Thursday, October 31, 2013

Super Cop Joe Blaze #2: The Concrete Cage

Super Cop Joe Blaze #2: The Concrete Cage, by Robert Novak
March, 1974  Belmont-Tower Books

Another men’s adventure “series” in only the loosest sense, Super Cop Joe Blaze ran for three volumes and might have had a different author for each installment. Credited to house name “Robert Novak,” all that’s known for certain is that Len Levinson wrote the third volume. Content-wise the series is pretty much identical to Ryker.

Marty McKee in his review of Joe Blaze #1 complains about how bad and boring the novel is, which leads me to expect that the same Robert Novak wrote this second volume. Blaze is referred to as “Blaze” throughout (meaning there are no half-assed editorial changes to the protagonists’s name), but regardless he’s basically the same as Ryker, a hardnosed cop who doesn’t take crap and doesn’t mind bending the rules. At least, that’s how the back cover has it; as the narrative itself plays out, Blaze is just a regular cop, nothing “super” about him at all.

The back cover, with its huge logo proclaiming “WHITE SLAVERS,” also has you expecting a lurid thrill ride, but sadly The Concrete Cage doesn’t deliver on this either. In fact, the book is pretty much a routine and mundane police procedural, only sporadically sleazed up with quick descriptions of the mauled female corpses Blaze comes upon in his investigation. Other than that, it’s all very bland. I mean, Blaze doesn’t even kill anyone in the novel! There’s something I never thought I’d write about a ‘70s men’s adventure protagonist.

The Concrete Cage opens with a bang, though. An ambulance pulls up in front of a department store in busy Manhattan and a group of masked guys hop out and, at gunpoint, corral several pretty young women into the ambulance. One of the women refuses to go with them and they shoot her dead. The women taken captive, the ambulance roars off, and several minutes later the cops arrive to find a bunch of shocked witnesses stumbling around.

Blaze is on the case, assisted by his partner Ed Nuthall. Blaze gets very little background and is just presented as your typical New York cop, but really there’s nothing outrageous about him and he doesn’t fight with his superiors and fellow cops like De Mille’s version of Ryker does. In fact Blaze appears to be well-respected; there are laughable scenes here where the Commissioner will gape helplessly and ask, “Joe, what do you think we should do?”

Despite the shocking nature of the kidnapping, the crooks turn out to be pretty stupid. Blaze manages to track them down within a day, though it is pretty much a narrative cop-out; after “asking around” for several hours, Blaze ends up in a bar where some drunk claims he overheard someone asking how they could go about renting an ambulance!

From there Blaze follows an easier trail than you’d expect, getting the lockdown on the kidnappers in no time flat. Turns out they’re a small gang lead by a career con named Jack Tunney; Blaze learns this from pimp Homer Chase, who was part of the aduction. There follows a long, long sequence where Blaze and the Commissioner offer Chase immunity if he’ll rat on where the girls are being kept, but at the expense of many, many pages of repetitious dialog Chase finally refuses the offer, afraid Tunney would have him killed anyway.

Meanwhile the gang begins issuing demands to the cops: they want a few million and they’ll let the girls go. Initially their plan, according to the info Blaze unearths, was to sell the girls to hardcore sadists who wanted “fresh meat” to abuse and torture! Now that Blaze has figured out who they are, the gang instead turns to a straight kidnapping scheme, and they aren’t playing around; they begin leaving mauled and mutilated corpses around Manhattan and the Bronx, as warnings that if their demads aren’t met they will murder all of the girls.

This is where the book’s scant lurid quotient comes into play – Blaze as acting investigator is called to the locations where the corpses have been discovered, and Novak (whoever he was) provides all the gruesome details of how the poor women have been hacked up and disfigured. Other than that though the sleaze element is downplayed, without even a single sex scene. In fact the book is pretty bland and padded mostly with go-nowhere dialog exchanges.

Novak finally gets around to providing some action at the very end, when the cops find out where the gang is hiding out with the girls. Blaze convinces the Commissioner to allow him to go in solo and, as stupid as ever, the Commissioner agrees. This is a nice and tense scene where Blaze sneaks into the darkened building, but again it’s ruined in that it goes on too long and everything works out exactly per Blaze’s plan – he finds the girls, gets them out of the house, and then corners the two gang members while the rest of the cops move in on the front of the house.

The ensuing firefight is also bland and played out along the lines of a ‘70s TV cop show, with lots of ducking and running and no one getting killed. It all leads to an overlong car chase straight out of Bullit as Tunney makes off in a stolen car and Blaze pursues. And that’s that, the crooks are caught and the girls are free and everyone’s happy (everyone apparently forgetting about the ones who were mauled, mutilated, and murdered).

The most interesting thing about The Concrete Cage is where the cover art was sourced from; through a complete fluke I happened to discover that it was taken from the March 1968 issue of the men's adventure magazine Male -- and don’t you love how in the original painting this shades-wearing dude, who on the cover of The Concrete Cage is supposedly Blaze himself, is holding a pistol to the head of a cop?

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