Monday, September 23, 2013

The Headhunters #2: Starlight Motel Incident

The Headhunters #2: Starlight Motel Incident, by John Weisman and Brian Boyer
April, 1974  Pinnacle Books

Hard to believe it’s been three years since I read the first volume of the Headhunters series. This second installment is a direct pick-up from it, with our heroes Eddie Martin and Jake “T.S.” Putnam of the Detroit police internal affairs division once again coming off like guest stars in their own book; like Marc Olden’s Narc series, the Headhunters novels are more about merciless crooks and dirty cops.

One difference between the two series would be that Narc has a much stronger focus on action. Martin and Putnam in fact shy away from battle, and spend the majority of Starlight Motel Incident either tracking leads or investigating crime scenes. I guess this would be a problem with making your protagonists members of the internal affairs division; for the pair to even be involved, the majority of the storylines must revolve around crooked cops or internal corruption, and as with the previous volume that is once again the plot here.

However the plot moves a lot faster this time, and one thing I should mention is, despite the action-avoiding protagonists, The Headhunters is without question one of the more lurid series to ever see print. For pete’s sake, the first-page excerpt/preview is about a white reporter coming to consciousness “in a pool of blood from his ruptured sphincter,” having been sodomized by several black inmates…and now they’re coming after him for more! I mean, did Pinnacle think prospective buyers would peruse this first page and then rush for the checkout line to buy the book?? (Though to tell the truth, it did get my attention!)

Martin and Putnam (who by the way is still invariably referred to as “TS,” “Putnam,” and “Jake” in the narrative, which is pretty confusing) appear in maybe a quarter of the novel. Instead the majority of the tale goes once again to Henry Pacquette, crime kingpin of Detroit, who finds his kingdom threatened by the Black Saracens. Lead by the mysterious Malcom 4x Saladin, who has never been seen, the Saracens are trying to corner Pacquette’s market of drugs and hookers and whatnot. What brings our heroes into it is the fact that a lot of cops happen to be Black Saracens.

Reading Starlight Motel Incident could leave one pretty paranoid about cops, especially those in Detroit circa 1974; practically every one of them are on the take, and have side jobs as executioners for either Pacquette or Saladin. And the corruption runs right up to the top, with of course Martin and Putnam being the only two clean cops we meet. You wonder why they don’t just say to hell with it and bust out of town – which, as the acknowledgements page would indicate, is exactly what Weisman and Boyer themselves did. They dedicate the book to their wives, for talking them into leaving Detroit, “the most dangerous city in the world.”

The titular event occurs in the first pages, as a group of Black Saracen cops burst in on a group of Henry Pacquette’s cops as the latter play poker in the Starlight Motel, hookers squatting beneath the tables and giving them blowjobs at the same time! (I told you this series was lurid…) The Saracens blow the cops away (they allow the hookers to live, though), thus setting off a war between Pacquette and Saladin’s men. We learn this from the outset from the scenes with Pacquette, who again is surrounded by his top two henchmen: Sonny Hope and Dovell, but it takes Martin and Putnam a while to put everything together.

There isn’t much “action” per se in the novel, other than a scene where Putnam, who goes undercover as a Saracen inductee, is chased by a trio of Saladin’s cops, who quickly deduce who Putnam is. Again though these heroes don’t do anything heroic; Putnam just runs from the Saracens, even stealing some guy’s car to make his getaway. In fact the people who do “heroic” things are the villains, with Dovell and Hope swooping in to save Putnam, a foreshadowing of the finale, in which they save both Martin and Putnam from the Saracens.

But while there isn’t action, there are definitely sordid hijinks. As mentioned above there’s the sad plight of Joe Thomas, a Detroit reporter who stumbles on the fact that the Black Saracens have friends in high places; for his trouble he’s set up on a bogus rap for heroin possession, sent to jail, taken to a notorious wing, and tossed in a cell with several black inmates (and yes, the authors inform us the inmates are all black). After he’s gang-sodomized by the lot of them, Thomas comes back to consciousness only to have his throat slit by the Elephant, Saladin’s top henchman and yet another dirty cop, not to mention the person who set Thomas up in the first place. Talk about a sick bastard – Elephant not only set him up, but initiated Thomas’s raping, and then waited around for him to wake up so Thomas would be conscious while Elephant slit his throat!

There are other instances, though none of them reach this exploitative high (low?). Another of Saladin’s cops is caught by Pacquette and his men in a darkly humorous scene, with Pacquette posing as a bus driver, and the guy’s tossed to the bears in the Detroit Zoo; both Martin and Putnam puke at the sight of the mauled remains the next morning. And once Saladin is uncovered (his identity is easily figured out, though), he too suffers a horrifying fate at the hands of Dovell and Hope – thrown against a sheet metal-lined brick wall and smashed against it by an armored truck!

As for our protagonists, Martin and Putnam don’t even shoot at anyone, and throughout are at least one step behind Pacquette and Saladin. This concept does make the Headhunters interesting, as of all the men’s adventure series I’ve read, this one features the least effective protagonists. But then they’re moreso there just to framework the stories; the tales really belong to the colorful cast of villains. Be forewarned, though, if you’re sensitive to such things; as in the previous book Weisman and Boyer go out of their way to make their black characters “talk black,” which gives the book a humorous Blaxploitation tone, whether intentional or not.

1 comment:

Dan_Luft said...

Great stuff. I always like reading about series that I've never heard of.

I've always thought that Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones acted as guest stars in Chester Himes's Harlem series. Tho no one ever called that series lurid, I guess.