Monday, February 4, 2013

Narc #4: The Delgado Killings

Narc #4: The Delgado Killings by Robert Hawkes
October, 1974  Signet Books

I’m starting to think Marc Olden could be considered the Elmore Leonard of men’s adventure authors, his Narc series being a case in point. Instead of the over-the-top, gun-blazing thrills customary of the genre, Olden continues to write a grim and gritty series that brings to life the sleazy, dangerous streets of 1970s New York City. Olden once again takes us into a sordid world of drug kingpins and street-level warriors, where only the most vicious survive.

As is customary for this series, The Delgado Killings is mostly an ensemble piece, with hero John “Narc” Bolt just one of the many characters. There’s no pickup from the previous volume, and indeed it appears that we’ve missed a lot between installments. For one, Bolt’s girlfriend of The Death List is not only gone and unmentioned, but he’s managed to find another girlfriend in the meantime. Anyway Bolt’s life has been pretty hectic since we last saw him, and Olden spends a lot of time informing us what we missed via backstory.

But as usual with Olden it’s the villains who get the most narrative time. The titular Delgado for example takes up a goodly portion of the novel; a cocaine kingpin, Delgado is in the sights of Bolt’s agency D-3 and is about to be put on trial. At great cost Delgado has gotten a list of the names of the people who will testify against him. His plan is to kill off these witnesses, and to do so he hires Victor Poland, a former cop who has become a hitman who specializes in helping those in the narcotics industry.

Mostly though Delgado wants Bolt dead. It turns out that Bolt has killed Delgado’s lover – Delgado is gay (he’s actually referred to as “The Snow Queen” on the back cover…man, you can’t get much more pre-PC than that), and this murder has sent him over the edge. Delgado’s homosexuality is often ridiculed throughout the book, and it’s another indication of how the times have changed…vast portions of this stuff would not be publishable in today’s tepid, sterilized, PG-13 neutered world.

Like previous novels, The Delgado Killings takes place over a short period of time, specifically during a very hot summer. We’re reminded, quite often and at length, of the extreme heat and the uncomfortable conditions. But then Olden mentions that it’s 85 degrees out, and I had to laugh…I mean, when it’s 85 degrees down here in the hellish heat of Dallas, that’s when we know it’s finally getting cooler and summer’s wrapping up! Anyway Olden fully brings to life the mire of a New York summer, just another indication of his writing talent.

Poland takes the job and hires his own little band of hitmen, and together they begin killing off the witnesses, making each look like accidental deaths. Bolt himself doesn’t even appear until well into the book, and we learn of his involvement in the Delgado case in backstory, including how Bolt caused the death of Delgado’s lover. Bolt’s the only one to quickly deduce that Delgado is behind these “accidental deaths,” and when a gunman tries to kill both Bolt and one of the witnesses in a staged holdup, he knows for sure that he’s had a death warrant placed on him.

I have to say though that Bolt really isn’t much fun of a character, which is perhaps why Olden spends so little time with him. He has all the standard attributes of your average men’s adventure protagonist, but no sparkle, no charm. In fact he’s pretty humorless, something Olden plays up on with the other characters, so it seems to me that it was Olden’s intent to make Bolt such a grim cipher. What’s strange though is the guy had a lot more pizazz back in Narc #1, including a nihilistic bent, all of which has disappeared – and by the way, what happened to Bolt’s martial arts guru, also unseen since that first volume?

But then, this is an ensemble piece and the minor players are more interesting than the protagonist. Poland comes off as a street-smart warrior with one hell of a mean streak; there’s a Stephen King-esque sequence late in the tale where Poland takes up an axe and hacks off the head and hands of one of his men. Olden really captures the sick horror of this, having another of Poland’s men puke at the sight – in fact there’s quite a bit of puking going on in The Delgado Killings, with even Bolt himself blowing chunks in the finale.

The new woman in Bolt’s life is Anita Rona, a gorgeous young model who worked as a courier for Delgado until she was busted by Bolt, who was working undercover on the case in Paris. Apparently Bolt and Anita became quite serious despite this unusual “meet cute,” but Bolt had to break it off when they got back to the US, much to Anita’s surprise and devastation. Again, all of this is relayed via backstory, and therefore lacks much impact, as we’re supposed to really be worried about Anita and regret the fact that she and Bolt couldn’t be together.

In fact, Anita only appears in a single sequence, a nonetheless taut one where Bolt comes to her rescue as Poland and his men attempt to kill her in a grocery store. But she disappears from the narrative after that, as if Olden only brought her into the tale so he could write a damsel in distress scene. It all would’ve been so much more powerful if Olden had used one of the female characters from a previous book.

There are a few action scenes, but again they’re played out on a very “real world” scale, with Bolt going into combat with nothing more than his .45 or his ankle-holstered Beretta. This in particular is his sole weapon during another taut sequence, where he chases after Bookbinder, the Poland assassin who attempted to kill Bolt in the staged hold-up. Olden does strive to make Bolt human, perhaps a little too much so. There are many, many scenes where we are informed that Bolt is afraid or nervous, and while it’s a welcome change from the traditional ultra-heroic protagonist of this genre, it gets to be a little much after a while.

Despite which The Delgado Killings is still another enjoyable Olden offering, leagues above what you’d expect. I guess my biggest problem with it would be the ending. Bolt’s entire mission here is to ensure the witnesses don’t die, so that Delgado can be put on trial and both his public stature and his criminal empire ruined. But all of this is rendered moot in the final action scene, when Poland, set up by Bolt to believe he’s been double crossed, goes after Delgado for revenge.

Another problem I had was with the resolution – namely that there is no resolution. For one, Poland’s fate is left in doubt and it seems obvious that Olden intends for him to return, but given that he did the same thing in Black Samurai #6 and that villain never returned, I kind of wish he’d just had Bolt put a bullet in Poland’s head. Also the storyline with Anita Rosa is given too much buildup and too little follow-through, especially when you assume that, like every other woman in Bolt’s life in this series, she’ll be gone and forgotten by the next volume.


Marty McKee said...

I like this a lot, like I did the three previous Narc books. I still haven't moved on to #5 yet, but I'm looking forward to Poland's return (at least, I hope that happens). I agree that Olden is great at creating worthy adversaries for his heroes.

halojones-fan said...

You wonder if it is basically the same thing as tv sitcoms; no use digging up old characters (or setting up continuing ones) because nobody knows whether there will be another book (or, even, what author is actually going to write it.)