Monday, September 15, 2014

Dark Angel #2: The Emerald Oil Caper

Dark Angel #2: The Emerald Oil Caper, by James D. Lawrence
March, 1975  Pyramid Books

If you’ve ever been reading The Baroness and thought to yourself, “This is good and all, but what if, instead of a spy, the Baroness was a private investigator? And what if she was black??”, then you are in luck, because the four-volume Dark Angel series answers those very questions.

Like The Baroness, Dark Angel is copyright book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel, who with his usual gift for capitalizing on trends must’ve seen a few Pam Grier movies (or at least saw how much money they were making) and decided yet another paperback series was in order. He even contracted James D. Lawrence, the man who had co-created black comic strip character Friday Foster (which itself was turned into a Grier movie in 1975), to write the series.

The only problem is, the Dark Angel series is woefully overpriced in the used books marketplace, much like another Engel production, Operation Hang Ten, though not to that absurd extent. Unlike that series, though (or at least the volume of it I’ve so far read), Dark Angel is worth tracking down, and it's even better than the sometimes-static and repetitive Baroness series.

Our hero is Angela “Angie” Harpe, who we are informed is known as “The Dark Angel” by the cops and the underworld. Like the Baroness, her beauty and body is frequently mentioned in the narrative, as is her expansive wardrobe, which as in the Baroness books lends the series a trash fiction vibe. And again like the Baroness, Angie is rich and lives the jet-set life, and her main home is a penthouse suite in Manhattan which is described as a very swank ‘70s-style pad, though we learn she plays classical music on her hi-fi instead of the more-expected Love Unlimited Orchestra or Barry White.

Angie has had a colorful history to say the least; she was raised in the ghetto, but through her intelligence she was able to get into Radcliffe, where she graduated with flying colors. Oh, but she also worked as a hooker…before briefly serving as an NYPD cop(!!). She also did some glamor modeling on the side to support herself while in college (while still hooking as an independent, high-class escort), but also to save up money so she could fund her true dream…being a private detective! Like Killinger, Angie now handles big, multimillion-dollar cases for insurance companies.

So, again like the Baroness, Angie Harpe is idealized, but unlike the Baroness she doesn’t come off as a self-centered glory hound. She gets off on danger, and treats her cases with snarky aplomb, which lends the series an intentional camp vibe, with Angie often poking fun at the situations she encounters and the weird characters she meets. And she meets a very weird character early in The Emerald Oil Caper, a lecherous old masked man who is chaffeured around in a big limo.

After being suspiciously called out of her penthouse in the middle of the night, Angie gets in the limo with this strange dude who contacted her; first he asks if, for a thousand dollars, he can “kiss and fondle” her breasts. When Angie says no, he then offers a thousand bucks for her underwear! This she agrees to, giggling at the strangeness of it all as she slips off her “nylon bikini panties” from beneath her miniskirt. My friends, when the old freak in his half-mask started sniffing the panties, holding them right over his face, I knew I was reading a trash masterpiece. And it was only page 16!!

While The Emerald Oil Caper does manage to reach several other such trashy heights, truth to tell it does come off as a little plodding at times. But then, it runs to 220 pages of small print, and thus is similar to other Engel-produced paperbacks in that it’s a little too long for its own good. However, also like other Engel-produced books, it’s pretty well written (even though Lawrence POV-hops like crazy), and it so captures its era that you can almost hear a jazz-funk soundtrack playing in your head.

Anyway, the panty-sniffer turns out to be Xerxes Zagrevi, an Iranian oil tycoon who wants Angie to find out if an oil “wildcatter” named Laidlaw Pike has found oil in Columbia. So Angie breaks into Pike’s suite and snoops around. The novel is filled with kinky details, and here we get another, as Angie discovers a redheaded “sex robot” in a big trunk by Pike’s bed. But when Pike himself enters the room, Angie distracts him the best way she knows how – pretending to be a hooker sent up by management, and proceeding to screw Pike senseless!

There’s a fair bit of sex in The Emerald Oil Caper, but unlike the Baroness books the sex scenes don’t go on and on. In fact, most of them are only a paragraph long, and barely described, Lawrence moreso going for the metaphorical approach. Have no fear, though, as Angie’s lush body is often described in detail, and as mentioned the novel has a very kinky, at times sadistic bent to it. In fact I found it more kinky than the Baroness books, with Lawrence serving up sex robots, a sadomasochistic anal rapist (not of the Tobias Funke variety), lesbian sex, an over-the-hill tramp who strips and likes to be lead around on a leash, and copious scenes of a nude Angie either being tortured, threatened by rape, or stripping so as to distract someone.

Well, the guy Angie thinks is Laidlaw Pike turns out to be a young strapping dude named Jack Bristol, who himself was snooping around in Pike’s apartment. Jack hires Angie himself; Jack’s father, another oil prospector, was recently murdered, and Jack’s certain it has something to do with an oil field supposedly discovered down in Columbia. The majority of The Emerald Oil Caper is really a murder mystery, with Angie and Jack hurtling from one location to another, interviewing suspects and getting in the occasional fight scene – not to mention engaging in the occasional sex scene with one another.

Angie has a knack for running afoul of people, most of whom just want to get her off of the investigation, and her ethnicity is very often brought up by these people, in particular the fact that she was a black prostitute (though these are not the two words used to describe her). Beyond the heavy kink factor, The Emerald Oil Caper is filled with racist invective and slander and etc, all of which only lends it more of a pulpy, Blaxploitation feel. I also found it interesting that, at least in this volume, Angie only has sex with Caucasians – both male and female.

Lawrence delivers a handful of action scenes, but most of the novel is dialog and investigation. Angie handles herself well in the various scuffles, using martial arts moves. She has her own cache of gadgets, from a big purse that has a steel bar built into the bottom which she uses to brain several people, to a cat burgular type device that lets her scale walls. She also carries a Baby Browning pistol in the purse, and is handy with a variety of sidearms. And she can also blank her mind by flashing on “The One” when she needs to calm herself!

As part of her investigation Angie once again becomes a hooker, going undercover with a group of high-class whores to a party for oil executives. To accomplish this Angie engages in the lesbian sex mentioned above; when she discovers that one of her former coworkers is going to the party, Angie goes over to the gal’s place to booze her up and have some friendly sex with her to really tucker her out (a scene which features the unforgettable line, “Please, darling! Would you sixty-nine me?”). When the girl passes out, boozed, screwed, and drugged, Angie takes her place in the stable of notorious Harlem pimp Longdong Strong, aka “The Abominal Cunt Man,” who got his nickname because he’s “cut more broads than Vidal Sassoon!”

This section in particular is very sleazy and sadistic, with Angie captured (just as she’s going down on the oil exec she’s trying to, uh, pump for info) by Longdong’s goons and taken back to a Harlem pad. Here the pimp himself tortures her with a pair of “pimp sticks,” ie two wire coathangers that are wrapped together, which Longdong uses to whip Angie right on her most private of areas! This is easily the most unsettling scene in the novel, and again quite similar to all of those times in the Baroness books were Penny was captured, stripped, and tortured, before escaping in some novel method.

With all of the sleaze and kinkiness, one can’t really fault Lawrence for sort of dropping the ball on the finale. Sure, Angie’s nude throughout (stripping to a “throbbing Rolling Stones song” so as to distract her would-be murderers), and Lawrence packs in a little bit of gore, with people getting shot, stabbed, and crushed, but our heroine and her boyfriend Jack are suddenly relegated to supporting status. When the villain behind it all is revealed, instead of Angie taking him on, suddenly it’s one of his colleagues who shows up to do the deed, and Jack and Angie run away to hide while those two are killing each other.

But still, I really had a lot of fun reading The Emerald Oil Caper. It’s a shame the Dark Angel books are so overpriced, but I’ll definitely track down the rest of them someday.

And what the heck, here’s the sequence with that redheaded sex robot, as Angie presses the activation switch that’s hidden at the nape of the robot’s neck:

Almost at once she could feel the plastic flesh begin to warm beneath her fingers. A subtle funky aroma of female perspiration and genital exudation rose to her nostrils. The dummy’s hips began to move in a suggestive rhythm. Its arms reached out, its eyes opened and closed, its lips moved. 

“Oh, please! … Fuck me, darling! … Fuck me hard!” 

As the recorded voice spoke from somewhere inside the robot’s head, its knees moved up and back, its hips revolved upward, and its thighs spread wide, revealing the moistly open lips of incredibly realistic genitals. 

“Sorry, sister,” giggled Angie. “I’ve got a headache tonight.”


RJR said...

I did like these books when they first came out, and they're still on my shelf. However, back then I was buying and reading ANYTHING private eye.


Trever Palmer said...

Great review! I'm definitely tracking this series down.

Saying that, I've only been able to find three books available for sale on the net.

What's the title of the fourth book?

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments. RJR, cool to hear you read these back in the day. They're apparently pretty collectible these days!

Speaking of which -- Trever, these books aren't cheap, are they? The title of the fourth volume is The Godmother Caper. That and the first one, The Dream Girls Caper, appear to be the most overpriced.

Trever Palmer said...

No, they're definitely not cheap (especially, as you mentioned, the first book).

Thanks for that last title! I appreciate it.

Keith Martin said...

I bought a copy of the first Dark Angel a few years ago at a local used book store for fairly cheap. If you're ever in the Chattanooga, TN area (or Knoxville) look into McKay Books. I've almost never paid over $2.00 for any Men's Adventure series, often less than a $1.00 for most of the series I've bought there. If you have a list of books you're looking for on the cheap (and in generally good condition), I wouldn't mind looking for you. :)