Monday, August 26, 2013

Kiss And Kill (Hardy #1)

Kiss And Kill, by Martin Meyers
No month stated, 1975  Popular Library

This obscure series ran for five volumes; none of them were numbered, but each carried the Hardy series title. Given the sex-and-violence theme of the covers, it would appear that Popular Library was trying to attract the men’s adventure market, just as they were doing with the similarly-packaged Hardman series, by Ralph Dennis. The Hardy books are even less like men’s adventure novels than Dennis’s, though Hardy’s unusual backstory is somewhat in the pulp realm.

We learn in the opening pages of Kiss And Kill that Patrick Hardy was a rather obese young man who enjoyed nothing more than reading, watching TV, and gorging himself, and he was certain that his 325-pound weight would keep him from being drafted into the Vietnam war. But while getting his hair cut, Hardy was shot in the stomach by a masked man who was knocking over the barber shop; when Hardy came out of his post-surgery coma he was down to 200+ pounds, and further discovered that, no matter how much he ate, he could no longer put on any weight. He was called to the drafting board again, and this time they drafted him.

However Hardy had another problem – he was a coward. Shunted with a bunch of other “rejects” into an experimental division, Hardy and his fellows were trained via Pavlovian techniques to become fighting machines. Military psychologists manipulated Hardy’s brain so that, when confronted by a life or death situation, Hardy’s reflexes would spring to the attack, even if Hardy himself was still frightened. After being discharged Hardy goofed off around the world, eventually ending up in a big apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City, where one day he just decided to become a private investigator.

Hardy is loglined as “the sensuous sleuth,” one who “prefers sex to slaughter,” and this isn’t mere hyperbole. Hardy is basically a sloth, content to lay around all day watching TV – in between the calorie-heavy meals he prepares for himself. Yet due to his old gut wound (and a daily workout he hates) Hardy retains his muscular frame, and the gals just love him. A cursory glance through future volumes indicates that this element gets a bit more focus later on, but in Kiss And Kill Hardy does well enough for himself, picking up not one but two strippers, a femme fatale, and finally his own client – however it should be noted that author Marvin Meyers doesn’t go into too many details, despite the lurid thrills promised by the front and back covers.

Origin dispensed with in a few pages, we meet up with Hardy as he’s approached with a new case: a gorgeous blonde name Dorothy Robbins has been murdered, and her equally-gorgeous sister Peg has come to NYC from the midwest to find out what happened. Peg hires Hardy because she’s certain “the Organization” killed her sister, and the cops don’t believe her, given that Dorothy lived in a notoriously-dangerous tenement area in the city. Hardy, who has never handled a murder case (he claims that’s just “paperback stuff”), reluctantly agrees to take the job. His fee is $200 a day plus expenses, but man that’s a waste of cash because for the majority Hardy basically just watches TV, reads, plays with his dog Sherlock Holmes, and makes an occasional phone call.

Hardy relies on his sidekick Steve Macker to do the dirty work, scoping out sites and tracking down clues. Then Hardy will pull himself away from the TV and go talk to a witness or suspect. Along the way he runs afoul of Captain Gerald Friday of the Homicide department, and a running joke is how Friday constantly puts Hardy down for watching too many private eye movies and not learning the basics, like when Hardy calls Friday about a murder that isn’t even in Friday’s precinct. Gradually Hardy discovers that mobsters might have been involved in Dorothy’s death, in particular ones named Vanning and White.

Meanwhile Hardy scores with the above-mentioned stripper and later falls in love with Peg Robbins. There are barely any action scenes in the novel, and when they do happen they’re over in the span of a few sentences. Hardy can fight but he’s still a coward and gets scared at the thought of confronting someone. For example in one action scene he’s ambushed in a park, and as he fights off the two attackers he’s terrified the entire time, despite the fact that he beats up both of the men. He doesn’t even own a gun, so the sensationalistic cover art is totally misleading! He's quick to run afoul of people, though, given that his method of investigating is basically just harrassing people with questions, usually ending with, “Did you kill Dorothy Robbins?”

There isn’t much suspense either, and for the most part Kiss And Kill plays out like a goofy sort of comedic slice-of-sleazy-life tale, with Hardy going to parties and checking the TV listings for what movie he’s going to watch next. We also get a thorough rundown of the meals he eats and the dives he frequents. He’s also a compulsive smoker, and generally in bad health, which leads to some non-PC quips with his female (and of course beautiful) doctor. (“How does your chest feel, Hardy?” “I could ask you the same thing.”) When the surprise reveal comes at the end, it’s as lazy and indolent as Hardy himself. (Spoiler warning: It turns out that Peg was really Dorothy all along, and that Dorothy murdered her sister and pretended to be her for contrived reasons.)

The novel is written in third-person and moves at a snappy clip. Martin Meyers was an actor turned writer, but if I didn’t know any better I’d assume he was just another pseudonym of Len Levinson. Their writing styles are almost identical; like Levinson Meyers spends just as much time focusing on the mundane aspects of his protagonist’s life, listing out what Hardy watches on tv, what he reads, what he eats. Hardy also has a goofy sense of humor, much like a Levinson protagonist, and the focus on sex and sleaze is about the same – though Len would win the award on that one.

The Hardy series is pretty obscure; it isn’t even mentioned in Robert A. Baker’s otherwise-comprehensive 1985 book Private Eyes: 101 Knights. I picked up the other four volumes, and as mentioned it looks like they become a bit more lurid, so we’ll see.


RJR said...

It's s shame that the Hardy books AND The Hardman books were packaged as men's adventure. Packaging also killed Jack Lynch's Bragg series. A PI. is a P.I.


Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment -- and thanks for mentioning the Bragg series! I've never heard of that one, so I will look it up.

Marty McKee said...

Sounds so bizarre. I wonder if it was intended as parody.