Thursday, February 14, 2019

You’re Hired; You’re Dead! (Hitman #7)

You’re Hired; You’re Dead!, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1975  Major Books

The final volume of Hitman* takes the series in a sleazier direction – even when compared to previous installments – but be aware it’s not “fun” sleaze, but sleaze of an off-putting nature. For in this one Mike “Hitman” Ross goes up against brainwashed teenaged girls, and Kin Platt (aka Kirby Carr) takes a sick delight in exploiting them throughout, particularly those younger than 16, with even a few random hardcore sex scenes featuring a 14 year-old.

In many ways You’re Hired; You’re Dead! is a lazy rewrite of the previous volume, which featured the exact same plot – a bitter woman sending out young female assassins to do her bidding. But this is just one sign that Platt has grown bored of the series; much of the book is comprised of page-filling of the most egregious nature, with Ross most times just standing around and wondering what to do…before a plot contrivance stumbles along to point him in the right direction. Otherwise we get lots and lots of digressive material on one-off characters; even Ross’s action scenes are sorely compromised, amounting to two such sequences, both of which are blatant rehashes of the ones in the previous volume.

The opening even demonstrates an author winging it as he goes along; Ross wakes up in his own bed to find a hot young girl beside him, nude and ready to go…he has no idea who she is or what’s going on. Then she reveals a knife and goes for the kill, and Ross, being the Hitman and all, kills her with her own knife, later regretting that he didn’t keep her alive to question her. Only belatedly does he realize he hired her as a maid the other day and she just spent the night in his home as part of an “overnight contract.”

However, Platt tries to cover himself when Ross admits he had a few drinks the night before, thus his temporary confusion in the opening pages – whether intentional or not, another parallel to the Spider pulps is the implication that the nutcase “hero” of this series is in fact drunk most of the time. Before death the girl blabbed something about “Murder Maids.” We soon learn there’s been a rash of murders around Los Angeles, the killers all young blondes posing as maids and babysitters (in one cruel sequence we learn a 5 year-old had his throat slashed), all of them hired via classified ads. When recurring character Lt. Wilson of the LAPD tries to investigate, he finds all the ad postings were one-time deals and can’t be traced, or somesuch. So he calls in Mike Ross, the Hitman.

We readers know the culprit is Martha Hamilton, a hotstuff older blonde with an axe to grind on male society; her backstory is even a retread of the female villain’s in the previous book, with men treating her woefully since childhood. Now she’s got this army of young girls, all picked up off the street and promptly brainwashed by hunchbacked genius Dr. Shult, who has developed a device that controls minds. He even gets his own digressive backstory which shows how he ended up working for Martha, who as a millionaire thanks to her dead criminal husband could give Shult all the money he wanted for his invention. A vague backstory also has it that Ross killed Martha’s husband or something, hence one of the girls being sent to kill him.

As mentioned the girls are all young, 18 at the most, but Platt focuses mostly on the young ones. It’s my understanding Platt made a name for himself, such as it was, as an author of juvenile fiction in the ‘70s. If so then he must’ve been having some sick fun with this series, because it’s like the sleazeball alternate reality version of juvenile fiction – grimy, outrageous exploitation of preteen girls, up to and including their deaths. The cover painting actually depicts a scene in the book, sort of, because folks the guy with the sword turns out to be Master Lo, Ross’s 80 year-old martial arts teacher, and he’s taking care of a pair of brainwashed teen girl assassins by chopping their heads off.

There’s lots of shit about the various assassin girls going about their chores, including another one sent after Ross. This one he successfully stops by re-hypnotizing her, figuring he can trail her back to wherever she came from, but a timed explosive in her car finishes her off. Around this point Ross gets in one of the few real action scenes in the novel, as a squad of killers who work for mobster Joey Massina descend on Ross’s nigh-impregnable mountaintop home. Joey was hired by Martha to round up a bunch of guys to kill Ross…yes, exactly as in the previous book.

And it goes down the same, though this time Ross is alerted to his visitors by an anonymous call, which turns out to be from Dr. Shult – he’s worried Martha will send her killer girls after him one day, too, so figures he should keep Ross alive for protection. But once again Ross is nearly superhuman; he takes care of the invaders as easily as the average guy might stomp on a cockroach. A later scene has him decked out in his Hitman gear – black nylon combat suit and cowl with eye-slits – and launching a raid on Joey’s place. Here he kills over a dozen guys without batting an eye. The action scenes lack any thrilling content but are at least slightly gory, if less so than previous books. Platt does look forward to the men’s adventure of the ‘80s with occasional gun-porn, like a digressive rundown on the armament in Ross’s “Chevyvan war wagon.”

Platt, apparently realizing he blew a good chance to fill pages with the abrupt car-bomb murder of the previous brainwashed gal, introduces another one in the latter half of the book, this one a 14 year-old hooker named Alice who also poses as Laurie and Lori. She too comes to kill Ross, showing off her body in a failed attempt to screw him – Ross goes without sex this volume – and our hero successfully deprograms her. He even offers her a job. Alice leaves to “think about it” and ends up being picked up by Martha – the series has always existed in its own little universe, populated by just a handful of people – who, brace yourself folks, promptly seduces Alice right there in the car, in outrageous XXX detail. Alice, who royally gets off on it, declares Martha a supreme “muff-diver.”

As if that weren’t enough, Martha sends Alice over to Shult’s as the latest candidate for brainwashing…and now it’s the good doctor’s turn to boff the preteen girl in outrageous XXX detail. But Alice sort of falls in love with Shult, mostly due to his massive wang, and in the homestretch the plot turns into Shult planning to use Alice against Martha. Meanwhile a squad of girls have been sent to Ross’s home, making for the third time he’s been visited by brainwashed preteen killers. Here Platt goes through the roof with the off-putting sleaze, because the girls go into a sexual frenzy, tearing off their own clothes and Ross’s as they attack him en masse – complete with explicit detail of the parts of their bodies being jammed in Ross’s face as he struggles against them. He’s saved by the appearance of Lt. Wilson, who just laughs and wonders if Ross took the opportunity to fuck any of them first, because that’s what he would’ve done!

Since the book’s so scarce and obscure (likely because Major didn’t want to waste much money on printing this crap), I’ll spoil the finale…it’s dumb. In a complete disregard for any sort of reality, even “reality” as it exists in this bizarre, pulpy series, Platt has Master Lo basically “sniffing” the aether and, like a human hound dog, tracking down the hiding place of the villain who has been sending out these killer girls. And folks he just walks right up to Martha’s door and hacks her head off. He later does the same to Shult. Meanwhile Ross is still busy struggling with those nude teen girls. When Ross, Lt. Wilson, and Lo meet up at the end, they all have a good chuckle over how Lo took care of everything for them!

This was easily my least favorite book in the series, though the only one I really liked was the first volume. It would seem apparent that Kin Platt quickly grew bored of the series, and by this last volume he was completely checked out. But then, Major Books was, too – note that the cover does not state “Hitman” anywhere, nor is there a volume number presented. For that matter, neither Ross nor “Hitman” are even mentioned on the back cover copy. Now that I think of it, this has been true since the first volume Major published, You Die Next, Jill Baby!  So maybe Major quickly churned out these three final volumes so as to be done with it.

*As mentioned in previous reviews, the 1975 Major paperback The Impossibe Spy, also credited to Kirby Carr, is often listed as the eighth and final volume of Hitman. I dutifully picked up the book several years ago…only to discover it’s a standalone novel, not connected to the series. Thus You’re Hired; You’re Dead! is actually the final volume of Hitman.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones

Up And Down With The Rolling Stones, by Tony Sanchez
October, 1980  Signet Books
(original trade paperback edition 1979)

In many ways this sleazy tell-all is similar to Frederic Seaman’s later The Last Days Of John Lennon; it’s written by a former assistant whose job mostly entailed getting high with his employer-slash-best friend, and it seems to have been written with a grudge to bear. But this book’s a whole helluva lot more fun, because the employer-slash-best friend is Keith Richards, and the documented events cover a lot more time than the few months that made up Seaman’s book.

“Spanish Tony” Sanchez, who died in 2000, is infamous in the Rolling Stones mythos as the band’s drug dealer; his name was immortalized on the original version of the Beggars Banquet cover, the one of the gross toilet seat with graffiti on the wall…Keith Richards, per Sanchez in this very book, is the one who scrawled “Spanish Tony where are you?” on the wall. Speaking of Keith, the man apparently has a gift for one-liners, as upon reading this book he supposedly commented, “Spanish Tony can’t write his own name, let alone a book.”

He wasn’t alone in his suspicion; it doesn’t seem to be well-known yet, but Up And Down With The Rolling Stones was actually ghostwritten by a British music journalist named John Blake, who still owns the copyright on the book and republishes it frequently. I guess he and Sanchez followed the template of all those William Shatner bios and other celebrity books – the celebrity tells his tale to the professional writer, who commits it all to paper (with a few embellishments) and doesn’t get a shred of credit. But I’ve read a few online reviews of this book that question the authenticity of “Spanish Tony’s” voice. Well, there’s the answer – it’s not his voice. It’s John Blake’s.

But this isn’t a criticism, because the book is a blast to read, and it’s everything you’d want in a Rolling Stones book. That is, if you want to read about their wild, drug-fueled adventures and don’t care as much about their actual music. And also if you don’t want to read much about Mick Jagger. Sanchez (or Blake) doesn’t much care for poor old Mick, it seems – or maybe it’s the other way around, and Mick didn’t care much for Sanchez. Because Mick doesn’t seem to have much use for Spanish Tony, other than an occasional request for coke. Otherwise our author(s) is content to let us know that Mick is an egalitarian prick, posing as a Cockney-accented rabble rouser but really worried someone might “spill something on his Persian rugs.” That being said, Tony does grudgingly admit that Mick is stronger than Keith, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Palenberg, producer Jimmy Miller, scads of others, and Spanish Tony himself, in that he never uses heroin, and thus doesn’t share the plunge into addiction practically every single character in the book experiences.

Sanchez comes into the Stones fold right as the glory years are beginning (ie the mid ‘60s), and stays with them up until the glory years begin to fade (ie the mid ‘70s). Coincidence? Probably! The book is very focused on Brian Jones, the “forgotten” Stone who started the group, gave them their name, got hooked on drugs and busted multiple times, was fired from the group, and died a few days after. In an opening sequence Sanchez never really returns to, Brian comes to him one night looking for coke and other goodies, and from there Sanchez flashes back to how he became the Stones’s unofficial drug dealer – though for some goofy reason he reminds us throughout that he’s not a drug dealer, per se.

It begins in the post-Aftermath era, and the Stones are just embarking on their psychedelic trip, which we’re supposed to hate but to tell the truth I love. For a very long time, Their Satanic Majesties Request was the only Stones album I had on vinyl, and that was for a reason. (I mean let’s be honest, “2000 Light Years From Home” is one of the greatest songs of the psychedelic era – or any era, for that matter.) Sanchez has various connections to the underworld and soon becomes the Stones’s go-to guy for grass, hash, speed, and eventually coke and heroin.

Keith Richards (though at this point he was still going as “Keith Richard,” per old manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s suggestion) is the Stone who gets the most study, with Brian Jones coming a close second. Jagger comes and goes in the text, and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts basically don’t exist. As Sanchez writes, these two didn’t have much in common with the others from the beginning. Jones replacement Mick Taylor enters the narrative midway through, but he also doesn’t get much focus, other than being another example of a naïve, almost innocent soul who gradually sucumbs to the Stones’s dark demonic sway.

Sanchez himself doesn’t come off as the most likable guy; as with Seaman, he’s careful to present himself as level-headed, particularly when confronted with the continuous goofery of the rock world, and there is a definite air of judgment in his depictions of how the Stones treat their women and children. And yet for all that Sanchez freely admits that he abandons his wife and toddler son to be with some long-legged model chick (who eventually dies of a heroin overdose – spoiler alert). But then, none of the people in the book are in danger of winning a Parent of the Year award. At least Seaman made clear that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had various maids and nannies to look over Sean; Sanchez spends the entire book giving the impression that Keith’s son Marlon is being raised by a pair of heroin-ravaged incompetents, before slipping into the very final pages that there are nannies for the boy.

There’s a lot of focus on Brian, and Sanchez goes out of his way to let us know how the Stones screwed him over, while at the same time implying much of it was Brian’s own fault. His growing dependence on drugs and troubles with the law pushed him into a corner the other Stones were incapable of getting him out of. Sanchez relates that in these earlier days whoever was pals with Brian was the boss of the Stones, and it was only around this psychedelic period that Keith went over to Mick’s camp, and the two went about knocking Brian from his throne.

Superbeauty Anita Pallenberg played a big role in this; the former “Great Tyrant” of Barbarella entered the Stones picture initially through Brian, then moved on to Keith, and also reportedly took the time to seduce Mick on the set of Performance, which she co-starred with him in. Like Brian, Sanchez presents Anita as a tragic figure, though again much of it is due to her own actions – her conniving, her heroin addition, her eventual pursuit of black magic, including a bizarro part where Sanchez has Anita dipping a piece of cloth into the blood of a man lying near death on a road in Tangier, the victim of a car wreck. Per Anita’s satanic guru Kenneth Anger, the blood of a dying man is quite powerful. And yet for all that Anita doesn’t seem to get much done other than hook herself and others on heroin.

Marianne Faithfull also enters the picture around the time of Anita, and Sanchez follows the now-cliched angle of presenting her as the ray of light to Anita’s shroud of darkness. However Marianne just sticks with one Stone: Mick. But the old boy treats her pretty rough; he’s not into beating her around, as Brian reportedly was with Anita, but he is guilty of ignoring her a lot. A funny thing about this book is that it’s pretty anemic so far as the sexual sleaze exploitation goes – Mick, we’re informed, enjoys the occasional dalliance, but Keith we’re told isn’t much interested in sex at all; he’s too heavy into heroin. In fact it’s not until near the end of the book in which Keith even says he finds a woman sexy (Ronnie Wood’s wife, fyi), and Sanchez is properly shocked because it’s the first time he’s ever heard Keith say he “fancies” someone.

The interchanging Brian-Keith, Keith-Mick alignments come off as petty bickering, because the biggest miss of Up And Down With The Rolling Stones is that Sanchez fails to tell us anything about what made the Stones so popular to begin with – their music. If you are looking for peeks inside the studio during the recording of their various albums, or even some of their historic concerts of the late ‘60s or early ‘70s, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Only rarely – very, very rarely – does Sanchez even mention the music of the Stones. He does take credit for inadvertently causing “Honky Tonk Women” to be recorded (the best Stones song ever, per Sanchez!?), given the piano he had installed in the London club he briefly owned with Keith; Mick and Keith, who were supposed to be helping decorate the place, sat down and started plunking out the song.

But Sanchez clearly wasn’t there for the recordings of Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers or etc, though he does sort of imply he was in Keith’s house while Exile In Main Street was being recorded, though he fails to give even a smidgen of info on the recording sessions. And that to me is the most damning thing about the book. There’s absolutely no understanding how these guys, who are presented as just looking for the next drug kick, could have recorded some of the most defining music in rock history.

I found though that the book is more enjoyable as just a gossipy tell-all, as was the case with Seaman’s book. And speaking of Lennon, he appears a few times in Sanchez’s book, and perhaps tellingly, he comes off pretty much identical as to how he did in Seaman’s expose – easily confused and overly bossy, but with a quick wit. Paul McCartney also shows up, if only briefly, at Mick’s birthday party at the aforementioned club, where – per Sanchez – he’s the last person to leave, and discovers the comatose hat-check girl. We also learn that he brought along an acetate of “Hey Jude” for the party, thus invoking Mick’s wrath for having been upstaged at his own party…and later Linda, not yet Paul’s wife, calls Tony and hassles him for the record back, lest bootleggers get hold of it. 

Things really pick up when Keith takes over the baronial Redlands out in the and gets in one goofy adventure after another. Unlike the major events – the infamous drug bust, the disastrous Altamont concert, and every single recording session – Sanchez is actually present for most of this. So we have Keith shooting arrows across a lake and then skimming over it in his hydrofoil to collect them, and also his increasingly hostile run-ins with the locals. I also got a post-ironic chuckle out of Keith’s immediate response to the rash of crime he endures in the area, mostly from locals who keep breaking into his house: that’s right, friends – he builds a wall…

There’s a lot of intentionally funny stuff throughout, most of it involving Keith. Like for example an altercation in the Exile years where he gets in a fight with some guys at a wharf in France, and starts waving around Marlon’s toy pistol like it’s the real thing. There’s also Keith’s quickly-dashed plot to sink a boat once belonging to Errol Flynn so he can reclaim it and thus get it for a fraction of the price. As Sanchez elaborates, with his growing heroin addiction – which matches his growing bank account – Keith becomes increasingly price-conscious. This is another parallel to Seaman’s book, where millionaire John Lennon also came off like a cheapskate.

The book also answers the question of how one becomes a heroin addict; as Sanchez relates it, the experience starts with coke, which the performer needs to constantly get up in front of the masses and do the same show over and over. But eventually the performer needs a comedown, otherwise sleep is impossible. This is how heroin enters the fray, initially snorted but eventually injected via “the works.” This process happens to virtually every person in the book save for Mick, and in many cases – so Sanchez claims – Anita Pallenberg is responsible. Per Sanchez, junkies are only happy when their misery is shared, so Keith and Anita relish in getting people in their orbit hooked on heroin, even if it’s just some harmless young rock reporter.

It’s hard for me to review a book like this. It’s engaging and witty, and at times hard to put down, but at the same time you come away from it with little understanding of what made the Stones one of the greatest rock groups of all time, if not the greatest. Overall I enjoyed the book, even if I didn’t come away with a better appreciation of the Stones, their music, and their legacy.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites For The Vulture

The Inquisitor #6: Last Rites For The Vulture, by Simon Quinn
May, 1975  Dell Books

Well, I liked this sixth and final volume of The Inquisitor slightly more than the the third volume. Apologies to fans of this series, but I have to conclude that I just don’t dig it. It’s not the fault of Martin “Simon Quinn” Cruz Smith, as he delivers exactly what the label on the spine promises – a “Mystery” novel. That’s all this series is, even though it was packaged and sold (and thus tagged here on the blog) as men’s adventure.

Despite the salacious copy on the first page preview and the back cover, there’s nothing in Last Rites For The Vulture that would be out of place in a TV movie of the era. If anything this one’s even slower-paced than Nuplex Red, and throughout Smith is content to dwell on scene-setting and dialog. As for the elements expected of the genre – sex and violence – he is not concerned with them at all. In many ways this series is similar to another slow-burn “men’s adventure series,” Dakota, though thankfully not as sleep-inducing. (But then how could it be?) 

The novel opens with a nicely-written but ultimately digressive scene in which a young pair of backpacking tourists in Spello, a village in Umbria, Italy, turn out to be traveling assassins. They use a contraption of their own invention to spray a poison in the face of an 80-year old monk – a monk who, strangely enough, seems quite able of handling himself against two opponents. But they spray him regardless and he dies of a heart attack, one that will seem to be natural in the ensuing autopsy. When series protagonist Francis Xavier Killy enters the fray, it’s weeks later and he’s here with his boss Cella, both of them come to Spello to see if the murdered monk, Brother Pietro, is worthy of sainthood. If you’re looking for a peek into the machinations of the Chuch, then this is the series for you.

If you’re looking for action and sex, it’s not. It’s very much in the mystery mold as Killy, posing as a priest, investigates Spello and Pietro’s past at the behest of Cella. Smith excels in the description of Spello, bringing to life its hardscrabble peasants and shifty town leaders who yearn for Brother Pietro’s sainthood. Though, in a nice moment that undercuts the sap, Cello eventually reveals that Spello is dying while a nearby city is thriving, and why? Because that other city has its own saint. It seems that having a town saint is a tremendous boost for tourism.

Meanwhile Killy has discovered that Brother Pietro’s heart attack might not’ve been as natural as believed. Here Cella also reveals another big tidbit – that Pietro was at one time known as “The Vulture,” and he was an ally of Al Capone who ran whores and whatnot. He was extradited from the US shortly before WWII, going on to live in wealth in Italy. Then the Nazis rounded him up, he escaped, freeing the prisoners with him, and eventually went into hiding as a monk in Spello. But he took to this simple life and stayed that way until his murder, his vast resources funnelled into a Mexican banking firm called Condor. Now the question is, who killed him and why?

Killy next heads for Baja California, and we’re treated to a practically endless hang gliding race in which one of Killy’s opponents, unbeknownst to him but made clear to us readers, is one of Pietro’s assassins. From here Killy, posing as a gadabout sportsman, ingratiates himself into the jet-setting fold of Roberto, Allan, and Alexandra Ciccio. The former two are the assassins, we readers know, but their dayjob entails running the Condor bank. Alexandra is the hot-to-trot granddaughter of Brother Pietro – a carefree babe who tears her jeep across the Baja desert while smoking grass.

Alexandra provides most of the thrills in the novel, not to mention the little salacious content. She is of course horny for our hero, and the two exchange barbed dialog before the inevitable screwing. For it must be said that Smith shines in the dialog department, particularly Killy’s deadpan lines. Alexandra’s most notable sequence displays her rock star lifestyle; after some hard drinking and dopesmoking she insists on driving Killy back to her place in her new sportscar, but instead she intentionally flies off a pier and lands the car in the ocean. It’s submerged to the doorhandles and sharks swirl outside, and she and Killy are trapped in here until the tide goes out, taking the sharks with it. Smith as expected leaves the ensuing sex off-page.

But it does just go on and on…Killy hanging with Roberto and Allan, who have proclaimed him their new best bud, while Killy suspects the pair might be involved in something nefarious. Meanwhile he’s here to keep an eye on Alexandra…it turns out that the assets of Condor are being used in a land-buying scheme in the desert near San Luca or somesuch. Later on Killy flies to Tokyo for a few pages and then to Montreal for a few pages more, each time coming upon a businessman who has just been murdered; more to do with this property scheme.

It’s not until the final quarter that the novel really kicks into gear – and mind you, Killy hasn’t gotten in a single gunfight or killed anyone yet. The most he’s done is get in a brawl with a drunk rival of Condor during a yacht party. But at this point Roberto and Allan are forced to finally show their hand, and meanwhile Killy’s deduced why they’ve been treating him like their BFF; they intend to kill Alexandra, the last obstacle in their gaining all of Condor’s assets, and make it look like Killy did it. And of course they’ll kill him, too; the goal will be to make it look like an accident.

This leads to another nice sequence with Alexandra, with her and Killy stranded on a cove that’s used for sea turtle burial; the place is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and a faroff sniper prevents Killy from scaling over it with a towel. Instead they put those turtle shells to use and dig their way out. Throughout Killy keeps Alexandra from realizing the life-or-death situation they’re in, trading more of that deadpan dialog with her. Some of it is pretty funny, like Killy’s “Talk about problems” when Alexandra notes that his shoulder is bleeding from a .22 bullet.

The finale slightly ramps up the tension. Killy and Alexandra escape Florita via a sailplane – Smith seems to have had a major interest in hang gliders, sailplanes, and vintage light planes when he wrote this one, because it seems that a good portion of the narrative is given over to Killy flying various small aircraft. But they’re chased by Roberto and Allan in their old Vampire plane and they crash in the desert. Killy’s again hurt, getting a concussion, and they hole up in an old mission for a few days, slowly dying of thirst and hunger.

But they’re able to escape again, and we get another long aerial chase, as if the previous one was just a bit of page-filling to meet the word count. And folks, at least in Nuplex Red Killy lived up to his name and killed someone. I mean I don’t expect much from my men’s adventure protagonists, but I at least expect that! But again, take a look at that label on the spine…we’re reading a Mystery novel. Mother nature ends up doing Killy’s work for him. He leads the Vampire into a lightning storm, and while Killy’s sailplane has no issues, flying into a storm in a light plane like the Vampire is “like jumping off a cliff.” Smith even teases us that Killy might shoot someoneone, earlier on; he takes a revolver from some dirty Florita cops he knocks out, but ultimately the gun’s just used to kill a few snakes.

However it must be stressed that this lack of exploitative content doesn’t mean Last Rites For The Vulture is bad…it’s just very safe and mainstream ready. It packs in just a few memorable moments of weirdness, but never goes too far with them. Killy comes off like a paperback James Gardner with his glib dialog and self-deprecating manner, and he lacks the merciless nature of the average men’s adventure protagonist of the ‘70s. In fact it’s surprising this series hasn’t been republished or epublished with appropriately bland, photoshopped covers, as with the recent bowdlerized Specialist ebooks. There’s nothing here Smith should be ashamed of, and it’s safe enough for grandmothers to read.

While the writing is fine, the depth of characterization above the genre norm, and the snappy dialog certainly beyond anything else in the genre, overall The Inquisitor just doesn’t do much for me, because it’s not what I want from the genre. It is, for the third and final time, really just a mystery series, more focused on sleuthing. But as for me personally I found a lot of it, like Nuplex Red, downright boring. So I doubt I’ll seek out any more of these books, which as mentioned previously are more expensive than they’re worth.

Monday, February 4, 2019

In Hot Blood

In Hot Blood, by Mercer B. Cook
No month stated, 1966  Challenge Books

This lurid, sleazy cash-in isn’t to be confused with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood at all. The similar titles are just a coincidence, of course. In fact, in the “Author’s Introduction” Mercer B. Cook sniffs that the “nonfiction novel” is nothing new, and that this particular nonfiction novel is about the growing threat of…well, something…and if, well, something isn’t done about it, the country’s gonna suffer!

Well anyway, thanks to Hawk’s Authors’s Pseudonyms I know that “Mercer B. Cook” was a pseudonym of that erstwhile pulp author Robert Turner. While the book is copyright Challenge Books, we are informed from the outset that “Cook” is the pseudonym of a Los Angeles-based author who has written a variety of genres, with a focus on mystery and crime. I wonder why Turner didn’t just publish the novel under his own name and be done with it. Likely it was a publisher demand, or maybe Turner just didn’t want to be ridiculed for this cheap ripoff of In Cold Blood.

I’ve never read Capote’s book, I’m unashamed to admit, but I’m aware of it. Given that it was published the same year, my assumption is this one was rushed out to capitalize on it. In the breezy 150 pages of this book we read as a trio of sadists descend on Elmorra, South Carolina one July night in 1965 and kill and rape several people. It’s not the feel good book of the year, that’s for sure – it’s pretty grimy and lurid, particularly given the publication date.

Turner writes this book as if it really is true crime…there’s lots of page-filling, from arbitrary breakdowns of how Elmorra is layed out to impromptu psych evals of the three hoodlums: Fitz, Townlee, and Parsons. We gradually learn they met in the clink and banded together upon their release into an unsuspecting society; now they drive south in an Olds posing as businessmen and hit random business offices at night, stealing the checkbooks and writing exorbitant amounts to themselves. This is of course elucidated for us at length…Turner, the old pro, leaves no page-filling stone unturned, and as is his usual wont he info-dumps a helluva lot. The book is almost all show and too little tell.

The opening, titled “After,” is a case in point. We have this long, digressive intro in which an Elmorra teen is shacking up with an older guy who travels through town on business. Lots of detail on her background and whatnot; Turner will pull this trick throughout, as he has in every other book of his I’ve read, but here at least the info-dumping isn’t as egregious, given that it’s presented as a nonfiction novel. Well anyway, this gal has some hot off-page lovin’ with the dude, and meanwhile she’s prepared a cover story with her chunky galpal Vangie…but after that aforementioned lovin’ the gal falls asleep, wakes up from a nightmare in which someone was screaming her name…and yep, she’s got ESP, and she knows some bad ju-ju has gone down in Elmorra. Soon enough she learns that Vangie and another girl, as well as a few teens and an adult, have been murdered…

Then Turner jumps back to “During” and tells us how all this sordid stuff went down. Long story short, Fitz, who strangled a cat as a kid, is the boss of the other two guys on their cross-country crime spree: Townlee’s a big bruiser who constantly giggles, and Parsons is the handsome Elvis lookalike who reads Westerns and is the most sadistic of the bunch. Fitz orders that they lay low when they stop in each town, but on this night of July 28 in Elmorra, Townlee and Parsons succeed in getting Fitz to slacken off on his strict “no booze” rule. Then they slip him some speed along with it.

Earlier, Townlee and Parsons, out getting the booze when Fitz was asleep in the motel, ran into a group of teens who were on their way to a meeting at the home of CL Hinkelman, a widowed bachelor in his late 40s, for a Church steering committee or somesuch. Vangie, the pudgy gal in the group, stupidly invited these two older strangers over to Hinkelman’s…just trying to be “right friendly” with these out of towners and all that. Now, back at the motel, the two sadists urge Fitz to go to Hinkelman’s – Parsons has the hots for Vangie and he’s sure Fitz will go nuts over the brunette teen who was with the group.

Soaring on the speed and booze, Fitz agrees. Here we go straight into drive-in trash territory; it’s a shame a cheap, black-and-white exploito film was never made of In Hot Blood, for of course eventual skewering on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s super-insane as the three just show up at Hinkelman’s house, and of course the dude has no idea who they are or why they’re here. But Vangie’s invited them, and it’s the neighborly thing to do…pretty soon they’ve knocked the guy over and are ransacking his pantry for food and booze. The vibe is almost that they’re vampires who have been welcomed into a home, and now they’re free to cut loose.

Turner pulls no punches in the ensuing grim sequence, which sees Hinkelman’s rifle put to use – conveniently just sitting in his kitchen. Hinkelman and the two teen boys are almost perfunctorily dealt with, and then Parsons and Fitz set on the two girls. Turner at least doesn’t go full-bore with Vangie’s rape, providing just enough exploitative elements of her clothes being ripped off before cutting away. Meanwhile Fitz ends up strangling the other girl while raping her. He then orders Parsons to go back in the bedroom and shoot Vangie, who’s passed out! So it’s safe to say these three are the villains.

After this the novel goes into free-fall; Turner page-fills with abandon, including an egregious bit where we read the pscyh evaluations of Fitz, Parsons, and Townlee, written during their prison terms years before. We learn how the people of Elmorra deal with the tragedy, and how the girl who opened the book – the one with ESP who was screwing a married man – has to leave town in shame. Occasionally we cut over to the three killers, who continue their way south, knocking over businesses. They begin to go crazy, apparently from their vile deed in Elmorra, and when Parsons rapes another girl and blabs to her about having killed someone, the cops get their first lead.

There’s a nicely-developed tension as the novel grinds to its close; Fitz, Townlee, and Parsons are now in Clearwater, Florida, oblivious that the cops have found out who they are and are closing in. But when the police stage their ambush the crooks end up turning on each other; one kills the other two, for being cowards, and then he himself dies a few weeks later when trying to escape police custody. But not before he’s told his story of what happened in Elmorra.

Overall this is a fairly quick, sleazy read, though a bit hamstrung by the intermittent narrative rambling. There’s just too much info-dumping about random characters or places, with the forward momentum constantly stalled. It’s for this matter that I prefer Turner’s short story work, as collected in Shroud 9.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Marksman #17: Killer On The Prowl

The Marksman #17: Killer On The Prowl, by Frank Scarpetta
No month stated, 1975  Belmont Tower

This volume of The Marksman seems to have been written by a committee, one that couldn’t agree on anything except that the book should be written in English. In one plot Philip “The Marksman” Magellan is in New York to take out a notorious Mafioso, and in another plot a trio of smalltime crooks kidnap that very same Mafioso for ransom. In a third plot the Mafioso’s “family” engage in internecine warfare to determine the new leader. And seldom do these three plots meet.

Once again a big thanks to Lynn Munroe, who revealed that Killer On The Prowl started life as a manuscript by Paul Hofrichter but was rewritten, perhaps by George Harmon Smith, a writer often used by series editor Peter McCurtin to fix up manuscripts. Harmon Smith’s presence is a guess on Lynn’s part, but the writing doesn’t seem to me the same as that in supposed Harmon Smith offerings, like Savage Slaughter.

Whereas Harmon Smith was given to almost literary flourishes, especially when compared to the genre average, the writing in Killer On the Prowl is stilted and bland, given over mostly to flat, declarative sentences. Lynn spoke with Hofrichter, and had him look over the novel. What’s strange is that Hofrichter remembered some of the stuff in Killer On The Prowl as things that had interested him at the time – rocket launchers, one of the settings, and such – but he didn’t recognize much in the book as being his own writing. So one wonders why his manuscript was even used…for example, the novel opens with Magellan in California and hating it; he wants to get back to action. Then he sees in the paper that infamous Mafia boss Vito Narducci is about to make a deal with the army on some new rocket launchers.

And yet, this is never mentioned again in the narrative; Magellan recognizes Narducci’s name and decides to head back East and kill him. First though he mails his guns to himself so he doesn’t have to worry about getting busted carrying them. The front and back cover copy refer to Narducci as “The Animal,” and have it that he’s been sicced on Magellan to finally take him down. But in the novel, Narducci comes off more like a businessman, running his empire from behind a desk. The author(s) clumsily inserts a reference to him being called “The Animal” by other mobsters, but this comes off as editorial emendation.

Narducci’s given an elaborate background overview first courtesy Magellan, who does his research on his target, and then in the section featuring the three punks who have decided to kidnap him. All this stuff seems to have come out of Mario Puzo and perhaps might be the work of some other writer other than Hofrichter or Harmon Smith; it’s certainly not the former. We also get inordinate backgrounds on the kidnappers, one of whom is a jockey – cue more page-filling stuff about one of his races.

Magellan is at his most cipher-like here, going about his motions in a matter-of-fact, almost robotic nature. Surely the intent is to make his actions appear even more savage, because this time Magellan does some crazy stuff, perhaps even more so than in the average Russell Smith installment…for even Russell Smith never had Magellan gun down defenseless women in cold blood. He also literally “fondles” his guns in the comfort of his hotel room. In other words he’s a deranged freak, and this author doesn’t even waste our time by introducing a female companion for him…this version of Magellan is more Terminator than human.

We learn Magellan’s been fighting the mob for two years. He doesn’t have the usual “artillery case” this time, but he’s got a ton of goodies, from pistols to submachine guns. He’s also got a “knee mortar,” one of the things Hofrichter told Lynn Munroe he was studying at the time; this is a WWII mortar that got its name because some soldiers mistakenly thought they could prop it on their knees or thighs when firing. Later Magellan gets some explosives from a dealer who operates out of a grocery store. There’s a lot of gun-talk and info on plastic explosives, as well as lots of detail on the scuba gear Magellan buys at a sports store for an underwater raid. 

However it must be said that Magellan rarely appears in the book; it’s really given over to Narducci, the kidnappers, and various one-off characters. The trio of losers who kidnap Narducci are given the most narrative, followed by the underlings in Narducci’s family who vie for power. When Magellan appears, he’s in total robot mode, planning hits and buying the supplies needed for them. The author(s) studiously avoids giving Magellan any personality; we’re given modicum details about when or where he eats, or what he’s thinking. But we’re with him step by step as he haggles for plastic explosives or buys scuba gear for his hit on one of Narducci’s boats.

And as mentioned, Magellan is more ruthless than ever in this one. He starts assaulting Narducci’s places and possessions, not aware that the man himself has been kidnapped…blowing up those boats, shotgunning one of Narducci’s lieutenants in a drive-by, starting a fire in one of his sleazy hotels (though at least here Magellan gives the innocents a fighting chance for survival). It’s still surprising though when Magellan blows away a gaggle of hookers in Narducci’s employ as they walk across the street:

When [the hookers] were passing a group of darkened stores in the middle of the block, [Magellan] swung directly across the street towards them, lifted the machinegun and aimed it at them, as he used one hand to steer the car along. 

The girls looked at him in amusement, thinking him to be a john, until they saw his submachinegun and screamed and began to scatter. 

He fired in short bursts, watched them twist and turn and fall as the bullets chewed into their perfumed flesh. The girls fell down on the sidewalk and turned it red. He continuted to fire until his clip was empty. Then the car swung away from the lane in which it was in and went back into the lane in which Magellan had been driving. As he sped off, he looked into his rearview mirror. At least half a dozen bleeding forms lay on the sidewalk. He smiled. 

When news of this got around no more dirty, little whores would be coming around to work for Vito Narducci.

Those poor hookers!! But seriously I think this is the most vile thing Magellan’s done in the series, which is really saying something. And of course note how he fires until he has an empty clip and then smiles…you don’t have to be Dr. Phil to realize the guy’s a fucking nutcase. And he’s the hero of the series! It’s for reasons like this that I’ll always prefer ‘70s men’s adventure novels to the ones from the ‘80s…they’re just so much crazier and more lurid.

Everything proceeds in the usual Marksman template, with unthrilling “action scenes” that entail Magellan shooting unarmed mobsters or blowing places up. This includes the “climax,” in which he takes care of a ton of guys with that knee mortar. But it’s all rendered so blandly that you could yawn and miss important events. Here’s a late action sequence, which demonstrates the meat and potatoes, “see Spot run” vibe of the prose – not to mention how “important characters” are so anticlimactically killed:

They saw Magellan and fired at him. He fired back. They sought cover. The two Mafioso saw them and assumed they were with Magellan and offering supporting fire. They turned and began to fire at the police. 

Dunn lifted his pistol and fired two shots at them. Royden lifted his gun and fired. A lucky shot struck Dunn in the chest. He fell. Stemmer was at his side, pulling him towards the bushes as Wimark crouched and fired at the other men. 

But Dunn never made it, he expired before they reached the bushes. Stemmer dropped him, shouted the news to Wimark and they ran into the bushes and up the street to take up a more favorable position.

And on it goes, with no dramatic thrust or impact upon the reader. This same sort of lifeless, juvenile prose marred Roadblaster, which makes me assume Hofrichter was responsible for a lot of the book, or at least the Magellan parts. And finally, any action series author who uses the word “expired” to describe a bad guy’s death needs to be sent to men’s adventure remedial school.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Michelle, My Belle (Michelle #1)

Michelle, My Belle, by Barney Parris
September, 1971  Dell Books

The first of two novels about a “seventeen year-old vixen” who has the powers of “Extra Sensual Perception” (per the back cover), Michelle, My Belle is another of those light-hearted sexual romps that apparently littered the paperback stands of the early ‘70s. Most of them were courtesy Dell Books, sporting risque covers and overly-salacious back-cover copy. As is the case with Michelle, My Bell. The book is copyright George Wolk, a prolific writer who published under a slew of pseudonyms; he died in 1980.

This is one of those novels where I have to wonder what the author was thinking. I mean, I don’t expect these paperback writers to be James Joyce, but still – this is a book in which the titular main character barely appears for the first hundred pages, and the free-ranging plot concerns a young, upcoming artist trying to get out of paying a bar tab. Meanwhile a superhumanly-hung basketball player searches for “the right fit.” I mean you don’t just wake up one day and think this is going to be the novel that puts me on the map…my suspicion is the majority of these Dell pseudo-sleaze books were done at the behest of horny-but-skittish editors who wanted to capitalize on the increasing permisiveness of sexual content in mainstream fiction but didn’t want to go “full sleaze.”

I say pseudo-sleaze because, with the exception of Irving Greenfield’s Making U-Hoo, none of these Dell books I’ve yet read are overly explicit. Some of them have great titles and covers, with cover copy that promises a hot good ol’ time, but each without fail are ruined by overly-“comedic” plots. My assumption is that this too was some sort of editorial mandate; even Greenfield’s novel has a goofy plot. I guess Dell wanted to have its cake and eat it, too…salacious covers, titles, and plots, but tempered a bit with a “humorous” approach. Who knows. About the most I can say is that, whatever the story behind these books, they’re sort of chores to get through.

As is the case, sadly, with Michelle, My Belle. But it did well enough with ‘70s readers that Wolk, again serving as “Barney Parris,” turned in a sequel two years later, confusingly just titled Michelle. Hopefully the titular character puts in more of an appearance in that one; in this first installment, Michelle initially just serves as a convenient means of tying together disparate plot threads. This is due to her ESP, which has gotten her into such trouble back home in Los Angeles that she’s been sent off to stay with her aunt Elaina in Manhattan.

Another of those characters with her own subplot, Elaina is a hot-to-trot divorcee in her mid thirties; she and Michelle look very similar, we’re informed, brunette vixens with smokin’ bods, but whereas Michelle, as we’ll learn, is a virgin, Elaina’s been around the block and then some. Currently she has her sights on oafish Bernard – older, not very handsome, and sporting a paunch – solely due to the reason that he’s wealthy. To this end she kicks out her latest live-in lover, walrus moustache-sporting artist Timothy June, the latest darling of Manhattan’s pretentious art crowd.

June (arbitrarily also referred to as “Timothy” in the narrative – Wolk lacks consistency in this regard for all the characters) is the bar tab owner…honestly folks this is one of the lamest plots I’ve ever read in a novel, and it turns out to be the main plot! At novel’s beginning we learn that the bar he owes two thousand bucks to is about to be taken over by the mob, and the owner wants June to pay up his tab posthaste so he, the owner, can keep the place. So when June’s kicked out of Elaina’s penthouse apartment he hides out with fellow young artist Cooper.

Given the novel’s publication date and setting I do wish there was a bit more of the vibe of the times; we only get a little groovy stuff, here and there – like how Cooper paints up the nude body of busty Rena in psychedelic colors. Strike that – Rena isn’t just busty, she has “Class A” boobs. She’s also kind of chunky, in a pleasing way…Wolk actually can’t seem to decide how to describe her. But everyone lusts after her. When we meet her Cooper’s just managed to sleep with her when the characters are introduced – Rena has a casual sex thing going with both he and June – but, per those Dell dictates, it isn’t anything too explicit.

Meanwhile Michelle when we meet her is on a flight into New York; we don’t get the full details, but somehow her ESP visions has so angered her mother that now Michelle is being sent off to stay with Elaina. Seated beside Michelle on the flight is an incredibly tall black guy who turns out to be a star basketball player; his name is Harry Oliver. Apropos of nothing they discuss Michelle’s ESP, and Oliver’s hip to it, and even says he’ll try to help Michelle figure out whoever this “April, May, or June” person is she’s having ESP flashes about – someone she doesn’t know, but is certain is in trouble.

It’s all very ridiculous; Wolk brazenly takes all these unrelated plots and just messily hooks them together via Michelle’s supernatural gift. So we follow Harry Oliver as he visits a deluxe bordello, discusses his unique problem, and ends up engaging all the hookers during his visit. This is the most explicit sequence in the novel, and also where we learn Oliver’s got a 14-inch dick, for crying out loud. It also takes a lot of work to bring him to climax, with the girls working in tandem in various capacities.

Meanwhile another plot has the increasingly-unlikable Timothy June ambushing meek Bernard, ie Elaina’s wealthy target. Ostensibly this is so June can keep Bernard from marrying Elaina, but instead the two start hanging out, June pushing himself on the loser as the best friend he never had. Eventually they go back to Cooper’s place, where it’s busty Rena’s turn to, uh, waylay Bernard. This she does in another fairly explicit sequence, and while she starts off very unattracted to the old creep, she soon finds herself orgasming mightily. Love ensues.

The bar tab subplot is the most stupid in the book, but the one Wolk focuses the most on. June and Cooper run around Manhattan, eventually meeting Michelle – and June instantly loves her, declares she is his muse. At dinner in a fancy restaurant, June announces to the shock of Elaina and Michelle’s gay father (another subplot, this one only vaguely covered) that he plans to marry Michelle. But later on the two are cornered by a pair of crooks looking to steal the two thousand bucks that Michelle’s managed to get for June – the benefit of having jet-setting, soul-lacking narcissists for family is that they’re rich, I guess.

Harry Oliver, who reveals that he’d planned to seduce Michelle that night, virgin or not, meets Elaina – and instantly knows that she’s one of the precious few women in the world who can fit him. I guess he’s got his own sort of ESP. And guess what, folks, she can – all 14 inches, all the way until their “pelvic bones meet.” Good grief! And Michelle gives her virginity to Timothy June while they’re being chased, a goofy scene that features them being force-fed LSD sugarcubes(!) so as to make their murders appear to be suicide, with the crooks intending to push them off a building. Instead it’s Harry Oliver to the rescue, even though we just saw him in bed with Elaina.

Well folks, that’s it for Michelle, My Belle. There’s not a single thing here that would warrant a sequel, but one was forthcoming; at least the cover slugline of “Michelle meets the Godfather!” makes Michelle sound interesting. But honestly it couldn’t be worse than this one. Or at least so one would hope.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Butler #3: The Slayboys

Butler #3: The Slayboys, by Philip Kirk
No month stated, 1979  Leisure Books

The third volume of Butler picks up some unspecified time after the previous volume, the events of which are referred to as “a long time ago.” We do learn that the first volume was three years ago, and when we meet up with him Butler’s in the Caribbean, checking out some hot blonde from afar with a pair of binoculars. And no, he’s not on assignment – Butler’s on vacation, and he’s just kind of pervy that way.

And speaking of which, when Butler hits on the lady it’s in a way that would even make a horny teenager cringe. The Slayboys runs to over 200 pages, and a lot of the running time is made up of long, discursive dialog, usually of a “You wanna have sex?” nature. Here we get our first, uh, taste of this, as Butler hits on the lady by telling her how good he is at dining at the Y – and this like mere seconds after he’s introduced himself. It goes on and on, with Butler doling out lines that would get a guy slapped (at least!), but instead serves to catch the lady’s interest. But just as he’s sealed the deal and he and the lady are headed for her room, a representative of the Bancroft Institute shows up and calls Butler away.

Not to worry, as Butler will get plenty of tail in the ensuing novel. There’s actually more sex in this one than the previous two, I believe, which is funny when you consider how often Butler reflects on his poor relationships with women. In Miami Butler briefly meets with Sheffield, the never-seen head of the Institute; he tasks Butler with posing as a “wealthy Mexican” to infiltrate a right-wing Cuban patriotic force which is in league with HYDRA, that military-industrial complex that has engineered the deaths of various politicians…including, as Butler and Sheffield discuss in humorously casual tones, the murder of JFK.

Butler has the gig because he speaks Spanish fluently, and soon enough he’s “Hector Suarez, of Mexico,” as he constantly introduces himself to all and sundry in Miami. He gets in the graces of the Cuban Patriotic Front rather easily, first bullying his way between a bickering couple, then beating up the irate husband. This puts him in line with Armando Gonzalez, who happens to be one of the Patriotic Front bigwigs. There is a definite humorous tone to the series, and it’s all very light hearted as Butler bluffs his way into the fold as a macho millionaire who happens to be a supreme sharpshooter…just what the Front might be looking for in their plot to assassinate President Jones.

As we’ll recall, Butler is very left-leaning, and Jones, a Democrat, must die because not only does he plan to formally recognize Cuba, which infuriates the right-winger Patriotic Front, but because he also plans to nationalize the banks and other Leftist stuff. Per the series overview he kindly provided for my review of the first volume, Len seems to regret the left-wing tone of the series. However I’d say his only fault here is the naïvety that politicians actually do anything they promise. But anyway, Jones, who will be giving a speech at Union Square, is to be killed by Cuban sniper…some of them the very same who killed JFK, years before; something also conveyed by glib dialog.

Speaking of which, there’s a part early on in the Miami portion where Butler checks into a hotel and discovers that the older guy behind the counter is gay and, guess what, has developed a crush on Butler. This results in Butler ridiculing the dude in dialog that would consign The Slayboys to the average college campus book-burning of today…isn’t if funny how what was once acceptable to the Left soon becomes the very thing the Left stands against? (At least the Right is consistent – they’re against anything that’s fun.) But anyway, while the gay-bashing Butler puts this guy through would no doubt have been considered too much even in 1979, the fact remains that it actually saw print. Today that certainly wouldn’t happen…unless of course the character doing the bashing was clearly definted as your cliched “homophobic straight white male villain.”

All this makes me curious…Butler was e-published a few years ago, but didn’t make it past the second volume due to poor sales. I wonder how the publisher would’ve handled this material in The Slayboys. Would they have just removed it? Or left it in? My jaded senses figure the former…I was recently contacted by a reader who was wondering what happened to all the sleazy sex scenes in the recent eBook editions of The Specialist. After consulting one of my reviews, he concluded that, indeed, the sexual material had been gutted from the eBooks. In other words, Jack Sullivan meets Thomas Bowdler. I might do a longer post on this in future, but anyway, it’s just another sad example of how our sensitive modern era can’t handle what was once considered disposable pulp fiction.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough…just wonder how the eBook publisher would’ve handled this: one night a dopesmoking sixteen year-old comes to Butler’s hotel room, asks for his help fixing the TV in her room because her mom’s gone out for the night, and Butler decides to fuck her teenaged brains out, whether she likes it or not. He begins in his usual method, hitting on her in outrageous XXX dialog. He then proceeds to screw her silly, the teen giving as good as she gets – she informs Butler she’s fucked the majority of her high school football team – and folks all this goes on for a good 20 pages. So we’ve got gay bashing and underaged sex in this “left-leaning” book…my how the times have changed.

Having gained the trust of the Patriotic Front, Butler sends info back to the Bancroft Institute in another XXX sequence; just a few hours after boffing the teen girl all night long, Butler’s contacted by a sexy redheaded Institute agent posing, naturally, as a hooker. So our boy Butler of course insists she go through with her act up in his room…after all, the place could be bugged, and whoever’s listening in will have to believe Butler’s really getting laid by a pro. So we get another long sex scene as Butler relays info we readers already know while he screws her silly. Not that much comes out of this, as Butler’s all on his own when the next day Armando takes him to California for a rundown of the plot, after which they head to New York. Butler’s under watch the whole time and can’t even let the Institute know where he is.

The attempted assassination of President Jones goes down in almost anticlimactic fashion; Butler quickly deduces he’ll be the Lee Harvey Oswald of this particular plot, and takes matters into his own hands. This leads to one of the better parts in the book when Butler escapes into New York, the cops and the Feds all out to get him…for as with the JFK murder, they’re all part of HYRDA and in on the assassination attempt. This part also sees the return of Wilma B. Willoughby, Butler’s sort-of girlfriend who has been appearing since the first volume. Now she claims to hate Butler, for having “raped” her in the finale of the previous volume, which Butler shrugs off as happening “a long time ago,” so he tells her to just let it go. Wilma doesn’t stick around long, but Len makes it clear that Butler has feelings for her and seems to understand she is the woman for him.

The Jones stuff handled a little too quickly, Len comes up with a new plot to fill out the rest of the novel; Sheffield calls Butler in again and wants him to find out who was behind the plot to kill Jones. It was, of course, the CIA; in particular Butler’s old boss FJ Shankham made the order. So we have another returning character; Butler gets him via another sexy Institute agent, this one a rock chick named Cora Calloway (who of course Butler also screws, but this time it happens off-page). Shankham has a weakness for willowy blondes, so Cora, who of course is one, easily gets past his defenses, drugs him, and questions him, and thus it’s learned that a certain Swami Coomiswamicurry is the one who brainwashed Shankham and ordered him to have President Jones killed.

So the finale goes off on a different tack, with Butler infiltrating the Swami’s ranch near Mount Shasta, where he runs into another recurring character – his ex-wife Brenda, whom Butler engages in more long dialog before screwing. The dude seriously does pretty well for himself, it must be said. But at this point Len’s no longer concerned with writing an “action novel,” per se, such that Butler’s kidnapping and interrogating of the Swami comes off as incredibly easy. But then I don’t think one should look to Butler for action, even though it’s how Leisure Books packaged it…it’s really more of a satire sort of thing, more about the goofy characters and situations and the fun dialog.

Overall the series is growing on me, now that I know what to expect from it…it’s sort of like, I don’t know, maybe James Bond by way of Mel Brooks, courtesy the editors at Penthouse Forum.