Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Narc #1

Narc #1, by Robert Hawkes
1973, Lancer Books

This is the start of a great series. John Bolt is a narcotics agent for the fictional D-3 agency, aka the Department of Dangerous Drugs. A 31 year-old with a running scar along his forehead and a lifetime of experience cracking hoods and international drug cartels, Bolt is the top agent at D-3, going after the toughest assignments. The latest case is a massive shipment of heroin coming into NYC; Bolt must figure out who is behind it, how they are working, and also determine which of his fellow narcs is a turncoat.

The book opens with a gory battle as Bolt and his fellow D-3 agents attempt to arrest high-profile French heroin kingpin Antoine Peray. But even imprisoned in an American hospital (recuperating from the bullet in the thigh Bolt gave him) Peray is still dangerous: he has placed a bounty on Bolt's head, and there are many willing to collect it. Not only that, but a black American heroin dealer named St. James Livingston has been working on a huge shipment with Peray, brining in a thousand kilos of heroin, the largest shipment in history.

Livingston has his own troubles: he's created a draught of heroin in NYC, hoping to make a huge score when he imports the massive shipment of heroin. But Peray's imprisonment hamstrings him. In an attempt to make Peray stay true to his deal, Livingston kidnaps Peray's daughter. Bolt is caught in the middle of all this, going up against two kingpins who both want him dead. Along the way he meets the daughter of a man he killed in self-defense years before, defends himself with nothing but a pot of hot coffee against shotgun-wielding street thugs, and engages in several battles of will against his D-3 boss.

Robert Hawkes was a psuedonym for Marc Olden, who these days is remembered mostly for his Black Samurai series. But if this first volume is any indication, Narc is actually the better series. It has all the Olden staples: sinewy prose, vivid action sequences, dollops of gore, colorful language, and good characterization. It also has more of a nihilistic feel than Black Samurai; Bolt is a die-hard cynic, he believes the world is rotten and is steadily going to hell. The nihilism goes into overdrive in a wonderful sequence in which Bolt flashes back to his training in "The Game," so called by the Japanese karate master who taught Bolt how to detect and deflect danger at every waking moment. (This martial arts bit also harkens back to Black Samurai, but the karate here is only marginal; Bolt mainly kills his opponents with a pistol or a custom-made shotgun.)

The series jumped over to Signet after this initial volume, with better cover art -- in fact, the Signet cover art came from the same artist who did the Black Samurai covers.

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