Monday, July 7, 2014

The Rapist

The Rapist, by Don Logan
October, 1975  Pocket Books

Jeez, here’s Don Logan with the feel-good book of the summer!! Seriously though, The Rapist is another of those lurid crime paperbacks copyright Lyle Kenyon Engel, just like Manning Lee Stokes's Corporate Hooker, Inc. And, according to Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms III, “Don Logan” was none other than William Crawford.

Last year I read the first volume of Crawford’s Stryker series, which I found a little frustrating due to Crawford’s tendency to constantly stall forward momentum by doling out inconsequential backstories about every single character introduced or mentioned. He does the same thing throughout The Rapist, though not quite to the extent of Stryker #1. I wonder if Crawford was a cop, or a former cop, or maybe just a cop junkie or something, because once again he has turned out a cop novel that seems very much grounded in reality and research.

Also, like Stokes’s novel, The Rapist reads a lot like the ‘70s work of Herbert Kastle, in particular Cross-Country. It’s a dark, dark tale, about the titular character’s horrific and gruesome assaults upon strong-willed women in mid-‘70s New York City, and it pulls no punches. Suprisingly though, the novel never once trades in outright sleaze, and despite the lurid happenings it doesn’t comes across like a cheap work of exploitation. In fact there isn’t even a single sex scene, though Crawford does provide a few violent shooutouts.

The rapist of the title is a young, good-looking guy named Timothy Johnson (though Crawford at first only refers to him as “the Rapist” in the sections from his perspective). He’s tall, muscular, and very attractive to women. He’s also got tattoos all over his arms, and we eventually learn in a “boy how the times have changed” moment that tattoos are generally the sign of a criminal, though “there is no direct correllation between the two.” The Rapist opens the novel with one of his “hits,” stealing an attractive young woman off the streets, killing her instantly, and raping and mutilating her corpse in his windowless delivery van. 

Crawford never actually describes one of the Rapists’s attacks, but he does serve up the lurid details when the cops inspect the corpse he leaves behind. It’s so desecrated and defiled that even hardbitten vets run to the john to puke. However our two heroes manage to keep their gorge down, despite how revolted they are: Burrell Mackey, at 48 one of the older men on the force, but a mountain of muscle nonetheless, and Lee Cotton, a younger but still experienced cop who was a Green Beret in ‘Nam. Both men are detectives, with Mackey the lead, and Crawford serves up details about how crime fighting has much changed from when Mackey joined the force back in ’46, right after fighting in the war.

Another of Crawford’s annoying tendencies is referring to his characters by multiple names in the narrative. He does this in The Rapist, and it gets to be confusing at first, like for example how he refers to Mackey as “Mackey,” “Burrell,” and most confusingly (at first) “Burr.” It might sound like a minor thing, but it does cause for some disconnect when the reader’s trying to figure out who the author is referring to. Even more disconnect is caused by the arbitrary backstories that spring up in the text, usually so unnecessary as to be hilarious, like when Crawford mentions that a doctor helps out the precinct anonymously and then explains that he does so because he wouldn’t want his regular patients to know he is helping the cops. Just little things like this, like the Stryker installment I read, really halt the forward momentum for no good reason.

The cops are in an increasing panic as Johnson murders and ravages several more women, leaving mauled corpses in his wake. Instead of following on this story, Crawford instead gets in this long subplot where Mackey and Cotton begin hassling the well-known Johnson brothers, local criminals who have often had run-ins with the law. They check with them merely to see if they can get more info about this rapist – at this point, the fact that his last name is also “Johnson” is not known by the police; it’s all just lazy, coincidental plotting. But at any rate it leads to this very long gunfight in which a few of the brothers end up dead. 

Meanwhile the rapist gets clawed up by one of his victims, and later during his getaway he runs into cops, attacking them. When Mackey and Cotton see the guy at the next morning’s lineup of all people arrested the previous day, they instantly suspect him, due to his tattoos. At this point he’s given his name as “Johnsen,” but our protagonists can’t get over how his facial features are so like those other Johnson brothers. At great length it develops that “Timmy Johnson” killed his dad when he was a kid and almost killed his stepdad, and thus was placed in a mental ward, the majority of his brothers disowning him and insisting he change his last name. So in other words, he really is another of those criminal Johnson brothers the author so lazily introduced.

The rapist goes free after the lineup – only later do the cops learn who he is – and continues about his campaign. But The Rapist is also like Corporate Hooker, Inc. in that it starts off being one thing but ends up being another. When an A.P.B. is put out on the rapist, he spots a motorcycle cop following him, and runs him over. But with his dying breath the cop gets off a few shots, each of them hitting the rapist. Half-dead, he holes up in a building, eventually resorting to one of his brothers for help.

Now the novel becomes just another “fugitive on the run” tale, and this goes on for well over a hundred pages, with Crawford adding to the page count with anecdotes about what it’s like to be a cop. There’s also lots of time-filler stuff with Richard Rivers, yet another of those Geraldo Rivera-type journalists who always pop up in these pulp crime novels, as an eternal thorn in authority’s side; he starts up CAPJAL, or “Capture Johnson Alive,” an uber-liberal initiative to ensure Timothy Johnson is not killed via the usual “police brutality.” All of this ultimately leads nowhere, though we do get the memorable image of Rivers shitting himself when he finally gets a chance to meet Johnson – Crawford, as shown in Stryker #1, has a special fondness for having his characters shit themselves.

It all builds up to a gradual climax in which Johnson holes up in the apartment of his first victim in the novel, taking captive the girl’s roommate, Tawny. After lots of (undescribed) degradation of the poor girl, as well as traded rants with the cops, it culminates with Mackey and Cotton attacking the apartment, with Cotton in these final pages going into “Vietnam mode” and wanting to kick some shit. It all leads to a downbeat finale, with one of the two cops dead, but it sort of lacks punch because, despite the amount of time spent with these guys, it’s not like we got to know either of them.

I think Crawford is a good writer, with dialog and incidental details that seem cut from real-life, but I just don’t think he’s a very good novelist. Which is to say, he has the details and the dialog, but when it comes to putting it all together into a cogent whole, he sort of fails. The novel comes off more like lots of arbitrary cop stories interspersed with periodic flashes of sadism, before building up to a hasty and anticlimactic finale. In other words The Rapist is a lot like the later lurid crime novel Hellfire.

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