Thursday, January 23, 2014
The Executioner #124: Night Kill
The Executioner #124: Night Kill, by Michael Newton
April, 1989 Gold Eagle Books
Yet another novel I learned about via Michael Newton’s How To Write Action-Adventure Novels, Night Kill is actually by Newton himself; in the how-to book he showed us the outline he used to pitch the novel to Gold Eagle. And just like Psycho Squad #1, this is another men’s adventure novel clearly inspired by Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil, which is even namedropped on the first page.
In fact Night Kill is basically the men’s adventure version of Terry’s true crime masterpiece, doling out the same lurid “Satanic crime” details through a character who himself seems to be based on Maury Terry. This is Dr. Amos Carr (the last name itself a tip-off to The Ultimate Evil), a former cop who now is an investigative journalist, one who is known for exposing cult crimes. Bolan is put in contact with Carr via Hal Brognola, who has Bolan meet the man in Denver, where Carr is currently staying during his latest research.
The novel also comes off like a men’s adventure variant of Skipp and Spector’s The Scream (which I haven’t yet read), as Carr’s certain that the recent string of “Satanic cult murders” across the US is connected to the thrash metal group Apocalypse. Wherever Apocalypse tours, cultlike murders follow in their wake, and already two such killings have occurred here in Denver, even though the band has just arrived for their two-day concert engagement. After showing Bolan a slideshow of cult crimes and giving him a whole bunch of background on them (the majority of course taken from The Ultimate Evil), Carr succeeds in making Bolan agree that something rotten is going on.
Ironically, Bolan himself is practically a supporting character in Night Kill. He barely appears throughout the first hundred pages, and when he does he’s relegated to standing around and listening to other characters talk. Amos Carr comes off like the true protagonist, the one who does all of the research and legwork, the one who has all of the connections and makes things happen. Also ironic is that there’s hardly any action in the novel. Other than an unrelated battle scene against Irish terrorists in the opening pages, the “action” is relegated to cult murders and a quick climatic fight in the very final pages as Bolan takes on the Satanists.
Night Kill like other Gold Eagle publications of the era is too long for its own good. It runs to 253 pages, and that’s small print, baby. So many, many pages are superfluous, and clear indication that Newton was hard-pressed to fill the word quota. As is customary for Gold Eagle books, a lot of this material is given over to various characters who are introduced in leisurely fashion, and who are then either promptly killed or turn out to not have much to do with anything.
For example, we get several scenes from the viewpoints of various teen girls as they sneak out of the house to attend the Apocalypse concert. Corralled by the “hunters” who are part of the Satanic cult that has worked itself around the band, the girls are then lured to a “party” which turns out to be their place of death: sacrificial altars set up around cemeteries where the girls are drugged, tied up, and murdered. The hell of it is, though, all of these sequences are basically the same, despite being different girls each time.
Amos Carr also takes up a lot of the narrative, and humorously enough his contacts in the “occult world” know all about the Chingons and the Children of the Flame (supposedly the true force behind the Son of Sam murders) and etc, as if there’s an occult newspaper they all read. One thing I’ve always loved about Christian paranoia tales is that people in the occult are always “in the know,” like there’s this Satanic grapevine that keeps them all up-to-date on everything in the occult world.
But anyway, one of Carr’s contacts turns out to be a very attractive witch named Cassandra “Cass” Poole who, as we learn in the many sequences from her viewpoint, soon develops certain thoughts about Bolan. These thoughts are actualized in a Wiccan ritual Bolan attends with her (for absolutely no reason); Cass asks Bolan if he will “assist” her in the last part of the ritual, which entails the two of them bumping uglies beneath a tree. The sex scene here is more explicit than I expected it to be – nothing outrageous or anything, but more than I figured Gold Eagle would allow. At any rate it was nice to know Bolan can still get lucky every once in a while.
Many pages are also given over to the cult of Satanists who have infiltrated Apocalypse’s camp; the group’s “spiritual adviser,” a longhaired occultist named Lucian Slate, is a full-on Satanist, and has ties with one of the more violent cults. Made up of a group of “hunters” who work for a leader who calls himself Scratch, the cult is clearly based on the Children of the Flame. And Scratch himself is clearly based on Manson II, Maury Terry’s name for a “superstar of the occult world” who was a professional hitman who pulled off at least one of the Son of Sam murders (per David Berkowitz). Manson II by the way was still a mystery when Night Kill was published, but when the paperback edition of The Ultimate Evil came out later in 1989, he was outed as William Mentzer…who apparently lived right down the road from me at the time, in Cumberland, Maryland!!
Newton to his credit doesn’t just rake the Satanists over the coals; he also pokes fun at the televangelist movement that was so popular at the time. This is courtesy Reverend Jordan Braithwaite, whose growing ministry is based on longwinded rants against Satan, heavy metal, and Apocalypse in particular. We get way too many pages with Braithwaite, in particular the sermons he delivers, one for example which Bolan watches on TV, as if Newton’s desperate to fill up the pages. Braithwaite we gradually learn has ulterior motives, and many more pages are devoted to his own squabblings with the cult.
Really, Night Kill is an exercise in patience. It’s comprised of too much inessential detail and too many inessential characters, and it just sort of drifts along. Even a lurid bit midway through, where Bolan takes out a kiddie porn producer with ties to the cult, lacks much punch. And the finale is anticlimactic, with Cass abducted by Scratch, who plans to make her the last sacrifice before Apocalypse splits Denver. Bolan, clad in blacksuit, races to save the day, taking on his outclassed opponents in one of the more perfunctory action scenes I’ve ever read.
So long story short, whereas this novel could’ve been a lurid, sensationlistic blitz of twisted action, like Able Team #8 but with Satanists instead of drug-zombified gangbangers, Newton has instead gone for a true crime approach, keeping it all realistic.
But as far as I’m concerned, if you’re writing the 124th installment of a series titled The Executioner, “realistic” shouldn’t even be a consideration.