place the very day after the previous one, most of it occuring just a few hours later – and indeed the entire novel takes place over the course of this single day. Despite having the knowledge of how to revive the Bride, Marya basically rests during the day – after putting the captured Glendon the Third through a few tests. This being the last night of a full moon, she wants to test out his werewolf powers or something. Like all the other characters, Marya has nothing in common with her filmic ancestor: this Marya is a sleek beauty with some sadistic tendencies. Whereas the Marya of Dracula’s Daughter struggled with her vampiric condition, this one revels in it. She’s also presented as a much more, shall we say, hot babe, given to waltzing around her domain in “knee-length red-leather high-heeled boots.” She enjoys taunting the captured Glendon the Third with how he will become her loyal servant; curiously Glendon shows nothing but revulsion for the hot vampire queen, whereas I’d at least try to hit on her a little if I were in his position. I mean when it comes to hot evil babes, vampire chicks are at the top of the heap. The one thing I wanted from this trilogy was monsters having sex with each other, but dammit it’s the one thing we don’t get! 

This opening sequence gives us a taste of what we’re in for: an overlong action scene that doesn’t go anywhere, and ultimately comes off as pointless. Marya, instead of reviving the Bride immediately, instead taunts Glendon a bit, then has her various scientist underlings test him as he turns into a werewolf. Then she sets him loose on a captive local babe. But a big difference between Glendon’s “werewolf” and Larry Talbot’s “wolfman” is that Glendon is a thinking creature, not just a blood-driven beast. Jacobs again capably relays this from Glendon’s point of view; he thinks of himself as “Glendon,” remembers things from his human life and retains all his human knowledge – it’s just that he is no longer burdened with Glendon’s moral fiber and thus can kill whatever he wants and eat whatever he wants (the monsters are very fond of eating people, this time around). He’s able to escape, after mauling a few of Marya’s kevlar-suited guards; he even captures Marya herself, using her as a shield, but she turns herself into a giant bat-woman and flies away. Jacobs continues to make novel refinements to the Universal monsters; Glendon is also capable of shape-shifting, elongating his forearm to escape a pair of manacles. 

But here’s the thing – Glendon escapes, and the last we see of him he’s set fire to an orphanage to cause a distraction. However, the next time we see him…it’s the next morning, he’s back in human form, and he’s once again a captive of Marya. It’s like that throughout The Devil’s Night: elongated sequences that bear little impact on events. This sequence alone goes on for like 50 pages, with absolutely no plot-relevant outcome. Instead of doing something with all his assembled monsters – I mean for once in the trilogy, Jacobs has Dracula, the Monster, the Bride, Dracula’s Daughter, and a friggin’ werewolf, all together in the same location at the same time – our author doesn’t even deliver on the promise until like the last couple pages. And blows the opportunity once again when he does. It’s maddening in a way. Though still not as maddening as Rovin’s tiresome first installment, which wasted pages on incidental stuff, like about what happened to the characters Abbott and Costello played. 

Meanwhile on Isla Morgana it’s the morning after the zombie massacre which climaxed The Devil’s Brood. Jacobs here introduces a group of new characters who will take up the brunt of the narrative, all of them members of Marya’s cult: Jax Breen, foppish but merciless leader of the group; Julia Evans, “full-bodied Amazon” who serves as the muscle; and Kearney, “skull-faced” sadist whose most memorable moment has him happily gunning down some rioting natives with a .50 caliber machine gun. Breen gets the most narrative focus; his mission is to collect the “corpses” of the Monster and Dracula and transport them immediately to Visaria – indeed, to get them there that very night. That Jacobs chooses to focus more on these characters than Marya or Glendon – not to mention Dracula or the Monster – tells you all you need to know about his narrative approach to the trilogy. But still I say again: I enjoyed both his novels more than Rovin’s. 

The initial portion of this has Breen et al gunning down the restless natives, who understandably are a little freaked given the zombies, giant vampire bat, and giant monster that ran roughshod over the populace the night before. Julie blows away a few of the rioters, and as mentioned Kearney guns down more, but it’s all just so pointless given the denoument of the previous book: readers don’t want this, they want the revived Bride that was promised at the climax of the previous book, not to mention all the assembled Universal Monsters. But we get lots of stuff with Breen plotting with Obregon, leader of Isla Morgana’s “paramilitary” police force, as they get down beneath the ruins of Baron Latos’s castle to find the Monster and Dracula – as we’ll recall, the castle collapsed over the two at the climax of The Devil’s Brood. It takes quite a while to get there, though, but when it happens we have some memorable stuff, like Breen goading a local Christian into placing his cross on Dracula’s coffin to imprison him, and Breen’s men pouring noxious “plastigoo” onto the Monster, which forms into a huge block of plastic the creature can’t break out of. 

Dorian and Soto only feature a little in the narrative; Dorian just shows up, captured lurking around the grounds, and Breen sneers at her for Uncle Basil’s failure, previous volume, and says he’s now taking her back to Visaria for Marya to deal with. But as mentioned Dorian is a pale reflection of the character from the previous book. As is Soto, who only appears over a few pages. He’s a zombie, seems pretty unfazed about it, and while directionless initially he starts to feel pulled in various directions. This is because one of the characters is using him as an undead vassal, which is a pretty cool and subtly-developed subplot from Jacobs. Soto’s sudden penchant for one-liners only furthers the strange, sardonic tone of The Devil’s Night. Soto engages in a few battles, getting parts of him shot off, including one of his eyes; late in the book he commandeers a jeep from some horrified soldiers and tells them, “Zombie squad, official business.” That said, there’s a cool, gore-strong bit where Soto takes on Obregon’s military cops. 

I forgot to mention the part where the Monster is captured; before the “plastigoo” is dumped on him, the Monster is freed from beneath the collapsed castle and goes wild on Breen’s forces. As stated the monsters are particularly violent this time around, especially the Monster, who as we’ll recall is now fueled by black magic, courtesy Uncle Basil’s witchcraft last volume. In fact it’s hypothesized by Breen (the characters all spend most of their time talking about the monsters, by the way) that a demon might even posses the Monster. Well anyway this sequence, while good so far as the monster action goes, is another indication of the repetitive nature of the novel; the Monster raises hell, breaks free, escapes into Isla Morgana…then turns around and heads back for the castle…where he’s promptly captured by Breen’s men. Again, an overlong action bit that has no outcome on the plot – the Monster is still captured, regardless of the havoc. 

As for Dracula, he really gets narrative short shrift. After his Blob-to-Mothra transformation last time, wherein he regained his full vampire form at novel’s end (just in time for Latos’s castle to fall on him), he’s now in his coffin resting – and stays that way until page 209, when Jacobs finally returns to him. Throughout Dracula’s been stuck in the coffin, due to the cross Breen used to trap him there. Breen also devises outrageous means to subdue Dracula on the flight to Visaria: massive banks of high-power ultra-violet lights, which are so strong that humans break into a sweat mere seconds after stepping beneath them. But Breen is a moron, as he’s also placed the Monster, in his massive plastic square of a prison, in the same chamber…and the heat begins to melt the plastic. This leads to a suitably nightmarish scenario, as both Dracula and the Monster free themselves as the plane comes in for a landing in Visaria. Jacobs here proves how easily he’ll dispatch major characters, at least doling out memorable sendoffs: Dracula melts the cross with his own hand and shoves the molten metal down one character’s throat. 

And so now here they all are. Dracula and the Monster call off their battle as the plane lands; Dracula flies off as a bat and the Monster charges through the streets of Visaria after him. Meanwhile Marya is finally ready to bring the Bride to life. And here it all happens…like five pages before the book ends. Rather than reap any of the opportunities he has created for himself, Jacobs instead rushes through everything like a true contract writer with a deadline fast approaching. Dracula and his daughter meet and engage in casual conversation, despite this being the first time they’ve been together in the entire trilogy. But again, these characters bear little resemblance to their film counterparts; one could not see Bela Lugosi as this particular Dracula, who has none of Lugosi’s suave mannerisms. He’s a bloodlusting fiend, as is his daughter. Oh and by the way Glendon is here, the friggin Werewolf of London – but for some inexplicable reason Jacobs sets all this the night after the last full moon of the month, so he’s stuck in human form! 

The reviving of the Bride is pretty cool, but again seems lifted from The Bride of Frankenstein, save for the fact that the Bride is nude here. Plus we’re told in no uncertain terms she’s got a helluva body, though one that’s ruined by all those pesky surgical scars. But curiously the one thing these monsters lack is a libido; the Monster is about the only one who seems to want something more than just blood and death, and when he shows up on the scene he starts chasing the Bride around…again, all just like the ’35 film. But as a laughing Glendon – who’s a scientist, of course – relates, now that the Monster and the Bride share the same charge, they can’t attract, as only opposites extract. So as the Monster tries to touch the Bride, electricity shocks him. Dracula gets a good laugh out of this, making some of his own sarcastic comments, spoofing the situation – another indication of how no one takes anything seriously in the novel, which sort of ruins it for the reader. 

It gets worse. Spoiler alert for this paragraph. The Monster knocks the Moon-Ray device down, and it hits Glendon, who promptly turns into a werewolf. And folks, get this…it’s like a page and a half before the end of the book. So instead of having the giant monster fight we’d expect – I mean all the monsters are here, right now, in full force – Jacobs instead dispenses with everything in the most rushed manner possible. Werewolf Glendon hops over to the Moon-Ray device and starts shooting its beam across the dungeon, killing everyone. Dracula and Marya turn into bats to escape, but the ray hits them, turning them into “moon dust.” Soto even jumps into the ray to dispose of himself. As for the Monster and the Bride, Jacobs is so half-assed he doesn’t even mention what happens to them! Last we see of them the Monster’s chasing after her, and this is before Glendon gets hold of the Moon-Ray. The implication is that they all go up in the Moon-Ray…I mean all of them just disposed of in less than a full page. The end. Talk about one hell of an anticlimactic finale.  

In a way though, this rushed, piss-poor finale harkens back to those Universal classics, which also saved the monster fights for the final few minutes. But that’s no excuse for Jacobs to do the same thing! Just so much potential, squandered. Jacobs does try to incorporate a theme, baldly exposited in the final paragraph: that the monsters are really just reflections of the evil nature in the hearts of humans, only taken to ludicrous extremes. The theme comes off as lame, though, given that Jacobs has only presented human characters who are either warlocks, witches, Mafia thugs, or sadists. Even Glendon seems rather comfortable with his werewolf alter ego, which eats people. 

Regardless, this was it for the Universal Monsters Trilogy, and what a sad end it was. Actually, The Devil’s Brood and The Devil’s Night could’ve just been edited into one novel, making for a better read. So much of this one was padding, and it took way too long to pick up on the events that concluded the previous book. Again, Jacobs’s contract writer roots show strongly here. Perhaps the publisher should’ve just gone with yet another writer for this third book. Personally I would’ve done a sort of “Harold Robbins take on the Universal Monsters” thing, with coke-snorting, high-libido versions of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Dracula’s Daughter engaging in some Satanic depravity. Hell, maybe I’ll just write the book anyway.