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.