Monday, September 20, 2010

TNT #6: Ritual Of Blood

TNT #6: Ritual Of Blood, by Doug Masters
March, 1986 Charter Books
(French publication, 1980)

Ritual of Blood was #6 in the 7-volume US publication of the TNT series, but it was actually the ninth and final volume of the original French publication, where it was titled Le 10e Mari De Barbe-Bleue (aka Bluebeard's 10th Husband, cover below). So, even though there was one more installment of Tony Nicholas Twin's wild adventures in the English version of this whacked-out series, as far as the original French was concerned, this was it; this was his last ride.

This is probably my favorite volume of the series. It's like the psycho-sexual horror version of the series, TNT gone giallo, injected with a healthy dose of dark comedy. Taking the war of the sexes to surreal extremes, Twin's enemies this time out are a cabal of men-hating women: half of them giant-sized freaks with beards, the other half call girls with stupefying bodies. Their modus operandi is to ensnare multi-millionaire men (shortly after their families have died in some "accident"), marry them and overcome them with a little kinky sex for a few months, and then murder them. Sordid enough, but add into the mix a host of s&m hijinks, mazelike corridors in the guts of the earth which become death-traps, and a shadowy monster which lurks in a pit of darkness and feasts on the severed heads of beautiful women.

The opening half's a bit busy; unlike previous volumes, which were separated into three separate "books," Ritual of Blood narrative-hops for the first hundred pages or so, jumping from Twin in Ireland, to his boss/archenemy Arnold Benedict in Japan (and later an overseas flight), and to a gorgeous, nameless woman currently posing as two different wealthy wives in New York City -- "Bluebeard" herself, this installment's "she-who-destroys-men" (every volume of TNT has had one) -- who is busily ruining the lives of her latest conquests.

Benedict learns via an uber-wealthy acquaintance that a handful of men with over 200 million dollars to their name have gone missing over the past few years, each of them shortly after having married an incredibly attractive woman. These women also disappear shortly thereafter. It all appears to be the work of a mysterious group called Matrix, a sort of Women's Lib movement gone Nazi, women who are dedicated to eradicating male control and putting women in charge of everything (Rush Limbaugh probably read this novel at an impressionable age). The aforementioned "Bluebeard" is the beauty and the brains of the outfit; the brawn comes from Hester Dragut, a seven-foot-tall bearded Turkish woman who commands a similar army of freakish, monstrous women.

Benedict's first thought is to use Twin as bait, to set him up as a millionaire and wait for the Matrix women to swoop in for him. Twin meanwhile is performing his own investigation. In a grisly scene early on, Twin and his "assistant" Clare Hallam visit Twin's multi-millionaire friend in rural Ireland. There they find the entire family murdered. Even the man's children are dead, each of them shot through the mouth. Decapitated bodies litter the mansion and the surrounding countryside. Twin's millionaire friend still lives however, and Twin promises to help find out who committed this atrocity. But after getting to New York City, meeting a dwarf prostitute named Evangeline Tombs, and nearly drowning in a metal maze of congealing plaster, Twin finally relents and takes part in Benedict's scheme.

Here's where Ritual of Blood really gets enjoyable. You can tell this was the send-off for the original series, as all of the supporting characters reappear and interract in ways highly entertaining for longtime readers. For Benedict's plan is for Twin to pose as a millionaire named "John Wayne:" Dawlish, the English soldier nutcase of previous volumes, poses as Twin's older brother as well as the family idiot; Valka the Titan, the hulking Russian powerlifter from The Beast and Killer Angel, poses as Twin's "littlest" brother.

The Matrix gals close in, launching a late-night assault on New York City's Waldorf-Astoria. Suddenly it's as if "Doug Masters" is a pseudonym of Thomas Pynchon; a truly bizarre sequence occurs in which gorgeous call-girls who serve Matrix take on the gorgeous call-girls who work for Corrie Corlington (Arnold Benedict's head of security and a former call-girl herself), blasting away at one another in the plush surroundings with crossbows and silencer-equipped submachine guns. Twin meanwhile meets Bluebeard; her beauty is such that she stuns even Twin, who by this point in the series has had sex with around 200 women or so.

The novel becomes even more surreal. Bluebeard shows Twin that she has four million dollars of her own -- she doesn't want him for his (fake) money. She wants him for a night's pleasure. What follows is one of those over-the-top TNT moments: Bluebeard has had a special "mirror bed" created for the occasion, a bed made of thin mirror which has been attached to a helicopter. The 'copter lifts them off and Twin and Bluebeard have sex on the fragile glass as nighttime New York City glitters beneath them.

Ritual of Blood climaxes with the usual TNT disdain for reality: Twin is taken to a Medieval-era castle which has been rebuilt in the Arizona desert; he is caught in a giant spider web and combats giant spiders and a family of "spider-men;" Corrie Corlington leads a call-girl cavalry charge on the castle, complete with a bugler; Hester Dragut exacts jealous revenge on Bluebeard; and meanwhile Arnold Benedict stumbles around in a full suit of Medieval armor.

Here's the cover to the original French publication, Le 10e Mari De Barbe-Bleue:

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