Monday, August 5, 2013
Stryker #1, by William Crawford
November, 1973 Pinnacle Books
I’ve mentioned William Crawford a few times before, how he got an injoke reference in The Penetrator #9 and also how The Penetrator #17 was dedicated to him. More importantly, he was also the “Jim Peterson” who wrote the infamous 16th volume of The Executioner, Sicilian Slaughter. The Stryker series however was published under Crawford’s own name; it ran for four volumes and was more of a “crime fiction” deal than the men’s adventure novels Pinnacle was better known for.
I’ll say up front though that I wanted to like this novel a lot more than I actually did. The back cover copy (which is actually just an excerpt from the book itself) makes Stryker #1 sound like a Gannon sort of affair, and I was hoping this was maybe Pinnacle’s response to that gory and grim Dean W. Ballenger series. But no; Stryker #1 has more in common with the Narc series or better yet the Headhunters series in how it’s more of a gutter-view spotlight on street level criminals and the overworked and underpaid cops who have to bend the rules in order to stop them. The focus is more on “true to life” than nutzoid violence.
Sgt. Colin Stryker is a veteran cop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s been on the force for twenty years and served in both Korea and ‘Nam (where he served two tours of duty). His partner is Chico Bellon, and we learn via prolonged backstory how the two became partners, and how they both like to bust balls and break heads. (The novel for the most part is made up of backstory, by the way; any time a character appears in the narrative, Crawford will give us several pages about them and their history.) Stryker is married and has a seven year-old daughter, but these characters are such ciphers – and so little seen – that they hardly matter in the larger scheme of things.
Meanwhile a pair of hitmen, who happen to be a romantic couple as well, are heading toward New Mexico after their latest bank heist, during which one of them blew away a young girl. This is Harmon Robey and Steve Ray; Robey is the veteran hitman who insists on bringing his lover along, but Ray is a psychotic who gets off on killing innocent passersby. They’re on their way to New Mexico because local mob boss Sam Borchia has a job for them: kill Stryker and Bellon.
It takes a long time for this to happen – seriously, the first half of the book is made up of elaborated backstories for Stryker and Bellon (in particular the cases they’ve worked on in the past) as well as meetings between various crooks. Crawford juggles a pretty big cast of characters, and he makes it confusing for us because he lacks consistency when referring to them – for example, he arbitrarily refers to Bellon as either “Chico” or “Bellon,” which is a bit bumpy when the character first appears. Even worse is a later character also hired to kill Stryker; Crawford introduces him as “Kell,” but then keeps writing “Sapper” for the next couple of pages, and you wonder who this dude is and what the hell happened to Kell! Only later do we learn that it’s “Sapper Kell.”
The first hit on Stryker and Bellon is a nice sequence, as again Harmon and Ray knock over a bank, and then attempt to kill the cops during a chase and shootout. However the hitmen lovers (rather anticlimatically) die in the skirmish, and Stryker and Bellon survive unscathed. Borschia then hires the aforementioned Sapper Kell, who makes his kills via explosives. He plants a bomb on Stryker’s house, and in the explosion Stryker’s wife is killed and his daughter is blinded and crippled. This event lacks much resonance for the reader, as these characters have been nonentities so far as the novel goes, only appearing – conveniently enough – a few pages before the bombing!
This at least serves to propel the narrative; Stryker, unhinged, goes after Borschia, beats him half to death…and then gets tossed in jail for assault! Crawford throws a definite curveball, with the final quarter of the novel concerning Stryker’s few years in prison. Meanwhile Borschia and Kell are still out there, and Bellon takes care of Stryker’s daughter, Colleen. The finale too lacks much explosive action, as instead of gunning the pair down, Stryker upon his release from prison instead concocts a plan that ends with Borschia and Kell being convicted and arrested. I would’ve preferred seeing them gunned down.
Pinnacle really promoted this series, though, heralding it as a new event in crime fiction – the back cover even features an “editor’s note,” again like Gannon, which warns readers away if they don’t like too much violence. Even the last page of the book is an ad for other Pinnacle novels by Willam Crawford. At any rate I didn’t much care for Stryker #1, but one of these days I’ll get around to the second volume, mostly because I already have it.