Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gannon #3: Blood Beast


Gannon #3: Blood Beast, by Dean Ballenger
No month stated, 1974  Manor Books

For Karen Bonner it was a terrifying night. Her first night in jail. But the worst part were the two dykes who tried to lesbian her.

Yes, friends, we are back in the crazed world of the Gannon series by Dean Ballenger, a man whose narrative style and syntax are so outrageous that he can even use nouns as verbs. Sadly this was the last of the series (so technically it could be considered a trilogy, I guess), but it’s a hell of a way to go – despite the fact that Blood Beast comes off like a clone of its two predecessors, it’s just as wild, violent, and mean. (The title, by the way, comes from Gannon, who refers to himself as a “blood beast.”)

Once again Gannon serves as a “Robin Hood,” taking on the rich fat-cats who exploit the working class. And once again, Gannon is almost a co-star in his own series; he isn’t called onto the scene until events are well underway, and there are many scenes where he just disappears. But again as in the previous two books, it’s not like Ballenger spins his wheels when Gannon isn’t around. As ever, Ballenger populates his tale with a cast of upper-class and lower-class oddballs who talk in a bizarre patois, like ‘30s gangsters mixed with truckdrivers.

The above-referenced Karen Bonner is the mark this time, set up to take a fall by her super-rich boss, Peter Hibbs. Reason being, Hibbs’s playboy son Brian is “vigorished” by Juice Ollman, a hood who extorts the kid for seventy-five thousand. Hibbs Jr goes to his dad, who sets up Karen Bonner, a gorgeous blonde who works in accounting who wouldn’t let Hibbs sleep with her. Hibbs has the books done up so it looks like Karen embezzled, and after a joke of a trial she’s sent to jail, where the aforementioned “lesbianing” takes place.

Karen’s dad, a working joe who can barely afford his mortgage, hears about Gannon and gives him a call. As in the past, when Gannon shows up his potential client feels underwhelmed; Ballenger reminds us that Gannon’s just a “little tiger” and doesn’t look anywhere as tough as he actually is. But one look in Gannon’s eyes and Karen’s dad knows he has found his man. Gannon as is his custom doesn’t want any money from Karen’s father; he’ll get his payment from the fat-cats and hoodlums he busts up.

Even though this novel takes place about two weeks after #2: Blood Fix, Gannon has apparently become a kung-fu master. This is mostly so Ballenger can throw in the occasional “donkey fist” or other martial arts term in the brawl scenes, but also so he can write things like “the kung-fu’d dude” in regards to the people Gannon beats up. Also worth noting is that for once Gannon doesn’t employ the spiked brass knuckles which he used so memorably in the previous books.

Gannon pays Karen’s bail and insists she live with him as Hibbs or the crooks will surely send some hoods after her; Karen could easily blow Hibbs’s entire story. It’s funny because, while Gannon feels sorrow for the shafting Karen was given, and her living with him is necessary to keep her alive, Gannon doesn’t let that sway him from planning to give the gorgeous lady a “shafting” of his own. There are many humorous scenes where Gannon, while reflecting on the current case, will segue into the “good thoughts” of how he will soon go back to his hotel to screw Karen…only thing is, Karen is probably the weakest female character yet in the series; she only has a few lines of dialog, and most of the time she’s either crying or freaking out over the corpses Gannon has just created.

And to be sure, Gannon once again creates a ton of corpses. I think Blood Beast has more action scenes than the previous books; there are many scenes of Gannon blowing away hoods with his Sten gun. There’s even a goofy scene where Gannon goes to Hibbs’s corporate office and threatens the guy; Hibbs calls in his security guards, one of whom is a psychopath, and a firefight ensues, complete with Hibbs himself leaning out of his own office window and blasting away at Gannon down in the parking lot!

Hibbs Jr and Sr are mostly forgettable, but Juice Ollman is another of those Ballenger-patented creeps who jumps off the page. He spends the entire novel trying to off Hibbs and Gannon, always failing. He does succeed with offing Hibbs Jr, though, and this is another of those unsettling but played for laugh scenes that Ballenger excels in, where Juice calls in his two best guys, a pair of sadists who hoist Brian Hibbs up on the rafters of an abandoned loft and take bets on how long he will live after they set him on fire – putting the flame to his exposed genitals, of course. (In fact, poor Peter Hibbs suffers the most in this tale; after getting screwed over by Juice he then gets his ears cut off, and later on gets his thumbs cut off!)

But the usual darkly comic sadism is in full effect, for one last ride…people get blown apart by Thompson subguns, shot in the face, set on fire, beaten to death. The action stuff is great, but had me wondering. The igenuity and determination people show after Gannon arrives on the scene makes their earlier reluctance questionable. What I mean is, Peter Hibbs spends the narrative trying to get Gannon killed, when meanwhile all he had to do was show this same determination at the beginning of the tale, and have Juice Ollman killed after he tried to extort Hibbs’s son. But I guess that’s missing the point.

It’s hard to relay the dark humor Ballenger so effectively doles out, in both the narrative and the dialog. And Once again his hero is an unflappable, hardcore bastard, not even fazed when a pair of would-be muggers get the jump on him – and, mind you, Gannon doesn’t have a weapon on him:

Gannon looked at Costigan. He had a Webley in his hand. With a silencer. Concealed by his attache case from anyone who might come into the lot.

“It’s not a healthy thing,” Gannon said, “laying a gun on people. It’s liable to get you dead.”

“Listen, wise ass, just drop that wallet!” Costigan said.

“You’re making the kinds of sounds,” Gannon said, saying it low but very hard, “that people make who are tired of this world. So rip off, stupids, while you still can!”

I love these books, they’re just a blast to read and Ballenger’s style is so unusual that, as I’ve said before, you don’t even mind how he tramples over ordinary grammatical and writing rules. But I wonder how much longer this series could’ve lasted. Ballenger makes no intimation that this is the last volume; like its predecessor, Blood Beast ends with Gannon planning to leave town posthaste, given that once again a lady (Karen herself) wants to become “Mrs. Gannon.”

I think it would’ve been tough for Ballenger to keep this up for more volumes. The story setup is too limited; how many times can you read about Gannon getting hired to clear the name of some poor sap who was screwed over by the rich? All of which is to say that I think it’s a good thing the Gannon series only ran for three volumes, giving us an undilluted blast of nutzoid violence that never grew stale.

10 comments:

Peter Brandvold said...

Who the hell is Dean Ballenger? I have one of his books on my shelf--I think it's a World War II war yarn--but I have no idea where I got it. Haven't read it yet. I Googled him, found nothing.

James Reasoner said...

Pete,
Ballenger wrote a ton of stuff for the men's adventure magazines. There's more information about him on this page:

http://www.menspulpmags.com/search/label/Dean%20Ballenger

At least one of his men's mag stories is available on-line. I'll see if I can find the link for it later.

James Reasoner said...

Here's that Ballenger story:

http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/kamikaze/american/mensadventuremags/77-kamikaze-harem-virgins/index.htm

Lots of other men's mag stories are available on that site, too. The footnotes pointing out all the historical inaccuracies are sort of annoying (talk about missing the point!) but you can pretty much ignore them.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks guys for the comments.

Peter, the WWII novel you have might be the Sea Guerrillas, which I also have...it's from the early '80s and is about a bunch of Naval commandos. I started to read it last year but it lacked the unhinged spirit of the Gannon books, so I put it on hold for the time being.

As James mentioned, Ballenger also wrote a ton of men's adventure mags, and I've picked up several of them featuring his stories over the years...I keep meaning to spotlight them on here.

Some of the ones I've read DO have the Gannon spirit about them, particularly Action For Men September '65, which features the Ballenger story "Sgt. Mike Heiser's Weird Exploding Jap Raiders," all about (fictional) Sgt Heiser's American Indian-style fighting crew and their "gut-busting TNT kickers!"

Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks, James and Joe.

I'm going to read me some Ballenger. SEA GUERRILLAS is the book I have and just flipping through it does seem to take itself rather seriously. I'll be reading the Gannon books soon and checking out James's link. The world needs more crazy shit.

Pete

Peter Brandvold said...

James,

Adding those stupid notes is nuts. It's a pulp yarn, not a master's thesis!

But thanks for finding that. Looks like a great adventure tale.

Pete

Joe Kenney said...

I'm reading the story now, too...thanks James, for posting it! Kind of hilarious that someone would go to such trouble to footnote and correct a fictional work...it's almost postmodern in a way!

BTW, what little is known of Ballenger...it appears that later in life he founded Concepts by 3M, a web developing service (http://www.conceptsby3m.com/About/History.htm). He also has passed away, but the link above doesn't mention when.

Peter Brandvold said...

I guess he just kept getting seriouser and seriouser until he just simply vanished. Let that be a lesson to us all!

Pete

James Reasoner said...

The problem with most of the men's adventure mag stories I've read is that they start out with all these crazy, over-the-top plots and then sort of peter out. That scenario is so common I have to wonder if it was some sort of editorial policy.

city said...

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