Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hitman #4: They're Coming To Kill You, Jane!

Hitman #4: They're Coming To Kill You, Jane!, by Kirby Carr
No month stated, 1975  Canyon Books

I had a hard time tracking down this particular installment of the Hitman series; this and the fifth volume must’ve had very scarce printings. Unfortunately, the actual contents of They’re Coming To Kill You, Jane! don’t justify the overblown prices this volume goes for – and also, per earlier installments, the title and back cover copy don’t have much to do with the actual book.

While there is at least a character named “Jane” in the book, the back cover is very misleading, having it that this time Mike “Hitman” Ross goes up against the Scorpions, a gang who has created a drug that turns its victims into mindless zombies. There’s nothing like that in the novel. The Scorpions exist, but the drug, created by boss Frank Scorpio, is a life-extension deal made from various exotic ingredients (including “bat balls”) that Scorpio uses to blackmail old millionaires.

Ross ventures over to San Francisco for this case, summoned there by Betty Stone, an attractive narcotics agent Ross has worked with in the past. But he finds her mauled and seconds from death on her house boat, the woman obviously raped and tortured, with cigarette burns all over her body. She groans the word “scorpions” and dies in Ross’s arms. Figuring it’s the right thing to do, Ross decides to inform Betty’s dad, 70 year-old former police captain Dave Stone, that his daughter is dead.

You’ll seldom read a more blasé reaction to a child’s death, as Captain Stone, who also lives on a houseboat, is like, “huh, she’s dead, how about that.” Ross decides to hang out with the old man for a while, especially when some thugs show up that night to kill him. As usual, Ross makes short work of them, killing them before he can ask questions. Finally someone reprimands him for his “kill first, ask questions later” mindset, Stone telling Ross that he needs to cool it a little if he wants answers.

Ross has discovered that these thugs have light blue scorpion tatttoos on their inner left wrists, and Betty Stone’s dying word was “scorpions,” so Ross knows something is up. But Dave Stone claims the only similar thing he can think of is Frank Scorpio, an old-time gangster who was shot down years before. Ross bullishly insists that Scorpio must still be alive, hence why the thugs went after Betty, as well as Dave himself, as the old captain was Scorpio’s biggest enemy back in the day.

Unfortunately, Ross turns out to be correct – so much for the bizarre plot hinted at by the back cover. In fact, Frank Scorpio turns out to be just your regular crime boss, and his “Scorpion gang” is no different from any other pulp fiction criminal gang. Thus, all the bizarre charms of the back cover copy are lost, and the novel ultimately lacks even the strange feel of the preceding three volumes.

Kin Platt (aka “Kirby Carr”) continues to remind me of Russell Smith in how he so obviously wings his way through his manuscripts, making it up as he goes along without once intending to go back and fix anything in the edit. He also continues to spin out the Dean Ballenger-style tough-guy patter, much of which could come right out of Gannon. But his style and plotting lack the memorable quality of those two authors, and you somewhat wish Canyon Books had hired another ghostwriter to come up with a book based off of that cover and back-cover copy.

As in the previous volume, Platt fills a bunch of pages through the perspective of the lead villain, cutting over to Frank Scorpio, who is indeed live and well. And at seventy he looks more so fifty, thanks to “scorpion stew,” a family recipe cooked up for him by Wu, a Chinese man who claims to be nearly two hundred years old. Made up of a disgusting assortment of ingredients, including of course scorpions, the stew provides longevity – both of the health and sexual varieties. In fact Wu happily recounts how he must have “three pieces-a ass” per day.

Shot by the cops years ago and discovered by Wu, Scorpio was nursed back to health and indeed emerged better than ever, thanks to the stew. Now he blackmails rich men who want to get younger. If they don’t pay he kills them, and it turns out at length that he killed Betty Stone because she happened to see Scorpio in the course of her work, and thus could’ve blown the secret that he didn’t die all those years ago.

Meanwhile Hitman pulls on his “black nylon suit with eye slits and cowl” and goes around killing off mobsters. He gets in a skirmish with a few of them on Angel’s Island, near Alcatraz, and a few others here and there, however the novel doesn’t nearly have as much action as earlier books. But then, when Platt does write action, he almost comes off like a prefigure of David Alexander:

Not fifty yards away, across the blanket of sulphurous fog, he heard men screaming their guts out as his lead ripped into them and the tremendous shock waves of the army M-16 churned their vital organs into offal paste.

He swung the rifle quickly to the opposite side where the fire was steady now and began squeezing off quick bursts into the dark figures he saw through the hot red light of the infra-red scope. He saw them through the smoke and fire as they were knocked down like ten-pins, gaping holes in their bodies as the lethal automatic gobbled away at their lives and took their flesh and blood away in great sweeping chunks of pulverized, scorched flesh.

For once Ross does try to reign in his “kill first” instincts, but he’s still kind of dumb. Like when he easily gets captured by Dr. Gunther Deli, Scorpio’s right-hand man. This entire section seems to come from another novel – Deli is a much more interesting villain than Scorpio – and is another indication of Platt’s first-draft mentality. Tracing the Scorpion gang to a meat-packing building that serves as their cover, Ross kills a few goons and then is promptly caught and knocked out.

He wakes to find himself strapped to a chair, with a robotic voice grilling him with questions. When he reveals himself to be Hitman, the voice says he must be killed, and a laser beam lights up, about to fry Ross. He escapes, to find the reedy little scientist behind the device, Dr. Deli. Then Ross sees the rubber stamp which puts the scorpion tattoo on the gangsters. Deli shows Ross how “harmless” it is, and stamps him…and suddenly Ross is under Deli’s power.

Now we have weird stuff like Ross still escaping, but Deli phoning him later to tell him that Ross is fully under Deli’s control. And he even has a tracer in Ross’s shoe, hence Deli’s locating Ross in this “secret” hotel room. But all this stuff is quickly dropped, despite being heavily built up, that Ross is now under Deli’s complete control, and must do whatever the evil doctor commands. Instead we get more detail about Deli’s high-tech computer system, through which he’s able to run tables and figures on people to see how they might react to a given situation.

All the “mind control” pretty much forgotten, Ross next moves on to researching recent mysterious deaths of wealthy men. This leads him to Jane Bond, “well stacked with a curvaceous figure that wouldn’t quit,” the twenty-three-year-old socialite daughter of John Bigger Bond, who has just died in an accident. Platt doesn’t bother even working up this angle, as Bond and others were clearly murdered, as in each case the men received threatening phone calls, and after telling the caller to go to hell, each of them suddenly turned up dead.

But the first meeting between Ross and Jane comes off like something out of a men’s detective magazine. Receiving a call late one night from the dude who called her father before his death (Jane having eavesdropped on the call – and of course it’s Frank Scorpio), Jane hangs up…and begins fondling her jawdropping breasts. Then Ross steps out of the shadows, having lurked there in her bedroom, dressed in his Hitman costume…and Jane, sure she’s about to be raped and murdered, pulls off her see-through nightie and begs Ross to screw her!

Platt doesn’t elaborate much on the dirty stuff, but needless to say Ross takes the girl up on her offer, figuring he’s got nothing much to lose. But I suspect Platt added all this just so he could justify the “Jane” in the (likely Canyon Books-created) title, because she disappears from the narrative immediately thereafter, and Ross goes back to bullying Wu, who is now Scorpio’s overworked and underappreciated employee, churning out vats of his scorpion stew.

And since he’s spent so many pages detailing Scorpio’s various blackmailing schemes, Platt actually finds himself without enough room to deliver a fulfilling climax. Instead, after really egging us on with detail about all the heavy armament Ross gathers together for his assault on Scorpio’s stronghold in Las Vegas, Platt instead has Wu, who has tagged along with Ross for bullshit reasons, get pissed over how he’s treated and literally stab his boss in the back!

Scorpio dead, and Wu no longer interested in selling the scorpion stew, Ross figures the gang will eventually fall apart…and that’s that! Not a single shot is fired in Hitman’s assault on the Las Vegas meeting of Scorpio’s top men. To say it’s anticlimactic would be an understatement. Meanwhile Ross heads back to SanFran to bump uglies some more with Jane Bond; the end.

This was the last volume published by Canyon Books, after which the series went over to Major; hopefully with the switch the books will improve. It’s unfortunate that this series leaves so much to be desired, as it has so much potential. However there’s always the much superior series of the same name, which is everything this one should’ve been.


Grant said...

The idea of the villain being killed by one of his helpers is a pretty big cliché, of course, but the villain being killed by a "disgruntled" one sounds a lot more original.
It almost sounds like Robert Wagner's big angry scene with Mike Myers in the first Austin Powers movie (minus the crying)!

FreeLiverFree said...

I've noticed something about these books. Despite being called a hitman, the character isn't a hitman. He does not take money to kill people.