Monday, July 11, 2011
Gannon #2: Blood Fix
Gannon #2: Blood Fix, by Dean Ballenger
January, 1974 Manor Books
It took me nearly a year to recuperate from the sadistic, brutal, and incredible first volume of the Gannon trilogy. Actually I've been meaning to read this second volume for quite a while, but I kept putting it off for other books. But this may have been for the best, as Ballenger's distinctive syntax and diction is probably best enjoyed infrequently -- reading these novels back-to-back would no doubt dillute their impact.
Hero Mike Gannon has now become a "Robin Hood" for the working-class stiff; this is exactly how Manor refers to him, which is funny because it's hard to imagine Robin Hood lopping off ears with spiked knuckles. But due to his ransacking of the corrupt upper-class in the first volume, Gannon is now seen as the go-to guy for blue-collar types who get screwed by the man. Such is the case with a guy in Kansas City who is set up by a millionaire named Thorpe; Thorpe wants to own the man's property so he can make a few more million off of its sale. Hence Thorpe sets the guy up on a phony rape charge, and further hires a stooge to kill the girl so it will appear that the man is both murderer and rapist. But Gannon arrives to save the day, and "the little tiger" wages war against Thorpe and his gang of thugs.
Gannon doesn't even appear on the scene until about 40 pages in -- but trust me, those initial 40 pages are as graphic and insane as anything in the first volume. In my review of Gannon #1 I mentioned the "Chandler goonspeak" every character employed; the same holds true here, with even the narration written the same way. If anything Ballenger has perfected the form with this second volume. It's odd in a way, as Ballenger commits every writing sin: he POV-hops with abandon, every character speaks exactly the same, and he even repeats many of the same phrases throughout. But hell, when the writing is this unusual, you don't really care. And it's addictive, too; pretty soon I found myself wanting to talk like these hoodlums: "Listen up, shit-shooter. Stop fritzing around and rip off, before you get scragged."
If Blood Fix was published today (that is, if it could find a publisher), it would either be heralded as the work of a genius or derided as the rantings of a sociopath. It is in every way as twisted as its predecessor. "Only" a few people die here, as compared to the mass deaths one may encounter in the average men's adventure novel, but each murder packs a wallop, again complete with mutilations via spiked knuckles or eviscerations/decapitations via Thompson submachine guns.
And once more Ballenger doesn't shirk on violence against women -- there are many uncomfortable scenes in which female characters are "stomped" by thugs, complete with graphic detail on the damage they incur before their horrifying deaths. What's worse is that these women -- blue-collar working girls the lot of them -- always scream stuff like "Don't kill me! Fuck me instead!" before getting killed. It's all like the literary equivalent of those ultra-creepy cover photos on the "men's detective" magazines of the '70s, which always showed a gorgeous woman in the process of being murdered. (Not only were those magazines very successful -- and plentiful -- but not-so-surprisingly they were found to be favored reading material of many serial killers, Ted Bundy among them.)
But here's the weird thing: Blood Fix is funny. I mean, really funny. Despite what I wrote in the paragraph above -- content that would turn off the average reader -- there is a definite tongue-in-cheek vibe here, one that isn't in the least subtle. This goes beyond the over-the-top nature of the book and its characters, but also includes recurring jokes and situations. For one, there's easy stuff like a running gag where hoods keep taking handfuls of expensive cigars from the humidor on Thorpe's desk, but there's also more elaborate stuff like when a pair of thugs, while laying in ambush, argue over if they can steal Gannon's wallet after killing him.
So I think it's safe to say that this is another of those instances of a writer just going as far out as he can in order to amuse both himself and his readers. And he succeeds on pretty much every level: the lurid stuff will offend the easily-offended and the outrageous stuff will tickle the most jaded of hearts. None of it is to be taken seriously. More evidence? One of the main villains, after being mauled and mutilated by Gannon, wants to die, and so goes for a gun. Gannon shoots him. "Goodbye, cocksuckers," the man says, and then dies.
I mean, I have no idea how Ballenger did it. As I say, he breaks pretty much every writing rule, but still comes out on top. Just like his "hero" Gannon does -- once again he "rolls" a few gorgeous gals who just throw themselves at him; in another funny bit Gannon realizes that one of them wants to become "Mrs. Gannon," and so clears town asap.
Anyway, Blood Fix is a blast from the first page to the last -- and that's the ding-dong truth!