Monday, March 31, 2014

Motive For Murder (aka Ryker #7)

Motive For Murder, by Edson T. Hamill
No month stated, 1975  Leisure Books

It doesn’t feature a series title or volume number, but this was actually the seventh volume of the Ryker series. Not that it much matters, as Motive For Murder works as a standalone novel, likely turned out by a writer new to the series – given the research of Justin Marriott in Paperback Fanatic #28, I’m assuming like him that Edson T. Hamill was just a Leisure house name.

But here’s the crazy thing – whoever actually wrote this was pretty good! In fact, Motive For Murder is easily my favorite Ryker novel yet. It combines the assholic “hero” of Nelson DeMille’s original creation with the goofy tone of Len Levinson's take on the character. “Hamill” has a good handle on character and action, and one could argue that his version of Ryker is even more of a dick than DeMille’s; as evidenced by how we’re introduced to our hero in this volume: “If there was anything Sergeant Joe Ryker despised more than homosexuals, it was long-haired hippies.”

This is just the tip of the iceburg, as in Motive For Murder Ryker beats up innocent people, threatens “friends,” and even puts children in danger in his effort to track down “The Cremator,” a homicidal woman who is taking young men home and torching them. She has killed three men so far (we meet her during her latest murder, as she sets fire to a guy by putting a candle to his long hair), and the cops haven’t gotten any leads in tracking her down. All that’s known from the precious few who have seen her is that the Cremator is gorgeous, fantastically built, and wears various wigs.

Ryker is still Ryker, but this volume almost takes place in some alternate reality: his fellow cops all have the same names as in previous installments, but act differently. For example Bo Lindly, the closest thing Ryker had to a friend in DeMille’s Night Of The Phoenix, here comes off like yet another of Ryker’s enemies, constantly mocked as an “Ivy League cop” by Ryker and the others. Lt. Fischetti is out to get Ryker fired, and this time Ryker’s partner is Tex Medley, a new character and junior cop who might as well be wearing a red shirt, if you catch my drift. Also, continuing with the alternate universe feel, we learn here that Ryker’s wife and son were murdered by the Mafia years ago, in retaliation upon Ryker, whereas in the DeMille books Ryker had no son and he was divorced, still getting in fights with his ex on the phone.

Ryker’s biggest archenemy in Motive For Murder is Creighton Straichey, a TV reporter who apparently has been hounding Ryker for years (though, needless to say, this is the first we readers have ever heard of him). Hamill delivers a few scenes where the two men come head to head, with Straichey determined to out Ryker as a fascist idiot, and Ryker always getting the last laugh. Some of the scenes are pretty comical, with Ryker confronting Straichey on the street or while he’s dining in a restaurant. However the ultimate outcome of the Ryker-Straichey confrontation is pretty dark, as I’ll mention later.

While Ryker is busy busting heads and confronting Straichey, Tex actually gets the first break in the case – he finds out from a witness that the Cremator was wearing a special lipstick, one that is available in only one place: Madame Olga Petrovia’s Instituit de Beaut, a cosmetics store in Manhattan. Almost fascistly run by the ancient Madame Olga (whose right arm is the immense Gerte von Tiffell), the place is obviously somehow connected the Cremator, but Ryker doesn’t connect the dots until much too late.

Meanwhile the Cremator continues her murders, and we see in one haunting scene that her kills can rake in innocent bystanders as well, like when she burns alive some poor message carrier and inadvertently sets an entire apartment building on fire. Hamill here proves his ease with killing off characters, as we read how a young wife and her newborn twins die in the conflagration. Oddly enough the Cremator actually sleeps with this victim, though her standard m.o. is to have the victim strip down, throw his clothes at the bottom of the bed, and jerk off onto the blue bedsheets(!!). Hamill doesn’t elaborate on why the Cremator screws this particular victim, though he does provide a fairly graphic description of it all.

Unlike DeMille, Hamill keeps everything rolling smoothly; the Cremator kills a few poor saps, Ryker butts heads and makes asinine comments (even getting thrown in jail at one point for harrassing a woman in an insane asylum!), and the city becomes increasingly agitated, thanks to Creighton Straichey’s broadcasts over the inability of the police to stop the killer. Hamill even delivers a few action scenes, like when Ryker is nearly offed by a hitman moments after leaving Madame Olga’s store (yet he still doesn’t put two and two together!). He also delivers a sex scene for Ryker, when Creighton Straichey’s wife Ondine calls Ryker over to her secret apartment and throws herself at him – a very funny scene, which sees Ryker still treating the poor lady like shit even as he deigns to let her blow him. (“You give good fuckin’ head,” being his sterling endorsement.)

But Ryker’s using of Ondine gets even darker in the novel’s finale. After a few characters have been knocked off by the Cremator (who of course turns out to be connected to Madame Olga), Ryker comes up with one of his dumbass plans; he forces Ondine to draft her teenaged son, Mervyn, to pose as a delivery boy so as to capture the Cremator’s attention. The climax plays out in Madame Olga’s store and here Hamill once again displays his ease with killing off various characters. In fact by novel’s end Ryker is so despicable – even still threatening a character whose life he has ruined – that you just have to laugh at the dark comedy of it all.

Anyway, I have to say I really liked Motive For Murder, and I wonder if this same author served as “Edson T. Hamill” for any of the other Ryker novels. About the only complaint I could make is his tendency to POV-hop, with character perspectives jarringly changing between paragraphs, but I’m thinking this might’ve been the usual half-assed “editing” at Leisure at work.


Marty McKee said...

Ryker books are flippin' crazy.

Flixer1957 said...

Not to be argumentative, BUT:

Ryker's divorce and frequent phone conversations with his ex-wife came about with the release of the re-edited "Jack Cannon" books. In Nelson DeMille's THE SNIPER,1974 edition, the murders of Ryker's wife and son are detailed on pages 100--101. This tragedy is mentioned briefly in the original edition of THE HAMMER OF GOD and also in the original editions of the Keller novels THE CANNIBAL and NIGHT OF THE PHOENIX.
Also, Creighton Straichey makes his first appearance in the 1974 edition of THE SNIPER.
I only know these things because I read the originals when they first came out, and was fortunate enough to collect them all before the prices went through the roof.
The Leisure Books 1974 edition of THE SNIPER is arguably the best-written and best-edited of the bunch. It's well worth reading if you ever find an affordable copy.

Flixer1957 said...

Of the Edson T. Hamill RYKER novels, the only ones I enjoyed were MOTIVE FOR MURDER and THE SLASHER. THE CHILD KILLER, if published today, would probably be condemned as child-rape/murder porn. I'm against book-burning, but THE CHILD KILLER pushes that belief to the limit.

Joe Kenney said...

Fixer, thanks a lot for the info. I've read all of the DeMille Ryker novels I currently own, so thanks for clearing that up about his wife and son. Also interesting to hear that Creighton Straichey appeared in the Sniper -- I just assumed he was a one-off character created by "Edson T. Hamill."

Speaking of Hamill, I recently came across the info that "The Child Killer" was written by Paul Hofrichter, so we can identify at least one of the Hamills.

The only Rykers I have left are The Child Killer (which doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but I have it, at least), The Sadist, and The Slasher. I wonder if Hofrichter wrote all of them or just that one?

Flixer1957 said...

Joe; I just Googled Paul Hofrichter and didn't find much on him; I'll try to find out more when I have more time.
I doubt that he wrote THE SLASHER because, compared to THE CHILD KILLER, it is well-written. THE SADIST is pretty poor, but at least not as vile as THE CHILD KILLER.

Flixer1957 said...

The first paragraph of THE CHILD KILLER contains the sentence "To Ryker, all seasons were alike, full of mayhem." That's the most clever sentence in the entire novel.

Joe Kenney said...

There isn't much out there about Paul Hofrichter; he apparently wrote a few of the later volumes of the Sharpshooter and the Marksman (for example, Savage Slaughter for the former and This Animal Must Die for the latter), and the 3-volume post-nuke series Roadblaster was published under his name in the late '80s.

I have wondered for a while if "Paul Hofrichter" was yet another pseudonym of GH Frost, author of the unforgettable 8th volume of Able Team, "Army Of Devils." I've wondered this because, in the comment he posted here on my review of that Able Team novel, Frost claimed the 5th Able Team novel, "Cairo Countdown," as one of his books -- yet "Cairo Countdown" is credited to Paul Hofrichter on the copyright page. Given that Frost has published under other pseudonyms (ie "LR Payne," "CJ Shiao"), I wonder if "Hofrichter" was just another of them.

But then, given that your statement that "The Child Killer" is so poorly written, I doubt it really was him -- the two Frost Able Team novels I've read were very well written.