Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Baroness #7: Flicker of Doom

The Baroness #7: Flicker of Doom, by Paul Kenyon
December, 1974 Pocket Books

This penultimate volume of the Baroness series finds our heroine battling a threat very similar to the one in her previous adventure. Only whereas the doomsday device in #6: Sonic Slave was based on sound, the evil-genius-created device in Flicker of Doom is based on sight. This adventure even takes place in Morocco, again quite similar to the Middle Eastern locale of Sonic Slave.

But then, this series has been based on repetition from the start. Each novel has followed basically the same template, as if Donald Moffitt (aka "Paul Kenyon") was following some chart. Despite all of this, the series is still fun, always delivering pulpy plots with a good heaping of violence. And let's not forget the pages and pages of graphic sex scenes, though how could we? Actually the Baroness is a bit more frisky this time out, bedding three men during the course of the novel. She even finds time to smoke a little dope, something I don't think she's done since way back in #1: The Ecstasy Connection.

Flicker of Doom continues on the series-improvement begun in Sonic Slave; I'm almost sad that the next volume is the last. It seems to me that Moffitt was becoming more adjusted to writing action series fiction; with each volume he has better worked the Baroness's large team into the plots. Here he does his best job yet, with each of her teammates actually doing something useful instead of just standing around until the gun-blazing finale.

Also Moffitt here slightly tones down the too-perfect qualities of the Baroness, making her a bit more human and likable. He even appears to have been inspired by Hector Garrido's cover paintings for the previous books; at the finale of Flicker of Doom, the Baroness actually wears a skin-tight black costume which appears to be identical to the one Garrido has drawn for her since the first volume.

The main villain in this novel isn't as colorful as previous ones, but still entertaining: Don Alejandro, descendant of Inquisitors, who wishes to reclaim his family's control of Morocco. In order to do this he has, with the help of his simian assistant Dr. Funke, created a device which induces epilletic fits. The fits are induced by lights which flicker so subtly that the eye can't see them, but once directed upon the subject a messy and painful death quickly ensues. Already the duo has killed off high-ranking officials and Iranian soldiers (this was back when Iran was still "friends" with the US).

Dr. Funke is actually the more entertaining villain, a German brute who looks just like an ape. However I kept laughing, because every time I read "Dr. Funke" I flashed back to the character Dr. Tobias Funke on Arrested Development, a show I miss to this day. Funke, we're told, is a sexual deviant, and enjoys using his own seizure-studies to take advantage of women. Of course he sets his perverted sights on the Baroness as soon as she arrives on the scene in Morocco, where Funke and Alejandro have set up headquarters in Alejandro's palatial estate.

After the usual set-up, the Baroness ventures to Morocco with the cover story that there she will pose for a new line of "Angelface" cosmetics, for which she's being paid half a million dollars. Again we are constantly reminded how beautiful and gorgeous she is. While she attempts to figure out the culprit behind these latest attacks, her team handles their own assignments. Ironically, each teammate is at one point in their mission discovered and confronted by several attackers. In each case, the Baroness's teammates are able to fight their way out and avoid being captured. However when the Baroness is discovered and attacked, she is captured.

I know, this is so Moffitt can deliver the required scene of a bound and nude Baroness who must free herself. But once again I say that the Baroness comes off as the weakest member of her own team. Whereas her subordinates are able to overcome odds and escape, the Baroness is always outfought and captured. It's happened in every volume yet.

But even so, her capture again leads to the best scene in the book. Taken prisoner by a group of Islamic terrorists in a shadowy section of a Moroccan bazaar, the Baroness -- again, despite her struggling -- is bound to a chair and about to be tortured. What with the sadistic, lecherous torturer and his host of bladed equipment, it all comes off like something out of a sweat mag.

Freeing herself in a pretty cool fashion (one I don't think would work in reality, but so what), the Baroness lays waste to a horde of men, once again fighting in the nude. This series always excels when it features the Baroness alone (and usually naked) against several attackers...though I always wonder if she fights so well after being captured, why can't she fight just as well before being captured? As a matter of fact she's captured twice in Flicker of Doom, first in the bazaar and later in Alejandro's villa, where Moffitt can deliver another required scene: the Baroness strapped into some insane torture device.

The epilepsy-inducing gizmo is more than a match for the Baroness, and she's quickly overcome. Dr. Funke attempts to take advantage of her, but the Baroness is saved by a brazen act of deus ex machina -- a character previously thought dead turns out to still be alive, long enough that is to save the Baroness before croaking for real. Pretty lame. The finale isn't as gun-blazing as previous installments; rather, the Baroness suits up in the skin-tight black costume and sneaks into Alejandro's villa, bypassing the hidden epilepsy-inducing lights via a diving-style helmet.

This was another good volume, but once again I must question who this series was written for. I still say The Baroness was an attempt at a "women's adventure" series. The majority of the book is written from her perspective, so all of the sex scenes are rendered from a woman's point of view. More proof is offered up in the advertisements within the books themselves; previous volumes have featured ads for women-themed publications, in particular one about weight-loss tips for women. Flicker of Doom features an ad for a book titled Give Your Child A Superior Mind, complete with a photo of a lady playing with her toddler!

I don't think you'd see an ad like that in the back of a Marksman book, that's for sure...


Whit Howland said...

very nice post... Need to make a list of all these books so i can seek them out and read them.

Slap Bookleather said...

I've never heard of these before. Is it a coincidence that the woman on the cover dresses like the Baroness from the GI Joe comics?

Joe Kenney said...

The strangest thing is that a while back I came across the cover for a GI Joe paperback original from 1984 or so...and the cover art was by Hector Garrido, the guy who drew these Baroness covers!