Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Iceman #1: Billion Dollar Death

The Iceman #1: Billion Dollar Death, by Joseph Nazel
1974, Holloway House

Henry Highland West, the Iceman: Harlem-reared entrepreneur who grew his pimping business from a smallscale affair on the streets of the ghetto into a veritable kingdom of pleasure. He now operates out of a high-tech fortress/casino in the desert outside of Las Vegas, surrounded by his loyal army of "bitches," a multinational assortment of beautiful prostitutes who each know kung-fu, how to handle weaponry, operate the complicated machinery which runs the casino, and have sex with the patrons.

Sounds like the makings of a villain, doesn't it? But the Iceman is actually the hero of this series, created and written by Joseph Nazel and published by Holloway House on rough, super-pulpy paper. Man, I thought The Baroness series was expensive to collect, but it took extensive searching to find a copy of Billion Dollar Death at a reasonable price. But really, price mattered little: I've been on a Blaxploitation kick lately, and I kept running into mention of the Iceman series. From the makings it appeared to have all I could want, with a hero seemingly amalgamated from The Mack, Slaughter, and Shaft, with a little Black Belt Jones thrown in for good measure.

But if only the writing were up to par with the concept...

Nazel, a black author who churned out a lot of black-themed pulp, was apparently very prolific, but Billion Dollar Death is not the output of a writer who has honed his craft. The book reads like a first draft -- a hastily-written first draft at that. Every character speaks exactly the same, each narrative point-of-view is the same as the one before it, and no one behaves in any believeable fashion. Iceman himself comes off like a blank slate; we know he's supercool (because the narrative reminds us often), we know that everyone loves him, that his ladies adore him, but despite the adoration he's showered with by all the characters, he does nothing to gain the reader's respect. Not only that, but he's so superheroic that he's rendered bland.

Iceman's high-security casino is infiltrated; a bomb goes off in the middle of the night, killing a mob boss and one of Iceman's best women. The rest of the narrative follows Iceman trying to figure out what's happened. Long story short: an African prime minister is working with a US senator to smuggle a large cache of guns, with which he hopes to instill a revolution in his home country. Along the way the mafia gets involved, as does an old friend of Iceman's who, due to the helping hand Iceman has long given him, has become jealous of the man and wants him dead.

But it all goes down so ineptly. I mean, the prime minister also happens to be in Iceman's little casino paradise, as if it's the only place in the United States to be. Iceman flies around in his personal attack 'copter (he's richer than Howard Hughes, it appears), looking for clues, but instead it comes off like him wandering into one sneak-attack after another.

Along the way Iceman's two stalwart companions are Kim and Solema, prostitutes from his stable, the former an Asian martial artist, the latter a black weapons specialist. (Other than that the women are identical -- indeed, I couldn't tell a single one of the women apart throughout the novel.) Iceman also has a pal in Christmas Tree, a jive-talking hustler whom Iceman asks for help early in the narrative, but disappears until the very end -- where he's conveniently already on his way to the final showdown. But that's how Billion Dollar Death operates throughout: there's no real thought into the proceedings; shit just happens.

For a novel about a pimp surrounded by gorgeous women, there's zero sex in the novel. Sure, we have a few descriptions of female parts on display, but when it comes to the goods Nazel cuts to another scene. He does provide a fair amount of action scenes however, and despite their redundancy (basically just duck and shoot, duck and shoot), Nazel's sure to give us a generous amount of gore. For each bullet-hit we get a sentence or two describing the blood and brain matter which showers across the surrounding area.

But really, this is only a middling effort. It's poorly constructed and plotted, filled with spelling errors (Nazel doesn't appear to know the difference between "past" and "passed"), and it's just underwhelming on the whole. It's nowhere in the league of Marc Olden's superb Black Samurai series, so if you're seeking a little Blaxploitation with your men's adventure thrills, then look there.

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