Monday, August 25, 2014
Operation Hang Ten #3: Deadly Group Down Under
Operation Hang Ten #3: Deadly Group Down Under, by Patrick Morgan
No month stated, 1970 Macfadden Books
Possibly one of the most overpriced men’s adventure series on the market, with some volumes listed online at vomit-inducing prices, Operation Hang Ten is also one of the more unusual, so far as series concepts go, with its hero a 23 year-old surfer who works as a spy. Yet another paperback series copyright packager Lyle Kenyon Engel, Operation Hang Ten was never picked up by another publishing company when Macfadden Books went out of business, which may explain why the books are now so scarce and expensive.
But then, if this third volume is any indication, there may be a good reason why the series was never picked up – namely, our “hero” is an asshole of the first order, outranking even Tracker – yes, outranking even Tracker!! Bill Cartwright is a misogynist, cynical, chauvinist, arrogant, obnoxious dickhead, affronting everyone and anyone for no reason whatsoever, including ultimately the reader. He is also absolutely nothing like you’d expect the hero of a series titled “Operation Hang Ten” to be.
Marty McKee well summed up Cartwright in his review of the 8th volume: “For a counterculture hero, Cartwright doesn't seem to care much for the counterculture, and his attitude towards women belongs to a man at least twenty years older and a decade earlier.” Beyond that, Bill Cartwright is much too cynical and all-knowing for a 23 year-old surf bum, with a caustic opinion on everything. I mean people, imagine John Updike as a surfer spy and you’d be close to the bizarre, off-putting feel of this series.
I’ve mentioned before how I detest online reviews that mock older books for their “outdated” sentiments and etc, so I realize I’m coming off as hypocritical, but honest to god, I’m not exaggerating here. Bill Cartwright has absolutely no redeeming qualities. He hates everyone and everything, especially women, and throughout the novel he acts abrasively to anyone he meets. As a spy he’s a waste, and so far as his “cover” as a private investigator goes, he sucks at that, too. Now as for surfing, as far as he’s concerned he’s the best there is.
Anyway. Deadly Group Down Under has Cartwright (or “Bill,” as he’s referred to in the narrative itself) tasked with infiltrating the circle which surrounds an up-and-coming young starlet named Lisa Dane, an Australian with “cotton candy” dyed white hair who both sings and acts. For some convoluted reason never made clear she has been dubbed “Queen of the Surfers,” even though she’s never surfed. To Bill though she’s a “phoney” through and through, and by god don’t think he won’t tell her that.
We open with Bill going about his task in his own assholic way, competing in a surf competition at a party near Lisa Dane’s rented beach house in Santa Monica; the winner gets a black opal and a kiss from Lisa. Bill wins, of course, but then takes the opal, drops it down the front of her dress, and struts arrogantly off. When later he’s threatened by Lisa’s manager, Lance Mikesell, and the man’s security guard, Dingo Lon, Bill tells them to screw off, enjoying a scotch and soda – the preferred drink of every 23 year-old surfer in 1970, of course.
As Bill expected, Lisa Dane falls for it, coming to check out this mysterious man who spurned her. Bill ends up taking her back to his trailer, which is one of the few interesting touches of the series – it’s equipped with a “scanner” that alerts Bill when anyone comes close to it, and also has a computer that makes him his drinks. I lost count of the number of times I read how Cartwright “dialed up a scotch and soda.” After treating Lisa like shit some more, Bill of course scores with her, though the details are kept vague; this is another of those series where we cut to black when the dirty stuff begins.
Oh yeah, Bill’s supposed to infiltrate the group because someone in Lisa’s circle is taking photos of US military institutions around the world and selling them to the Chinese! But he’s more concerned that the girl is using him as a way to validate her “Queen of the Surfers” status, and he doesn’t like that at all. Oh, and he’s even more pissed that his boss Jim Dana has graced him with an untried young female partner named Lulu, who’s posing as one of the beach bum girls in Lisa’s orbit.
Bill’s vitriol for Lulu is almost as rampant as it is for Lisa Dane. He doesn’t get much chance to unleash it on a third female he’s been “saddled” with, Sharon Ryan, who currently works as Lisa Dane’s assistant but ends up dead when the group comes back from Switzerland to Australia, Bill going there himself to hook up with Lisa on Bondi Beach. Throughout the novel Bill and Lulu trade banter, but it isn’t fun banter, with Bill constantly telling her she’s an idiot and needs to quit because women shouldn’t be working as spies. For example:
Bill closed his eyes. He felt his jaws ache from gritting his teeth. Where was Lulu? Right there was the jolt he needed. A woman’s place was in the oven. Girls belonged at home, barefoot and pregnant, their lives should revolve around some man. This was not work for them. They were created for the care and pleasure of man.
That’s an actual quote from the novel, and it’s a glimpse of the mindset the reader is forced to endure for about 170 pages of smallish print. (Also, one has to wonder what the hell “A woman’s place was in the oven” is supposed to mean – surely he means kitchen??) Of course, none of this stops ol’ Bill from constantly trying to get in Lulu’s bikini trunks. To her credit she constantly stops him, saying she doesn’t want to become yet another of Bill Cartwright’s untold conquests.
Our hero doesn’t just piss off the women, though. Throughout the novel he rushes from one confrontation to another – confrontations he himself starts. For example when attempting to get information from Lisa Dane’s tour photographer, he busts into the poor guy’s place, threatens him, makes fun of him for practically worshipping Lisa, what with all the photos of her hanging about, and then storms out, later coming back to punch the guy a few times! When Lance Mikesell and Lingo Don, despite being the obvious villains of the story (there are like six characters in the entire novel), try to make peace with Bill, he tells them to fuck off.
On and on it goes, but I started to suspect that maybe here we have another instance of the Ryker effect, ie where our “hero” is not intended to be seen as a hero. Throughout the novel other characters constantly call Cartwright out for being a jerk. Unlike Ryker though his plans usually work out perfectly and he seems to know exactly what’s going on all the time. So who knows, maybe the author means it all to be taken in earnest, and Bill Cartwright is not intended to be seen as a parody of the genre. But as mentioned earlier, he sucks at his job; his “deductive skills” amount to breaking and entering and snooping around. Then he goes back to his trailer and “dials up a scotch and soda.”
As for action, there are only a few fights here, all of them hand-to-hand. A pair of would-be murderers break into Bill’s trailer on Bondi Beach, and he fights them off in a savage brawl, getting some help from an apparently-recurring character, John Fast Black Washington, a black surfer who by the way is black (per ‘70s pulp demands, we are constantly reminded of this). In between bloody fights, these two like to trade world-weary, cynical banter, despite being in their early 20s.
Writing wise the novel’s not bad, so far as the word-spinning goes. But it’s very much in Bill’s perspective (the novel feels like it’s in first-person even though it isn’t), constantly going on and on about his strong opinions on this or that. We also get large blocks devoted to his misogynist philosophy. As I’ve written before, all of this is fine in small doses, I mean the one thing I want from this genre is over-the-top stuff, but at the same time, good grief is it annoying.
Beyond the skill of the prose itself, the plot kind of sucks. As mentioned there are only a few people in the novel, so any “mystery” of who the culprits are is quickly seen through. One also suspects the author had a hard time living up to the no-doubt Engel-created concept of the series, of a “hip” young surfer who is a spy; Bill Cartwright is less hip than Nick Carter. Finally, at least so far as this particular volume goes, the series really lacks in the action and sex category, with too much introspection (and arrogant bluster) getting in the way.
So who was Patrick Morgan? It was really an author named George Snyder, who takes credit for the entire series on his blog. As mentioned above, Operation Hang Ten is not an easy series to get hold of. Last December I was in an antiques store and came across three volumes of the series; sure, they were all beaten to shit and three dollars each, but I grabbed them anyway. So once I build up the stamina I’ll try to endure another one.