Thursday, July 25, 2013

Decoy #1: The Great Pretender

Decoy #1: The Great Pretender, by Jim Deane
November, 1974  Signet Books

This was the first of a two-volume “series” narrated by Nick Merlotti, aka The Great Pretender – surely the author’s intended title for the series. I can only assume that either Signet or some editor there came up with the Decoy title, as never once does Merlotti (or anyone else) refer to himself that way. At any rate Merlotti is a “super thief turned super cop,” a guy famous in the underworld for his heists and capers. Caught by the cops after a decade of inactivity, Merlotti is now offered a chance to work for the Man, after which his slate will be wiped clean.

Sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun, but sadly The Great Pretender is one of the more leisurely-paced books I’ve read. Author Jim Deane fills countless pages with the bluster of his arrogant narrator Merlotti, the worst instances being the endless sequences where Merlotti will brainstorm how this or that happened. Just pages and pages of immaterial and unnecessary junk. The novel is moreso a suspense or mystery sort of thing; the cops hire Merlotti to find out who stole 5 million dollars worth of heroin, but in the course of the narrative it turns out that there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Merlotti’s brought in by Duffy, captain of police in New York and a guy Merlotti’s had run-ins with in the past, as well as Passantino, a young assistant DA. The two men hit Merlotti with the proposal to figure out what happened to the heroin; they want Merlotti to ambush another shipment coming into New York and then turn around and try to sell it to Gianfreddo, a mobster they believe is behind the heroin steal. To help Merlotti they’ve brought in Mr. Waves, a black radio/gadgets wiz (sort of like Barney on Mission:Impossible, I guess ) who himself is famous in the underworld.

That’s the setup. Merlotti meanwhile immediately dives into his favorite pasttime: checking out the ladies. Reading this book was almost like reading a Harold Robbins novel – it was a chore getting through all of the boring, repetitive stuff, but you kept going only because you knew you’d gradually be rewarded by a goofy sex scene. But unlike Robbins Deane isn’t explicit in the least – that is, except for when it comes to describing the female anatomy, breasts in particular. This guy will go on and on about the female form, to the point where it almost gets a little creepy, but the sex scene itself will be relegated to: “We fucked again.” That’s an actual quote from the book, by the way.

The Great Pretender’s first conquest is Jane, a “tit-goddess” he meets while sunning on Fire Island. The ensuing romance takes up more of the opening narrative than the actual case, with Merlotti falling in love with the gal. Meanwhile he just sort of messes around with the investigation into the heroin, and Deane bores us with incessant pages of Merlotti researching the various clerks who worked the shift when the heroin disappeared, what their lifestyles are now like, etc. Here though he does indulge in a little disguise work, something he’s constantly reminding us he’s talented in; my favorite part is when he poses as a “sex researcher” and goes to each clerk’s home and interviews their wives about how their husbands are in bed! Again, it has no bearing on anything that happens in the novel, but it’s so goofy that it’s entertaining.

Jane departs the narrative (she pleads with Merlotti to run off with her, but he’s given his word he’ll see this case through) right before Merlotti launches a raid on a boat importing the heroin. This is one of the few action scenes in the novel, as Merlotti and Waves find that the drugrunners don’t surrender as quickly as Merlotti expected. A smallscale war ensues, Merlotti blowing away goons with a machine gun. After this though the placid nature returns; Merlotti and Waves discover that the drugrunners were actually carrying sugar, not heroin, and so they begin trying to figure out what’s really going on.

Here the doldrums really set in, as Deane fills pages with tons of unimportant and uninteresting stuff. Things liven up a little when Merlotti picks up yet another gal, Faye, who we are told is even hotter than Jane (it cracks me up though that Deane came up with such similar names for his female characters, Faye and Jane…but then, they are pretty much clones of one another). The highlight of The Great Pretender is all of this pre-PC stuff, with Merlotti picking up chicks and etc; he meets Faye by basically stalking her, first catching a glimpse of her chest in the window across from his own apartment, and thus he begins staring out the window for more glimpses of her magnificent mammaries (which he describes ad naseum).

Things also liven up with a few brief action scenes, Merlotti ambushed by gunmen sent after him. Deane proves he can also dole out the graphic violence, with Merlotti blowing out one of the dude’s brains. But for the most part The Great Pretender is heavier on the brainwork (and breast-oggling) than the action – even the finale lacks much action or any violence, with Merlotti, Waves, and Faye corralling Passantino (whom Merlotti at great length has pegged as the villain) and Gianfreddo on an airplane, outing them in front of a hidden news camera, and then parachuting out over Florida. It’s intended as a big finish, but it’s kind of stupid.

Besides the Decoy series, Jim Deane only has two other books to his name: The Mistress Book, a 1972 Pinnacle release that falls right into that early ‘70s “sex book” category, and The Fine Art of Picking Up Girls, a 1974 Pinnacle book that might be a retitled republication of The Mistress Book (the front cover is the same as the back cover of The Mistress Book). All of the Deane books however are copyright “Paul Gillette Enterprises,” a corporation which is still around…I wonder if Jim Deane and Paul Gillette are one and the same. Gillette is a name I’ve seen before; he’s published several novels over the years, one of them being 1965’s Satyricon: Memoirs of a Lusty Roman, which I have on my first toga porn list.

Finally, I thought I’d share a few of the more memorable quotes from The Great Pretender. See if you can spot a recurring theme!

I lay on the beach at Fire Island looking at tits and wondering why I felt so grumpy. -- pg. 18

I tuned in on her tits before I became aware of the rest of her. Lying dune-side on the beach, looking out over the tit-sea at the real sea, I saw these gorgeous grapefruit-sized beauties roll to life as she flopped over from prone to supine and stretched her lovely long arms into the sun. -- pg. 19

I was really getting pissed off. It’s bad enough striking out with a chick you meet on the subway. But when they come to a beach and pop tits into your face and let their pubes stick out of their bathing suits and still shoot you down, even when you happen to be one of the very few males on the island, it can get a mite depressing. Only my lust for that fantastic body drove me onward. -- pg. 21

What happened to her tits during the backstroke was not to be believed. They didn’t quite bounce, owing mainly to the water pressure. They just sort of slid around. And every stroke of her long arms sent each jug in a massive elliptical slide that would’ve been enough to blow the top of my head off even if her gorgeous pubes weren’t showing through the front of her sheer minikini panties – which, as a matter of fact they were. -- pg. 22

Tits! -- pg. 80


Grant said...

I can already see one original thing about this book, and that's all the (straight) sexual stuff going on at Fire Island. As far as I know, that place already had most of its huge gay image by the time this book was written, so either the writer was making a deliberate joke with that setting, or maybe it just turned out that way. Either way, it's kind of entertaining.

vwstieber said...

I think the recurring theme is his love for the beach. He's probably an eco-assassin who donates to the sea turtle fund and Greenpeace.

Was there (tits) anything else (tits) that stood out (tits)? I don't (tits) think so (boobies).

Martin OHearn said...

Gillette also cowrote a few of the Coxeman books, with Charles Fritch, under the "Troy Conway" house name.

Grant said...

I dislike MOST kinds of repetition in a story, but that breast fixation would take a little longer to get really repetitive in my case.

I know I've already harped on it a little on this site, but I think that among adventure books, the DESTROYER series has the best case of that (or the worst case, depending on your attitude), in Destroyer # 5. But I wouldn't want to give much more away unless someone asked me to.

Marty McKee said...

It's pretty weird that neither Decoy novel has any decoying in it.