Monday, November 3, 2014

The Headhunters #3: Three Faces Of Death

The Headhunters #3: Three Faces Of Death, by John Weisman and Brian Boyer
October, 1974  Pinnacle Books

Once again coming off like a Blaxploitation movie in novel form, this installment of the Headhunters series again presents a colorful cast of streetwise criminals and terrorists and the titular cops who are always three steps behind them. While Three Faces Of Death doesn’t reach the lurid heights of the previous volume, it’s still a lot of trashy fun, churned out by two gifted authors.

Whereas the previous two volumes took place in grimy, crime-ridden Detroit, this one moves the locale to Chicago. According to the interview Justin Marriott published with series co-author John Weisman in Men Of Violence #2, other series author Brian Boyer had himself moved to Chicago after writing the second volume, taking a position with the Chicago Sun-Times. The two would continue writing together, taking turns each Friday to fly to one another’s homes. That’s some serious dedication to pulp, isn’t it??

But even though sometimes-ineffectual heroes Eddie Martin and Jake “T.S.” Putnam are in a new city this time around, it’s still just as grimy and crime-ridden as Detroit…mostly because it’s now filled with criminals from Detroit. Recurring series villain Henry Pacquette (obvious inspiration for Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction) has come to the Windy City with a legion of armed thugs to rescue one of his henchmen, Sonny Hope (who we learn this time is in fact Pacquette’s adopted son). Sonny is kidnapped in the opening pages along with a publishing scion named Jack Day, the abductors spiriting them away to Chicago and issuing their ransom demands.

As usual, the villains are given a lot more focus than the heroes, same as what Marc Olden did in the Narc series, but somehow here it’s just more enjoyable. Mostly because these authors are having fun, whereas Olden generally sticks to a grim and “serious” tone. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Headhunter books are so Blaxploitation that you can almost hear the Luichi de Jesus soundtrack playing in your head. In fact, again according to the interview in Justin’s magazine, filmmaker Arthur Marks, who had directed Detroit 9000 (a Tarantino favorite, incidentally), approached the authors with the intent of making a Headhunters film, asking them to write a script which combined the first two volumes.

Obviously, the film was never made, but Weisman and Boyer are so adept at capturing their creations that a movie practically plays in your mind; they have a definite gift for getting the details, though sometimes the name-dropping does get to be a little grating, particularly when they provide inventories of the brands of clothing their characters wear. And as usual Pacquette’s men are dressed to the the nines in ‘70s fashions, as is Jake Putnam. Even the white characters get in on it, this time, with a recurring joke being the expensive wardrobes of the federal agents in Chicago, who are used to the good life.

Sonny and Day have been kidnapped by a pair of Palestinian brothers named Yusif and Abdul Karim, who claim to be of the Mideast People’s Army, Inc. Their leader is a transvestite German named Schwul who will occasionally don a blonde wig and become “Greta.” He also has a third personality, in which he speaks with an Irish brogue. Finally, he was in the Waffen SS in the war! The cover and first-page preview are cop-outs, by the way; both imply that Greta is a woman (the first-page blurb is even sluglined “A certain kind of bitch”!), which had me hoping for one of those pulpish female villains I so enjoy. But nope, Greta’s a dude.

There are several more Palestinian fighters in the group, and a few other Germans, all of them former Nazis, one of them with the awesome name Wolfmann Chack. They’ve abducted Sonny and Day, we eventually learn, due to the former’s connection to Henry Pacquette, in vengeance over the blow Pacquette and his organization delivered to Malcolm 4x Saladin and his Islamic militants in the previous volume. As for Day, the dude’s grandfather is uber-rich, and thus they demand they want like a hundred pounds of gold for the two.

Martin and Putnam are of course Internal Affairs officers, which as far as I’m concerned limits the kind of action they can get into. But the authors skirt this by having Day’s grandfather insist that they handle the case, given their friendship with Jack Day. At any rate the two of them fly over to Chicago and hook up with a bunch of well-dressed federal agents and lawyers, and try to figure out where and when Pacquette will strike. There’s a nice recurring joke in which Putnam, not prepared to fly, has a plastic bag of dirty clothes as “luggage.”

As usual, the authors provide some great camaraderie between Martin and Putnam, with them riffing on one another in much the same spirit as Warren Murphy employed in the Razoni & Jackson series, which was also being published by Pinnacle Books around this same time. To tell the truth, I actually prefer the Headhunters series; the riffing isn’t as frequent or funny, but the authors provide more engaging material, from gory shootouts to lurid sex scenes. Well, save for this particular volume – there isn’t a single sex scene in it. But it does feature a crazed “action” scene of utter sadism in which Pacquette and his hulking bodyguard Henry Dovell blow away a car full of Chicago cops.

Speaking of Pacquette, the authors add a few interesting touches to the former police chief turned crime czar. We’re now informed he has a “Fu Manchu” moustache – something likely mentioned before, but I’d forgotten it. But he also has been heightening his ESP powers, instructed by Dovell, a “master of extrasensory perception,” and there’s this weirdly cool scene where Pacquette exercises in a sauna and then sits in meditation, trying to mentally trace Sonny’s location. The scene features an even weirder climax in which Pacquette leaves the sauna, to find one of his goons butchered and gutted outside, with a note from the Mideast People’s Army pinned to the corpse.

And just as Marcellus Wallace would later promise to “get Medieval” on his enemies, Pacquette here vows to “use some Israeli Army tactics” on the terrorists. Thus he rents a touring bus, assembles forty of his best “murderers,” dresses them in outrageous golf gear (their weapons hidden in the golf bags), and heads for Chicago. Here they soon begin tearing the city apart, not that Schwul/Greta and his cronies aren’t also doing damage, killing innocent bystanders and cops. In fact, cops get wasted throughout Three Faces Of Death, and unlike the previous volumes they aren’t crooked cops.

Another element that returns from previous volumes is the in-jokery, with several Chicago Sun-Times personages mentioned in the narrative, usually in completely egregious ways, like photographer Randy Winker telling coworker Herb Larkin that hotstuff reporter Dallas Brooke is a nympho, and Larkin openly hitting on her, only to get karate-chopped. Whether these are real people or just fictional analogues of people Boyer worked with, I don’t know. But per Justin’s article on the series, Boyer and Weisman enjoyed peppering their books with in-jokes.

Three Faces Of Death features a strong action finale that Martin and Putnam for once take part in. Delivering up the ransom, Pacquette pulls a fast one by having an explosive created and coated in gold (a scene which features the priceless, too-short appearance of Pacquette’s armless and legless chemist). When Schwul and company repair to a foundry to melt the gold, chaos develops, with the Germans killing off the Palestinians (the money, we learn, is to rebuild the Reich, not to fund Palestine). A pitched battle ensues, with the cops arriving on the scene.

Of course, Martin and Putnam really just take cover and shoot a few people; the majority of the action is handled by Schwul and the Germans, who run around with shotguns, blasting everyone apart. Again, the authors aren’t shy about the gore, with unfortunate men getting their privates blasted apart in the melee. In fact, our heroes are still so uncomfortable around violence that Putnam even pukes before they head for the foundry. Putnam actually gets injured in the climax, we learn via dialog at the end, suffering a concussion and temporary blindness (due to the unexpected, devestating explosion of Pacquette’s secret explosives), but apparently he’s on the way to a complete recovery.

While it didn’t have the lurid factor of the previous two books (though the brothers Yusif and Abdul did take a lot of sick pleasure in killing victims with their “curved daggers”), Three Faces Of Death was still an enjoyable read, brimming with that funky ‘70s flavor I so enjoy. Unfortunately, the next volume was to be the last.

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