Monday, March 3, 2014

Shannon #3: The Mindbenders

Shannon #3: The Mindbenders, by Jake Quinn
January, 1975  Leisure Books

As half-assed and leisurely-paced as its predecessors, the third and final installment of the Shannon series once again sees our titular hero more concerned with downing whiskey and scoring with his hooker girlfriend. Meanwhile an Anton LaVey-styled “medium” is implanting mind-control devices in the heads of UN employees in some unspecified plot to do something. And Shannon’s gonna stop him, even if it takes him the entire novel to get around to it.

Once again Jake Quinn (more on whom below) is more content to wheel-spin, casually doling out his lackluster tale with absolutely no sense of urgency. Well, anyway, here’s the story: Alexander Garth, the LaVey-type, is a famous medium with jet-set clients all over the world, and is now famous on his own. However, he uses his hypnotic powers to lull his unsuspecting clients into a trance, during which Garth implants them with a mind-controlling device. We learn this only gradually, the novel opening with the sudden “suicides” of two of Garth’s clients, both of them UN notables: Akasaka of Japan and Haslev of Denmark.

Shannon’s brought into it when he catches his latest girlfriend, a UN translator from Norway named Aurora, snooping around in Shannon’s penthouse study one night. When Shannon sees that the girl’s taking photos of Shannon’s top-secret MORITURI files (the top secret organization Shannon “works” for), he chases after her…and the girl willingly jumps off of the high rise, killing herself. (All this just a few pages after some explicit sexual shenanigans between the two.)

Well, you know it’s Shannon when his reaction is to… break open another bottle of Jameson’s whiskey. Yes, friends, Shannon the drunk is up to his usual page-filling tricks, biding his time throughout the narrative and not really doing much of anything. Hell, he doesn’t get in a single action scene in the entirey of The Mindbenders, at least of the fist-and-guns variety. Now as for sex action, Shannon’s got that covered, with this volume getting pretty down and dirty at times; it’s much more explicit than the previous two volumes.

But anyway, just a few minutes after some hot n’ heavy screwin’ in Shannon’s bedroom (a scene in which we’re graced with the unforgettable tidbit that Shannon “watched himself in the ceiling mirror as he entered Aurora” ), the poor girl’s become a human pancake on the sidewalk far below. And after his drink, Shannon eventually gets around to doing something about it…namely, pestering his boss, the unimaginatively-named Number One, who poses as a priest in a NYC Catholic church.

Here’s the funny thing, though, despite the fact that the two dead men and Aurora all worked at the UN, and the Number One-revealed info that there’s apparently a mole leaking important secrets at the UN, no one believes Shannon that all of it might be tied together! In one of the more preposterous page-filling gambits I’ve encountered, our author instead has Shannon constantly butting heads with Number One and everyone else, who tell Shannon he’s crazy to even suspect that these “random suicides” might be the work of some nefarious foe.

Not that Shannon does much about it. No, he’s more content to call up his hooker friend Lillian, the female lead of the previous two installments whose name I could never recall. Lillian, a stacked redhead who is in love with Shannon, once again serves as more of a star in Shannon’s own novel. However Joe-Dad, Shannon’s black/Chinese cook and best pal, plays a much smaller role, and his un-PC jive talk is also greatly reduced. But then in this particular installment all of the characters talk like automatons, doling out expository info or filling pages with blather about irrelevant stuff, like even Joe-Dad bitching about how literary critics “complain about everything these days”!

Alexander Garth receives an arbitrary background section in which Quinn provides lots of useless backstory – but at least it’s all nice and lurid, especially when Garth hooks up with another Anton LaVey type who introduces Garth to the wonders of Satanism, complete with a Black Mass that features a willing “virgin” and lots of explicit sex. However Garth’s mind control ability isn’t really elaborated on; we learn that some other dude came up with the technology, and after learning how to master it Garth killed him and began using it, so as to spread his own power base. But again, why exactly he’s focused on the UN is never explored. 

Shannon works (well, sort of) in private eye mode throughout, talking to those who knew the two murdered UN employees. One of them is Andrew Lee, a young actor who served as a “friend” for Akasaka, whom we learn was gay. Quinn does actually pepper the novel with goofy stuff, and the Andrew Lee subplot is the goofiest of all, for we learn that he acts in an all-nude, off-Broadway play based 100% on Hair. Quinn, clearly having fun with it, takes us through the show as Shannon watches, and the opening song is “Did You Ever See Anything Like It In Your Hole?” The humor also extends into a darker realm, when a Garth-brainwashed Andrew Lee actually guts himself live on stage. (And then later some dude in the audience complains about having paid for his ticket!)

But man it just kinda keeps on going. Shannon talks with his friends, goes to bars, screws Lillian, and then wonders when the case will wrap up. Even though it’s clear Alexander Garth is somehow connected to all this, Number One refuses to give Shannon permission to do anything. He does however approve Shannon and Lillian going to a party at Liz Manderson’s, a Southern belle who is responsible for spreading Garth’s fame. This middling sequence, which makes a big deal of Shannon dying his red hair brown, at least serves to up the ante, as Garth takes a sudden interest in Lillian, offering to give her a reading the next day.

After Lillian herself is “mindbent,” Shannon ensures the implant is successfully removed in the hospital and then finally gets Number One’s approval to friggin’ do something. This leads to a lackluster climax that plays out during the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day. Even here Shannon doesn’t punch or shoot anyone, merely just running after Garth, who ends up doing in himself accidentally (and gorily). Quinn, not realizing he had an entire damn novel to do so, instead plays out a veritable last-second reveal that Garth was really getting his orders from elsewhere, bringing this up and closing it over the course of a single page.

So, a middling end for a middling series. I think Leisure was even sick of it; notice how the cover design is vastly different from the previous two installments. In fact I’m betting this art was commissioned for a different book, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of The Mindbenders. And for that matter, the back cover copy (which I’m betting was written by Leisure editor Peter McCurtin, as it’s very much in his style) also has nothing to do with the actual novel, spewing out vague hyperbole about how tough Shannon is – actually it occurs to me that it’s mostly just a summarization of the events shown in the cover painting!

A couple months ago I came across some eBay listings where a seller was auctioning off author copies of the Shannon books. (I can’t remember how much they were listed for, but I think they ended without any bids!) According to the listing, “Jake Quinn” was in reality J.C. Conaway, aka James Curry Conaway (1936-2012), a prolific pulpster who turned out a wealth of paperbacks in his day. The listing further stated that Conaway never learned to type, and thus dictated every word; further, he apparently wrote all three Shannon novels in a single month!

At any rate The Mindbenders was it for the adventures of Patrick Shannon, but much like the similarly-boring Joe Rigg series, one could argue that Shannon’s adventures never even really started.


RJR said...

I love your reviews of all these books I saw and bought in my early years!!! Have you done Marc olden's The Harker Files? Or the Stark series by Joseph Hedges?


Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoy the reviews! I haven't checked out the Stark series, but I've been meaning to read Olden's Harker Files for a while -- and I'm sure I will, once I finish his Narc books.