Monday, June 30, 2014

Stone: MIA Hunter

Stone: MIA Hunter, by Jack Buchanan
February, 1987  Jove Books

Some online booksellers mistakenly list this installment of the MIA Hunter series as the first volume, but in fact it falls between the sixth and seventh volumes. Also, this is a double-length tale, coming in at 261 pages, all courtesy our old friend Chet Cunningham, who here turns in his second and final contribution to the series. Rather than filling all those pages with one epic plot, Cunningham instead tells four separate storylines, but even so Stone: MIA Hunter happens to be one of my favorite volumes yet.

The first storyline opens with Mark Stone and his companions Hog Wiley and Terrance Loughlin busting a few POWs out of a camp in ‘Nam; this is a taut, action-packed sequence. Cunningham (who names one of the POWs after himself) gives most narrative time to Commander Farley Anderson, who can’t believe he’s finally free, let alone that it’s 1987. As the group struggles across jungle terrain, desperate to get over the border, they are attacked by unseen gunmen, who mercilessly take out Stone’s Laotian guides. This turns out to be minions of CIA goon Alan Coleman, the series’ recurring villain; he arrives via helicopter and demands Stone and the POWs get onboard.

This leads to the second storyline, as Stone, Hog, and Loughlin are arraigned in Federal court in Los Angeles on trumped-up charges. As a result Stone’s private investigator license is stripped (bet you forgot that’s his day job, didn’t you??) and it looks like the three of them may do some serious time. Hog and Louglin heed Stone’s advice and take off. Stone meanwhile spends some quality time with his girlfriend, Carol Jenner, who we are informed now lives in DC, working for the Defense Department. Funny, because the last we saw her, back in #3: Hanoi Deathgrip, she was on the run from various government agencies!

Stone is informed that this court deal could take a few weeks. Do you think he just takes it easy for a while? Hell, no – Mark Stone is a Man Of Action. Responding to a letter he receives from the widow of an old ‘Nam buddy, Stone checks out the man’s son, Jose Ortega, Jr, and learns all about the Chicano gangs in this area and the drug-running Mexican mob that employs them. In a sequence that comes off like a flashback to Cunningham’s earlier Penetrator work, Stone suits up in black and launches a hard probe on a PCP factory in the desert outside LA.

This whole part is like nothing before in the series, and in fact seems to point in the direction the series would eventually go, with Stone even realizing that someday he might need to branch out from his MIA rescuing efforts and focus on situations closer to home. Anyway he kills a whole bunch of Mexican goons, and takes on El Lobo, the leader of the gang. Here in El Lobo’s hidden crypt Stone discovers hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money, and he gnashes his teeth over what to do with all of that cash. But before he can decide, the next storyline comes along.

Going home, Stone finds a dying man in his garage. The dude mutters something about a “Rosalyn” still being alive, and then croaks. Stone meanwhile experiences a lengthy flashback to early 1974. We learn here that Stone, in the final days of the Vietnam War, was in love with an Army nurse named Rosalyn James and that the two planned to get married. (It goes without saying of course that we’ve never heard of her before!) Strangely, Cunningham writes this whole sequence like it’s occuring in 1968 or something, with the war raging in full force, but in reality 1974 was in the waning days, as the US was slowly pulling out its forces. 

Anyway, Rosalyn was a medevac nurse, and one night while Stone was on some in-country mission, she took a last-second job for some other nurse, and her helicopter came under heavy fire. Rosalyn ended up falling out of the ‘copter, which later crashed, everyone onboard burnt to a crisp; Rosalyn was listed as KIA. However she survived her fall, and was found by a Vietnamese soldier who ended up selling her to a sadist who goes by the name “the General;” a powerful Laotian warlord who rules a clifftop fortress on the China-Laos border.

Stone only eventually pieces this together. Using his girlfriend Carol’s government resources he discovers that the dead man in his garage was a CIA agent who worked the Southeast Asia field. Also, given that Stone has only ever known one “Rosalyn,” he quickly deduces that she must be the woman the dying man said was still alive! From this leap of logic Stone, who discovers the charges against him have been thrown out of court, jumps right back into MIA Hunter mode; now he just has to track down Hog and Loughlin, who he discovers have taken a job in El Salvador.

This is the next storyline – Cunningham here delivers a sequence reminiscent of a war novel, as Stone ventures down to South America and hooks up with his two pals, who have been training government soldiers to fight against the insurrectionists. This bit is a little plodding and really has nothing to do with anything, but it does lead up to a climax in which Stone, in pure ‘80s action hero mode, hops on a dirt bike and fires LAW rockets while driving it. And judging from the series cover paintings, Stone even wears an ‘80s-mandatory headband, so the picture is complete.

Finally we get to the last storyline, which happens to be the one promised on the back cover. Stone and pals head for Thailand, where they learn more about the General’s fortress. It’s on a 500-foot cliff which can only be scaled by “bucket elevators,” and it’s guarded by a few hundred elite guards. Also, the General makes his money through the poppy fields beneath his fortress, from which he produces heroin. After a lot of worry over how few supplies they can carry, they find an American merc who flies a helicopter that can fly them and all their gear the few hundred miles to the China-Laos border.

Cunningham occasionally cuts over to Rosalyn’s viewpoint, so we can see how her life has gone over the past thirteen years. She runs a clinic in the fortress, where she lives in a “gilded cage” of three opulent rooms. The General has treated her kindly, except for the time she discovered he was a heroin manufacturer; the General escorted her down to the dungeon for a view of his torture chamber, and Rosalyn complained no more. However the General only occasionally “visits” her now, and Rosalyn has taken a lover, a young soldier named Lu Fang who is part of a group that plans to overthrow the General.

Weaving the various plots together in a taut finale, Cunningham delivers an ongoing action scene in which Stone and companions raid the fortress shortly after the doomed rebellion. He even stays true to the pulpy tone with Rosalyn hooked up to the rack in the General’s dungeon and Stone coming to her rescue in the nick of time. The fight with the General plays more on the villain’s weasely nature, so there’s none of the superhuman figtihng of say #4: Mountain Massacre, however Cunningham does drop the ball here because toward the beginning we’re informed that the General likes to dress in ancient Chinese armor and carry around ancient weapons, but our author apparently forgets all of that when the General finally appears.

The MIA Hunter series has never had much continuity, but I’m hoping this installment has repercussions on later volumes. For after a memorable final confrontation with the General in his torture chamber, Stone and Rosalyn (who survives, much to my surprise) spend some quality time together, and the next day escape the fortress. Here though they are attacked by ground forces – only to be saved by the last-second appearance of a Huey helicopter, with Carol Jenner manning a machine gun and blowing everyone away. At first I thought she was going to turn out to be some deep-cover operative, but Cunningham instead has it that Stone’s girlfriend used her smarts to figure out where Stone would be, and hired a helicopter to come rescue him and etc.

Anyway, Stone: MIA Hunter ends with Mark stone in the center of a veritable love triangle, choppering out of Laos with his one-time fiance, having been saved by his current girlfriend. Cunningham doesn’t provide a clue which way it might go, though he does seem to indicate that Stone decides Rosayln is the one for him. I’d love to say we’ll find out in the next volume, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Satan Trap (aka Nick Carter: Killmaster #131)

The Satan Trap, by Nick Carter
No month stated, 1979  Charter Books

This installment of the Nick Carter: Killmaster series promises quite a lot – I mean the back cover blurb makes it sound like a bast of pure Satanic sleaze, which is my favorite kind of sleaze. And while The Satan Trap does occasionally veer in this direction, it is for the most part a bland sort of spy caper that goes in too many directions. That being said, in this volume Nick Carter poses as a demon, so at least it has that going for it.

Apparently written by Jack Canon (the same name, with one less "n," that Nelson DeMille would use for his Ryker reprints in the late ‘80s), this volume comes in at a too-long 223 pages of smallish print. Canon went on to write for the series on into its final stages a decade later, so I guess he eventually found his footing. His storytelling skills are pretty good, and he gives narrator Carter a few deadpan, hardboiled lines, but I just felt there was too much going on. If he’d stuck with the plot promised on the back cover, about a Satanist using his loyal women to blackmail political bigwigs, he would’ve had a much stronger (and more fun) novel.

After a disastrous mission in South America in the opening pages, in which Carter has to hide out while his comrades are torn apart, our narrator heads to Switzerland to meet with his boss, Hawk. From here Carter is briefed on the strange activities of the Draco cult, which is based outside of Monaco. A KGB agent was working undercover there before being found out, and now he wants to talk to Carter, whom he’s met with in the past. After a very James Bondish ski chase in the snow-swept forests, Carter learns from the dying agent that Draco is not only blackmailing influential people, but he’s apparently involved in something heavier.

The KGB man was about to bring in someone to help him: an occultist who works as a spy on the side, named Serena. (Definitely a Bewitched tribute, as later Canon even references an “Aunt Clara.”) Serena doesn’t know that her handler’s been made, and Carter doesn’t know what she looks like, but his job is to meet up with her in the predesignated location of London and go with her to Monaco. Here Canon proceeds to further muddy up what could otherwise be a lean, sleazy tale with the introduction of Komand, another dude from Carter’s past, who we learn via backstory once sold Carter out early in the Killmaster’s career.

Komand, who only works for the highest bidder and has no allegiances, is himself trying to get into Draco’s Monaco temple, called Pastoria. He has his own Serena, in an effort to hoodwink Carter, but our narrator quickly deduces this and heads off with the real one, who as expected is very attractive and lithely built. The two have a sparky relationship, constantly trading barbs, and Carter’s frustrated that he’s been hooked up with such an inexperienced agent.

Canon still denies us the sleazy stuff, with Serena instantly heading off for Pastoria – she’s been brought in by Draco to summon a demon or something – while Carter goes to nearby Monaco to get to the bottom of this blackmailing scheme. More characters are doled out. Most importantly there’s Gilda Morrow, a crone who was once a Theda Bara-style actress in the silent age; she is perhaps the most famous member of Draco’s cult, living in decadent splendor in Monaco and hosting various bigwigs who come down to check out the cult. One of her latest acquisitions is yet another actress, this one a young and uber-sexy Brigitte Bardot/Sophia Loren-type named Paulina Mendici.

Carter has further been informed that someone down here is also in intelligence; it’s not long before he learns it’s Paulina, who works for Interpol on the side. He learns this shortly before the expected sex scene; spotting each other in Monaco’s plush casinos, Carter and Paulina trade lascivious looks and flirt until it leads to the series-mandatory outcome. Canon goes more for the purple prose in the ensuing sex scene (the book definitely isn’t as explicit as the previous one I read, Target: Doomsday Island), with lots of talk of “cresting passion” and the like. We do learn though that Paulina has the greatest body Carter has ever seen, so given that the dude’s been with like a few hundred ladies by this point, she must certainly be something.

There’s a cool part where Carter joins a party hosted by Gilda Morrow at her estate, and here we see a bit of the Draco cult in action, though the man himself doesn’t appear. Instead the ceremony is hosted by LaFarge, Draco’s second-hand man, and from what Carter’s intel tells him apparently the one pulling the strings. Carter quickly notices how familiar the man seems – there follows this goofy bit where we learn that not only was LaFarge the guy who played Dracula in one of Gilda’s old films, but he’s also a gunrunner…and he was the leader of the sadistic terrorists in that opening section in South America! Talk about plot contrivances!

Anyway after getting randy from the (nondescribed) cult sex onstage, the audience is welcomed to make use of private rooms. Carter and Paulina head for one, but the Killmaster makes the poor girl moan and fake it in the dark room as he goes off into the tunnels hidden beyond. Here we learn that the rooms are monitored via infrared camera, recorded onto film for later blackmailing purposes. This apparently isn’t enough plot for Canon, though, as Carter also learns that LaFarge is trying to get into some heavy weapons selling, probably to foster a worldwide revolution or some shit.

Serena meanwhile poses as an exorcist for Draco, and Carter manages to score with her as well, Serena throwing herself at Carter during a clandestine meeting in a former brothel outside Nice. It had to be hard to write these books in first-person, because Canon has to let us know that Serena is acting suspicious here, yet due to the demands of the plot Carter comes off like an idiot because he doesn’t notice. Ie, Serena not only insists they have sex, but Carter is “pretty certain” that she keeps checking her watch throughout. And yet when Carter later goes out to his car and discovers it’s wired to blow, Serena is not the first person he suspects! 

Draco doesn’t even appear until the end, despite being the sole villain listed on the back cover. He’s a raving lunatic, expecting Serena to summon a demon (which he names “Nickrobus!”) from the pits of hell, so Draco can challenge it and thus claim dominance over it and hell itself. Carter ends up posing as the demon; using Scooby-Doo trickery and smoke bombs he appears in a mask and costume, taunting Draco. This leads into the finale, in which Carter deduces that the “Untouchable Monks” who patrol Pastoria are really soldiers, and that Komand is trying to take over LaFarge’s gunrunning scheme. Oh, and Komand has someone working for him undercover, but you’ll have long figured out who it is.

The Satan Trap is just underwhelming for the most part, despite the promise of Satanism and sleaze. The Draco cult is woefully unexplored and more focus is placed on the shady world of espionage, with Carter often reflecting back on people he’s worked with and how untrustworthy they are. There is however a nice touch in a minor character, named Andre, who supplies Carter with guns and intel. Andre is able to go into a trance mode and relay information, as if he’s a different person, which makes me wonder if Canon had read Walter Bowart’s recently-published book Operation Mind Control, which was all about how MK-Ultra was used to make real-life spies just like this.

I wasn’t blown away by this particular installment, but I still have a few more volumes of Nick Carter: Killmaster to check out. Hopefully they’ll be more entertaining.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slaves Of The Empire #3: Brotan The Breeder

Slaves Of The Empire #3: Brotan The Breeder, by Dael Forest
August, 1978  Ballantine Books

Stephen Frances (aka “Dael Forest”) delivers another melodrama set during the Roman Empire, once again picking up immediately after the previous volume. It seems more and more that the Slaves Of The Empire series is really just one very long book split into five separate volumes. No attempt is made by Frances (or the publisher) to catch the reader up on anything, so if you’ve forgotten minor characters or situations, you’re out of luck. 

However, one stumbling block for Brotan The Breeder is that, while it starts off where Haesel The Slave ended, with Hadrian and the now-vanquished-by-love Haesel waking up together after a night of (non-detailed) good lovin’, the narrative soon jumps over to the new-to-the-series character Brotan, a freedman who runs a “farm” outside of Rome. This material goes on for about 60 pages, as we learn all about Brotan’s Farm. Frances pulls out all the stops here, showing how very different the ancient world was from our own. 

Brotan’s business scheme is to buy leases on slaves who are knocked up – slaves forbidden to get pregnant, of course – and to trundle the women off to his farm, where they will work the land in various degrees of difficulty in accordance with their stage of pregnancy. Brotan leases the women for three years, and to get more bang for his buck, so to speak, he tries to get each of the women pregnant again, as many times as possible, using the “randy guards” who patrol the farm! Brotan then sells off these infant slaves, taking them from their mothers immediately after birth.

We see how the farm works through the eyes of Fabia, a minor character who only appeared long enough in the previous volume to lose her virginity to Strabo (muscle-bound pleasure slave of the depraved Poppea). But Strabo also succeeded in getting Fabia pregnant, and now she’s shipped off to Brotan’s Farm. Along the way she is taken advantage of by one of the freedman guards, though this dude’s gentle and Fabia falls in love with him…not that Frances really follows up this subplot. Instead more time is devoted to Malen, the doctor who oversees the pregnant women on the farm, and there follows a long sequence as we watch him on a normal day’s work.

Finally we get back to the main storyline(s) of the series. Brotan decides to venture into Rome for the first time in decades, carting in a new shipment of slaves, which he sells to his colleague Brotan, last seen in the first volume. Brotan has an auction, and Saelig shows up – Brotan uncomfortable around the now-wealthy Briton who was once himself a slave on Brotan’s auction block. Saelig buys all of the women; there is a touching scene where one of the slave-girls, “comely” but for one leg shorter than the other, only succeeds in generating a thirty-sesterce bid, and that’s after scant bidding, and Saelig offers a hundred for her.

Saelig has been busy building a villa in a large swath of land he’s bought, inland from resort destination Baiae. Here he treats the slave-girls like friends and lovers, trying his hardest to drum out their servile attitudes and make them call him by his name. Areta, Hadrian’s wife and Saelig’s former lover, visits him from nearby Baiae, which she’s decided to make her permanent home. Now much more cool-headed, Areta has sworn off the haughy bitchiness expected of the typical Roman highborn woman, but nonetheless is shocked over how casually Saelig treats these women; he’s even managed to get one of them pregnant.

Areta is further shocked over Hadrian’s blasé announcement that he’s in love with Haesel and intends to treat her as his equal. Areta isn’t upset because Hadrian’s her husband, as they no longer live together and Areta herself has picked up a new lover, some dude named Sark; she’s upset because treating a slave equally will make Hadrian look like a fool. But Areta is such a changed character that eventually she dismisses even this, content that Hadrian is happy.

Since Areta has dropped the mantle as the series harlot, Poppea takes it over. Oft mentioned since the first volume but unseen until now, Poppea turns out not to be the Empress of Desire or even Poppea the Elder; Frances has a habit of just using various names from Roman history, this being another instance. Poppea is though a whip-wielding, slave-beating hussy, and when her wealthy husband realizes she’s making a fool of herself, debasing herself in her lust for studly slave Strabo, he arranges for dumb-as-an-ox Strabo to be kidnapped onto some merchant vessel and conveniently taken from Rome for several months.

Another ongoing plot concerns tomboy Melanos, who is about to give birth to the child she conceived with the now-dead Plautus. Meanwhile she still entertains herself by taunting Alexander, the wealthy fop who continues to lust for her. As we’ll recall, Melanos now owns Mertice (ie the sister of Haesel, Saelig, and the other Britons of the first volume), having bought her from Alexander, who barely registered the girl, despite her obvious obsession for him.

Melanos, playing a game, dresses Mertice up like a highborn lady and invites Alexander over for dinner, with Alexander immediately pining for this girl he’s certain he’s seen before. But Mertice, following Melanos’s orders, leaves Alexander in the lurch, and Melanos digs the knife deeper by revealing to Alexander that he’s been lusting over a slave. It all ends with Alexander swearing vengeance and Mertice crying due to her continued love for the fop.

As usual there’s a bit of sex here and there, particularly when it comes to detailing how casually it was treated in the ancient world, but it’s relayed in the same antiseptic style as previous such scenes. More focus is placed this time out on the travails of the pregnant women in Brotan’s Farm and the ongoing melodramatic storylines. And speaking of Brotan, he continues with this volume’s continued theme of men debasing themselves (willingly or not) for slave-girls.

In a very strange storyline, Brotan happens upon Vanus, an attractive Roman woman. Brotan, fat and lecherous despite (actually due to) his wealth, immediately latches upon the woman, not just due to her beauty but because she treats him like shit. Brotan, having ruled his farm for the past twenty-odd years, is so used to being obeyed by slaves that it takes him for a loop that here, finally, is a woman who tells him where to go.

So what does Brotan do? He turns himself into a slave, following Vanus around and doing everything for her; things get pretty lurid when he makes himself her bed-slave, not there to have sex with her, but to lick her feet after she’s had sex with other men (and women)! In fact Brotan is so thoroughly taken with Vanus that he signs out of his contract on the farm, turning it over to doctor Malen, and decides to stay here in Rome as Vanus’s slave. It’s all very strange.

Once again Frances turns in a short book, about 160 pages, that still seems to be longer, due to the small print and thick chunks of text. As with previous installments, more focus is sometimes placed on telling than showing, and as stated there’s still a distant vibe to the book, same as the ones that came before, of an author who wants to write Roman trash but doesn’t want to get his toga dirty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Savage Women

The Savage Women, by Mike Curtis
No month stated, 1976  Leisure Books

Taking the battle of the sexes to extreme proportions, this obscure Leisure paperback original is almost a masterful work of lurid sleaze, but not quite. While it’s definitely sick and sleazy, filled with graphic and sadistic detail, it comes off as a little plodding due to its repetitive nature.

It’s a super-hot August in New York City, and as the novel opens a group of construction workers are checking out an insanely gorgeous woman who waltzes by them, wearing practically nothing. She stops to let them check her out further, then propositions one of them. The guy, not believing his luck, follows her to a fleabag motel near 42nd Street. There the woman strips, but suddenly refuses to let the guy touch her. When he gets insistent, she beats the shit out of him with incredible karate skills…and then takes out a knife and hacks off his dick!

This crazy opening scene is just a preview of an equally-crazy book – plus the author informs us that the girl, so excited by her kill, brings herself to a quick climax with the “blunt side” of the knife! Another murder soon follows, with an equally-gorgeous blonde waltzing into a singles bar and letting a guy pick her up. She goes back to his place (which is total ‘70s Bachelor Pad, with quad stereo and varicolored lighting), strips for him, and suddenly tells him she’s into S&M. He lets her tie him up on his waterbed, and then she takes out a knife and slashes up the bed, nearly drowning him. Ensuring he’s still conscious to witness the horrific act, she then hacks off his dick.

Yes, my friends, beautiful women are using “sex to lure men to their death.” The blunt cover blurb sums up the entire novel, but it’s a bit misleading about the “sex” part. It occurred to me toward the end of The Savage Women that there hadn’t been a single sex scene in the entire novel! Instead Mike Curtis concentrates on the sadism, with various gorgeous women disrobing for their hapless victims and then beating the shit out of them before castrating them. Finally they carve “MCP” on the chests of their victims, for “Male Chauvinist Pig.”

After this opening brutality we meet our hero, Detective Mike Bass, a hulking muscle-bound Manhattan cop who makes Dirty Harry look like Columbo. In other words, he’s just like Ryker. In fact I couldn’t understand why Leisure didn’t just make this book another installment of the Ryker series, as Bass is practically Joe Ryker in all but name. Hell, even the editorial goofs, as are typical in the Ryker books where Ryker is accidentally referred to as “Blaze,” are repeated here, with Bass sometimes referred to as “Base.” 

But still, The Savage Women easily could have been Ryker #9, even following the Bizarro World Ryker backstory Edson T. Hamill created in Motive For Murder, with the background detail that Bass is a widow, his wife killed by crooks. My assumption is this novel really was an original work by an original author, or perhaps Leisure was trying to get away from series novels at this time – one can’t help but note how all of the Leisure men’s adventure series ended by 1976.

The few action scenes in The Savage Women occur in the opening, where we are introduced to Bass’s hilariously-aggressive police tactics. Posing as a bum in a subway station, in the hopes that someone will try to mug him, Bass ends up solo when his partner, Detective Joe Rexford, responds to a call; Rexford had been acting as Bass’s undercover assistant. No big deal, though, because when the expected thugs show up, Bass easily beats the shit out of all three of them, even tossing one of them down onto the tracks, where he’s fried on the third rail.

Bass is per tradition constantly hounded by his “stupid chief,” Captain Lou Hudson, but moreso because the captain is exasperated with Bass’s violent nature and how much it costs the city. Bass is moreso hounded by Winston Wells, a Geraldo Rivera-type reporter who constantly accosts Bass over his police brutality. In reality though Wells practically serves as Bass’s punching bag, constantly getting beaten up and tossed around by the irascible cop. Even Rexford, Bass’s younger partner, sometimes thinks Bass goes too far.

I’m making the novel sound more introspective (and intelligent) than it really is. One thing that can be said is that Curtis clearly isn’t taking anything seriously, which adds to the fun. However you sort of wish he’d put maybe a little more thought into it. Instead the novel is just one sadistic scene after another, with various girls picking up guys and taking them back to some slum where they can castrate them, with Bass trying to crack the case.

But Curtis even gets his own details wrong, in particular the women who make up the villains. We learn there are seven of them, each gorgeous and phenomenally-built, each with their own reason for hating men. They have banded together as the “WGM,” ie the Women’s Guerrilla Movement…but strangely their leader is a man. And what a man he is! Named Rodolfo Liston, he’s a tall, muscle-bound gay albino who prances around in a skintight leather outfit, a .44 Magnum dangling from his hip.

Who exactly Rodolfo is, where he came from, and how he got these women to listen to him are all things Curtis leaves unexplained. Instead the WGM regularly meets in Rodolfo’s secret hideout near the Hudson, where the women lounge about in various states of undress and excitedly gossip about their latest kills. Rodolfo will then have them draw lots to see who is the lucky winner who gets to make the next kill. Then Rodolfo will take one or two of the women into his private room in back for a blowjob while the other gals go about pleasuring each other!

And yet while all of this sounds like goddamn perfect sleaze, it all sort of gets monotonous, because Curtis keeps writing the same thing over and over: we’ll meet some dude while he’s going about his life, he’ll spot this super-hot gal who unbelievably enough makes advances on him, he’ll follow the girl back to some slummy apartment she happens to know of, and after he gets the shit beaten out of him the guy, half-dead, will witness his own castration before dying.

Curtis does slightly open up the narrative with the introduction of the Rapists’ Vengeance League, an offshoot of the WGM formed by Nancy, the most lethal of the group. The RVL’s goal is revenge upon the men who raped them, and this is carried out in several more arbitrary but graphically violent sequences. Soon they too begin passing out communiques, and create the same effect as the WGM upon the female population of New York; Curtis presents a city on the verge of outright sexual warfare, with hassled women and mistreated wives being inspired by the WGM and sadistically killing their male oppressors.

It’s interesting that throughout the novel the women are the aggressors. While most of the men the WGM murder are perhaps shady, or at the very least immoral, they aren’t deserving of such horrible fates. In fact one dude even gets second thoughts when walking away with a hot WGM lady who has picked him up, and tries to leave, but the lady bolts the door and murders him anyway. With the RVL murders of course it’s different, as they purposely track down rapists who have gone free again and again due to lazy, disinterested cops. Thus the RVL have an actual positive (if violent) impact on society, getting rid of serial rapists. It’s also interesting that Rodolfo, when he discovers some of his women have created the RVL without his permission, throws a hissy fit.

What doesn’t help matters is the lazy plotting. The hapless cops are unable to find out who the WGM are, and thus stand around and wait for the latest castrated corpse to show up. But then halfway through the novel Curtis suddenly informs us that Bass is friends with a “dyke” named Sydney who is into all of this feminist stuff. He goes to visit her, and sure enough he finds that she’s had interractions with the WGM, though she’s afraid to tell him much more.

About all the “detection” Bass does is go around various Manhattan martial arts schools to ask if any of the instructors have had a beautiful woman in their class, one who has advanced to a high level, given the apparent kung-fu mastery of at least one of the WGM attackers. This leads to several humorous confrontations with Kim Chung, a “malevolent little Oriental” who runs a Midtown karate dojo and who clearly doesn’t like cops. But the laziness extends here as well, with Kim Chung “perhaps knowing” of the girl Bass seeks, but not offering much more than that.

The sudden appearance of the RVL provides more chance to break the case, as once again Bass just happens to know a person who might help – he’s friends with a heavyset restaurant owner whose sexy sister Bass once saved from drugs and prostitution. This is Marcia, and Curtis delivers the laziest “romantic subplot” I’ve ever read in a novel, with the girl unmentioned until like page 100, and then suddenly Bass is asking himself if he truly loves her and etc. Not that this stops Bass from using her as bait, hooking her up with friends of Sydney’s who might be members of the RVL.

Marcia also provides the novel’s only sex scene, throwing herself at Bass due to her undying love for him (and remember she hasn’t even been mentioned until over a hundred pages in), delivering the romantic line, “Let me do you.” This leads to an explicity-detailed blowjob, after which Bass tells her to hurry up and get going, as she has to get to that RVL meeting downtown! Curtis writes the book as if he’s trying to hit every cliché he can, so it goes without saying that Marcia is soon discovered (comically enough, while trying to make a phone call to the precinct from the phone in Rodolfo’s back room…while the WGM are meeting like a few feet away!). I mean, do I even have to mention what happens to Bass’s partner?

It all leads up to a finale in which Bass is given carte blanche by Captain Hudson, who basically tells him to do whatever is necessary to stop the women. Bass leads a squad of cops in an assault on Rodolfo’s tenement building near the Hudson, but the sequence is pretty anticlimactic. For here we learn that Bass, that hulking rule-breaker of a tough cop, “won’t shoot a woman,” and thus tries his best not to kill any of these crazed women who have been castrating and murdering men all over New York. In other words, there is no scene in which Bass – or any of the other cops – engages any of the women in single combat; he and his comrades take cover out on the street and exchange fire with Rodolfo and his women, up on the top floor of the building.

In fact, Curtis really blows the finale. He doesn’t even bother detailing what happens to the few WGM members he’s cast a spotlight on, such as Nancy the kung-fu master, Maggie the waterbed slasher, Judy the karate expert, and etc. Indeed Curtis even confuses his female characters throughout, not to mention their specialities and skills – it seems like each of them at one point or another is a martial arts expert. At any rate while the women are shooting at the cops Rodolfo beats a hasty retreat, which leads to a one-on-one confrontation between him and Bass right off of the Hudson.

No surprises on how it ends, though Marcia does survive, telling Bass she wants to marry him, which surprised me. I figured that would be the last cliché in Curtis’s book, the death of the hero’s girlfriend. As for the fate of the WGM, we’re only informed that “a few” of them died in the assault, and the rest are going to jail! What about the sexual revolution they were about to sow? What about the other women around New York who were inspired to acts of violence by the WGM? None of it is mentioned, as if by stopping the WGM the cops have saved the city.

The Savage Women is written in a very rough style. I don’t mean the grammar or syntax or anything, as for all that it’s written well enough. I mean instead the words and descriptions. Women’s breasts are always referred to as “tits,” even in scenes from the perspectives of the women themselves. Also, the women of the WGM are almost always referred to as “cunts,” particularly in the few scenes from Rodolfo’s perspective. The tone of the book is just rougher than even any of the other Leisure novels I’ve yet read, which is really saying something.

I’m pretty sure “Mike Curtis” was a house name, but it definitely was at least a pseudonym; one other Leisure novel, the lurid cop thriller Midtown North, was published in 1976 under the name, and according to this site the author of that book was a guy named Myer Kutz. However I don’t see any acknowledgement from him for The Savage Women, so I guess it was by someone else…or maybe Kutz just doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

An Interview With Robert Lory

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the John Eagle Expeditor series? It’s probably my favorite series of all, just a perfect mix of escapist entertainment, adventure fiction, and the lurid elements ‘70s pulp demanded.

The series was written by three authors: Manning Lee Stokes, Robert Lory, and Paul Eiden. Stokes passed away in 1976, and Paul Eiden is practically a cipher; the only thing I can find out about him is that he apparently began publishing under various pseudonyms in the very early ‘60s (ie the pulpy WWII novel Bloody Beaches, published by Monarch Books in 1961 under the awesome pseudonym “Delano Stagg”).

Robert Lory though has had a prolific career in fiction, from the fan-favorite Dracula series he did for Pinnacle to a handful of science fiction paperbacks under his own name. I came across an interview Sidney Williams did with Robert Lory in 2011 on his blog Sid Is Alive, and I want to thank Sidney for putting me in touch with him.

Fortunately, Mr. Lory was willing to answer my geekish questions about John Eagle Expeditor. Here is the interview, as well as details about a new book he has just published. And finally, I’d like to express my thanks to Mr. Lory for taking part in the interview!

How did you become involved with the John Eagle Expeditor series?

Lyle Engel called, saying he'd read one of my Shamryke Odell science fiction books, liked what he saw, and asked if I was interested in doing two John Eagle books. He said he had a writer for the first two books -- which at that point consisted of a mostly-complete manuscript and a rough outline -- but the publisher wanted to get the third and fourth books out as soon as possible. I said yes, and my association with the series -- and with Lyle -- began.

A side note: When I got the materials for the first two books, Eagle wasn't an Expeditor. The series was to be John Eagle, Survival Ranger (or something very close to that). "Expeditor" was my first -- and immediate -- contribution to the series before I'd written a word.

How did Lyle Kenyon Engel's Book Creations company work? Did Engel edit or oversee each of his series publications himself, or did he have a staff of editors?

I'm not sure about Lyle's involvement after a series got underway. His son George did some editing, and I think his wife Marla did also. At various times, other editors were on the BCI payroll, but I have no idea as to how many were working there at any given time.

Was there an Expeditor series template you were asked to follow, or some sort of source document on all of John Eagle’s various gadgets and equipment?

No template per se. Obviously, we all worked the same back story and continuing characters, and Lyle made sure I knew what the other writer(s) were working on in general terms of plot, location, etc. For the most part, this worked well, although there were a few slips. There was no source document or list of gadgets, just basing on previous books and introducing something new if the spirit called.

How much freedom were you given with your volumes of the series? Did you come up with your own plots/concepts, or did Engel or someone else at BCI come up with a plot germ and ask you to deliver a manuscript that followed up on it?

I felt I had close to total freedom. The plots, villains, geographies all were mine.

What are some of your memories of the Expeditor volumes you wrote? Do you have any particular favorites, or ones you wish had come out differently?

The timing of the first book I did [The Laughing Death] couldn't have been luckier. Right after I signed the contract, my daytime job took me to Hong Kong, Singapore and the jungles of central Sumatra. The Laughing Death's first chapters are accurate reflections of both notes and photographs taken.  The Fist Of Fatima's Libyan geography was made easy from my having spent two years living there.

Of my books in the series, I guess my favorite was The Holocaust Auction, which I remember mainly for a happily drunken ex-RAF DC-3 pilot.

I read an interview with you from a few years ago* where you mentioned that another of the Expeditor series authors once complained that your version of John Eagle was "too sexually active for someone who had a steady girlfriend." Do you remember which of the authors this was, Manning Lee Stokes or Paul Eiden? I'm especially curious, because both of those authors featured a John Eagle who was sexually active on his missions, despite his girlfriend back home!

At the time, I had no idea who else was involved in the series. Actually, I thought there was just one other writer. As to the complaint, it seems to me now to have centered on the fact that my plots didn't have much use for the lady. Except for maybe a quick nod to her existence, I pretty much ignored her. I viewed her as an unnecessary distraction to Eagle -- and myself.

Did you have any other involvement with Stokes or Eiden? Did you ever read their contributions to the series?

No involvement. I did read their books, yes, to make sure I didn't change any history.

How much notice did you receive before the series was cancelled? Curious if you have any unpublished Expeditor manuscripts sitting in a closet...!

No prior notice at all. And, no, there are no unpublished manuscripts -- or even notes -- gathering dust at the homestead.

Did you have any ideas in mind for installments you didn't get to write?

No. At the time my Eagle days ended, my ideas were focused on another BCI series featuring a well-known Transylvanian count.

*The interview in question appeared in Justin Marriott's first issue of Men Of Violence, from 2009. In the John Eagle Expeditor series overview, Justin included a “Bob Lory on the Eagle books” sidebar, where he quoted Lory as stating:

“One of the other John Eagle writers was abusively irate that “my” Eagle was too sexually active for someone who had a steady girlfriend. The conversation was short, cut off when I said that, if I heard from him again, the next John Eagle book would have him seeking out the young woman’s rapist/maimer/killer. The series ended before I decided whether I’d do it anyway.”

As mentioned above, Robert Lory has recently e-published a brand-new novel, available now on Amazon. It’s titled Ragnarok, and here’s his summary of it:

This book took more than 45 years from start to completion. The writing began in Tripoli, Libya—a few weeks before the 1969 Ghadafi revolution. It was put aside for more urgent matters then, as was its fate in the years that have followed. There were always new projects that screamed louder for my attention. But when the dusty pages turned up in our latest move, I decided Ragnarok's time had come—for two reasons that I viewed as positive omens. 

First, 1960s Madison Avenue has seen several successful seasons on the home screen. 

Second, Thor and Loki have made excellent tracks on the wider cinema screen, although I have to admit that any resemblance between the Marvel characters and the ones you'll meet here is limited to their names only.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Richard Blade #3: Jewel Of Tharn

Richard Blade #3: Jewel Of Tharn, by Jeffrey Lord
August, 1973  Pinnacle Books
(Original publication 1969)

I’ve read one volume of the Richard Blade series a year, which seems about right; I figure you could easily achieve burnout if you read these books back-to-back, given their overly repetitive nature. But if you take a break, the formula seems a little more fresh, and sometimes, as in the case with this third volume, you can be pleasantly surprised, as Manning Lee Stokes delivers the best volume yet with Jewel Of Tharn

This particular installment is pretty involved; it takes all of the plotting and counterplotting of the previous two volumes and triples it. Not only that, but the world Richard Blade ventures to is pretty complicated, and Stokes again tosses us in so we’re just as befuddled as Blade himself. Before we get there, though, we must have the mandatory opening sequence in which Richard Blade, in 1970 London, is breaking up with his girlfriend – thankfully then there’ll be no more of the “domesticated Blade” I feared might become a reality in the previous volume. From there Blade happily reports to superiors J and Lord Deighton, strapping into their dimension-hopping computer gizmo and looking forward to getting away from his life.

He finds himself in Tharn, which we learn at great length is controlled by Amazon women, aka THEY (in all caps throughout, which is annoying). Meanwhile Blade, whose awesome masculinity is thoroughly mentioned and described as per normal, meets up with mutant-like eunuchs who apparently manage Tharnian affairs. The few men here are called Lordsmen, and when Blade finally sees them they are of course less than men, in all regards, especially when compared to godlike Blade himself. After a few adventures Blade hooks up with Honcho, a mid-level eunuch of Tharn, who immediately makes use of this interloper Blade.

Millennia ago there was a war in Urcit, capitol city of Tharn, and all the men were kicked out, save for a few kept in cages for breeding purposes. The city is now composed of regal Amazons, all of them apparently caucasian and with kick-ass bods they like to show off in miniskirts and breastplated bikini tops. They worship phalli, with phallic statues and paintings all over the place, sort of like ancient Rome. Meanwhile the men who were kicked out formed their own empire; they are now called the Pethcines, whom Stokes describes as “Mongoloid.” This is strange, given that Stokes later mentions the Pethcines were descendants of the WASP-ish Tharnian men; Stokes says that over the millennia their genes were “perverted,” which is par for the course in these pre-PC books.

Anyway, one god is worshipped by these people – Mazda, who as expected is prophesized to one day return. And Mazda you won’t be surprised to know is supposedly a studly, well-endowed guy…just like Blade! So Honcho, who like any other eunuch lusts for power, comes up with a plan for Blade to pose as Mazda. First he presents him to King Og and Princess Totha, rulers of the Pethcines; in the now-obligatory sequence that ensues Blade must prove himself against the Pethcines’s greatest fighter. Meanwhile Totha, who actually rules the kingdom, has instant lust for Blade, and after his victory she can’t wait to perform “phallic worship” upon him! A regular nympho, Totha proceeds to screw Blade as often and frequently as she wishes – and she wishes to all of the time.

Interestingly enough, neither Org nor Totha believe in Mazda, and thus know Blade is faking it. This despite the fact that he has freed the Excalibur-type sacred sword which for eons has rested in a rock here in the Pethcine kingdom, with Blade the only man ever able to free it. This angle of leaders not believing in gods while the people do is repeated later when Blade makes his entrance in Urcit as Mazda. Honcho’s scheme is for Blade, posing as Mazda, to storm into Urcit, announce his presence, and destroy the city’s force field so the Pethcines can overtake the city. (This particular novel by the way melds fantasy and sci-fi, with Tharn combining the swords-and-sorcery motif of the former with the computers, force fields, and teleportation devices of the latter.)

Around a hundred pages in Blade gets a glimpse of Urcit. I should mention first though that, despite rampant bangings of Totha, Blade’s still managed to fall in (sort of) love with Zulekia, a “Maiduke” (ie handmaiden) slave-gal who has been condemned to death for having broken the ban on celibacy and had sex with one of the Lordsmen…Blade gets a gander of her jawdropping beauty and body and has her brought up to his place for some fairly explicit sexual shenanigans. In a scene Stokes will repeat in his later novel Valley Of Vultures, Zulekia visits Blade and insinuates strongly that she has a message for him…hidden in a certain part of her anatomy. Blade gets to root it out. Later we learn Zulekia is actually a spy, the message being a cylindrical icon with a message on it for Sutha, her superior.

Anyway, Urcit is a strange place, with half-nude women of stupendous beauty walking around and worshipping dicks, even though there are no men and the women are only allowed to have sex once a year – and they have to fight for it, at that. This is during the festival of Sacer, in which the Lordsmen are trooped into an arena and the women rush down, fight savagely for one of them, and then the victorious women proceed to screw their bounty, right there on the sand, the woman always taking the dominant position as she rides her man! After this the Lordsmen have to fight each other to the death, with the lone victor getting like a year’s subscription to Sports Illustrated or something.

But, having watched all this invisibly due to Honcho’s teleportation device, Blade is zapped into the arena in the flesh and, posing again as Mazda, raises the sacred sword and announces himself. And to really sell the whole “I’m god” image, he has to kill the poor Lordsman victor and hack off his genitals, tossing them into a fire! Blade is now acknowledged as Mazda by the panting Tharnian hordes, who as we’re reminded have never seen a real man before…but continuing with the theme above, Blade is soon informed by chief neuter Sutha that the two ruling Tharnian sisters – Astar the God-Queen and Isma the Ruler Priestess – somehow know Mazda doesn’t exist, and thus know Blade is an imposter.

Sutha, old and wizened, hears out Blade’s tale, of the land he’s from and even of Honcho’s scheme. Since the Tharnian women have accepted Blade as Mazda, now Sutha and the ruling sisters must go fully with it – Blade has to conquer the ruling pair of women in a swordfight and then take them both in front of the watching throngs! So we have another arena scene, where Blade first deduces that Astar is drugged and useless (Sutha having informed Blade the girl was born mentally retarded and is only there for show), and that Isma is really trying to kill him. It should go without saying that both women are phenominally gorgeous and super-stacked.

Stokes pulls out the stops in this sequence, with Blade of course conquering the women (including the memorable image of him dragging Isma along by her hair) and then mounting them. When he enters Astar, she orgasms immediately and dies! Blade chalks this up to some drug-based subterfuge on Isma’s account, as she’s apparently long wanted to rule solo. After more fighting he succeeds in slamming Isma as well, with the poor girl eventually screaming for mercy, acknowledging Blade as her lord after multiple climaxes. Whew! Of all the “man’s conquest” scenes I’ve yet read of Stokes’s, this sequence comes the closest to being the pinnacle – well, this and the “love medicine” bit in The Brain Scavengers.

But then, what’s strange about Stokes is he sets up these bizarre, lurid worlds, but eventually starts to focus on the non-lurid stuff. Rather than more weird and kinky stuff, Stokes now concentrates on the coming Pethcine attack. Scheming with Sutha, Blade has the “magveils” which surround Tharn removed, so there’s no longer a force field to impede the Pethcine army. Knowing he has a few days until they arrive, Blade goes about marshalling the forces, teaching the women how to fight and the eunuchs how to be men, etc, Blade now acknowledged as Mazda in the flesh and co-ruler, alongside Isma, of Tharn. Oh, and he bangs Isma a whole lot, but he’s still sort-of in love with handmaiden Zulekia, whom Honcho’s still using as bait to get Blade to do his bidding.

The climactic battle takes up around forty or so pages, and proves to be the finale of the novel. It’s competently told, but at the same time seems too much like the finales of the previous two novels, with Blade marshalling forces against a larger opponent. There’s lots of hacking and slashing and a merciless Blade using the Lordsmen as “cannon fodder” (when the Lordsmen say they don’t know what cannon fodder is, Blade tells them they’ll soon find out!). Long-simmer tension and suspense is quickly dealt with here in this sequence, which comes off a little anticlimactic. Even the confrontation with Honcho is a dud, with the neuter escaping with Zulekia and Blade storming off in pursuit as Tharn collapses behind them, Sutha having activated the city’s mysterious self-destruct gizmo.

A big part of Jewel Of Tharn’s theme is how Blade makes these people wake up to the stagnant nature of their society and cause change, even if it isn’t for the better. Sutha’s destruction of Tharn is the biggest instance of this, and Blade’s already deciding to recreate the place in his image; another recurring theme of the series in general is that Blade, the longer he’s on some planet, starts to forget he’s from Earth. Oh and meanwhile Honcho’s disposed of himself, and a happy Blade reunites with Zulekia – who informs Blade she’s pregnant with his child! This is the second time in as many volumes that Blade has knocked up a local gal. Zulekia, unlike the previous gal, is however still alive by novel’s end, so there’s perhaps a chance that someday Blade will return to Tharn and meet his child.

But anyway Blade’s pulled back to Earth conveniently enough just as he’s won the war and reunited with Zulekia, and in the quick wrapup in 1970 London he just goes on with his earth life, taking a vacation at J’s behest and already scoring with some girl who will take his mind off of his ex-fiance – you know, the girl Blade broke up with before going to Tharn for a month or so and knocking up some woman there. To say Richard Blade comes off like a blank slate would be an understatement. This series is perhaps the most formulaic of all, and the opening and closing chapters, of Blade in “present day” London, don’t help matters; they make Blade look like some idiot with no short-term memory, like those old Saturday Night Live skits with Tom Hanks.

The other big focus of the series is the “man’s conquest” theme, which Stokes continued in the later John Eagle Expeditor series, with the male protagonist vanquishing all challengers, particularly women, with his macho mystique. While it would of course be easy to poke fun at the theme, I have to admit it’s kind of refreshing in today’s world, where at least here in the US male characters are increasingly emasculated and neutered in popular entertainment, with female characters taking the roles the men would’ve previously held. For example, the now-obligatory “tough chick” character has far exceeded the realm of cliché, with practically every action movie or TV show featuring a woman who outshoots, outfights, and is of course smarter than all of the male characters. (But then this cliché, at least so far as the combat part goes, doesn’t seem to hold much weight in the real world; check out this article on female Marines.)

I didn’t intend to go off on this topic, but still, it’s there. Could one say the Richard Blade series is a balm against male emasculation? Probably not, but I’d rather read stories featuring overly-confident characters like Richard Blade than today’s typical male protagonist: the 90-pound weakling with just the right amount of scruffle on his face who wants to talk about “feelings” and goes around with one of those baby carriers strapped across his chest.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Mind Brothers

The Mind Brothers, by Peter Heath
No month stated, 1967  Lancer Books

A strange product of the Swinging Sixties Spy genre, The Mind Brothers was the start of a three-volume series, churned out by Peter Heath* between 1967 and 1968. What sets this particular series apart is that it veers into science fiction, with a superhuman from fifty thousand years in the future(!) who travels back in time to the 1960s to help fight Communism!

Jason Starr is our hero, a young computer programmer who worked for the RAND coproration before being contracted by the Air Force to work on a psyops warfare project in Vietnam. This kind of cred would normally make for a villain, but Jason’s a good guy who just wants to end the war. Experiments on lab rats prove that his psyops work, as the rats run in fear whenever the gear is turned on. So the equipment is hooked up to the bottom of a military aircraft and Jason rides along to oversee a field test.

Instead the plane’s shot out of the sky, ambushed by a Chinese patrol which apparently was lying in wait, as if the Chinese knew the plane would be coming by. Jason Starr dies in the ensuing crash, but here begins the sci-fi angle. A portal appears in the air and pulls his corpse into the far-flung future, where it is cloned and reconstituted. Jason is sent back to the ‘60s, where his unharmed but unconscious body is discovered by the puzzled crash investigators. He wakes up in the Navy hospital in Pearl Harbor, with no memory of having died nor of having visited the future.

Jason learns he’s been framed; researchers discovered that the equipment on the undercarriage of the downed plane was useless junk, with no affect on anything. Now Jason is discredited, with the implication that he swindled the government. He’s returned to civilian life, but many doors are now closed to him. Then one night he’s visited by a strange figure who looks much like Jason himself, only with no hair and sort of superhuman features – this is Adam Cyber, from 50,000 years in the future, the last surviving human, and the man who saved, rebuilt, and cloned Jason.

In a weird flash-forward we see that computers became so powerful that eventually humans turned the entire Earth over to them, leaving the planet to colonize other worlds. Adam Cyber chose to stay behind, and was dissolved into a sort of fluid state (exactly like the protagonist of Another End) for several thousand years; when reconstituted into human form, he discovered that the computers had recreated the planet down to the smallest microbe. Even the grass was robotic. A crying Adam Cyber realized mankind had taken a wrong path, and decided to go back in time to prevent this future.

Through some reasoning that Heath doesn’t really explain, Adam decided upon the late 1960s, and as a host Jason Starr, claiming Jason was a scientific genius on par with the greats. Since he’d need a body of the era to travel back in time to inhabit, Adam transported Jason’s body forward in the future so as to recreate a copy for himself. Or something! Now Adam Cyber (his last name chosen from a book on cybernetics, and the “Adam” of course for being the first man of that future world) is Jason Starr’s “Mind Brother,” here in the late 20th Century to ensure hummanity doesn’t make the mistakes that caused his world to become a reality. 

As if all this wasn’t enough, Jason also discovers he was set up – the Chinese patrol that ambushed him in ‘Nam no doubt stole away his psyops equipment, replacing it with junk, but was also tipped off by someone where the plane would be in the first place. It’s payback time! Jason and Adam sneak into CIA headquarters in Virginia and Adam puts a bug in the CIA’s main computer (one of the old, wall-spanning types), blackmailing the CIA into helping them; Jason and Adam will repair the computer if the Agency will give them its support in finding the culprits behind the psyops theft. This leads them to Bombay, India, but not before Jason picks up a pretty gal named Maria and takes her back to his hotel for a little vaguely-described sex.

While sitting on the tarmac in an Arabian country during a layover, Jason spots some dude plant a bomb on his plane. Yet for unstated reasons he waits until the plane is in midair to inform the captain there’s a bomb stowed somewhere aboard. An incredibly unbelievable sequence follows in which Jason and the pilots unscrew the floor panelling, get into the luggage compartment, and find the bomb with minutes to spare, Jason having deduced that the bomb would be set to blow within an hour or two after takeoff. He ends up tossing the bomb overboard and the plane continues at a low altitude to avoid decompression. The sequence was also unintentionally eerie, given the recent MH370 mystery, Jason’s plane even flying over the Indian Ocean.

In Bombay, Jason again nearly gets killed, this time by a taxi driver who tries to set him up. A weird chase ensues, with Jason running through the refuse-festooned streets of Bombay, including an unsettingly-bizarre bit where he thinks he steps on “the belly of a dead woman.” After this he reconnects with Adam Cyber, who’s chilling at the Punjabi Hotel, and the reader can’t help but wonder how he got there. I mean, did he teleport? Why didn’t he fly there with Jason? It’s not explained. Once the “brothers” get hold of Mr. Chatterji, aka the taxi driver who set up Jason, they discover that “The Brotherhood” is behind all of this nonsense. It all appears to be a plot by wily Chinese scientist Dr. Lau and Otto Krupt, a former Nazi.

The final quarter of the novel comes off like a proto John Eagle Expeditor, with Jason and a team of Sherpas navigating through the icy dangers of Tibet. Here in appropriate pulp style Dr. Lau has a hidden fortress, from which he’s perfecting the psyops gear he stole from Jason. The pulp stuff is really piled on here, with even cells filled with creatures, locals who have been mutated by Lau in various experiments. Heath writes the action with tongue in cheek; it’s not outright comedy, but it toes the line, as Jason blows away various stooges and Heath documents it all in deadpan style.

Heath takes us into the homestretch with the revelation of who was behind the plot to frame Jason, and former friends turn out to be enemies. By novel’s end, Jason has regained his professional stature, and he figures Adam will soon return to the future, now that this current business has been dealt with. However Adam reveals that he’s stuck here in the past, which of course sets the stage for ensuing volumes. Lancer doesn’t mention this is the start of a series, though.

Anyway I enjoyed The Mind Brothers enough that I’ll eventually check out the second volume, if for no other reason than I happen to already have it.

*Some sources state that Peter Heath was the pseudonym of an author named Robert Irvine.  However according to Hawk's Authors' Pseudonyms III (1999), Peter Heath was the pseudonym of an author named Peter Heath Fine, who was born in 1935 and only had the three Mind Brothers novels to his credit.  According to this site he died in 1975, at the young age of 40.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Israeli Commandos #1: The Aswan Assignment

Israeli Commandos #1: The Aswan Assignment
No month stated, 1974  Manor Books

When Lancer Books when out of business in September 1973, the Enforcer series was in limbo (that is, until Manor Books brought it back in ’75, reprinting the Lancer originals as well as two new installments). In the meantime it appears that Andrew Sugar took his services proper to Manor, and created for them this obscure, four-volume series that was “as timely as today’s headlines,” per the hyperbolic back cover.

Israeli Commandos is much different from The Enforcer, and judging from this first volume, not as good. On the plus side, it’s more action-focused than that earlier series, but on the negative side, it just isn’t as compelling or interesting. This series just has a completely different feel – and hell, protagonist Dov Abrams doesn’t even smoke, which is a huge difference from the cigarette-loving Enforcer books!

Abrams is 28, Israeli born, and a world-class heavyweight boxer. In fact we learn the press has dubbed him “the Israeli Muhammad Ali,” which is just wrong on so many levels. Also, you’d think a top-secret commando would have a less-visible cover, but whatever; every few months Abrams’s handler, The Major, comes out of the woodwork to task him with some impossible mission. Then Abrams shaves off his full beard (the Major’s idea of a disguise), gears up, and goes out into the field to fight for Israel. The series title is plural, but really it would more accurately be called “Israeli Commando,” as Abram works solo, being provided with different contacts on his various assignments.

The current mission, Abrams contacted by the Major seconds after having won a heavyweight match, has our hero venturing into Egypt, where intel reports that Arabic terrorist faction Black February plans to blow up the Aswan Dam. Abrams, an underwater demolitions expert, knows that the dam can’t be blown up by normal means, but the terrorists merely intend to make it appear that the dam was attempted to have been blown up – by Israelis. And to do so they will plant the corpses of two Israeli frogmen there, so it will seem clear that they were behind the plot.

Per the Major’s briefing, Israel isn’t held in high esteem in the current world view, mentioning the “recent” downing of an Egyptian airliner in Israeli airspace (an event which happened in February 1973). Therefore, Black February hopes to sow further dissent against Israel by making it appear that the Israelis tried to blow up the Aswan Dam. Abrams’s mission is to head into Egypt’s Eastern Desert, find the two terrorist convoys which reportedly will be converging on Aswan, and to rescue the two captured Israelis (both of whom are friends of his) who will be turned into decoy corpses as part of the plan. If Abrams can’t save them, he’s to kill them, something which causes much gnashing of teeth…and even the desire to be a smoker!

The middle section is heavy on the desert action, with Abrams parachuting in and hooking up with two young contacts, Chaim and Ben-Al. After lots of camel-riding and sandstorm-evading they come across a group of Black February terrorists, most of them Arabic-American mercenaries. These are old-school terrorists, by the way, more concerned with public opinion than killing innocents; when Abrams poses as a lost American and stumbles into their camp, the terrorist leader requests that, when he returns to civilization, Abrams make it clear that he was saved by Black February. Also throughout the novel there is repeated efforts by the various parties to treat their captives well, and etc. All of which is to say, the entire affair comes off like a gentleman’s sport when compared to the modern day.

Anyway a firefight ensues, and here Sugar proves the major difference between this series and The Enforcer, with Abrams blowing away terrorists with his .357 Magnum and the two contacts whittling them down with Galil rifles. The leader survives, though, and here begins the first instance in which Abrams ensures he’s well tended-to with treatment and bandages. Also here Abrams hooks up with Gershon Yelinga, New York-born and raised soldier who has immigrated to Israel to become one of their top commandos. Older than Abrams by a few decades, Yelinga provides the novel’s humor, poking fun at Abrams amid the mayhem.

Another action scene soon follows, with Abrams using plastique to blow up an Egyptian tank. In the melee the captured American terrorist escapes on a jeep, and Abrams and Yelinga split up, Yelinga heading for Aswan and Abrams for the small town of El-Bemi Saff, where the terrorist has apprently fled. Here Abrams meets up with another contact: Zohra, a fellow sabra (ie Israel-born) who poses as a dancer in an Arabic café, where she sleeps with the owner and clientelle as part of the job. She immediately throws herself on Abrams, telling him he’s the first non-Arab she’s been with in months. Cue a fairly explicit sex scene, though nothing to the level of the early Enforcer volumes. 

Zohra later informs Abrams that not only was the Arab-American who escaped a well-known terrorist who goes by the name Al-Sakr (ie, “The Falcon”), but also that he is behind the entire plot to blow the Aswan Dam. But when the Falcon gets the jump on the two, the book begins to drag, even though it goes from one action sequence to another. It’s all just sort of drawn out. First we get this over-long firefight in Zohra’s apartment, with the Falcon and a few comrades with AK-47s blasting away at the pair, and since Abrams only has 3 bullets in his Magnum, he has to pull off some MacGuyver moves to rig up explosives with whatever junk is at hand.

There follows more plodding stuff as Abrams and Zohra first steal a truck and then try to steal a small airplane, to catch up with the perennially-escaping Falcon. While waiting for the plane to be repaired, Abrams and Zohra go at it again, right there on the desert sand. The best action sequence in the novel follows, as they take the plane and, while Abrams flies it, Zohra blasts down at the terrorists from her window with an AK-47. This whole section is pretty gory, with even camels buying it in graphic detail. However Zohra herself gets hit by the flying bullets, and Sugar delivers one of the most comically-overdone deaths of a female protagonist I’ve yet read in a men’s adventure novel:

At four thousand feet, [Abrams] leveled off and reached for Zohra to see how badly she was wounded. But his hand went right through what was left of her face and his fingers scooped out handfuls of bloody brain matter as he quickly withdrew his hand. One of the Arab blasts had caught Zohra in the face and chest, and the once-beautiful and exciting face was gone, shattered into red splotches covering the inside of the cockpit. Where her sensuous eyes had been, there were now empty sockets. Empty holes where blood puddled and congealed. 

All of which is to say, she’s dead. Abrams crashes the plane and survives it, managing to fling himself out with Magnum blazing, but he still gets caught…and wakes up in a room facing the Aswan dam, where the Falcon and an obese comrade have Abrams tied to a chair in rawhide ropes. They’ve also captured Yelinga, who is similarly tied. The two are informed that when the rawhide dries, Abrams and Yelina will die horrific, excruciating deaths. However Black February has been whittled down to just three men, and the Falcon goes off with the third member to plant the bombs underwater. 

It’s the climax, but it’s just kind of boring. Abrams and Yelinga get loose and appropriate scuba gear, using icepicks to kill the frogmen terrorists. One of them of course is the Falcon, and it’s one of the more anticlimactic villain deaths I’ve ever read; even Abrams feels disappointed, and jumps back in the water to confirm that not only the Falcon is dead, but also that it was Abrams himself who killed him! The two captured Israeli frogmen are saved, the plan is thwarted, and that’s that.

One of the main problems with The Aswan Assignment is Dov Abrams himself; he just comes off as too rough around the edges, too immature and prone to throwing temper tantrums. It seems like every other paragraph Sugar is informing us of Abrams’s “bitching” and “cursing” about some setback or inconvenience. There are many moments where he’ll curse and mutter to himself for like an entire paragarph before he comes up with an idea. I mean, he just comes off like an annoying hothead, and he’s nowhere in the category of Alex Jason, who was actually an interesting protagonist.

Sugar’s writing, which I usually consider to be great so far as the genre goes, comes off as uninspired. Despite the plethora of action (at least when compared to the Enforcer books), The Aswan Assignment just plods along, with nothing really making it stand out. That being said, I’ll still of course be sure to read the ensuing three volumes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jason Striker #5: Amazon Slaughter

Jason Striker #5: Amazon Slaughter, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
April, 1976  Berkley Medallion Books

Taking place soon after the events of the previous volume, the fifth installment of Jason Striker continues the derailment of what was once a fun series. Our protagonist is still an idiot, coincidence still abounds, and unrelated subplots still spring up and go nowhere. Most unfortunately, the bell-bottom fury of earlier volumes has vanished. It would appear the damage was done, so far as sales went, as this was the last published installment of the series (that is, until the authors self-published the completed material of volume 6 in 2001).

Once again the novel opens on a character other than Striker; in fact Amazon Slaughter opens on a scene of torture-porn, as a ninja is strung up and flayed deep in the Amazon jungle by a crew of Brazilians lead by Fernando Mirabal, last seen in Ninja’s Revenge. The ninja is one of Fu Antos’s, who as we’ll recall now resides in the body of a prepubescent boy and is currently building a new Black Castle in the Amazon. The locals, however, are not happy about this, and thus try to get info out of the captured ninja, whom they torture in excruciating detail.

This leads to a pitched battle in which Fu Antos himself shows up, leading his ninjas (who we learn have yet to fully believe that this young boy really houses the soul of their immortal master) and some native Indians in an assault on the Brazilian encampment, an assault which Mirabal manages to escape. Striker doesn’t come into the picture until after all of this, as he lands in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, continuing on with his mission for Fu Antos, which he began in Ninja’s Revenge.

Above I mentioned Mirabal’s return from the previous volume; one enjoyable thing about the Jason Striker series is the small world it takes place in, with characters appearing and reappearing like a regular soap opera, but at times it gets to be too much. Take for example Striker’s first day in Rio. Bored and walking along the beach outside his hotel, he spots a very attractive and busty young woman. As Striker’s checking her out from afar, thugs pull up along the beach and attack her! And the lady defends herself with some judo moves that greatly impress Striker! But when more thugs show up, Striker rushes to the lady’s defense – only to discover it’s Dulce, a Cuban secret agent of sorts who met Striker back in #3: The Bamboo Bloodbath!

So again, the coincidence that smears this series already rears its head, so early in the book. Dulce, in a plot completely unrelated to Striker’s, just happens to be on the same beach as Striker’s hotel. After trouncing the thugs, the couple repairs to Striker’s hotel room, where the expected sex scene soon occurs. And here Striker discovers that Dulce is a virgin, which means that Striker has now taken the virginity of three women in this series. He should start handing out business cards.

But Striker’s still a dolt, and after some good lovin’ he and Dulce order room service, and blithely go about stuffing themselves with the overly-described local food. And wouldn’t you know it, they both pass out! Yep, the food’s been drugged, and only as he’s dropping to the floor does Striker realize they should’ve taken precautions when ordering the food, as surely the thugs from earlier would still be looking for Dulce. But anyway the authors take the opportunity to drop Striker and go into third-person, detailing Dulce’s plight as one of her captors (thugs in a Brazilian “Death Squad”) attempts to rape her, and she bites off his friggin’ tongue!

The sleaze element is very pronounced this time out, with even more torture porn as Mirabal takes a captive Striker on a tour of his dungeon. Here we have squirm-inducing bits where a beautiful young woman gets one of her teeth pulled out and an older man is nearly drowned. Then it’s Striker’s turn; Mirabal straps him into a chair and proceeds to electrocute him, grilling him for info on Fu Antos. But Striker turns out to be a regular Alex Jason, and uses his mystical ki powers to block out the pain of electrocution. His fortitude not only makes him a hero to the other prisoners, but also makes possible his escape, when local rebels break in to free him.

Meanwhile the scattershot plotting of the series continues, with arbitrary cut-overs to the ongoing war between the minions of Fu Antos and the soldiers of Brazil. This is completely egregious stuff, not to mention gross, in particular a needlessly-detailed and overly-long sequence in which a dwarf ninja sneaks into the Brazilian compound and hides in the camp latrine, lurking beneath the bench the soldiers sit on when taking their dumps, and waits all day while the soldiers come in and relieve themselves above him! All so he can be here when one particular colonel comes in, so the dwarf can jam a friggin' spear up the dude’s ass! (And of course the authors must inform us that the colonel loudly passes gas right before the ninja gets him with the spear – I mean, these authors are nothing if not thorough.)

But talk about scattershot – Striker’s freed from prison and not two pages later he’s just wandering around the friggin’ streets of Rio, just checking out the sights as Carnival rages around him! Some thugs are following him, but they’re quickly eluded with some clothes Striker finds and some dirt he smears on himself so he’ll look like a local! And because these authors have never really been concerned with streamlined plotting, soon enough Striker’s checking out some go-go dancing chick in the crowd, and she collapses into his arms posthaste and asks him to carry her to the local voodoo store. And Striker, who, you know, just broke out of prison, is happy to comply, and thus the novel breaks off into yet another divergent plotline.

And what a doozy of a plotline it is! My friends, my patience was sorely tested by Amazon Slaughter, as in the second half it spirals into a complete and utter waste of time. Lazy coincidence and plotting abounds; the go-go girl is named Oba, and for no reason she takes Striker to a voodoo ceremony. Now, earlier Striker took some food that was offered at the base of some religious statue – and guess what? Turns out these people are here to worship that very same god, who reveals via strange means (people fainting, the incense candle not lighting, etc) that it’s pissed at Striker! And Striker has to somehow appease the god, who no matter what will get revenge on Striker.

What just took me a paragraph to explain goes on for pages and pages and pages. And the authors aren’t done with all this voodoo stuff, as later Oba gives Striker even more egregious voodoo history – and since they can’t converse in the same language, she does it by dancing it out for him in pantomime!! Honestly it’s some of the dumbest shit I’ve ever read. And meanwhile it cuts over to these long sections from other perspectives, as on the one hand Dulce is caught by Mirabal, who doesn’t torture her, proves to her that he’s gay(!), and tells her he has mysterious plans for her, and on the other hand we get long and tedious warfare sequences between Mirabal’s soldiers and Fu Antos’s ninja.

Oh, and a penniless Striker tries to make cash by getting into a streetfighting tournament, where after taking on a grizzly bear he runs into an old martial arts aquaintance. Due to his skills Striker gets a crowd, and one of them’s a Death Squad sadist, and a huge melee ensues, with Striker and Oba escaping to some random dojo, where the resident swordsmaster graphically eviscerates the Death Squad stooges and Oba and Striker go into a backroom and have sex while standing up. This is easily the most explicit sequence yet in the series, with Striker informing us it’s his most powerful orgasm ever. TMI, Striker.

And meanwhile Mirabal loses a huge battle against Fu Antos, and the immortal ninja-child is about to kill him when Mirabal shows Fu Antos a photo of Dulce…who looks identical to Fu Antos’s centuries-dead mistress, from the opening chapter of Nina’s Revenge! Now, how in the hell did Mirabal know what she looked like?? No matter; Dulce, despite being of a different ethnicity, looks so much like his mistress that Fu Antos allows Mirabal to live, in exchange for the girl. When Mirabal informs Fu Antos that Dulce is in love with Jason Striker, Fu Antos vows that Striker will die, even if he is “friends” with the man.

This leads to a lame sequence where Striker and Oba (who still acts shit out for him via dancing pantomime) visit Brasilia, “city of the future,” and go to a fancy restaurant where they stuff themselves, dirty and unkempt from being on the road…and Oba passes out. Yes, the exact same situation as earlier in the novel, though this time a non-hungry Striker has merely pretended to eat(?), stuffing food into his pockets instead of his mouth(?!). Men come in, strip them down (Striker pretending to be unconscious), and arrange Striker and Oba in a compromising position, so that Dulce and a capoeira-fighting guy can come in and discover them…I mean, it’s so, so stupid. And Striker gets up, beats up the capoeira guy (who turns out to be Oba’s husband), and defends himself to Dulce, who decides to forgive him. Oh, and Oba was apparently a traitor, there to set Striker up, or something.

The authors plod on into the home stretch, with absolutely no consideration of plot development, mounting suspense, or satisfying resolution. Venturing into the jungle toward the Black Castle (neither of them knowing that Fu Antos now wants them for different reasons), Striker and Dulce go about an Adam and Eve sort of life, living off the flora and fauna and enjoying one another’s company in the cheap showiness of nature. It gets more and more tedious and baffingly-lame when Striker, my friends, discovers that he has a gallstone!! Now Dulce must care for him, practically carrying Striker through the jungle, finding coca leaves (ie, cocaine) for him to chew on against the pain.

The “climax” features a half-dead Striker who is somehow still able to pull off fancy judo moves on “jungle Indians” who attack them. These Indians turn out to be minions of Fu Antos, and in the snapshot-style finale Striker and Dulce are taken to the Black Castle. But Striker is by this point so screwed up that we only get elliptical rundowns of what ensues…Fu Antos coming at Striker with a sword, Dulce pleading for Striker’s life, and now Striker, the book cutting to present-tense in the final paragraph, alone on some “crude wooden craft” as it plies down the river, Striker at death’s door due to his gallstone, which needs to be operated on immediately. The end!!

One can’t blame Berkley Books for cancelling this series. One can’t also help but wonder what happened to the series. While the first three volumes were goofy fun, filled with the bell-bottom fury of ‘70s kung-fu, the fourth and fifth volumes jettisoned all of that, taking the series into unwelcome and uninteresting areas. Recurring characters from the first three novels were gone, replaced by deus ex machina ciphers. Apparently then the first three volumes comprised their own trilogy, and volumes four through six would comprise another; however the sixth volume never came to be…that is, for a few decades.

As mentioned above, in 2001 the authors self-published the material they’d written for this sixth volume, Curse Of The Ninja, and like a regular glutton for punishment I’ll of course be reading it.